Still Awaiting China Surprises From Leaked U.S. Cables

The leaked U.S. State Department cables published by WikiLeaks so far, at least those concerning China that we have seen coming from the U.S. embassy in Beijing, are mostly the diplomatic equivalent of sales-call reports: Mr X said A; Mr Y said Mr Z told him B and so on. As such many are mundane reportage of officials, advisors and academics who know they are talking to American officials, even if they may have thought at the time they were speaking in private.

Much of it is on the same level of observation that we read in the serious broadsheets attributed to unnamed government officials, except the diplomats name their sources, which provides some prurient interest. That is one reason that there are no great surprises to date. Another is that it takes a sharp pen to break out of the standard format cables follow, though these cables are refreshingly free of the polysyllabic obscurantism that wrings any meaning from most public statements by diplomats. English is, it happily turns out, the first language of U.S. senior officials after all.

Such communications are the string — hundreds of thousands of pieces of it — from which foreign ministries and security advisors form their analyses and create their policies. We have only a few pieces of that string so far that relate to Sino-American relations, all of it a year or more old, and most of it about Iran and North Korea. They do underline how much common cause Beijing and Washington have in keeping two volatile areas of the world from getting “out of control” through the acquisition of nuclear weapons, how much Beijing wants Washington to take the lead in bilateral talks with both Pyongyang and Teheran to bring them into international six-party talks to stop nuclear proliferation, how much more patient Beijing is than Washington with the diplomatic process and how much less faith Beijing has in the effectiveness of sanctions and how much more it has in the benefits of rewarding Teheran and Pyongyang for good behavior.

As we noted yesterday, our eye was caught by some assertions that Beijing’s support for Teheran wasn’t unconditional, and that it had told the Iranians that progress on the nuclear anti-proliferation talks would make continuing Chinese investment in Iran’s energy sector more likely. We wonder if future leaked cables, if published (there are more than 3,000 on China to come), will reveal the same attitude towards Pyongyang, as we believe has been happening. Most of all we are waiting to read cable traffic on the issues that get to the heart of Sino-American relations — regional defense and security and the handling of the global financial crisis and the associated macroeconomic imbalances, trade and currency issues.

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