Friday, September 28, 2007

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China's new foreign policy headaches

Andrew Sullivan nicely recaps the state of play in Burma. I confess I've been loathe to blog about events there because, knowing the military regime's track record in that country, there is only one way this will end.

Quentin Peel uses this flare-up on China's southern border to point out that Beijing is beginning to adjust to the fact that the world expects responsibility to go along with power:

The prospect of growing chaos in the confrontation between Burma’s military junta and civilian protesters provides a critical challenge to China’s efforts to forge a new international image as an influential and responsible world leader.

It calls into question the Chinese position of non-interference in the politics of countries with which it does business, and the absolute priority for political “stability” – which hitherto has always meant an acceptance of the status quo....

Senior Chinese academics attending a Sino-European dialogue in Paris this week repeated the familiar mantra that China puts development before democracy. But they also admitted that growing experience of operating conditions in Africa has caused Chinese officials to start discussing issues such as the rule of law, corporate social responsibility, and institution building.

Neighbouring Burma is far more sensitive for Beijing than distant African states such as Sudan and Angola, but there are similar signs of growing frustration with the Burmese military regime, as much for its incompetence as for its brutality.

“China is changing its identity from being a spectator to being an actor,” said Professor Feng Zhongping, director of the Institute of European Studies at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, at the Paris seminar, hosted by the EU Institute for Security Studies. “Now it increasingly realises its responsibilities outside China.”

The question, of course, is whether senior Chinese officials are heading in the same direction as the senior Chinese academics.

posted by Dan on 09.28.07 at 07:47 AM


To answer your last question, hopefully not! Why would China want to destroy its goodwill and credibility in the developing world the way the US has over the last century?

Thomas Jefferson:

Peace, commerce and honest friendship with all nations; entangling alliances with none.

John Quincy Adams:

Wherever the standard of freedom and Independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own. She will commend the general cause by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example. She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom. The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force.... She might become the dictatress of the world. She would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit....

posted by: Denver Lawyer on 09.28.07 at 07:47 AM [permalink]

Over the last half-century (give or take) the Chinese have conquered Tibet, squandered the lives of several hundred thousand Chinese conscripts for the Kims of North Korea, supported and then fought with the Vietnamese communist government. In recent years China has been content with threatening Taiwan and commiting ethnicide in Tibet. If that is goodwill in the third world then let the Chinese have it.

posted by: Tim H on 09.28.07 at 07:47 AM [permalink]

Tim H, you ignore that all of those things were done by China at its immediate borders (or even within its borders), not to mention that most of those things happened over 20 years ago. You can sneer at it, but speaking to people from Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East, there is tremendous respect for China as an "honest partner".

posted by: Denver Lawyer on 09.28.07 at 07:47 AM [permalink]

I would venture to say that the answer to Dan's question here is, "probably not."

One of the reasons great powers often favor stability in their neighborhoods is that they want freedom to pursue limited, short-term objectives, and don't want potentially expensive longer-term commitments with unpredictable outcomes. China's policy toward Burma over the last couple of decades has served both purposes admirably.

It has also implicated China somewhat in the practices of one of the world's more distasteful regimes, at least with elements of public opinion in the West. How important is this compared to, say, the implications of Chinese policy toward Burma for internal Chinese politics? Chinese officials are not likely to view the suppression of monks calling for political change in quite the same way as officials of Western governments, after all. It's not impossible that the Burmese government's reported tactic of arresting large numbers of monks under cover of night to disrupt street protests the next day was adopted in response to Chinese advice.

The question doesn't really answer itself; Western opinion and implications for Chinese politics are a long way from being the only two variables in this equation. It looks to me as if Dan is probably right, that this round of protests in Burma can end sort of badly, badly, or really, really badly, those being the only realistic possibilities. No one will be happier than I if this impression turns out to be completely wrong.

posted by: Zathras on 09.28.07 at 07:47 AM [permalink]

Is there some evidence that China is really concerned about "Western opinion"? When criticized they get angry, sometimes retaliate and nothing changes.

My guess is that the recent execution of one corrupt official will not change the nature of Chinese warlord capitalism and they will continue to ship their poisoned junk to the US and the Third World ( I think the EU and Japan enforce higher standards for imports) and we will continue to take our chances and consume it.

Is there a case that the US has not become an economic dependency of China? Can someone refute what Paul Craig Roberts has written about the state of the US economy without ad hominem attacks or irrelevant references to his 9/11 theories? I'm not invested in any particular worldview-just asking questions.

posted by: expat on 09.28.07 at 07:47 AM [permalink]

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