Friday, March 05, 2010

What President Obama Has to Look Out for on China

Washington’s top China hands, James Steinberg and Jeffrey Rubin, just left Beijing.

Judging from the Chinese reaction, it doesn’t look like they were able to deliver the kind of “strategic reassurance” that might elicit an enthusiastic or supportive Chinese position on Iran sanctions.

Readers who have been following my analysis of China’s ambivalence about the Obama administration’s effort to reorganize the international security regime around the principle of non-proliferation (and U.S. leadership) will note that China did not commit to the attendance of Hu Jintao at the Jedi Council of nuclear state leaders that President Obama hopes to convene in April.

Here’s what the Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson, Qin Gang, said on March 4:

Q: Today, the US Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg and Jeffrey Bader, Senior Director for the National Security Council for Asian Affairs have concluded their short visit here. Has the visit eased the disrupted China-US relations? Will President Hu Jintao attend the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington this April? With what kind of efforts from the US, will President Hu attend the summit?

A: State Councilor Dai Bingguo, Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi and Vice Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai met with James Steinberg and Jeffrey Bader respectively during their visit here. Vice Foreign Minister Wang Guangya had talks with them. The two sides had an in-depth and candid exchange of views over China-US relations and other issues of mutual interest. The Chinese side noted that thanks to the joint efforts of both sides last year, China-US relations had a good beginning, which serves the interest of both sides.
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. It is but natural that China has made necessary response. It is imperative for the US to take the position of the Chinese side seriously, respect the core interests and major concerns of China, and display sincerity and take concrete actions so as to push China-US relations back to the track of healthy and stable development.

The two sides also exchanged views on other issues of mutual interest.

As for the Nuclear Security Summit, China has been making preparation to attend the summit. Now I have no further information to share with you.

Q: Some western countries have proposed new sanctions against Iran. Will you support the proposal?

A: China always supports the maintenance of international nuclear non-proliferation regime and holds that the Iranian nuclear issue shall be solved through dialogue and negotiation so as to safeguard peace and stability of the Middle East. This is in the interest of all parties concerned. We have been proactively participating in the international diplomatic efforts for the resolution of the issue in a responsible attitude. We will continue our mediation efforts and the constructive role for the proper resolution of the issue through dialogue and negotiations.


Q: How do you comment on the China-US relations after Steinberg's visit to China? On the Iranian nuclear issue, is China still ruling out sanctions against Iran?

A: I have already answered the first question on the future development of China-US relations. Our position is very clear on what needs to be done to bring China-US relations back to the track of healthy and table development.

As for the second question, China has all along supported a long-term, comprehensive and proper resolution of the issue through dialogue and negotiation by diplomatic means. We believe that currently there is still room for diplomatic efforts, and call on related parties to exert utmost efforts to solve the issue through dialogue and negotiations.


Note the part I’ve bolded there.

When you look at the Obama administration’s geopolitical strategy, it looks a lot like achieving global stability (and preserving American leadership) by defining, respecting, and, when needed, enforcing reasonable and sustainable spheres of influence.

On the issues I follow, it’s clearest in the Middle East (tag team by the U.S., Europe, Russia, and Israel to contain Iran and reconcile the Arab countries to the continuation of the Palestine mess); Africa (U.S., Europe, and India only, thank you); and South Asia (India’s playground all the way from Afghanistan to Burma).

A lot of it involves pushback to Chinese economic and diplomatic penetration in the Middle East and Africa.

China’s playpen 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?

It’s unclear that President Obama is willing or able to provide the kind of “strategic reassurance” that China is looking for. And the longer the United States pursues a geopolitical reset at China’s expense, the more difficult, unlikely, and costly that reassurance will become.

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