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Update: As a langniappe, here’s an interesting opinion buttressing my point about China-bashing as a diplomatic and political priority. A Korea Times piece reviews China’s apparently rather overt distaste for making the Cheonan sinking a matter for the UNSC and concludes:

[Professor Kenneth Quinones, dean of research evaluation of Japan’s Akita International University]noted that he thinks “it is unrealistic for the government in Seoul to expect Beijing to support a sanctions resolution against North Korea at the UNSC.”

“Nevertheless, President Lee Myung-bak must convince the South Korean people that he is pressing for resolute punishment of North Korea. By pressing for it, he can blame China for blocking such a resolution,” he advised.

CH 6/9/10

I have an article up at Asia Times entitled Short shelf life for China-US reset.

It draws on some interesting exchanges at the Asian defense ministers confab in Singapore (“The Shangri La Dialogue”) over the weekend to draw the conclusion that a) South Korea is attempting, rather clumsily, to make domestic and international political hay with the Cheonan sinking; b) the South Korean electorate and the Chinese aren’t buying it; c) the United States has bought into the strategy of exploiting the sinking and South Korea’s desire for an enhanced regional profile to advance the “irresponsible China” argument as a justification for a central position for the U.S. in the North Asia security equation.

Everybody is extremely cautious about avoiding open nasty talk. But I have the feeling that the U.S. activity, coming right after the fraught negotiations over Iran sanctions, has reinforced Chinese suspicions that the United States feels the best way to “return to Asia” is to goad the Chinese on sensitive issues to isolate Beijing, and use the ensuing difficulties to persuade the Asian countries that the best way to ensure their security is to line up with the United States.

The whole atmosphere of U.S.-China relations is pretty toxic today.

The overt estrangement between the Obama administration and China began at the Copenhagen Climate Summit.

Advance tidbits from a forthcoming tell-all biography of a close Obama ally, Australian PM Paul Rudd, give an idea of the Copenhagen rancor.

Tired and exasperated, surrounded by a knot of Australian officials and press, Rudd began to rage against the Chinese. He needed sleep. His anger was real, but his language seemed forced, deliberately foul.

In this mood, he’d been talking about countries “rat-f…ing” each other for days. Was a deal still possible, asked one of the Australians.

“Depends whether those rat-f…ing Chinese want to f… us.”

Somebody raised the issue at the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs June 8 press briefing, and got a bland response:

Q: It is reported that Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said something impolite at the Copenhagen Conference about China’s actions. How do you respond?

A: I have no idea what happened on the spot. However, I am aware that Prime Minister Kevin Rudd always highly values bilateral relations with China, thus it is hard to believe such reports are true.

Copenhagen was a global diplomatic train wreck for which, I believe, the Obama administration was largely responsible. I hashed out the issue in an article for Asia-Pacific Journal in February 2010 and wrote:

The United States showed up in Copenhagen as the one major power that had never ratified the Kyoto Treaty and with no legal mandate from its legislature to negotiate. It made an embarrassingly small pledge to reduce greenhouse gases (far below the heroic efforts of the EU), promised hundreds of billions of dollars of vapor aid that it had no expectation of funding itself, and tried to turn the negotiations into political theater that would strengthen the Obama administration’s hand back home.

Not surprisingly, China, the other BASIC countries, and many of the G77 saw the U.S. tactics as an effort to paper over the fact that the Obama administration saw no prospect of the U.S. Congress ever passing Kyoto and wanted to dodge the blame for collapse of the existing climate change regime by pinning the “obstructionist” tag on the developing world instead.

Indeed, they were well aware that Washington had already gained EU support in October 2009 for scrapping Kyoto and replacing it with a new regime (immortalized in the notorious “Danish text”) that relieved the developed world of some of its obligations (and the U.S. of its domestic political burden) by transferring a healthy chunk of the emissions reduction load onto the backs of the newly developing but still far from wealthy BASIC nations.

China and India wanted to make sure that there was no way that the toothless Copenhagen goals could be presented as a substitute for the legally-binding Kyoto Treaty (with its advantageous free pass for developing countries), or used as a justification for unilaterally pressuring the BASIC countries to take matching steps while the Obama administration stood on the sidelines and calculated its political fortunes in the U.S. Senate.

Unsurprisingly, the Chinese delegation, with India’s support, took the lead in stripping the Copenhagen agreement of anything—including the emissions cuts commitments by the EU, Japan and others– that could allow it to be construed as a successor to Kyoto.

As a matter of tactical necessity, the Chinese keep their resentment under wraps.

The U.S., on the other hand, seems more interested in getting their digs at China into the public media, and thereby encouraging our allies to do the same (it was interesting to me that the Japanese prime minister’s office executed a U.S.-style leak complete with mocking commentary of the details of Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi’s heated response to Japanese badgering on nuclear disarmament).

I wonder how productive this is.

Maybe the Obama administration’s efforts to avenge itself against perceived Chinese slights from Copenhagen to Singapore will be known as The Ratf*ck Years.

It remains to be seen if the U.S. actions are remembered as achievements of astute diplomacy, or the residue of self-defeating anger.

(Republished from China Matters by permission of author or representative)
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