Tag Archives: diplomacy

Win-Win Ways In Washington

China's President Xi Jinping addresses the United Nations General Assembly, September 2015

PRESIDENT XI JINPING’S visit to the United States delivered as little, in the eyes of the outside world, as had been expected. On that score, it did not disappoint.

The two headline outcomes, a cybersecurity dialogue and the announcement of a national cap-and-trade carbon market, were a fudge and a repackaging respectively. The two sides agreed not to support commercial cyber-espionage, although what one side sees as cybertheft the other regards as matters of national security. So we’ll see how far that goes. Meanwhile, China has long been running pilot cap-and-trade carbon projects in preparation for launching a national market.

Plenty of other areas of contention remain, from the impact of China’s recent stock market turmoil and currency devaluation on the U.S. Federal Reserve’s interest rate policy to questions of maritime sovereignty in the South and East China Seas.

Even the agreement to start a high-level dialogue on cybercrime, albeit narrowly defined, risks triggering another front in the simmering trade wars between the two, and especially with the U.S. going into a presidential election campaign that has already shown signs of inflammatory anti-China rhetoric before it has even got going.

The proposed cybercrime dialogue provides, though, another example, of how Xi is trying to define issues on Beijing’s own or parallel terms, not on Washington’s. The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank initiative is another. The Beijing development model in Africa is a third.

Being seen at home to be writing new rules of the game not playing by the old ones and standing shoulder to shoulder with the U.S. as an equal was a significant purpose of Xi’s trip.

State media laid great emphasis for its domestic audience on Xi and Obama forging a new model for great power leadership, a theme echoed in the coverage of Xi’s address to the United Nations General Assembly where Xi was lauded for breathing “new life into the development of international relations, leaving a deep imprint in the history of China’s diplomacy.”

Win-win is the new watchword for China’s diplomacy. It is a portrayal of the country as an alternative to traditional great or colonial powers. China’s narrative is that it is a developing country that will be a partner to others not a master. This fits with a traditional commercial concept that negotiation is about building trust for long-term cooperation rather than resolving an immediate problem at hand.

The reality is that great powers have national interests and it is their power to impose those interests that makes them great powers.

1 Comment

Filed under China-U.S.

Shifting Sands Of China’s Relationship With U.S.

Reuters’ report that China’s three big state-owned energy companies, CNPC, Sinopec and CNOOC, have had their arms twisted by the U.S. to suspend new investments in Iran causes this Bystander to raise an eyebrow. CNPC has reportedly delayed work on a 4.7 billion dollar deal; Sinopec has postponed a 2.0 billion dollar oil development, and CNOOC has halted a gas venture according to the news agency after U.S. officials threatened sanctions against the SOEs’ U.S. investments. This they apparently did by bypassing official diplomatic channels and going directly to the companies.

Now, Washington has not had much success in getting Beijing to go along with its efforts to thwart Iran’s nuclear programme. Beijing opposes proposed UN sanctions, which would jeopardize the oil supplies it buys from Tehran, it’s third biggest supplier. Plus there is the general reluctance on Beijing’s part of being seen to be doing anything at Washington’s behest, and a general tendency to stick with old friends, especially those hostile to the U.S., (a policy that is causing some second thoughts, or at least some readjustment, in the light of events in places like Pakistan, Libya and Syria, all of which also have implications for the leadership’s legitimacy at home).

Even if there may be some shifting of the geo-political sands occurring, there is no way that any or all of CNPC, Sinopec and CNOOC would take it upon themselves to undermine official policy without at least tacit approval from Beijing. Which then makes the question, why would Beijing do this now. Is it just letting some of those swirling geo-political sands settle until prospects become clearer, or is using supposedly business decisions as a smokescreen, if we may mix and match our metaphors, for some back-channel cooperation with Washington that it sees to be in its short- or long-term advantage but which it can’t bring into the open? Or is it, as Reuters implies, just part of Beijing’s desire, seen since late last year, to ease tensions with the U.S.as it heads into it’s own leadership transition?

Leave a comment

Filed under China-U.S., Energy

Sport And Nationalism; Rockets, Hoyas And Orwell

Whether benign (ping-pong) or violent (basketball, ice hockey, cricket, etc, etc, etc), international sport has always been close enough to international politics to commute. The risk of putting sport in the service of diplomacy is that it can so readily reflect national interests and rivalries. Those can flare up at any moment, as we saw on the basketball court in Beijing on Thursday evening when a PLA team, the Bayi Rockets, which plays in the CBA’s southern division, took on, in every sense, the Georgetown Hoyas, students from America’s Georgetown University.

This latest ugly example (video, via The Guardian) prompted this Bystander to re-read George Orwell’s classic essay, The Sporting Spirit, written in the wake of in ill-tempered ‘goodwill’ visit to Britain in 1945 by the Dynamo football team from Stalinist-era Moscow. Two passages in particular resonated:

At the international level sport is frankly mimic warfare. But the significant thing is not the behaviour of the players but the attitude of the spectators: and, behind the spectators, of the nations who work themselves into furies over these absurd contests, and seriously believe — at any rate for short periods — that running, jumping and kicking a ball are tests of national virtue….

