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    Greater China
     Jan 23, 2008
China and the US remain focused
By Jing-dong Yuan

MONTEREY, California - The fifth round of Sino-US senior dialogue was held in Guiyang, capital city of the remote southwestern Chinese province of Guizhou, on January 17-18. Led by US Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte and his Chinese counterpart, Executive Vice Foreign Minister Dai Bingguo, the meeting for the first time included defense officials and military officers from both sides. The Taiwan issue, Iran, military transparency, among others, topped the agenda.

The meeting was held at a crucial time for the two countries. Beijing is bracing for the March 22 presidential elections in Taiwan, at which time a referendum on whether the island should



apply for its United Nations (UN) membership under the name of Taiwan will also be held. It's a move seen by the Chinese government as a deliberate attempt by outgoing Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian to push the envelope and seek du jure independence. While the recent legislative elections delivered a landslide victory for the opposition Kuomintang (KMT)party, Beijing nonetheless is nudging Washington to do more to rein in Taiwan's independence tendencies. This is the message Negroponte received as he met with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi.

Yang called for more "resolute" measures on the part of the US government to oppose the referendum and Negroponte reiterated the administration's characterization of Taiwan's move as "provocative".

China's continuing worry is driven by a number of considerations. One is the concern that despite the KMT's victory in the legislative elections, there is still uncertainty over the presidential elections. With the referendum still on the ballot irrespective of US objections and Chinese warnings, the voters' mood could be swayed between Frank Hsieh, candidate of Chen's Democratic Progressive Party and the KMT's Ma Ying-jeou. Second, Beijing remains suspicious of US long-term intentions regarding cross-strait relations. Continued US arms sales to Taiwan are not viewed favorably in Beijing, in particular as these reflect Washington's attempts to maintain a military balance and can be construed (and indeed will be manipulated by the pro-independence factions) as reflecting US commitments to Taiwan's defense.

Another major item featured prominently on the dialogue's agenda was the Iranian nuclear issue. Coinciding with Negroponte's visit and his lobbying for China to support a new round of UN Security Council sanctions on Teheran, Iran's top nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili arrived in Beijing to seek China's understanding of its stance on the current negotiations with the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Even though Beijing has not always endorsed sanctions as a means to resolve international disputes, it went along with the previous two sanctions as part of the concerted international effort to persuade Tehran to change course and come to full compliance with its commitment to peaceful nuclear use.

However, given the recent US National Intelligence Estimate report, with a different assessment of the extent and the status of Iran's nuclear activities, China, along with Russia, is reluctant to support new sanctions, but instead urges patient international diplomacy. Meanwhile, Chinese officials also advise Iran to show more flexibility in reaching a mutually acceptable resolution to the dispute.

That China is being courted by both Iran and the United States suggests that its cloud has risen, even as it still internally debates whether keeping a low profile remains its best diplomatic strategy. Additionally, Iran being China's third-largest provider of energy makes Beijing reluctant to endorse further sanctions that could compromise its commercial interests.

This is exactly what worries Washington. The George W Bush administration sees China's commercial dealings with countries that it considers as international pariahs as undermining US-led efforts to isolate, punish and engineer changes from Sudan to Myanmar. This remains an area on which the two countries continue to differ, including issues concerning sovereignty, human rights and international intervention.

A third area of discussion focused on enhancing mutual trust, military transparency and crisis management when defense officials from both countries for the first time participated in the dialogue. This is obviously a major step as the two powers - one being the only superpower in the international system and the other a fast rising one - seek to assess, engage and interact with each other. And the military field is a most critical and sensitive area to avoid misunderstanding and misperceptions that could misinform policy and lead to unanticipated, undesirable and avoidable consequences.

Indeed, while over the past few years China and the United States have either established, or restored, or enhanced multiple channels of dialogue at various levels, the two countries have yet to gain traction so they can more effectively deal with issues that can be considered truly strategic in the sense that they are not merely bilateral but contain regional and global implications.

In that sense, Beijing and Washington will continue to use the strategic dialogue as a platform to identify differences, resolve disputes and promote common causes and interests that contribute to regional and global peace and stability.

Dr Jing-dong Yuan is director of the East Asia Non-proliferation Program at the James Martin Center for non-proliferation studies and an associate professor of international policy studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies.

(Copyright 2008 Asia Times Online Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)


All bets off on Taiwan's presidential race (Jan 18, '07)

For Sino-US ties, cautious progress (Dec 22, '07)

US tweaks stance on Taiwan vote  (Dec 20, '07)

US-China military ties warm with hotline (NOv 10, '07)


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