Tag Archives: Hu Jintao

Hu Says China Has Hopes For Korean Reunification

The currency issue, particularly the internationalization of the yuan, has taken the headlines from President Hu Jintao’s pre-U.S. visit Q&A with two U.S. newspapers (here via the Wall Street Journal), even if there was nothing new of substance in his answer. But this Bystander’s eye was caught by Hu’s endorsement of unification on the Korean peninsula.

As a close neighbor and friend of both the DPRK and the ROK, China hopes that the North and the South will improve relations and achieve reconciliation and cooperation through dialogue and consultation and eventually realize independent and peaceful reunification, and we support their efforts in this regard.

The notion that China is becoming more open to the idea of reunification surfaced earlier in the U.S. diplomatic cables made public by Wikileaks in November. One quoted then South Korean vice-foreign minister Chun Yung-woo saying  that the younger generation Chinese Communist party leaders no longer regarded North Korea as a useful or reliable ally. They suggested that Beijing would even accept a unified Korea under South Korean leadership provided it was not hostile to China. Hu didn’t go that far, but that he went even any distance at all in that direction suggests the sands may be shifting however slowly under China’s long-standing policy towards Pyongyang.

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Mr Hu Goes To Washington

President Hu Jintao’s state visit to the U.S. this week is a fine balancing act in several dimensions for both him and his host, U.S. President Barak Obama. Both men have to play to domestic audiences, particularly increasingly antsy hawks on both sides. Both have to reassure public opinion in the other’s country that the nation they lead should not be seen as a threatening power. Yet both leaders have to make substantive progress on ensuring that relations between the two countries don’t deteriorate further, and that the areas in which their national interests overlap, from climate change to Iran, North Korea and the international financial system, are stable and expanding.

At the fulcra of these complex balancing acts are Chinese assumptions that the U.S. is in decline as it rises, an assumption reinforced by the relative ways in which the two countries’ economies have weathered the global economic crisis, and by an assumption that U.S. President Obama is a less formidable president, by nature and politically, than his predecessors. This latter perception has encouraged Beijing to push on security issues, such as its territorial claims in the waters off its coasts, its military build-up and North Korea, and to stand pat on economic ones such as trade and exchange rate policy. These, in turn, have elicited a tougher response from Washington to rebuff Beijing’s greater assertion of its power in Asia, a direct challenge to the U.S.’s strategic domination of the region.

So nuanced and important will the public messages conveyed be to both leaders that this will be a carefully managed visit. Hu will want his visit to be seen as a meeting of equals, yet at the same time appear the deferential guest. He will want Americans to understand China’s economic and social vulnerabilities, but in a way that is clear at home — but not abroad — that he is doing so only to strengthen Beijing’s negotiating position, rather than he actually believes it. Similarly he will be visiting industrial plants in the U.S. in which China has invested, an attempt to show that China is creating American jobs not just taking them away. For his part, Obama has to be seen to be reasserting American leadership, to be playing a stronger U.S. hand in the growing Sino-American strategic rivalry, and to be getting some concrete evidence that he is stopping Beijing being so obdurate on the trade and foreign exchange issues.

These are complex messages to pitch. A Chinese ad campaign on American TV may attempt to create some background mood music for Hu. Yet on one side of the Pacific, an army of American human rights protestors and half the U.S. political elite, notably the part of it that resides in the U.S. House of Representatives, stands ready to turn perfect pitch into cacophony. So, too, an army of nationalists and netizens on the other side. It is a crucial four days for maintaining political equilibrium during which neither leader dare put a foot wrong.

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China To Come Into Americans’ Living Rooms

Beijing is planning an ad blitz in the U.S. to accompany President Hu Jintao’s state visit to Washington next week. Familiar faces to Americans such as basketball player Yao Ming and film star Jackie Chan will be deployed as will less familiar ones such as pianist Lang Lang and astronaut Yang Liwei. In all 50 Chinese celebrities have been recruited to the cause, according to the Guangming Daily. There are to be a couple of TV spots and a 12 minute film showcasing China’s achievements. It is not clear what the tone or content will be (though we can guess, and the good people who brought you the Beijing Olympics and the Shanghai Expo know how to put on a show).

Political advertising, as propaganda is known in the U.S., is pretty slick. Wooing let alone wowing America’s media-drenched public will be a hard task for this exercise in soft power. That said, with a new survey from the Pew Research Center showing most American’s now think China has displaced their own country as the world’s no. 1 economic power the ads, as propaganda is known in the U.S., may be preying on vulnerable minds.

Update: A 60-second version of the film has started showing in New York City’s Times Square.

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More Evidence Of China’s North Korea Policy

Our eye was caught by this paragraph from Xinhua‘s report on the meeting between President Hu Jintao and Choe Thae Bok, the high-ranking leader of the delegation North Korea sent to brief Hu on the Workers’ Party of Korea’s conference earlier this week that got underway the dynastic leadership succession in Pyongyang:

“General Secretary Kim Jong Il decided to send a senior delegation to China just after the conclusion of the conference. It shows the importance the DPRK attaches to the consensus reached by leaders of the two countries.”

More evidence, to our minds, that it is China that is orchestrating the succession.

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China’s North Korea Policy

President Hu Jintao sent an effusive congratulatory note to North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Il, on his recent guest’s reelection as general secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK). That the Chinese leader would not have sent fraternal felicitations would have been as unexpected as the unopposed Dear Leader not winning his rubber-stamp election. But Hu slipped in personal congratulations alongside those of his Party’s, giving more credence to the school of thought that Hu’s guiding hand is behind the leadership succession in North Korea that is seeing Kim’s youngest son Kim Jong Un — The Brilliant Comrade — emerging as the heir apparent.

