This will likely be an interesting trip, both for personal and policy reasons. If you recall, both Obama and Clinton used China as a punching bag during the presidential primaries, and the Chinese have been a bit wary of her ever since - and arguably before then, too. During the 1995 U.N. Fourth World Conference on Women, she blasted China for its atrocious human rights record, a topic about which she remains particularly passionate. That said, this trip could either do well to move U.S-China relations in a positive direction.... or do quite the opposite.
Monday, February 16, 2009
Hilary Clinton today begins her first trip abroad as secretary of state, on an Asian tour intended to strengthen U.S.-Asia, and particularly U.S-China, relations. While discussions will focus primarily on economic matters (and for good reason!), Clinton also hopes to spur dialogue on the topic of climate change with the Chinese, who have now become the world's biggest emitters of greenhouse gases (for a slightly more detailed outline of Clinton's goals, see here).
For those of you who don't have a bourgeoning interest in the American intelligence community as I apparently do (this is an entirely new development - much to the surprise of those who know me well, myself included!), a brief little back-grounder is in order. Every year the national intelligence chief (now Dennis Blair) presents an Annual Threat Assessment report to Congress, compiled from analytical judgments of all the U.S. intelligence agencies, particularly the CIA.
This year's report was presented last Thursday, and included some interesting passages on China (see pp. 22-23 of the report), as well as on China's impact in Africa (pp. 34-5). While the link to the report for some reason doesn't appear to be working, the wonderful people over at The China Beat managed to get their hands on the pertinent sections.
With respect to China specifically, the report notes:
We judge China’s international behavior is driven by a combination of domestic priorities, primarily maintaining economic prosperity and domestic stability, and a longstanding ambition to see China play the role of a great power in East Asia and globally. Chinese leaders view preserving domestic stability as one of their most important internal security challenges. Their greatest concerns are separatist unrest and the possibility that local protests could merge into a coordinated national movement demanding fundamental political reforms or an end to Party rule. Security forces move quickly and sometimes forcefully to end demonstrations. The March 2008 protests in Tibet highlighted the danger of separatist unrest and prompted Beijing to deploy paramilitary and military assets to end the demonstrations.
These same domestic priorities are central to Chinese foreign policy. China’s desire to secure access to the markets, commodities, and energy supplies needed to sustain domestic economic growth significantly influences its foreign engagement. Chinese diplomacy seeks to maintain favorable relations with other major powers, particularly the US, which Beijing perceives as vital to China’s economic success and to achieving its other strategic objectives. But Beijing is also seeking to build its global image and influence in order to advance its broader interests and to resist what it perceives as external challenges to those interests or to China’s security and territorial integrity.
Taiwan as an area of tension in US-China relations has substantially relaxed since the 2008 election of Ma Ying-jeou. The new Taiwanese President inaugurated in May has resumed dialogue with Beijing after a nine-year hiatus, and leaders on both sides of the Taiwan Strait are now cautiously optimistic that a new period of less confrontational relations has begun. Many outstanding challenges remain, however, and the two sides eventually will need to confront issues such as Taiwan’s participation in international organizations. Beijing has not renounced the use of force against the island, and China’s leaders see maintaining the goal of unification as vital to regime legitimacy.
And on Chinese engagement in Africa:
China’s presence has grown substantially over the past decade. Total bilateral trade between China and the continent has increased from less than $4 billion in 1995 to $100 billion in 2008, but the EU and US still remain far larger economic partners for the region. China’s objectives are to secure access to African markets and natural resources, isolate Taiwan, and enhance its international stature, all of which it has made progress on. Nevertheless, China’s role has generated local resentment as Chinese firms are seen as undercutting African competitors in securing commercial contracts and falling short of standard local labor practices. Moreover, there is little discernible evidence of Chinese investments being used to incorporate Africa into the industrial “global value production chains” that are becoming the hallmark of integrative trade and FDI flows, especially in manufacturing in other regions of the world.Two quick thoughts: 1) Neither section really relays any novel information, which is quite unforunate; 2) The last sentence of the 'Africa' section really drives the point home, especially for those who cling to hopes that Chinese investment will somehow lead to skills and technology spill-overs, or elevate African firms to the point at which they can become competitive in the global market. Despite their outwardly benevolent statements, the Chinese aren't particularly interested in playing that game.