(Reprinted from BUSINESS CHINA)
China after the US Midterm Elections –
The recent 2010 US midterm elections served as a discussion platform not only for America’s internal issues, but also for America’s external dealings with other countries. Topping the list of electoral bones of contention was heated discussion about China. During the midterms, we saw a curious and seemingly collective bipartisan agreement to point a finger at China for its effects on the US economy and labor market.
Now that the hype of the midterms has passed, both American and Chinese leaders are left with the reality at hand. No easy task. Both countries must play their cards on many tables, with the rules changing daily along the way.
China’s Rise on the World Radar –
It seems everywhere within the news, China shows up more frequently than ever.
At the global level, international investors shivered cautiously when faced with the notion that China may put the brakes on its economy. While much of the rest of the world founders in stagnation, few countries can boast that their internal economy continues to grow at an uncannily breakneck pace. On this same topic, we see China recently attaining tenure as the world’s second largest economy. Elsewhere in news, the Middle Kingdom also rises up as the globe’s second largest energy consumer. But such recognition as an energy consumer cannot come without a cost. As one of the world’s largest energy consumers – whose energy bank is greatly derived from coal – China also admits being one of the largest environmental polluters in the world.
Closer to US shores, we hear news that China will play a part in the recovery of what was once thought to be an exclusive American institution – General Motors. With GM’s announcement to offer itself up through an IPO, two of China’s largest national banks – the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) and China International Capital Corp (CICC) – have stepped forward to offer an active hand in the US industrial giant’s recovery. Pending further red-tape approval, the Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation (SAIC) may cast in its lot with General Motors also.
Other recent issues such as rare earth export restrictions, the ascent of Tianhe-1A as the world’s fastest supercomputer, and China’s place as home to the most foreign students in the world – these all complement other issues we’ve been hearing about China for years. Territorial spats with Japan and Vietnam continue to flare up. China’s footwork with Taiwan still resounds strongly on the political dance floor. And Beijing’s dealings with socio-political hotspots like Tibet and Kashmir strike the newswires with a continuous thrum.
These all pan out as a clear message for those who haven’t already made note on a long-obvious notion: China is now a force to be reckoned with. Engagement with this awakening giant must come further to the fore.
Something Afoot with US-China Diplomacy –
In a coordinated recognition for serious dialogue, at least three key US figureheads have recently made their rounds in Asia. Well aware of their diminished clout with the Middle Kingdom, their moves collectively comprise background legwork to bolster support elsewhere for America’s interests in Asia.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has recently concluded a diplomatic tour of Vietnam, China, Cambodia, Malaysia, Papua-New Guinea, New Zealand and Australia. Mrs. Clinton’s trip serves as an assurance to China’s neighbors of American commitment to its presence as a major regional player in the Asia-Pacific. Said Clinton during her tour, “As China becomes more of a player in regional and global affairs, then we expect that China will be a responsible player and will participate in the international framework of rules that govern the way nations behave and conduct themselves.” Clinton’s trip also included a meeting with Japan Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara in Honolulu. on
Former US President Bill Clinton spoke to a receptive audience in Taiwan this Sunday, and his visit included a meeting with Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou. Mr. Clinton praised the recent warming in China-Taiwan relations amidst an opening of trade between the two lands. Clinton hailed the two neighbors’ recent agreement in June to a reduction in trade tariffs aimed at helping one another’s economies. In spite of progress in these recent months, the decades-long disagreement over Taiwan’s sovereignty looms in the background. Since China and Taiwan split amidst civil war in 1949, China has never slackened on its threat to use force against Taiwan as a possible method to annex the island.
US President Barack Obama attended three main conferences in recent weeks. He first attended the East Asian Summit (EAS), followed by the G20 summit in Seoul – which resulted in lackluster support from other nations on Obama’s stance on the yuan. President Obama’s further inability to push through the long-awaited US-South Korean trade deal (KORUS) inflames America’s noticeably diminished influence in the region. While attendees of the later APEC meeting confirmed their willingness to discuss bilateral trade agreements with one another, President Obama highlighted his attendance in a speech highlighting China’s rise to power. He hinted that the US and Japan should work together to develop an agenda to establish a more solid US-Japan cooperation.
Other Observations from the Watch Deck –
In an orchestration of maneuvers on many fronts, the US is engaging China more than ever before. While some fancy footwork is done at China’s doorstep, other maneuvers take place further from China’s shores.
On the military front, gestures are carefully measured with politics in mind. In early 2010 the US tested the waters by invoking China’s wrath through an announcement of a forthcoming sale of arms to Taiwan, an island that some authorities in China consider a “renegade province.” US warships docked earlier in the southern harbor of Hong Kong. US Commodore Mark Weber’s words about the event are well guarded yet somewhat upbeat: “Well, you know that’s something we let our seniors handle, as well as the Department of State but they’ve all stated in the past, we are certainly for a cooperative effort and a peaceful rise and peace and stability in the region.”
Elsewhere in the world we see the US shoring up its alliances with other countries mutually concerned with China’s rapid rise. As mentioned earlier Obama has asked Japan to strengthen its ties with the US. Washington has recently announced its backing of India’s bid for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council. Former foes US and Vietnam are making deals to strengthen political and economic ties. Obama’s visit to Asia was to speak with the region’s markedly democratic nations – Indonesia, India, South Korea, and Japan – all of which encircle China and are key players to managing its rise.
A Monkey Wrench for Good Measure –
Topping the mix is North Korea – audaciously throwing in a monkey wrench by shelling South Korea’s island base of Yeonpyeong. South Korea’s President Lee Myung-bak has stated further bombing would result in an exercise of “self-defense right” with its northern neighbor. As the world looked in shock China first stood by in measured silence, and later answered – but not by slapping down North Korea as the US wished it would.
Instead China skirted addressing North Korea directly and turned the tables on the US. China has told the US to cease naval war games with South Korea, and to steer its ships out of the area. Korea is not the issue in China’s language; rather it is the possible US naval encroachment of China’s “exclusive economic zone”.
China’s kid-glove handling of North Korea seems not without reason. As the New York Time’s Helene Cooper clearly states it: “Beijing has recoiled at reining in its unruly neighbor to the east, as the Obama administration implored it to do last week, because it doesn’t want to destabilize North Korea’s secretive, hermit regime to an extent that could lead to the government’s collapse and the North’s eventual reunification with South Korea.” In Chestertown, Maryland, Washington College Asia expert Andrew L. Oros states, “China isn’t 100 percent on board with U.S. efforts” because Beijing is “concerned with the idea of a unified Korea with U.S. troops stationed there.”
A Work in Progress –
With all hands on many decks, with cards being played on many tables, and with statements made both in public and whispered behind closed doors – the US, China, and the many neighbors of the Asian region seem only to be posturing to get themselves through the day. This said…
Assuming all are working toward a sustainable and mutually equitable paradigm, then the method, the means – and indeed the acts of madness – are a collective work in progress.
About the author:John Melendez is a US-based journalist and a former business expatriate of China. Contact him at: email@example.com