Martin McCauley writes: China is engaged in a diplomatic offensive. Immediately after the October 1 extravaganza to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China Prime Minister Wen Jiabao set off for a week in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) while Vice President Xi Jinping went on a five nation East European tour. In the run up to President Obama’s visit to China next month, a Politburo member and the Vice-Chairman of the Central Military Commission will travel to Washington. Visitors to China include Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and the Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung. The fact that China may register an 8 per cent growth of GDP this year, the best in the world, adds confidence to Beijing’s claim to be a quasi-superpower. China is doing all it can before the arrival of President Obama to demonstrate that it is the equal of the United States. It wants a G2 to emerge which will confirm China’s new status in the world.
Prime Minister Wen did not move Dear Leader Kim Jong il to make any new promises about giving up nuclear weapons. Kim said that the Six Party Talks (China, Japan, Russia, U.S., the DPRK and South Korea) will depend on the outcome of DPRK-U.S. talks. However, Beijing did report that food and fuel aid to Pyongyang would be on the agenda. Bilateral trade is to be increased from the high of $2.8 billion last year. Beijing’s decision to help out Pyongyang indicates that it is gradually withdrawing from the UN sanctions imposed on the DPRK. The message for Washington is that the route to Pyongyang goes through Beijing. Only by working closely with China will the U.S. achieve anything.
The conference of the leaders of China, Japan and South Korea aroused great interest. The proposal of the new Japanese Prime Minister that an East Asian Community (EAC) be set up set tongues wagging. However, since the EAC would also include pro-U.S. countries – India, Australia and New Zealand – it met with a lukewarm reception from the Chinese. The Hu-Wen team appear very keen to forge a closer relationship with Japan in order to weaken the US-Japanese military alliance which also covers China. Prime Minister Hatoyama has said on more than one occasion that Japan’s best interests would be served by striking a balance in Tokyo’s relations with Washington and Beijing.
The eighth meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation in Beijing agreed to develop closer energy relations. China put up $10 billion to help other SCO nations (Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan) that have run into economic difficulties. The Prime Ministers of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran were also present as observers. The impression was given that if the U.S. abandoned Afghanistan, China and the SCO could step into the vacuum.
Russian Prime Minister’s Putin visit resulted in trade deals worth $4 billion being signed. Both sides are to notify one another of plans for launching ballistic missiles. Russia is to sell China 70 billion cubic metres of gas a year. The main stumbling block in the past to such deals has been price. Russia wants the European price but China wants it related to the cost of Chinese coal. There is also the problem of where the gas is to come from as Gazprom is not investing heavily at present in infrastructure.
Xi told Hungarian leaders that he hoped Budapest would make greater efforts to penetrate the Chinese market. Czech and Polish leaders have criticised the Obama Administration’s decision to scrap the anti-missile shield. They regard it as capitulating to Moscow’s demands. This may present China with an opportunity to provide a ‘third alternative’ to those in Europe disillusioned with Washington and Moscow.
The U.S. has made several concessions already to China. The Dalai Lama was not received by President Obama and Washington has been turning a blind eye to human rights violations and the maltreatment of activist lawyers. Washington has said nothing about China’s new deal propping up Pyongyang. It was significant that the Indian Prime Minister did not attend the SCO meeting as an observer. This indicates the tension at present in Sino-Indian relations over the northern border. Vietnam and China are to boost bilateral trade to $25 billion next year but are no nearer reaching a settlement on territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
China is clearly on the rise. But Beijing insists that it does not pose a threat to any other nation. Vietnam and India at present are feeling the sharp end of Chinese power. Will they decide to seek protection in a closer relationship with the United States? This is the last thing Beijing wants. It remains to be seen what China will do to prevent such a scenario becoming reality.
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