The U.S. And China: Agreeing to Disagree

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 14:  U.S. President ...

Image by Getty Images via @daylife

Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping’s week-long trip to the United States was largely uneventful, but generally successful for China and Xi himself. The future leader of China met with the leaders of the U.S. on equal terms, and the public appearances portrayed a harmonious relationship between the two global superpowers.

At the same time, Xi drew an important line in the sand in typical Chinese fashion by referring to the importance of the two nations establishing mutual trust. In Washington on Tuesday, Xi suggested that China and the United States promote “strategic mutual trust” by respecting each others’ core interests and accommodating each others’ major concerns.

To some, this may seem like a relatively innocuous statement. However, it is filled with meaning. It means that, before the two nations can truly trust each other, they must first respect each others’ “core interests.” Therefore, any discussion or activity regarding Taiwan or Tibet, issues that touch on Chinese sovereignty, are off the table. It means that China is responsible for managing its own internal affairs economically and socially, and does not appreciate criticism of human rights and the country’s currency policy.

As far as President Barack Obama’s recent push to increase U.S. influence in Asia, Xi had this to say:  ”China welcomes the United States playing a constructive role in promoting the peace, stability and prosperity of the Asia-Pacific region, and at the same time we hope the U.S. side will truly respect the interests and concerns of countries in the region, including China.”

In short, Xi made his points, appearing personable to American audiences and resolute to audiences back home during his visit.

For its part, various branches of the U.S. Government got in their digs in speeches or in private conversations with Xi during the week. President Obama took aim at China’s trade policies, saying he will not stand by when American’s competitors “don’t play by the rules,” while members of Congress pressed Xi on China’s detentions of human rights activists. On Wednesday, U.S. Treasury Secretary Geithner acknowledged that Beijing is gradually letting its currency rise, but not fast enough to please the United States.

In other words, the leaders of the two countries have agreed to disagree.

That’s okay, but it will not help dealing with the real trouble spots that lie ahead — Syria and Iran. The Tibet, Taiwan, currency and human rights issues are largely benign. They have been raised over and over in the past, and neither side has changed its respective position. Moreover, no one at this point expects any of these issues to threaten the world order or to suddenly cause a rift between the two countries.

However, events in Syria and Iran are potentially destabilizing to world peace, oil supplies and the global economy. The repression in Syria will not go away anytime soon, and Iran keeps raising the decibel level on its growing nuclear capability. Any unified action by the United Nations on either front will require China’s support, at precisely the time when China seems determined to be more assertive as a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council.

The U.N. Security Council has 15 members: five permanent members that have veto power — China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States — and 10 elected non-permanent members with two-year terms. It takes nine votes to pass a resolution, but even if a resolution obtains the requisite votes, it can be killed by a single veto by one of the permanent members.

China’s veto of the recent resolution regarding Syria received a great deal of attention, but China has been quite restrained in its use of the veto in the past. Since 1971, China has only exercised its veto powers eight times. In the meantime, France has vetoed 18 resolutions; the United Kingdom, 32; the United States, 82; and Russia/the former Soviet Union, 123.

China’s veto was heavily criticized by the United States and some European countries, and Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, called the veto “disgusting and shameful.” In China, though, the veto was hailed by local media as a significant change in Beijing’s diplomatic tack. “Abstaining is no longer always a choice as China is forced to speak out,” according to an editorial in the state-run Global Times, an official English-language daily.

Government officials echoed the same sentiment. “Do not mistakenly think that because China takes a careful and responsible position on this [Syria] issue, China will not use its veto power or will always abstain,” said Cui Tiankai, China’s vice foreign minister. “When necessary, China will of course use its veto. When China has to show its hand, China will certainly show its hand. Nobody should have any illusions that China always uses abstention,” Cui added, emphasizing that China has only used its veto eight times since 1971.

Given this change in Beijing’s approach, future U.N. resolutions on sensitive topics like Syria and Iran are going to require a great deal more diplomacy, mutual respect and mutual trust than we have seen in the past.

Enhanced by Zemanta

No comments yet... Be the first to leave a reply!