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Has the Tipping Point in US-China Relations Been Reached?
All Sticks, No Carrots, and the Occasional High Profile Insult
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This looks like a calculated slap in the face:

The US president has accused China of “wilful blindness” in remaining silent over North Korea’s suspected sinking of a South Korean warship in March.

Barack Obama said he hoped that Hu Jintao, his Chinese counterpart, would recognise that North Korea crossed a line in the sinking of the Cheonan warship, which killed 46 South Korean sailors.

He said he understood that North Korea and China were neighbours, “there’s a difference between restraint and wilful blindness to consistent problems”.

Obama held talks with Hu on the sidelines of the summit and said he had been “blunt” with him on the issue of North Korea.

“My hope is that President Hu will recognise as well that this is an example of Pyongyang going over the line,” he said.

China, which is Pyongyang’s main international ally, has so far remained non-committal on the issue, prompting Obama to say that shying away from the harsh facts about North Korea’s behaviour was “a bad habit we need to break”.

Obama said he wanted the UN Security Council to produce a “crystal-clear acknowledgment” of the North’s alleged action, which would require the co-operation of veto-wielding member China.

Obama, who met Lee Myung-Bak, the South Korean president, on the sidelines of the G20 summit, said it was “absolutely critical that the international community rally behind him and send a clear message to North Korea that this kind of behaviour is unacceptable”.

It looks like President Obama has decisively put his eggs in the ROK basket, backing South Korean president Lee Myung-bak on the Cheonan sinking, putting aside his previous doubts about the KORUS FTA (US-South Korea Free Trade Agreement) to push for its ratification, and encouraging South Korea’s ambitions to upgrade its regional profile to what looks like parity or more with the PRC.

I was struck with Korea Times’ coverage of President Lee’s remarks at the Toronto summit:

South Korea to represent voices of emerging countries at Seoul summit

TORONTO ― President Lee Myung-bak said Sunday (local time) that Korea will help countries reach an agreement on establishing a global financial safety net at the next Group of 20 Summit, slated for November in Seoul, to prevent the recurrence of a global financial crisis.

Korea will also host a meeting of 100 CEOs from globally renowned companies ahead of the G-20 Summit to discuss ways to boost private investment and the issues of global trade, investment and corporate responsibility.

Lee made the pledges in his closing remarks at the final session of the two-day Toronto summit.

The initiatives are in line with Korea’s efforts to represent the voices of emerging and poorer nations on the global stage so that countries, rich or poor, can work together under a shared goal of achieving sustainable, balanced long-term growth, according to Seoul officials.

“Representing the voices of emerging countries” used to be China’s self-assigned role.

Beyond the ROK-USA strategic romance, Beijing probably noticed that one other country that has yet to endorse the Cheonan report was not accused of “wilfull blindness”: Russia.

That would lead one to believe that Russian President Medvedev had–upon the conclusion of a successful US visit during which he became “the first iPhone 4 owner in Russia” and President Obama was apparently unfazed by the uncovering of a large Russian spy ring operating within the United States–either signed on to the US position, or the Obama administration was staking out its Cheonan stance pre-emptively, expecting that Russia would decide to line up with the United States in order to avoid endangering the reset.

People’s Daily English edition promptly ran a Global Times editorial pointedly titled “Blindness to China’s efforts on the Peninsula “.

“Blindness”. Get it?

It went on to say:

US President Barack Obama groundlessly blamed China for “blindness” to North Korea’s “belligerent behavior” in an alleged attack on the South Korean navel vessel the Cheonan while speaking at the G20 summit Monday.

His words on such an important occasion, based on ignorance of China’s consistent and difficult efforts in pushing for peace on the peninsula, has come as a shock to China and the world at large.

As a close neighbor of North Korea, China and its people have immediate and vital stakes in peace and stability on the peninsula. China’s worries over the North Korean nuclear issue are by no means less than those of the US.

The US president should have taken these into consideration before making irresponsible and flippant remarks about China’s role in the region.

Characterizing the US president as “irresponsible and flippant” is a convenient indicator that US-China relations are headed for the meat locker.

Another indication is the Chinese announcement that it will conduct live fire naval exercises as a riposte to the US-ROK joint exercises scheduled June 30 to July 5, which may or may not include a US aircraft carrier sailing around the Yellow Sea between the Korean peninsula and the Chinese mainland.

I came across another interesting and possibly telling news item relevant to the widening US-China rift.

I hazard most people don’t get around to reading the Nepali press, but the news outlet Republica had an fascinating and carefully reported article by Kosh Raj Koirala entitled

Squeezed between China and West over Tibet

KATHMANDU, June 28: Department of Immigration (DoI) sent nine Tibetans to jail on April 30 after they refused to pay fines for illegally entering Nepal. The detention evoked so much diplomatic pressure from Western countries, mainly the US, that the Tibetans were released after five days in jail.

The pressure was so intense that officials at the Nepali embassy in Washington DC had to call up the Immigration Office in Nepal, asking it to release the arrested.

