Tag Archives: diplomacy

Obama’s missed Asia trip is no disaster—if he follows up strong (new at China-US Focus)

In my latest piece for China-US Focus, I look at the impact of Obama’s decision to cancel planned travel to Asia and suggest that he can make up for missed opportunities.

Obama’s Missed Asia Trip Is No Disaster—If He Follows Up Strong

As the financial crisis gripped the United States in September 2008, Senator John McCain “suspended” his campaign for president to return to Washington and attend to Senate business. His opponent, Senator Barack Obama, refused to follow suit, saying “I think that it is going to be part of the president’s job to deal with more than one thing at once.”

President Obama’s cancellation of his trip to Asia this week indicates that the government shutdown and the possibility of a default on U.S. government debt in the coming days have, in a sense, “suspended” U.S. foreign policy. Canceling this trip does matter, but it does not nullify broader U.S. policy on Asia, including the rebalance to the Asia Pacific. Instead, the cancellation is an unwelcome reinforcement of the perception that the Obama administration is neglecting its Asia policy.

Most journalists and commentators have argued that Obama’s cancellation is either disastrous for U.S. Asia policy or not a big deal. The truth, as usual, is somewhere in between. In the following four points, I argue that: the cancellation was unfortunate but not a disaster; the shutdown might be a disaster; and there are still good options for the Obama administration and U.S. relations with Asia and China.

[Continue reading at China-US Focus]

Key U.S.–Japan meeting overshadowed by U.S.–China diplomacy

BEIJING — As Japanese Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko visited the White House Monday, the continued strength of the U.S.–Japan relationship was a central message. But this first Washington summit of U.S. and Japanese leaders since the Democratic Party of Japan took control in 2009 was overshadowed in the transpacific news cycle by the U.S. relationship with China.

The timing of the Noda visit may well have been designed to set the stage for the U.S.–China Strategic and Economic Dialogue, to occur this week in Beijing with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner leading a 200-strong U.S. delegation.

The U.S. “pivot” or “rebalancing” to Asia is a major concern in China, and U.S. leaders may have sought to reassure Japan that it is still a centerpiece of U.S. strategy in Asia and the Pacific.

If all had gone as planned, the administration could have enjoyed an Asia-focused news cycle all week, as the Japanese leader visited, followed by the meetings in Beijing.

But in the last days of preparation for the Japan summit, the U.S. government was confronted by a much more high-profile challenge: the escape of Chen Guangcheng a well known blind activist from extrajudicial house arrest, and his apparent flight to the U.S. embassy in Beijing.

As it happens, the first question for Obama in the Noda–Obama press conference was about Chen, not about Japan (though the reporter also asked Noda about Japan’s response to a potential North Korean nuclear test).

[Obama acknowledged he’s aware of “press reports” on the Chen case, but wouldn’t make a statement except to say the U.S. government always brings up human rights in its meetings with China.]

A lesser-known disappointment for some about the U.S.–Japan meeting is that it did not include an announcement that Japan would join the eight countries (including the United States) currently negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a free trade agreement that does not include China but does include other East Asian countries.

There is significant opposition to the TPP overall, mostly over its intellectual property measures that some view as a rehash of the SOPA/PIPA fight and over a perceived lack of transparency in the negotiations. But the greater opposition to the specific question of Japanese participation comes from sectors in Japan that would lose some existing trade protections, and from the U.S. auto industry.

In their White House statement, both leaders mentioned that TPP talks would continue, but the issue lies largely unresolved. Meanwhile, the U.S.–Japan relationship still spends time on the disposition of the U.S. base at Futenma, the challenge of North Korea, and rather generalized concerns about China.

Zhu Rongji's diplomatic rants

Ella Chou has translated part of the recently published four-volume collection of materials on Zhu Rongji. Here’s a great rant, and go read some more.

ZHU: (Reminded the Americans that China made concession even before April on the agricultural sector.) You come here this time, saying U.S. is making an unprecedented compromise; China is not responding correspondingly; and you are throwing tantrums all over this. I’ll make one point: you don’t know how much concession we’ve made in agriculture. I am blamed by the people in the entire country for this, do you know that?

