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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

Hu and Obama seal real deals

November 20, 2009

By Francesco Sisci
Asia Times
November 19, 2009

BEIJING -- Both wore red ties, dark suits, and
white shirts. While Chinese President Hu Jintao
focused coolly on the audience, as if with no one
in mind, United States President Barack Obama
tilted his head to one side, watching his
counterpart seemingly with warmth and attention.

So, with contrasting personal styles but almost
identical apparel, on Tuesday the heads of the
two nations announced, if not a wedding, then at
least an engagement. Behind them lay a nine-page
joint statement full of principled pledges yet devoid of specific actions.

This was the theoretical engagement that the
Chinese had wanted, one that encompassed a
long-term, strategic relationship. The engagement
is much more important for the

Chinese than any single business deal or any convergent short-term tactics.

In the document, Beijing did not obtain the
"strategic partnership" (almost an alliance) that
it seeks with the US, but it did earn "strategic
bilateral trust". This may shroud US intentions,
since it is now clear that that the US welcomes a
strong and prosperous China. For Beijing, the
"strategic bilateral trust" is a guarantee that
the US will not try to stop China's economic and
political growth by internal subversive actions or external containment.

In return for this, China recognizes US
geopolitical interests in Asia, since it
acknowledges the US as an Asia-Pacific power.
This, in turn, means that China could be ready to
support or even help American interventions in
the region. This could be very important in the
future, especially given the ongoing economic and
political decline of Japan as a regional power.

The framework is similar to those agreed upon
between the US and China with Mao Zedong and then
Deng Xiaoping in the 1970s. Back then, China
agreed to cooperate with America in anti-Soviet
containment, and in return Washington encouraged
Western investment flow to China, which first
triggered and then fueled China's economic and
political growth over the next few decades.

This time, the US promised cooperation in the
fields of aerospace, aviation, and environmental
technology - all fields with potential dual-use
technology. In other words, Washington is
preparing to lift (or is actually lifting) the
arms embargo imposed on China after the Tiananmen
crackdown in 1989. The export of such
technologies to China could begin a new expansive
phase for American industries that in time may
pull the US out of the present recession, along
the lines David Goldman and I suggested exactly
one year ago (see US's road to recovery runs
through Beijing, Asia Times Online, November 15, 2008).

Strategically, the US's theoretical pledges have
apparently led China to make overtures on two
burning issues for Washington - Iran and Afghanistan.

On Iran, Hu said for the first time very openly
that China is opposed to Tehran's nuclear
proliferation. This could unlock the door to new
pressure being exerted on Tehran by Beijing
behind the scenes. Yet the contours of this
action are still unclear. A bit clearer is what
China vows to do in Afghanistan, where Americans
are bogged down in an extremely difficult war.

Beijing has committed itself to "anti-terrorist
actions" in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Chinese
Deputy Foreign Minister He Yafei said in a press
conference that Beijing did not want to explain
the details of this commitment, but other sources
claim that the two sides so far did not speak of
Chinese troops in Afghanistan but are working on
intelligence cooperation. This cooperation may
have already been approved by Pakistan.

In Afghanistan, the Chinese first want a
political agreement between the various players
in the local puzzle before even talking about
military intervention. Accordingly, the crucial
problem is to ensure the various tribal groups
have economic resources besides opium, which is
now their main source of income.

It is necessary to take into account the dynamics
and rivalries of the various tribes. The problem
of the Taliban's core of anti-Western extremists
- those dedicated to terror - could be limited.
The hardcore militants, according to some
estimates, may number as few as 6,000 to 7,000.
But there are 11 million Afghans fed up with
foreigners on their land, and they could turn
their weapons for or against Kabul.

If cooperation between the US and China on
Afghanistan worked, this could actually lead to
the withdrawal of US troops from the country.

Now, as in the 1970s, a victim of the new entente
cordiale is "human rights". On this issue, the
joint statement said that human rights should be
addressed through dialogue, but it acknowledged
historical differences, as the two countries
reciprocally recognize their "core interests".

This means that human rights will not be used
anymore as a political cudgel to beat Beijing on
the head every time that it is convenient - and
what's more, not to do so in public. Since this
is a major appeasement for China, Beijing will have to reciprocate.

The many declarations of principles in the joint
statement betray a joint "Chinese" approach taken
by both countries. In public, you have agreements
in principle. In private, behind the scenes, you
pursue concrete deals, keeping negotiations flexible to save face.

Francesco Sisci is the Asia Editor of La Stampa.
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