Sunday, April 11, 2010

Obama steps forward in China relations


Karl at Liyutan. Yeah, I bring all my dates there.

An look at recent progress in China-US relations from John Pomfret, the former veteran Beijing correspondent, appeared in WaPo this week, generating much commentary around the blogosphere. An excerpt:
"It was exceptionally deft handling of the Chinese. It was a choreographed diplomatic deal," said Bonnie S. Glaser, an expert on China at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "There was a recognition on the part of U.S. officials that China was ready to reengage but needed help to get out of the corner that they'd put themselves into."

The "handling" began days after Obama's Feb. 18 meeting with the Dalai Lama, whom Beijing has described as a "splittist" intent on fragmenting China. Weeks before, the United States had announced that it was going to sell $6.4 billion in weapons to Taiwan, China's nemesis, sending relations into a tailspin.

......

Steinberg and Bader visited China from March 2 to 4 and were confronted by angry Chinese officials making demands. First was that Obama never again authorize the sale of weapons to Taiwan. Second was that the president never again meet with the Dalai Lama.

But behind the Chinese bluster, the two Americans sensed that Beijing was looking for a face-saving way for Hu to attend the nuclear summit. Once they returned to the United States, more talks were held with China's outgoing ambassador, Zhou Wenzhong, and its new one, Zhang Yesui, even before Zhang formally presented his credentials to the U.S. government.

To mollify Beijing, the United States offered to reaffirm, in a public setting, its policy that there is "one China." At the same time, it also agreed to China's request that the new ambassador be granted a meeting with Obama. In return, U.S. officials requested that China take part in talks on imposing sanctions on Iran -- which it had refused to do.

The US did reiterate the One China policy, which is different from China's -- it doesn't include Taiwan in that. The requirement that the US reiterate the One China policy shows how much China's bluster is aimed at satisfying its domestic critics, as is the fact that the tensions -- which it is almost wholly responsible for -- had to be handled privately.

Note that the media once again forthrightly failed to pinpoint the source of tensions: it is China, not weapons sales to Taiwan. So often when China-Taiwan-US tensions occur in the mainstream media, they are referred to in the passive voice. Sad.
As for China, Zhu Feng, director of the international security program at Peking University, said he thinks Beijing needed to calibrate its responses better. "Yes, Taiwan and Tibet are both Chinese 'core interests,' " he said, "but if an arms sale is strictly defensive, why is it automatically counted as a grave violation to China's core interests?
New media propaganda theme being pushed out of China: Taiwan is a "core interest" -- yea, Beijiing has the same interest in Taiwan that a thief has in his neighbor's television...

Pomfret made a significant error in quoting Steinberg as saying the US "opposes" Taiwan independence and in representing his remarks. Steinberg said, with practiced diplomatic nuance.
Indeed, this past year we just marked the 30th Anniversary of the normalization of our relationship with the People’s Republic of China under that one China policy. We’ve made clear that we do not support independence for Taiwan and we oppose unilateral attempts by either side to change the status quo. And we in particular welcome recent improvements in cross-Strait relations and hope that they will continue to expand, and we urged our counterparts in Beijing to continue to work to that end. That PRC-Taiwan dialogue contributes to the objective of a peaceful resolution that has been long central to our approach.
The US does not support Taiwan independence, which is diplomat-speak to avoid saying that the US opposes it -- since we do not oppose it. Beijing correspondents... *sigh*

Also on tap on US-China relations was a good piece from Nat Bellocchi in the Taipei Times today on what Obama should tell Hu when they meet.
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16 comments:

竹板凳 said...

When Obama makes his postponed trip to Asia, will he be visiting China as well?

gih said...

As what the background of the photo goes like, the place is perfect for adventure. I love to go to other places like this too.

Karl said...

What's up with that Karl guy in the pic? He looks all hungover.

Anonymous said...

We’ve made clear that we do not support independence for Taiwan and we oppose unilateral attempts by either side to change the status quo.

If you put the emphasis on the second part of the sentence you get a very different reading. The United States clearly "opposes unilateral attempts by either side to change the status quo." Of course, moves towards Taiwan independence fall very much into this category. That is why CSB became so unpopular in Washington.

Richard said...

Don't expect much from the nuclear summit in terms of Tibet or Taiwan, aka the "core interests" of China. Just another meeting for both sides to continue in their balance act, a give and take. It's something that has been going on for quite some time, and until one side has the guts to draw the line in the sand, doesn't seem like it will change anytime soon.

Michael Turton said...