Following the release, Nepali immigration authorities have not detained any more Tibetans though there is a sustained flow of Tibetans to Kathmandu. DoI these days quietly hands over Tibetans illegally coming to Nepal to UNHCR-Nepal [UN High Commissioner for Refugees] without taking legal action as it used to in recent years.

Officials in Nepal fear that there could be a well-coordinated organization involved in bringing Tibetans illegally to Nepal and later sending them to Dharamshala, India and to Western countries through the help of UNHCR.

According to Koirala, it appears that the Tibetan Reception Center, which works with the UNHCR, is paying a bounty of Rs25,000 (about US$350) to policemen to bring Tibetans who have entered Nepal illegaly to the UNHCR-Nepal for eventual patriation to Dharmsala and the West, instead of turning them over to the Department of Immigration.

Interestingly, the DoI was not apparently planning to repatriate the Tibetans to China (although there had been rumblings of a China-friendly policy of shipping Tibetans back to the TAR); they simply wanted to fine them, and the Tibetans went to jail only because they refused to pay the fine.

Sordid commerce is apparently a factor in these escapes:

…arrested Tibetans said, during interrogations, that brokers brought them to Nepal with promises to take them to Western countries where they could lead comfortable lives. Those arrested even disclosed that they each paid Chinese Yuan 15,000 to 17,000 [US$2300 or so] to brokers.

So it’s interesting that the UN is apparently helping Tibetan refugees to evade Nepalese jurisdiction. Nepal is under intense pressure from China to keep a lid on the flow and activities of Tibetans, so maybe UNHCR is just going the extra mile to shield Tibetans under new circumstances.

However, what’s really interesting was the concerted pressure from the US and the Western countries to make sure that this dubious arrangement is sustained, even to the point of demanding the release of some guys who were apparently in jail just because they refused to pay a fine.

Tibet is a core interest of China. Reaffirmation of the one-China policy (including Chinese sovereignty over Tibet) was supposed to be the key concession granted by the US in the laborious negotiations with China over participation in the UN Iran sanctions discussions.

I guess the Chinese are finding out they should have read the fine print, and “acknowleding PRC sovereignty over Tibet” does not preclude “promoting the establishment of protected emigration routes to offshore havens for potentially anti-PRC Tibetans”.

Speaking of U.S.-China deals that aren’t turning out the way Beijing prefers, I have an article up at Asia Times entitled China in US sanctions cross-hairs (my suggested title, Stuart Levey, father of the North Korean atomic bomb, is back, did not make the cut).

It makes the case that the Obama administration has done a much better job than the Bush administration in laying a solid legal and diplomatic foundation for using US national Iran sanctions to pressure China on energy-related business in Iran and, for that matter, what else it wants to (like North Korea, RMB revaluation, etc.) and China may find that the US may be preparing to honor the imputed “We’ll support UN sanctions if you won’t pursue national sanctions against us” deal in the breach, as it were.

What interests me as that, as far as I can see, the Obama administration policy toward China is all sticks no carrots. The consequences of crossing the United States are meant to be dire, but I haven’t seen any significant proffered benefits to China for toeing the U.S. line, other than the intangible ones–like not having President Obama insult your President at high profile international forums.

It will be interesting to watch this play out, especially in the run-up to the 2010 US congressional elections.

(Republished from China Matters by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Cheonan, China, Nepal, Obama, Toronto G20, UNHCR 
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  1. denk says: • Website

    **Nepalese soil has been utilizes by the Tibetans to traffic innocent Tibetans from Tibet to India and also Western countries. Officials assigned by the Dalai Lama stationed in Kathmandu are trafficking the Tibetans to Nepal by promising them that they will send them to the United States and European countries. They have also be promised that they will earn huge amounts of money. Some western countries have supported this project with the intention of defaming China on human rights violation. **
    hmmm, no prize for guessing who the “western countries” might be eh ?
    http://tinyurl.com/63vsko

    anglo and indian “hr” activists often cite the “flood of refugees” from tibet to justify the claim that tibet is “hell on earth” [sic]
    i cant help but wonder how much these “refugees” were paid to relate their “hellish life” under the “brutal ccp” in front of the camera later, or execute flying kick to wheelchair bound chinese athletics during the 2008 olympics. ?

  2. denk says: • Website

    **Obama, who met Lee Myung-Bak, the South Korean president, on the sidelines of the G20 summit, said it was “absolutely critical that the international community rally behind him and send a clear message to North Korea that this kind of behaviour is unacceptable”.**

    i wonder which “international community” the esteemed prez has in mind….
    the one that went awol for the past five decades when “the world’s oldest democrazy” ran amok and committed serial supreme international crimes ?

    iraq

    afpak

    the lot

    or the other “ic”, the usual suspects, aka the anglo clan that made up the “international investigating team” of the cheonan sinking ?

    no self respecting person would take either of these entities seriously,

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