Wednesday, April 13, 2005

China News

Not sure how I missed this story from the Washington Post (from Friday Apr. 8):

President Bush has decided the United States and China should begin holding regular senior-level talks on a range of political, security and possibly economic issues, signifying both China's interest in the prestige of such sessions and the administration's efforts to come to grips with China's rising influence in Asia, senior administration officials said.

Deputy Secretary of State Robert B. Zoellick has been assigned to head the U.S. delegation, and a Chinese vice foreign minister will be his counterpart, officials said. Regular meetings between the two countries have never been held at such a level.

Chinese President Hu Jintao formally asked Bush to consider engaging in what the Chinese call a "strategic dialogue" during an economic meeting in Chile last November. During a visit to Beijing last month, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice confirmed that the United States is interested in regular senior-level talks, but the administration has chosen to call the meetings a "global dialogue" because, officials say, the phrase "strategic dialogue" is reserved for close U.S. allies.

OK, but then there's this line:

Reflecting the administration's concern, Rice initiated an effort during her trip to Asia to make India into a major world power and elevate Japan as a key ally on a range of international issues.

During Zoellick's meetings, U.S. officials expect to ask tough questions about China's rapid rise in military capabilities. "It will almost certainly be raised in the strategic dialogue," a senior administration official said. During Rice's visit to Beijing, she was "very direct in our concerns on their military buildup," he added.

OK, so which is it? Global dialogue or strategic dialogue? If officials say a "strategic dialogue" is for close allies and go out of their way to describe these talks as a "global dialogue," why is "a senior administration official" saying otherwise? Maybe the qualifications of a certain type of "dialogue" really have no bearing on this relationship? Or maybe this public diplomatic-speak is a bunch of bull - which it usually is anyway. Still, I would think a strategic dialogue is necessary to deal with North Korea:

The growing coordination between the United States and China -- even when each country's objectives may be different -- is illustrated by the crisis over North Korea's nuclear ambitions. The United States has increasingly relied on China to persuade North Korea to attend six-nation talks as a way to dismantle Pyongyang's nuclear programs, even though China often appears to value stability on the Korean peninsula over the goal of disarming -- and possibly destabilizing -- North Korea.

Indeed, U.S. officials have been frustrated that China has often acted as a mediator in the talks rather than as a full participant. Frequently, China has called on the United States and North Korea to show greater "flexibility and sincerity" in dealing with each other. U.S. officials in recent weeks have privately told the Chinese that there is little appetite in Washington for that rhetoric and that it is time for China to demonstrate more toughness with North Korea.

Publicly, China still refers to the United States and North Korea as the "major parties" in the talks and says the burden should not be on China to get Pyongyang back to the table. But in recent talks with U.S. officials in Beijing, Ning Fukui, China's special ambassador for the nuclear issue, indicated growing frustration on the part of China at North Korea's behavior, U.S. officials said. Ning for the first time did not call for additional flexibility by the United States and said the two sides may need to discuss "next steps" in addressing the crisis -- a euphemism for possibly ending the six-party process.

U.S. officials are not sure what to make of Ning's comments, though some believe they may signal a growing willingness to pressure North Korea. In the past, China has generally lured Pyongyang to the talks with offers of cash and other sweeteners -- exactly the opposite of the Bush administration's mantra that North Korea should receive "no reward" for its behavior.

Tom Barnett, of course, has some thoughts on this emerging relationship (first and second series of items).

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