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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

The year of the Iron Tiger

February 16, 2010

Claude Arpi
The New Indian Express
February 15, 2010
The previous US president was regarded by many as
a bad guy, while his successor is considered by
most as a nice fellow. A question however arises:
can a ‘good guy’ rule over the lone superpower of
the earth? At least in dealing with China, the
events of the past year have proved that it may not be sufficient.

In 2009, the Obama administration tried the
Indian (bhai-bhai) way, accepting to drop a
meeting between the Dalai Lama and later
forgetting all contentious issues during the
November presidential visit to Beijing. But it
did not pay off; Beijing hardened its stance on all fronts.

Wei Jingsheng, the Chinese dissident, knows well
the way the apparatchiks in Beijing function. He
spent 18 years in jail for proposing, in the
’70’s, ‘democracy’ as the fifth ‘modernisation’
(Deng Xiaoping had spoken of Four
Modernizations). In an article in The Christian
Science Monitor, opposing the prison sentence for
the dissident Liu Xiaobo, he noted that because
China ‘now sits prominently at the tables of
global governance’, its leaders think thus:
‘Since you made a fuss about releasing Liu after
his arrest, we will punish him even more severely’.

Wei explains: ‘Now that China’s leaders believe
their prospering nation has emerged as a player
in world history just as America’s prestige has
been weakened by the Iraq war and the recent
financial meltdown, the hardliners have been able
to wrest the upper hand once again’.

In 2010, Barack Obama has no choice but to show
Beijing that the US remains a power to reckon
with. First he will meet the Dalai Lama when the
Tibetan leader visits Washington. During a press
conference in Beijing, Zhu Weiqun, the executive
vice-minister of the CCP’s United Front Work
Department affirmed that the meeting would
‘violate international rules’. He threatened that
China will take ‘necessary measures’ to counter
it. Having once shown a great weakness (he was
the first US president in 18 years to refuse to
receive the Dalai Lama), Obama can’t afford to
kowtow to Beijing’s diktats anymore.

The Washington Post pointed out that many
American analysts believe that ‘the Obama
administration -- with its intensive outreach to
Beijing -- tried too hard in its first year to
cultivate ties with China. Playing hard to get
might have helped smooth out China’s swagger.’

Another US expert explained: "We’re in the role
of the supplicant" while a senior US trade
official mildly threatened: ‘If (Beijing)
continues on this particular path in a strong and
inflexible way, there will be a significant
political backlash not just in the US. China needs to be aware of that’.

With the Iron Tiger year being celebrated, Obama
is keen to change his image, in foreign policy at
least. The sale of Black Hawks and anti-missile
batteries to Taiwan is an occasion. No sooner had
Washington announced the $6.4 billion package to
Taiwan, Beijing was up in arms, threatening
retaliatory measures. Deputy foreign minister He
Yafei called the US ambassador, telling him that
China will stop all scheduled military exchange
programmes and may impose sanctions against any
American company involved in the production of
weapons for Taiwan. Although Obama’s approval of
the sale of the missiles is only the
implementation of an agreement signed by the Bush
administration, Xinhua reacted sharply, asking
the US to immediately stop arms sales to Taiwan
‘in order to avoid damaging bilateral cooperation
in key fields.’ But Washington is going ahead.

The Quadrennial Defense Review Report (QDR)
published by Pentagon made things between Beijing
and Washington worse. It stated that while the US
welcomes a strong, prosperous, and successful
China, ‘however, lack of transparency and the
nature of China’s military development and
decision-making processes raise legitimate
questions about its future conduct and intentions
within Asia and beyond’. Beijing was quick to
counter. “The QDR is playing the same old tune on
China’s military construction,” said Ma Zhaoxu,
foreign ministry spokesman. Ma expected the US to
take a fair and objective view towards China’s
development and its military construction and
‘stop making irresponsible remarks.’

The one issue which preoccupies the leadership in
Beijing more than anything else is the rate of
the yuan. The fate of the communist regime
depends on the continuation of China’s growth
rate which itself largely depends on the low rate
of its currency. During a meeting with Democrat
senators, Obama affirmed that the US has "to make
sure our goods are not artificially inflated in
price and their goods are not artificially
deflated in price; that puts us at a huge
competitive disadvantage”. The New York Times
commented that Obama ‘stopped short of saying
China manipulates its currency, but his words on
China’s economic policies were harsh’. Ma
strongly objected that the ‘wrongful accusations
and pressure will not help solve this issue’.

It is generally admitted that the yuan is
undervalued by 25 to 40 per cent compared to the
dollar. Since July 2005, when the Chinese
government allowed its currency to slightly float
against the dollar, the yuan has appreciated 21
per cent. Since the beginning of the financial
crisis, it has kept the same value.

Beijing will have to re-evaluate its currency,
sooner or later. Even in China many agree that
there is no choice. Zhang Bing, a researcher at
the Institute of World Economics and Politics
under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences,
wrote in a research paper that the government’s
current yuan policy of gradual reform is wrong.
He admitted: ‘a 10 per cent appreciation in the
yuan against the dollar should have a limited
impact on the Chinese economy. It would reduce
speculative fund inflows by effectively
eliminating expectations of a yuan appreciation’.
Whether China decides to re-evaluate or not, the
decision is inescapable and this will have
incalculable consequences for the Middle Kingdom.

All this tends to demonstrate that the Iron-Tiger
year won’t be easy for the Middle Kingdom. From
the US perspective, even if he is keen to remain
a nice guy, Obama has to be tough if he wants the
US to be respected as Superpower No 1. This may
irritate Beijing, but the Chinese leadership ire
will fluctuate (according to their ‘national interests’).

A year ago, Beijing was furious with Sarkozy who
met the Dalai Lama against their approval. The
spokesperson threatened, some Carrefour
supermarkets were even attacked. Now China’s
foreign minister Yang Jiechi has said: "We are
delighted that the French leader (Sarkozy) would
visit (China) in April or May. "it is a new page
in Sino-French relations." Yes, President Obama
you can, you should be a tiger while dealing with the tigers.
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