Wednesday, March 31, 2010

China-American Relations Reset...

...And China Matters Gets to Write a "Toldja So" Post

I'm not saying that the U.S. government China boffins reads China Matters. Hell, they don't. But that allows me to take enhanced pleasure in the realization that we do a pretty good job of tracking the U.S.-China relationship.

The big news is that, as of March 30, as extensively reported in the U.S. press, China has decided to join the exercise to torque Iran's gonads by drafting a new UN Security Council sanctions resolution.

For China watchers, the significant backstory was the Chinese government posting the quid pro quo on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website:

To quote the key bits of the item, entitled US Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg Reiterates the One China Policy:


In the small hours on March 30, Beijing time, US Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg [the top China boffin in the Obama administration--ed.] held a media briefing at the Foreign Press Center in Washington D.C.

...

Steinberg stated that the United States adheres to the one China policy and maintains only unofficial relations with Taiwan. This is a long-standing and firm policy pursued by Democratic and Republican administrations alike since President Nixon, President Carter and President Reagan. The centerpiece is the one China policy, which has not changed. The US side does not support independence for Taiwan and opposes unilateral attempts to change the status quo. The US side welcomes the continued improvement and development of cross-Straits relations. The US side hopes that the two sides of the Straits will resolve the issue peacefully through dialogue. The US side reiterated that it considers Tibet to be a part of China and does not support independence for Tibet. The US side supports continued dialogue between the central government of China and the representatives of the Dalai Lama.

On economic and trade issues, Steinberg stressed the need for all countries to do their part to avoid zero-sum solutions that in the end benefit no country and to assure sustainable global economic growth. The US side looks forward to the second round of the S&EDs in Beijing.

Steinberg also touched upon China-US cooperation on security and regional hotspot issues.


The MOFA reported posted one exchange in spokesperson Qin Gang's press conference under a special separate heading:



Q: According to reports, on March 30, Beijing time, when accepting the letter of credence from the newly-appointed Chinese Ambassador to the US Zhang Yesui, US President Obama said that "our two countries should build a positive, cooperative, and comprehensive relationship for the 21st century, and we will both take concrete actions to steadily build a partnership to address common challenges". On the same day, US Deputy Secretary of State Steinberg said at a press briefing that the US sought to develop positive, pragmatic and cooperative relations with China and adhered to the One China policy pursued by previous US administrations. He reiterated that the US recognized Tibet as a part of China and disapproved "Tibet Independence". How does China comment?

A: China appreciates the positive remarks on the China-US relations made by President Obama and Deputy Secretary of State Steinberg and values the US side's reiteration of its principled commitment on issues concerning Taiwan and Tibet.

Since the Obama administration took office, the China-US relations have witnessed positive development thanks to joint efforts of both sides. Not long ago, the China-US relations suffered undue disruption, which is in the interest of neither side. Both China and the US are countries of major influence around the world and a sound China-US relationship serves the fundamental interest of the two countries and their people and contributes to peace, stability and prosperity of the Asia-Pacific region and the world at large.

etc etc. etc.

One might think, what's the big deal? Well, not if you read China Matters.

Setting the wayback machine to March 5, I wrote:

China’s playpen [according to the Obama administration] is supposed to be Greater China: the PRC, Taiwan, Hong Kong.

A pretty major chunk of the world, but still not an attractive option for China, which sees itself competing with Japan for regional supremacy in Asia and isolated and relegated to second citizen status in key resource regions such as the Middle East and Africa.

According to this theory, the Obama administration should give China a free hand in dealing with Taiwan and Tibet.

But, of course, the Obama administration isn’t doing that.

I’ll repeat the bolded excerpt from Qin’s statement here:

But in the past two months, on the Taiwan and Tibet-related issues, the US violated the principles enshrined in the three joint communiqués and China-US Joint Statement, seriously disrupted the development of China-US relations and caused difficulties for the bilateral cooperation in major fields.

What Beijing is saying is, You’re trying to stick me in the Greater China box…and now you’re f*cking with the box! Are you trying to say China’s only legitimate sphere of influence is the 25% of the PRC’s area that is occupied by Han Chinese?


Clearly, China was anxious for reassurance that U.S. policy would not condone concerted meddling, on human rights or democratic grounds, with China's fraught relations with the government on Taiwan (with the potential for Japanese mischief) and the Tibetan ethnic minority (with the potential for Indian mischief).

We probably think of these issues as symbolic, and useful mainly to play to the domestic bash-China lobby.

But it appears that China regards satisfactory respect for its freedom of action in these spheres as the minimum necessary acknowledgement of its role as a dominant regional power.

This reassurance is probably even more important to Beijing as Tokyo and New Delhi show a renewed tendency to slip the U.S. leash and pursue their own, potentially anti-PRC policies. If Japan or India starts something, China wants to know ahead of time that the United States won't pile on.

Steinberg's invocation of a non-zero-sum relationship also brought a contented smile to China Hand's lips.

Back on February 13, I wrote a post on China's Iran conundrum entitled, Rollback: Is the Obama Administration Going Zero Sum on China?

My point was: China felt that the Obama administration was engaged in a systematic rollback of Chinese influence around the globe, the Chinese felt it was zero-sum, and Beijing would not play ball on Iran unless it received strategic reassurance from the Obama administration and James Steinberg--reassurance it did not receive a couple weeks ago when Steinberg visited Beijing.

In response, China even rolled out Henry Kissinger to emphasize its desire that the traditional bases of U.S.-China relations be reaffirmed.

Based on the conspicuous play given to Steinberg's remarks and Qin's reply, the fat lady has definitely sung and Beijing believes a reset has finally taken place.

This news prompted the only possible response from Iran.

As the headline in People's Daily reports Iran's Top Nuclear Negotiator Heads to Beijing.

35 comments:

J said...

Hmm.. China (of the G-2) serves up Iran and by extension, its economic & political interests on the world stage for a free hand within its borders & its backyard?

So much for an assertive China!!

Ziad said...

Permit me to offer an alternative analysis. The US has offered China largely symbolic reassurances that it wont interfere in China's backyard. In return the US has gotten...so far nothing but I'm assuming China will back some kind of UNSC sanction against Iran.

Obama has talked himself into a corner. He has threatened sanctions since last September and they were supposed to be in place by January. Now he needs something...pretty much anything to show his AIPAC base he is tough on Iran. That his so called "engagement," such as it was, has gotten international support for toughness.

And that is what China might give him. Symbolic sanctions in exchange for his symbolic assurances. And they might make him wait for a couple more months even for that.

So if we see sanctions that make it hard for IRGC officers to ski in Austria, you will know I'm right. If there are sanctions on petroleum, and or arms imports, then I promise I will return and make a comment on the taste of crow.

There is also the possibility that China will simply pass the sanctions obstruction baton to Russia, but that is a matter outside this blog topic.

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