In today’s column in the Washington Post, ex Asst Sec of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Richard Holbrooke kindly echoes the fundamental theme of this blog—that “China Matters” but too few people pay attention:
China’s gradual emergence as a political player on the world stage comes when there is a growing impression among other countries in East Asia that Washington is not paying the region sufficient attention…The challenge is obvious, but the lack of clear focus at the highest levels in Washington on our vital national security interests in the region is disturbing.
Actually, Holbrooke is hinting that the wrong people are paying sufficient attention to the region, listing the various interest groups that all share domestic political clout and strong but irreconcilable views on relations with China:
What vastly complicates U.S. relations with China is that every major foreign policy issue between the two countries is also a domestic matter, with its own lobbying groups and nongovernmental organizations ranging across the entire American political spectrum, from human rights to pro-life, from pro-Tibet to organized labor. The bilateral agenda, even a partial one, is daunting: Taiwan, Tibet, human rights, religious freedom, press freedom, the Falun Gong, slave labor, North Korea, Iran, trade, the exchange rate, intellectual property rights, access to Chinese markets, export of sensitive technology and the arms embargo.
In other words, without strong professional leadership (Holbrooke is probably thinking of pin-striped heroes of the State Department like himself), our China policy will be driven by the disparate imperatives of dingbats, do-gooders, and opportunists, and chaos, failure, and damage to American interests will result.
Perhaps Holbrooke’s column was inspired by the spectacle of Treasury Secretary Snow’s rather embarrassing performance on the Chinese yuan revaluation, no doubt at the command of Karl Rove, who is concerned about the political backlash among core Republican groups at the trade deficit with China.
To capture the lede in the hometown papers, Snow first made thundering noises about how the Chinese currency must be reformed, but then admitted a full float was impossible, and finally made it clear he was just begging for a cosmetic shift from the hard 8.3 yuan-to-the-dollar peg—allowing a narrow fluctuation in the yuan and which would have no significant impact on the trade deficit—so President Bush could pretend his administration’s disorganized and distrusted foreign affairs apparatus could claim a victory in its dealings with China.