As soon as strong feelings of rivalry are aroused, the notion of playing the game according to the rules always vanishes. People want to see one side on top and the other side humiliated, and they forget that victory gained through cheating or through the intervention of the crowd is meaningless. Even when the spectators don’t intervene physically they try to influence the game by cheering their own side and “rattling” opposing players with boos and insults. Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence: in other words it is war minus the shooting.

Orwell concluded, “There are quite enough real causes of trouble already, and we need not add to them by encouraging young men to kick each other on the shins amid the roars of infuriated spectators.” Words seemingly as true today as then.

1 Comment

Filed under China-U.S., Sport

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Politics & Society

Leaked Cables Show U.S. Frustration At China’s Role In North Korea-Iran Trade

The leaks of U.S. State Dept. cables by the online whistleblower WikiLeaks as far as we can tell so far don’t reveal any great new secrets about Sino-American relations. We’ve turned up only a few China-related cables in the batches published by some newspapers, which are not the full set shown to them, so it is thin pickings at this point, though there will be thousands more to come. (WikiLeaks’ leaked cables from the U.S. Beijing embassy here.) Yet one of the few that has been made public initially underlines the depth of frustration felt in Washington about its inability to stop China playing the middleman in North Korea’s weapons trade with Iran.

A 2007 document signed by then U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (via Guardian) mentions “about 10” occasions between December 2006 and August 2007 on which the Americans said North Korean shipments of jet vanes for ballistic missiles passed through Beijing. The vanes were trans-shipped to commercial passenger flights out of Beijing Airport, with the Chinese authorities ignoring American requests to intervene to stop them, despite the Bush administration raising the issue several times at the highest levels.

The leaked cable also says Iran was trying to buy tungsten-copper alloy plates from Dalian Sunny Industries to make the vanes itself should its North Korean supply dry up. Separate cables also have the Americans accusing Chinese firms last year of supplying Iran with materials and assistance for making chemical weapons and saying that Iran was trying to buy gyroscopes and carbon fiber for its ballistic missiles from Chinese companies.

If the jet vanes were missile related, as the U.S. claims, their trans-shipment would have been in contravention of a U.N. Security Council resolution preventing their international trade and China has publicly said that it won’t help any country develop ballistic missiles that can be used to deliver nuclear weapons. But there is plenty of wiggle room within those constraints for anyone who didn’t want to look too closely.

At the same time, a cable from the U.S. embassy in Beijing dated March 2009 says that senior Foreign Ministry officials were telling the Americans that China’s good political and economic relations with Iran weren’t unconditional, that China didn’t want a nuclear-armed Iran (and was not 100% certain Iran was developing nuclear weapons, as opposed to “nuclear capability”, which would give it some regional clout). The officials also said China was supporting international talks on the issue but that the U.S. should take the lead with direct negotiations. They also said that they had told the Iranians “not to take China’s economic interests in Iran for granted” and that progress on the nuclear issue would “create a foundation” for further Chinese investment in the energy sector.

Improved ties with Saudi Arabia makes Beijing less reliant on Iran for oil and gas. Another cable, on the occasion of Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi’s visit to Saudi Arabia in January this year, notes some prodding from the kingdom for China to get in line with international efforts to limit Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and non-specific promises that Saudi Arabia would assure what is now the largest customer for its oil of adequate supplies should its purchases from Iran be interrupted.

Without providing the supporting cable in its database of the leaks , The Guardian also reports that

the hacker attacks which forced Google to quit China in January were orchestrated by a senior member of the Politburo who typed his own name into the global version of the search engine and found articles criticising him personally.

The New York Times, another recipient of the leaked cables, adds that

The Google hacking was part of a coordinated campaign of computer sabotage carried out by government operatives, private security experts and Internet outlaws recruited by the Chinese government. They have broken into American government computers and those of Western allies, the Dalai Lama and American businesses since 2002, cables said.

The New York Times also reports that “American and South Korean officials have discussed the prospects for a unified Korea, should the North’s economic troubles and political transition lead the state to implode. The South Koreans even considered commercial inducements to China, according to the American ambassador to Seoul. She told Washington in February that South Korean officials believe that the right business deals would ‘help salve’ China’s ‘concerns about living with a reunified Korea’ that is in a ‘benign alliance’ with the United States.”

A cable from May 2009 also reveals that China felt that the “lever of economic development” had not been used effectively on North Korea in the six-party talks, and that the further sanctions being pushed by the West wouldn’t work. As with Iran, Chinese officials have been telling the Americans that they need to take the lead through a bilateral dialogue with Pyongyang to get the international talks going again. A cable from December 2009, summarizing China’s advice to the U.S. on what reassurances it should give North Korea about its intentions, gives a good sense of why Kim Jong Il’s regime feels its back is against the wall.

It also contains the best piece of diplomatic understatement in all the leaked cables we’ve seen. Wang Jiarui, who heads the Party’s department dealing with other Communist Parties, told the Americans that “it was impossible to predict North Korean behavior through ‘normal’ means of reading public indicators”.

1 Comment

Filed under China-Koreas, China-U.S.