It is not the who so much as the how that concerns China (or more accurately the Party, for it is the party not the foreign ministry that runs China’s North Korea policy). Beijing’s primary interest is to have a stable neighbour. Beijing fears both an economic collapse of North Korea, the so-called East German problem — a flood of refugees flowing across the border in to northeastern China to escape political and economic chaos, and also a rogue act of foreign policy by the military by whatever means. The sinking of a South Korean corvette by a North Korean torpedo earlier this year was greatly concerning to Beijing despite its public stance in refusing to join the international condemnation of Pyongyang for the attack. Beijing doesn’t like surprises in international affairs, and its erstwhile ally is nothing if not unpredictable.

To deal with both worries, Beijing’s plan for North Korea is to have it open and reform its economy (as Hu advised Kim to do on his last visit) and for the WPK to exert greater control over the now more powerful military — not too dissimilar from the Chinese Party’s own path decades back. Beijing would then put a protective aid, trade and diplomatic arm around North Korea to give it a chance to put its plans into action. In return, Kim Jong Il gets Beijing’s support for his dynastic succession (below, from left The Great Leader, The Dear Leader and The Brilliant Comrade). That succession looks to be having to be hurried forward faster than Kim would like because of his ill-health. Neither Kim nor Beijing would like the military to step into the power vacuum that would be created by Kim shuffling off too soon to join his father, the Great Leader, in that great Socialist republic in the sky. So the accommodation benefits both sides.

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All this is to a certain extent speculation, given how little is actually known about the inner workings of both Pyongyang and the Hu-Kim relationship (albeit, we trust, informed speculation). There were plenty of signs of the WPK moving to exert greater control over the military at the conference that reelected Kim Jong Il — only the third such one in the WKP’s 62-year old history and first for 44 years. Kim Jong Un, a 27 year old with no military experience, was appointed a four-star general and deputy chairman of the Party’s Central Military Commission as well as joining the Politburo. His aunt, whose husband, Chang Song Taek, is head of the National Defence Commission, was also promoted to the rank of general as were four others from the Party. Revisions to the WPK’s charter stressed the need to buttress party leadership over the military “so that the WPK may be strengthened in every way and its leadership role further increased”.

A high-level North Korean delegation has already been dispatched to Beijing to brief the Party leadership there on the WPK’s conference. China’s other neighbours and the U.S. would likely be less sanguine about arrangements that would effectively put North Korea under China’s suzerainty, adding a new complication to the possible eventual unification of the Korean peninsular. But, equally, they might consider it the least of the available evils, a price to be paid for stability in the region and removing the Most Dangerous Country in the World tag from North Korea.

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Hu Tells Kim (Yes, He Was There) To Open Up

Xinhua has confirmed the somewhat badly kept secret that North Korean leader Kim Jong Il was in China last week, if not that his youngest son and presumed heir, Kim Jong Un, was with him, even though seven North Korean officials on the trip were mentioned by name in the report. The visit, the second by the usually stay-at-home Kim senior to China this year, was described as unofficial.

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Kim (left) told President Hu Jintao when they met in Changchun on Friday that he was hoping for an early resumption of the stalled six-nation nuclear talks that Beijing has been trying to get going again. Not much detail on how or when that might happen.

Hu did, however, during an orgy of fraternal remarks on both sides, take the opportunity to stress to Kim on the basis of China’s experience the importance of economic development and that opening up to the world was an inevitable part of that. To what extent that fell on receptive ears, it is impossible to say, though from Kim’s reported remarks during the meeting, his world may extend no further beyond the Hermit Kingdom than Jilin and Heilongjiang provinces.

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Hu Holds A Monk’s Hand

Usually Uncle Wen  undertakes these tasks but it is President Hu Jintao who has visited Qinghai, where the death toll from last week’s earthquake has now passed 1,700. Hu cut short an official visit to South America. Amidst the no doubt carefully orchestrated coverage of him holding injured children and visiting displaced families and rescue workers, was footage of him grasping the hand of a monk, a highly pointed gesture in a region where Tibetan resentment over Han rule runs deep, and a reaching-out that will make it easier to rebuff the Dalai Lama’s request to visit the site to comfort victims.

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Hu Softens On Iran But Keeps Hard Line On Yuan

U.S. President Barak Obama took what he could from his private meeting with President Hu Jintao ahead of the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington. That was a willingness of China to be open to sanctions as well as diplomacy to pressure Iran over its nuclear program. But he got nothing when it came to the contentious issue of revaluing the yuan. That would happen when China deemed it should, Hu said, yet again, reminding his U.S. counterpart that “RMB appreciation would neither balance Sino-U.S. trade nor solve the unemployment problem in the United States,” and throwing in a cheeky suggestion that if Washington loosened its restrictions on high-tech exports, American companies could export more to China.

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Hu Adds Heft To China-Central Asia Pipeline Opening

We’ve noted before China’s expanding reach into energy-rich Central Asia. A sign of how strategically important that is to Beijing is President Hu Jintao’s presence (again) in the Kazakhstan capital Astanta on Saturday to open the Kazakh leg of the new 1,800 kilometer pipeline connecting China and Turkmenistan.

Hu will be going onto Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan, for the official opening on Tuesday of the whole pipeline, which runs from a CNPC-operated gas field there back to Xinjiang, itself a reminder of the delicate balance Beijing has to strike between its handling of its Muslim minorities and its Muslim Central Asian neighbors whose oil and gas it is extracting.

Another sign of the shifting sands in the region is that while in Turkmenistan Hu will attend a summit of Central Asian leaders. They rarely gather except at meetings organized by Russia.

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Tweedledum and Tweedledee

Not much to say about U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit, beyond low expectations met. And what was with the matching dark suits, red ties and white shirts at the two presidents’ closing photo op? Some unintentional symbolism of the two countries being a mirror image of each other?

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