In the diplomatic discourse, the "unilateral attempts" comment is aimed primarily at Chinese aggression. Note that even in your reading, the US does not oppose Taiwan independence if there is bi/multi lateral agreement. The US nowhere opposes Taiwan independence per se.

Anonymous said...

In the diplomatic discourse, the "unilateral attempts" comment is aimed primarily at Chinese aggression. Note that even in your reading, the US does not oppose Taiwan independence if there is bi/multi lateral agreement. The US nowhere opposes Taiwan independence per se.

No, "unilateral attempts" refers to moves by either side. Chen Shui-bian was frequently criticized in Washington for unilateral attempts to change the status quo.
You are right that the US does not oppose independence per se. Of course there would be no reason for it to oppose independence if there was some kind of bi/multi-lateral agreement. But we all know that this won't happen. Any moves towards independence are unilateral moves, and Washington has clearly stated its opposition.

Michael Turton said...

Chen Shui-bian was frequently criticized in Washington for unilateral attempts to change the status quo.

Yes, but when US state dept speakers come out with this line "no unilateral attempts" they are aiming at China. Im not arguing with your point, just pointing out that Taiwan is not the target of that line, although there is no reason it couldn't be applied to it.

Michael Turton said...

What's up with that Karl guy in the pic? He looks all hungover.

He wasn't hungover. He had slept 10 hours the night before and eaten a healthy vegetarian pasta dinner with no alcohol whatsoever, and was pissed at me for riding too slow while he burned up and down the hills. I've created a monster....

Thomas said...

"Chen Shui-bian was frequently criticized in Washington for unilateral attempts to change the status quo."

You fail to note the context. CSB was thusly criticized because his rhetoric was giving Washington a headache at a time when Washington was preoccupied with two wars plus North Korea. Assuming that we believe that Chen really could have made some kind of independence declaration, which he couldn't under the circumstances, a unilateral declaration on the part of Taiwan could only harm the US by resulting in a Chinese attack, which would put the US in a military quandry.

On the other side, a unilateral attempt to change the status quo would be made by a blockade or invasion.

In both cases, the result of a unilateral move would be a Chinese-engineered war or something approaching it.

So the US' opposition to a unilateral change in the status quo is entirely meant to ward off a Chinese attack, especially at an inconvenient time.

So I really don't see what your point is, anon. The US position is crafted to restrain both China and Taiwan, but restraint of Taiwan is indirectly seen as restraining China. Officially, though diplomatically gloved, the finger points at Beijing, not at Taiwan. The sad thing is that many commentators play down the real cause for tension: Chinese threats. It is as though the diplomatic glove were so bulky that the direction the finger points in could not be deduced.

Anonymous said...

Michael,
I don't really understand what point you are making. The US clearly opposes any "unilateral attempts" to change the status quo from either side. Google news stories from the CSB presidency and you will find plenty of examples of US officials using these exact words to slap down Chen Shui-bian. Obvious examples include reactions to CSB's referendum proposals.
Thomas,
Yes the US has many reasons for its policy of not supporting Taiwan independence and opposing unilateral attempts to change the status quo. But these reasons do not change the reality of the policy.

Thomas said...

"But these reasons do not change the reality of the policy."

You still haven't said what your point is. MT's original comment was that Pomfret was wrong in saying that the US opposes Taiwan independence. You chimed in with:

"The United States clearly "opposes unilateral attempts by either side to change the status quo." Of course, moves towards Taiwan independence fall very much into this category."

It sounds very much to me that, despite your concession that opposing a unilateral change to the status quo is not the same as opposing Taiwan independence, you are bending over backwards over a technicality to show that you are right about something.

OK. Let's turn the tables on this discussion. Chen claims, and so does most of the DPP, that Taiwan already is independent. Meanwhile, nowhere in the US' version of the one-China policy is it written that Taiwan is not independent. Therefore, from the US' perspective, the status quo could just as easily be that Taiwan IS independent but not formally recognized by the US. And so I could alter another of your sentences to read, "Any moves towards UNIFICATION are unilateral moves, and Washington has clearly stated its opposition."

Taiwan is a neither nor / either or on the books of the US. It is not one or the other.

Now let's turn to the "unilateral changes" part. In case you haven't noticed, unilateral changes happen all the time under Washington's nose and without major complaints (absent the occasional press release citing concern in couched terms). The military imbalance shifts in China's favor unilaterally. Taiwan democratized and is increasingly Taiwanizing unilaterally. China passed its Anti-Secession Law unilaterally. Such unilateral moves have already greatly altered the relationship between Taiwan and China. If we close our eyes and believe in the anachronous ROC constitution, no, the situation has not changed. And the US is ok with it, as long as the unilateral changes don't affect US interests too greatly at once.

