Saturday, August 26, 2006

China Stands Up at the UN, and Elsewhere

Fascinating article in the IHT (via TWR) about how China has become more active and assertive at the UN, especially in the Security Council. It wasn't given the press it deserved, but the real story behind North Korea and Iran is that China - counter to its historical behaviour - voted in favour of both resolutions.

China still has a delicate balance to keep (with the UN, as with so many things) but the message of the article is clear: China is gaining influence at the UN, and it's directly at the expense of the United States.

The quality of the people China sends to New York, both as diplomats and officials, has improved noticeably. According to one UN insider, the Chinese used to take a "prophylactic" approach to placing people in the United Nations, seeking to shield them from outside influence. Now, by contrast, "they want to spread their influence."

(As China has stepped up its engagement with the UN, Washington has stood down. After the Bush administration's recess appointment of John Bolton - the man who once said "there is no such thing as the United Nations" - as UN ambassador, Bolton has thrown his weight around at the UN, but if anything his ambassadorship has telegraphed American weakness.)

It's not just at the UN. One of the most interesting stories of the last few years has been thoroughly overblown by most American observers. I'm speaking, of course, of China's increasing investments in Africa, and it's protection of some pretty harsh regimes, like the Sudanese government. If you read only American newspapers, you'd be convinced that CHINA IS TAKING OVER AFRICA!!! AHHH!!!!

The reality is a lot more complex, as always. China is providing a lot of investment in Africa, while the US has increasingly pulled its foreign assets out of Africa because of African government's refusal to give US soldiers amnesty from prosecution in the International Criminal Court. This has almost certainly hurt the war on terror, according to the Pentagon. But it's worth considering that the War on Terror may be doing more long-term damage to America's standing relative to China.

America's single-minded focus on the GWoT during the Bush years has already given China a much bigger profile in Asia then it would have already have, according to some experts:

By making Southeast Asia a "second front" in its global "war on terror", the Bush administration has signalled that "we care less about other areas of policy", Dalpino said, addressing a forum on China and Southeast Asia sponsored by the Sasakawa Peace Foundation USA.

Minxin Pei, director of the China Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, agrees that the US "has ceded the region to China's initiative".

He said US military policies following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks have played a significant role in the estrangement. But he dated the problem back to the Asian financial crisis of 1997 and 1998, when the Clinton administration used its influence on the International Monetary Fund to impose solutions on Asian countries that supported US economic goals in the region.

During the crisis, "the US showed to the East Asian countries it really did not care about them", he said.

Conversely, the Asian crisis was a turning point for China's ties with the broader Asian region, said Ren Xiao, director of the Asia-Pacific Studies Department at the Shanghai Institute for International Studies.

(I continue to be amazed at how little public attention was paid to Clinton's incredible mis-management of the 1997 financial crisis in Asia. I'm not qualified to speak to the macroeconomic merits, but from an International Relations perspective, the "Asian Flu" was an unqualified disaster for the US, and a boon for China.)

Unfortunately, the Bush Administration seems to be preparing to make the same mistakes in Africa all over again (via DefenseTech):

In what may be the most glaring admission that the U.S. military needs to dramatically readjust how it will fight what it calls 'the long war,' the Pentagon is expected to announce soon that it will create an entirely new military command to focus on the globe's most neglected region: Africa....

The Pentagon has five geographic Unified Combatant Commands around the world and responsibility for Africa is awkwardly divided among three of those: European Command, Pacific Command and Central Command — which is also responsible for running the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Creating an African Command would be an important structural move to coordinate U.S. defense policy for the continent, as well as provide a single military organization for agencies like the State Department and the CIA to work with in the region.

The article definitely takes the angle that this is a new strategy to fight terrorism, which if true I expect to be disastrous. America may have already "lost Asia" due to a combination of the global market's economic cruelty during the Clinton years (not exclusively Clinton's fault, though he didn't help) and the Bush Administration's obsession - to the exclusion of other interests - with terrorism.

Africa doesn't need any lessons on the cruelty of the global market, and if the US becomes similarly obsessed with terrorism in Africa (a policy that already seems to have begun in Somalia, now with the possibility of regional war) I expect China will be doing very well in Africa in the next decade.

Some of this would undoubtedly have happened no matter who was in the White House - China's increasing economic power in Asia would have inevitably drawn the countries of Southeast Asia closer to its shores, regardless of 1997, or even 2003. China's economic growth is therefore a structural condition of the international arena. Nevertheless, it has helped Beijing a great deal to have a bunch of blithering incompetents in the White House and Pentagon.

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