I reiterate that I will never back away from the concession we’ve made in agriculture, but if we cannot reach an agreement this time, we will never ever make any compromise on the agricultural front!
(On the Two 51% issue — share of foreign investment in telecommunication and insurance industries) I still think that the “two 51%” issue is not a big problem. I have said this again and again, and to Mr. Summers too, blowing an agreement for a couple of percentage is very stupid. The percentage of foreign investment in insurance companies we have approve so far is as high as 49% sometimes, and sometimes 50%, sometimes even 51%; you could check to see what difference it makes? Not at all! Even for those with 49%, it could be managed by the foreign partner. That’s why the couple of percentages don’t make any actual difference. But why are we insisting on this? Not to go back on our words, but the situation has changed. First of all, it’s because you shouldn’t bomb our Embassy in Yugoslavia… Chinese have always thought that the telecommunication and insurance industries are of vital interests [to the nation]. They think that if I agree to 51%, I’m selling out China’s interests – even though I don’t think so. From there on, a rumor is spreading in and outside of China that “Zhu Rongji is going to quit; [he] is going out of office.” That’s a complete unfounded. But the truth is I’m criticized by all sides. Such criticism comes from the people – they don’t understand the real situation. You don’t understand our  public opinion. If I’m not in China, but in the U.S., I would be out of office long ago. Now I have to stick to the “two 51%” in order not to fail the entire population. So I’m happy that you no longer insist on the “two 51%” issue, though it doesn’t have any practical impact, you indeed helped me out on this one. You could tell your insurance industry people that 51 or 50% aren’t really different. I have more friends in the American insurance industry than you do. There is not one big insurance company that I do not know; they’ve all come to me before. They’ll understand.

China's more 'constructive' and 'outspoken' role on Afghanistan

A report emerged today that China is taking a more active role in international discussions about the situation in Afghanistan. This minor diplomatic news is a case study in China’s role in the international community.

Reuters reports that Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin made an uncharacteristically forward statement at an Istanbul conference, compared with what the reporters call China’s “wait-and-see stance” with regard to Afghanistan.

“The international community must support an Afghanistan run by the Afghans,” Liu said.

“We must pledge to respect Afghanistan’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity, to respect the dignity and rights of its government and people to be masters of their own country.”

This note of sovereignty and territorial integrity is familiar, and resonates with Amitai Etzioni’s recent argument in Foreign Affairs (paywall) that China has become a champion of Westphalian sovereignty in an era when many other countries are pushing a liberal international order that could be said to compromise sovereignty.

I find it interesting that, despite the strong note of national self-determination and strong sovereignty, anonymous “senior Western diplomats” welcome a more active Chinese role in the discussion over Afghanistan. Some of their comments from the Reuters article:

  • “They realize that a policy of further being on the wings, watching what goes on and ready to pick up things, isn’t good enough.”
  • “They were very vocal and raised several issues during the drafting. We weren’t even allowed to begin the final version until the Chinese delegation had arrived.”
  • “Before, you would attend meetings on Afghanistan and the neighbours would be silent, and here you have them taking a lead and that’s what it is all about.” … “The Chinese for the first time were very comprehensive and constructive, you could really see an elevated role of China in the region and more outspoken than ever before.”

That last quote, of course, manages to be happy about China’s “constructive” role while still sounding the note of a Chinese rise: “more outspoken than ever.”

The world is going to have to deal with this combination in every area. If you want a “responsible stakeholder” out of a country with unique interests and great influence, you’re going to have to deal with an “outspoken” colleague.

Text of the U.S.–China joint statement

This idea stolen from Josh Rogin. I’m putting this here so I have it in the future. Source: White House. See also Rogin’s post on China bashing on Capitol Hill.

The White House

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release January 19, 2011
U.S. – China Joint Statement

1. At the invitation of President Barack Obama of the United States of America, President Hu Jintao of the People’s Republic of China is paying a state visit to the United States of America from January 18-21, 2011. During his visit, President Hu met with Vice President Joseph Biden, will meet with U.S. Congressional leadership, and will visit Chicago.

2. The two Presidents reviewed the progress made in the relationship since President Obama’s November 2009 State Visit to China and reaffirmed their commitment to building a positive, cooperative, and comprehensive U.S. – China relationship for the 21st century, which serves the interests of the American and Chinese peoples and of the global community. The two sides reaffirmed that the three Joint Communiqués issued by the United States and China laid the political foundation for the relationship and will continue to guide the development of U.S. – China relations. The two sides reaffirmed respect for each other’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. The Presidents further reaffirmed their commitment to the November 2009 U.S. – China Joint Statement.

3. The United States and China committed to work together to build a cooperative partnership based on mutual respect and mutual benefit in order to promote the common interests of both countries and to address the 21st century’s opportunities and challenges. The United States and China are actively cooperating on a wide range of security, economic, social, energy, and environmental issues which require deeper bilateral engagement and coordination. The two leaders agreed that broader and deeper collaboration with international partners and institutions is required to develop and implement sustainable solutions and to promote peace, stability, prosperity, and the well-being of peoples throughout the world.

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