So I return to my comment about your criticism of Chen. You did not cite the context. Chen's rhetoric only made a blip on the US radar screen because of the precarious international position of the US and the fruits of the peak of cooperation of US business interests and the Chinese government at the time. Chen got burned because he played the bee when the Americans were dancing nude by the beehive.

That is the reality. BOTH the US One China policy AND the opposition to unilateral changes to the status quo are ambiguous, but in general they are designed to ward off a Chinese attack by allowing the US to change its position as it sees fit.

So again, what is your point? Why are you trying so hard to tie down the American position when it is clear that both the wording and the application of US Taiwan policy was designed to be subject to the interpretation of the US under different circumstances?

Anonymous said...

It sounds very much to me that, despite your concession that opposing a unilateral change to the status quo is not the same as opposing Taiwan independence, you are bending over backwards over a technicality to show that you are right about something.

Hardly a "technicality" at all. It is absolutely central to the US position.

OK. Let's turn the tables on this discussion. Chen claims, and so does most of the DPP, that Taiwan already is independent. Meanwhile, nowhere in the US' version of the one-China policy is it written that Taiwan is not independent. Therefore, from the US' perspective, the status quo could just as easily be that Taiwan IS independent but not formally recognized by the US. And so I could alter another of your sentences to read, "Any moves towards UNIFICATION are unilateral moves, and Washington has clearly stated its opposition."

No, the whole point is that the position is deliberately ambiguous. The status-quo is defined by each side in a different way. So if you believe that Taiwan is a part of China, the sentence could be altered to read "Any moves towards INDEPENDENCE are unilateral moves, and Washington has clearly stated its opposition." In any case, Washington repeatedly criticized Chen for "unilateral moves" to change the status-quo when he tried to push Taiwan in the direction of formal independence. I don't think it's much use denying this.

Now let's turn to the "unilateral changes" part. In case you haven't noticed, unilateral changes happen all the time under Washington's nose and without major complaints (absent the occasional press release citing concern in couched terms). The military imbalance shifts in China's favor unilaterally. Taiwan democratized and is increasingly Taiwanizing unilaterally. China passed its Anti-Secession Law unilaterally. Such unilateral moves have already greatly altered the relationship between Taiwan and China. If we close our eyes and believe in the anachronous ROC constitution, no, the situation has not changed. And the US is ok with it, as long as the unilateral changes don't affect US interests too greatly at once.

Yes of course the situation is changing all the time. But these changes are not the same as "unilateral moves to change the status-quo". The anti-secession law is a good example of a "unilateral move" and was also condemned by Washington. Any moves towards independence by Taiwan are the same, and would result in American displeasure and some kind of diplomatic sanction (exactly what happened to Chen).

Anonymous said...

Thomas- remember this from Chen's inauguration speech?

"I fully understand that as the popularly elected 10th-term President of the Republic of China, I must abide by the Constitution, maintain the sovereignty, dignity and security of our country, and ensure the well-being of all citizens. Therefore, as long as the CCP regime has no intention to use military force against Taiwan, I pledge that during my term in office, I will not declare independence, I will not change the national title, I will not push forth the inclusion of the so-called "state-to-state" description in the Constitution, and I will not promote a referendum to change the status quo in regards to the question of independence or unification. Furthermore, the abolition of the National Reunification Council or the National Reunification Guidelines will not be an issue. "

Why was this passage included (and then referred to again in the 2004 speech despite the displeasure of many DPP supporters)? Of course, it was at Washington's request. Indeed the whole speech was first approved by Washington!
I think it is quite clear what the US position is. They want to maintain stability in the region (mainly, as you say, because they have other priorities and they want to maintain good relations with China). For them, unilateral moves towards TI are clearly a threat to that.

Thomas said...

Again, Anon, what is your point? You still haven't answered that question, and I have asked now three times. Most of your rebuttals have simply restated comments I made elsewhere.

Meanwhile, you are bending over backwards to show that "unilateral moves" in itself restrains either party, despite its designed intent. I can only conclude by now that you are not interested in making salient points and that you are just trying to confuse the original issue. I won't participate in this roundabout game any longer.

Anonymous said...

Meanwhile, you are bending over backwards to show that "unilateral moves" in itself restrains either party, despite its designed intent.

Well, it obviously does restrain either party, and I've given you countless examples of how it was used to restrain CSB. If you and Michael want to continue to insist that this wording is only used to restrain China, there is not much more I can say.
That is my point.

And why did A-Bian make that kind of inauguration speech? Any answers?