A Christian Science Monitor article concerning China’s need to make nice with Koizumi at the non-aligned nations meeting in Jakarta gets most things right and one thing wrong.
In recent days, prominent authorities such as Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing have appeared on state TV, urging the People’s Liberation Army and rank-and-file Communist Party cadres to trust the government’s handling of the dispute, and to cease activities leading to protest. Earlier in the week, an editorial in People’s Daily, the party mouthpiece, took what some analysts described as a “worried tone” – saying the time for criticism of Japan had ended, and that the time for “economic construction” and the building of a “harmonious society” was at hand.
On Wednesday, pressure on Beijing was ratcheted up further when a group of Asian foreign ministers, as well as UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, urged the two sides to talk. At a minimum, experts say, allowing conditions between Japan and China to fester in Jakarta would spoil the meeting.
“How do you hold an important international meeting on ways to promote Asian-African dialogue if China and Japan aren’t talking and relations are tense?” asks a foreign diplomat in Beijing. “Can Africa be engaged in a discourse on Asia’s economic success if all this clash is taking place? You’ve got [Pakistan President Pervez] Musharraf hugging [Indian Prime Minister] Manmohan Singh, but Japan and China can’t talk?”
Leading up to the meeting, I think China has made the best it can of an awkward and potentially dangerous situation.
Official Japanese antipathy is now a given of Japan-China relations now that Koizumi has signed on to the U.S. containment strategy. The Chinese government had to make sure that its domestic political flank was guarded, and the U.S. and Japan would not repackage the dispute as democracy vs. tyranny and, potentially, Chinese government vs. its own people. Now, as the massive anti-Japanese popular demonstrations have shown, the confrontation will instead be in terms of nationalism: China vs. Japan (and the United States).
The Chinese are certainly watching Secretary Rice’s blatant encouragement of regime change in Belarus and want to make sure that there is no legitimized domestic opposition for the United States to exploit when the pushing and shoving starts over strategic dominance in East Asia.
The Chinese demonstrations showed not only Chinese government displeasure but displayed (and deepened) popular Chinese anger toward Japan that the Chinese government can reliably draw on when tensions reappear, as they inevitably will.
That being settled, now it’s probably time to make nice. Because the true battle for hearts and minds is—thankfully–diplomatic and international, instead of military. And that involves China’s concerted effort to reach out not only to Asia and Africa but also Europe as a counterweight to U.S. and Japanese hostility.
Something the CSM gets plain wrong is the EU’s retreat from lifting the arms embargo, no doubt China’s sorest disappointment:
Beijing was certain early this winter that a European Union arms embargo against China would be lifted (a move ardently opposed by the Pentagon). But last week, the EU said it no longer had a consensus to lift. German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, in a frank interview with German media, even mentioned a possible need for a form of containment of China, until its social, political, and military direction became clearer.
Getting the EU to back away from lifting the arms embargo was one of John Bolton’s major achievements, accomplished with the help of a House of Representatives resolution and intensive lobbying of the European powers by both the United States and Japan—something the Chinese are well aware of.
John Bolton’s Feb. 25, 2005 speech in Tokyo laid out the position for and rationales for America and Japan’s joint approach to quarantining China, including scuttling the EU’s plans of lifting the arms embargo:
Similarly, we are having discussions with other governments about existing arms embargoes against China and about our concerns that others–such as the EU [European Union]–may lift their embargoes and thereby negatively impact the security of America, and its friends and allies in the Asia-Pacific region.
The EU responded to vociferous and orchestrated U.S. opposition, not to perceived dangers to the strategic balance in Asia.
Blaming the Chinese for screwing up the EU initiative to lift the arms embargo is the mistake in the CSM article. And it disturbs me because it fits into an inaccurate narrative of the Chinese as irrational, deluded, and driven to the point of self-destructive behavior. That’s not the preconception that should be driving the debate in our emerging confrontation with a China that is rational, risk-averse, and trying to find ways to deal with the gradually increasing stress of dealing with the United States.
I hope it’s just a simple flub by the Monitor, and not the appearance of the same kind of dismal reporting that twisted or ignored facts that didn’t fit into the preconceived good vs. evil narrative that had been constructed to reconcile America the world to the impending Iraq war.
I expect the Europeans beat a retreat on lifting the arms embargo when they realized that America’s post-9/11 engagement with China beyond the most cosmetic gestures is dead. Rather than try to welcome China’s post Tian An Men return to full membership in the family of nations with a few juicy arms deal, it was better to back off and avoid getting tangled up in another U.S. scorched earth foreign policy crusade.
Those with long memories will recall that the sanction regime against Iraq was weakening because of European indifference and impatience before the Bush administration stepped in with its anti-Saddam campaign and made it clear that it would not permit Saddam’s Iraq to regain the measure of legitimacy and protection under international law that status as an unsanctioned, member-in-good-standing of the nation-state club bestows.
With that background, it must be especially disturbing to China that the U.S. wants to maintain an explicit sanction and embargo regime against China, with the implication that China is prone to devious, dangerous pariah-state behavior that the leadership and force of the United States-and Japan– is needed to check.
Again, from John Bolton’s speech in Tokyo:
The second reason we oppose the lifting of the EU arms embargo against China was very well stated by our friend Foreign Minister Machimura, when he noted that “We are against a lifting of the arms embargo. The matter of the lifting of the arms embargo is one of great concern not only for Japan but for the security of East Asia as a whole.”
Our respective government’s positions on resolving the Taiwan-China Cross-Strait issue are well-known. Suffice it to say, though, we are concerned that any measures that allow China to significantly improve its coercive capabilities could make fostering a peaceful resolution of this issue less likely. We concur with Foreign Minister Machimura that it will contribute to regional instability. Moreover, as I highlighted above, no adequate mechanism currently exists to prevent China from transferring technology and lethal weaponry to other, less stable regions of the world, including rogue states, or to use it for the purposes of internal repression.
That’s why China will be playing its good-guy cards at the Non-aligned summit, and will continue its diplomatic/economic/multi-lateral outreach to Asia and Europe. Its most important job in the next few months is to resist Saddam-style demonization and give the rest of the world enough political leeway to avoid being forced to line up behind the United States unequivocally if another nasty spat involving the U.S., Japan, and China erupts.
For Americans who don’t relish confrontation with China, denying John Bolton a U.N. platform to seek to provoke China, manufacture an Iraq-style “existential crisis”, and polarize the international community might be a good reason to deny him the ambassadorship.