China gets US assurances on Taiwan

In his first call to Chinese President Hu Jintao after being re-elected, President George Bush has made assurances that US policy towards Taiwan - widely seen as the region's biggest potential flashpoint - will not change.

    Bush told Hu that US policy towards Taiwan would not change

    Currently in the process of trying to sell China's "renegade province" an assortment of weapons worth $18 billion - a move that has naturally met with disapproval from Beijing - it was Bush's reaffirming of the "one country, two systems" policy that mattered most to China's leaders.

    While there was never any suggestion that he would do otherwise, opinions are mixed as to what another four years of Bush will mean for one of the world's most important bilateral relationships.

    "Bush's re-election will mean a continuation of the trend of US-China relations that has seen steady improvements since well before the election. As both sides already know each other it means they can continue from their present state without backtracking," believes Mei Renyi, a specialist in Sino-US relations at the Beijing Foreign Language University.


    In the run up to the election, however, China's media took a generally pro-Kerry line, believing that he would be better for bilateral relations and global stability.

    "Bush's re-election will mean a continuation of the trend of US-China relations that has seen steady improvements since well before the election"

    Mei Renyi, Beijing Foreign Language University Sino-US specialist

    In an unusual move given the political sensitivities of the election, an article was printed in the government run China Daily that was vitriolic in its criticism of US

    since September 11.

    Written by former foreign minister Qian Qichen and originally printed in a more discreet internal Communist Party magazine, Qian said that the world was no safer since the war began in Iraq, and he accused the US of "cocksureness and arrogance" as well as "opening a Pandora's Box" of troubles.

    Although China's foreign ministry was quick to distance itself from the article, it clearly showed that some decision makers were unhappy with and deeply concerned about the direction of US unilateralist foreign policy, with the article also questioning Bush's axis of evil and pre-emptive strike strategies.


    "As it looked towards the election, China was clearly heavily conflicted," says Adam Ward, a China specialist at the International Institute of Strategic Studies in London.

    Bush may not have much influence
    over Taiwan leader Chen Shui-bian

    "It was familiar with and had a good working relationship with George Bush, seeing him as a pragmatist who would use his influence to rein in Taiwanese independence forces ... but China also disapproves of the direction of US foreign policy under Bush; and yet the divisive and controversial nature of the Bush administration has created opportunities for China to make diplomatic advances and build up its influence in Asia and elsewhere at America's expense," he says.

    There are concerns though over just how much influence Bush has over Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian.

    And the widely tipped candidate to be the new Chinese ambassador to Washington, foreign vice-minister Zhou Wenzhong, was busy recently reaffirming the government's line that it would go to war over Taiwan regardless of the consequences.

    "I think the belief is that the Republicans treat Taiwan as an issue while the Democrats would treat it is as a problem," says Dr Philip Yang, a Taiwanese defence expert at the National Taiwan University.

    Building bridges

    Adding that the US will not downgrade its weapons sale, Yang predicts that early next year Washington will encourage Taipei to engage in cross-straits dialogue with Beijing.

    Experts say the US will use China's
    clout with North Korea's Kim Jong Il

    Remaining committed to defending Taiwan, the US does not want to inflame the situation at this time.

    Instead, say experts, the focus remains one of fighting "terror" and using China's leverage in Pakistan and North Korea.

    Building bridges with Central Asian republics, Russia and more recently India, China has been able to use its growing economic strength and role in the "war on terror" to its advantage - few now remember the months before September 11 when Sino-US relations were marred by the "spy plane" incident and talk in Washington of China being a competitor and rival.

    Partner or rival?

    One question though is if the "war on terror" and the campaign in Iraq are somehow concluded, will talk of China as a rival once again usher from the lips of US government spokespersons?

    Speaking in Beijing on Monday, Morgan Stanley's chief economist Stephen Roach laid out his predictions saying that he expected to see the risk of protectionism and the use of China as a scapegoat rise under Bush.

    Much will depend on Bush's
    second term cabinet 

    "As long as the Bush administration continues to refuse to accept responsibility for their reckless fiscal policy China should prepare for the likelihood trade frictions will intensify, largely because of actions in Washington," said Roach.

    Much might depend on personnel who emerge following any White House cabinet reshuffle.

    Already there has been talk of hardliners such as Dick Cheney playing a stronger role on the back of the electoral mandate, while Colin Powell, seen as a moderate, is rumoured to be considering stepping down.


    At the same time though, pressure could also come from Congress, which, responding to constituent complaints about job losses, will force attention on to long-standing grievances such as the fixed currency exchange rate that critics say gives Chinese exports to the US an unfair price advantage, or America's China trade deficit which stood at $98.9 billion for the first eight months of 2004.

    Overall, experts remain confident that trade disputes can be settled within the framework of negotiations without resorting to the raising of barriers or trade wars.

    "China may well be made a scapegoat at times, but a trade war benefits no one. It certainly would not be in the interests of the multinationals - only the American trade unions would advocate this and compared with the multinationals, their influence is limited," believes Beijing Foreign Language University's Mei.

    SOURCE: Aljazeera


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