Tag Archives: Yang Jiechi

China-US Relationship Will Still See Hard Lines and Red Lines

THE PAST WEEK brought two speeches on the future of relations with the United States, one from each perspective and both relatively forthright.

Both might be said to have offered an olive branch. Yet both did so holding it in a clenched fist and with arms folded.

Yang Jiechi, the de facto architect of China’s foreign policy, called for Washington to recognise the errors of the past four years and for the new Biden administration to put the relationship back on track. His olive branch was:

China is prepared to work with the United States to move the [China-US] relationship forward along the track of no conflict, no confrontation, mutual respect and win-win cooperation for the well-being of both countries and peoples.

That is a message that Washington has heard from several officials of late, and Yang’s version went down about as poorly as the previous ones. The new administration is not going to apologise for the old one.

However, as US President Joe Biden, laid out in his speech on US foreign policy, it will adopt some of its stances. His administration would take on directly the challenges posed by what he called ‘[the United States’] most serious competitor, China’. 

We’ll confront China’s economic abuses; counter its aggressive, coercive action; to push back on China’s attack on human rights, intellectual property, and global governance.

His olive branch was an expression of willingness to work with Beijing when it was in Washington’s interest to do so.

Beijing’s preconditions for getting the relationship stabilised are that:

  • the United States has to stop looking at China as a strategic competitor, or even an adversary;
  • Washington needs to restore normal engagement, exchanges, communication and cooperation;
  • the United States must not meddle in China’s internal affairs, i.e., Taiwan, Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Tibet;
  • Washington should co-operate with Beijing’s global initiatives on issues such as climate change, post Covid-19 economic recovery and global public health; and 
  • the United States should stop politicising trade and considering it as a matter of national security.

That list of conditions implies a return to the pre-Trump status quo of the relationship. Washington has moved on from that, as Beijing’s senior foreign policymakers indubitably know.

However, Beijing can take some comfort on two points. First, while the Trump administration’s hard line towards China will remain, Biden has room for pragmatism when it serves US interests. Second, Biden will pursue the relationship via professional diplomacy rather than unpredictable and irascible tweeting.

On both points, senior officials in Beijing will be relieved they will be back in their comfort zone after four uncomfortable years of Donald Trump and his China hawks. 

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Kim Jong-un’s Astute Shuttling

China’s President Xi Jinping (right) greets North Korean leader Kim Jong-un at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing during Kim’s visit to China from March 25 to 28. Photo credit: Xinhua/Ju Peng.NORTH KOREAN LEADER Kim Jong-un’s not-so-secret three-day visit to Beijing on March 25-28 dropped two markers ahead of Kim’s proposed meeting with US President Donald Trump in May.

The first is that China remains an integral part of any political settlement on the Korean peninsula. Beijing has long advocated multilateral talks to achieve that settlement. Kim’s proposal and Trump’s acceptance of a bilateral summit initially put Beijing on the back foot. The visit restored its balance. Special representative Yang Jiechi’s talks in Seoul with South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Friday offer further evidence.

The second marker dropped by Kim’s Beijing visit is Pyongyang’s signal to Washington that Kim does not go into the meeting with Trump alone; he still has a powerful friend in China.

The atmospherics were one of the most notable aspects of the visit beyond the fact that it happened at all. The cordiality extended by President Xi Jinping to Kim belied the fact that neither had found reason to visit the other since coming to power (2011 in Kim’s case, 2012 for Xi) and that relations between the historically close neighbours were at a low ebb not least because of China’s unprecedented imposition of international sanctions on the Pyongyang regime because of its nuclear and missile tests.

Kim played his part in this show of restored fraternity to perfection, striking a delicate balance between the deference to be expected of a ‘little brother’ while remaining his own man.

This Bystander reflects on how adept Kim’s father and grandfather were at playing off China and the former Soviet Union against each other. We wonder if that gene has passed to the latest generation as Kim shuttles between summits with Xi, Trump and Moon regardless of what his true intentions remain.

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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”.

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China Tells New U.S. Administration To Step Lightly

His welcome-to-your-new-job call was cordial and formulaic enough, but in his published remarks, foreign minister Yang Jiechi was more forthright towards his new American counterpart, Hillary Clinton, telling her to be careful with sensitive issues that could strain ties between the two nations.

Yang didn’t mention the yuan issue by name (and that isn’t really in the Secretary of State’s purview), but his words came a day after prospective new Treasury secretary Tim Geithner said his boss believed China was a currency manipulator — an accusation immediately denied by Beijing, where there are fears that Geithner was signaling a change in U.S. policy.

This is shaping up as being the most immediate issue between Washington and Beijing, though Taiwan remains ultimately the most sensitive issue that Clinton and President Barack Obama will have to deal with.

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More Olympics Games

Foreign minister Yang Jiechi adds his voice to those criticizing the critics of the Beijing Olympics. They are anti-China forces trying to tarnish China’s image, he says, straight down the party line.

Human Rights Watch is the latest to join the other side of the argument, alleging that migrant workers were being exploited to rebuild Beijing for the games, by being cheated of wages, and made to work under dangerous conditions with neither accident insurance nor access to medical and other social services. Earlier in the week, Hollywood star George Clooney spoke about his attempts to get Olympic sponsor Omega, to pressure China over its Dafur policy (attempts that Omega batted aside).

A top-level team headed by Xi Jinping, the man being groomed to follow Hu Jintao as president, has been set up to oversee the run-in to the Games’ opening in August, Xinhua reports. For those of you keeping score at home, DiligenceChina has a drole post from last month summing up the issues surrounding the event. It concludes:

The power of the Olympics may be mostly symbolic – but China is a place where symbols have a lot of power. Look for a smooth, photogenic Games to get China’s propoganda machine cranking out self-congratulatory accounts of the People’s triumph. Unfortunately, it will also reinforce Beijing’s conviction that weather, the media and international relations can all be controlled through rigorous application of correct policy. A noisy or problematic Games will immediately throw Beijing into panic-mode, and could be interesting to watch for a moment or two – until it gets ugly.

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