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"Canada can, within a positive friendly atmosphere, ask the Chinese government to resolve the Tibetan situation."

All 'AmeriChina' cards on table

July 16, 2010

By Francesco Sisci
Asia Times (Honk Kong)
July 15, 2010

BEIJING - There is no international political
engagement more important than Chinese President
Hu Jintao's visit to the United States at the end of November.

The trip should give new impetus to relations
between today's two major powers: China and
America, or if you prefer a moniker for this
exclusive group - AmeriChina, or even the Group of 2.

Between now and November, diplomats from both
sides hope the two countries can overcome a series of complex problems to

make the meeting a success. Bilateral relations
nowadays are held hostage to several twisted
military and strategic issues that are central -
much more so than the wars in Iraq and
Afghanistan - to global politics and future economics.

The bilateral military dialogue so far has
stalled because Washington wants to talk without
changing much of the present situation, while
Beijing wants America to first resolve the issues
of arms sales to Taiwan and US surveillance/spying missions around China.

America providing weapons to Taiwan has long been
a thorn in Beijing's side. Relations between
Beijing and Taipei have improved markedly in
recent years. The two parties established direct
channels of communications and transport (rather
than going through Hong Kong) and signed a
free-trade agreement in early July that
effectively integrates the island's economy with
that of the continent. Reunification is a now
only a political question, and a path that
neither party is eager to hasten along.

The only potential stumbling block comes from
Taiwan's theoretical military strength (the
island is independent de facto but not de jure),
which can repel a theoretical attack from the mainland.

While the possibility of an attack is all very
theoretical, it has very practical consequences:
if Taipei has an army capable of defending the
island, not only can Taiwan always resist the
mainland’s siren song, it can also decide to
suddenly declare formal independence.

This is the ideal platform for the Democratic
Progressive Party, the opposition party in
Taiwan, and it also provides significant political leverage against Beijing.

If Taiwan - like China, with a majority of ethnic
Han - became formally independent, why should
Xinjiang or Tibet remain part of China, since
these regions have local populations that aren't
even Han? If Xinjiang and Tibet became
independent, Beijing would lose about half its national territory.

In other words, the sale of American weapons to
Taiwan supports the forces that want to dismantle parts of China.

On the other hand, America is obliged to sell
those arms because of a law passed by the US
Congress. And anyway, if America were to stop
selling weapons to Taiwan, the American public
might see this as if a timid US were handing over
the Taiwan lamb to the China wolf.

In the past, the issue was on the backburner, but
now it has become more urgent because Beijing is
making a lot of progress with Taiwan and wants to
close the arms issue to ensure the momentum is not put into reverse.

Furthermore, there is America's surveillance on
China. US ships and aircraft conduct about a
thousand missions a year around China, including
surveying the seabed (ie, preparing for possible
attacks by submarines) and detecting the capacity
of Chinese military technology.

There have been incidents, such as last year and
in 2001, and these could have turned into more significant clashes.

To avoid possible escalation, the US would like
to establish a bilateral code of conduct for the
missions. China opposes this because a code of
conduct would establish almost an official
adversarial relationship with the US, almost like
an old Cold War enemy. Plus, the code would apply
only to the United States because Beijing is
unable to perform similar actions around US
territory - nor is such action part of China's strategy.

Finally, there is the problem of the sale of
dual-use (civil and military) technology by the
US to China. Such technology could - as with
nuclear power - reduce growing carbon emissions
in Beijing. Here, Washington has made
concessions, but they are minimal according to
Beijing, and China would like to take more.

Before 1989, the Americans gave or allowed third
parties to give much technology to China, but
after the Tiananmen crackdown in 1989, the US
imposed an embargo that still stands. It would
take a great deal of bilateral negotiation to
lift that, and this condition is also complicated
by the fact that many neighbors, from Japan to
India, feel squeezed by China's growth. They fear
a US move toward Beijing would definitely change
the political and economic balance in Asia, and then around the world.

These three levels of problems interact with one
another and touch on other issues, such as how
the transfer of technology would affect sensitive
environmental issues, the development of technology, and even economic growth.

A massive transfer of American technology to
China would help US industry, which is now
practically in recession, and help the world out
of its financial crisis. But at what strategic cost, the generals are asking?

These issues are so thorny that it is impossible
to solve them in a few months. The novelty is
that for the first time, the two sides seem to be
putting everything on the table. This is an
important step forward because only by expressing
clearly what they want can the parties make progress.

In light of the growing importance of the two
nations, greater understanding between Washington
and Beijing is beneficial for all since it would
enhance global security and development - or at
least this is true in a general sense.

Indeed, the new "AmeriChina" casts a shadow on
Europe, marginalizing the continent politically.
New US-China ties must take into account the new
balance of Asia-Pacific power, but it is
absolutely independent of what happens in the old
continent, which is exhausted by internal divisions.

Thus, long-term European well-being could be in
question. Military and strategic considerations
in this case come before industrial ones, so the
economy of Europe could suffer the consequences
of becoming more marginal. The effects probably
won't be felt tomorrow, but already the day after tomorrow is in doubt.

Francesco Sisci is the Asia Editor of La Stampa.
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