Thursday, October 17, 2013
China Envisions Smaller US Role In World Affairs
Watching U.S. President Barack Obama cancel his trip to Asia, an Asian diplomat in Beijing noted, "There is just one problem with the U.S. 'pivot-to-Asia' strategy. The U.S. is not part of it."
- Professor Yan Xuetong
Due to its divided Congress, the world's sole superpower is struggling to make decisions. As the era of a single world power looks to be coming to an end, voices in China have begun calling for a new global order, one less dominated by the U.S. What kind of world does China foresee?
Caught In The Middle
The Israeli Prime Minister's Office sits on a quiet hill in Jerusalem. On the desk of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are two letters, one from Washington and the other from Beijing. Both talk about the same topic.
Seven years ago, a 16-year-old Jewish-American boy was killed in a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv. The fundamentalist group Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the attack. Upon further investigation, it emerged that China's state-owned Bank of China was one of the banks used by the organization to transfer money. The boy's relatives took the issue to a court in New York, demanding an acknowledgement from the bank that it held accounts serving terror organizations and compensation.
This spring, as Netanyahu planned his second trip to China, the Chinese side made it clear that an invitation would only be extended if the court case in New York was dropped. According to Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, the Prime Minister's Office gave its promise, and the visit went ahead in May.
Fast forward five months. Earlier in October, Netanyahu received a letter from Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, chairwoman of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee and a staunch Congressional ally of Israel. "Dear Mr. Prime Minister," she wrote. "I am writing to respectfully request your assistance to support joint initiatives in the war on terrorism, by permitting the U.S. legal process run its course in the case against Bank of China." The language was polite, but the message clear.
The letter from the Chinese government that quickly followed was much harsher in tone. "Mr. Prime Minister," it read. "You made a promise. The promise enabled your visit to China. The Chinese government expects you to keep your promise." China's frustration that the case was still in process -- five months after the his visit -- was clear.
During his visit to Beijing, Netanyahu discussed various infrastructure projects with Chinese leaders, the grandest of which was a high-speed railway cutting through Israel. The Israeli leader was extremely pleased with the project, which would link the Mediterranean and the Red Sea and form an alternative route to the Suez Canal. Also on the Prime Minister's mind was the hope that after long-term economic cooperation and friendship, China would one day disengage from Israel's No. 1 enemy, Iran.
But further progress in the court case would negate any gains that were made by the trip. "By giving contradictory promises to the Chinese government, to his friends in the American right wing and to the court in the United States, Netanyahu has become personally entangled in this affair," the Yedioth newspaper wrote.
Playing By New Rules
In the past, it was unthinkable that China could come between the iron-clad relationship between Israel and the U.S. Congress. But cases like this could become common in the future. "As the disparity between Chinese and American power shrinks, their interests will increasingly clash," Professor Yan Xuetong, dean of the Institute of Modern International Relations at Tsinghua University, said in a recent speech in Beijing.
A commentary published by the state-run Xinhua news agency on the evening of Oct. 13 sent ripples across the world, including Israel. Addressing the U.S. government shutdown, it suggested that "it is perhaps a good time for the befuddled world to start considering building a de-Americanized world."
The commentary continued: "Under what is known as the Pax-Americana, we fail to see a world where the United States is helping defuse violence and conflicts, reduce poor and displaced population, and bring about real lasting peace." Instead, it said, "a self-serving Washington has abused its superpower status and introduced even more chaos into the world by shifting financial risks overseas, (and) instigating regional tensions amid territorial disputes."
It called for a "new world order" where all nations, large and small, have their key interests respected and protected on an equal footing. It made three specific proposals: that no one has the right to wage any form of military action without a UN mandate, that developing and emerging market economies need to have more say in major international financial institutions including the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, and that a new international reserve currency should be created to replace the dominant U.S. dollar.
Professor Yan also talked of "new international rules" in his recent speech. "We should develop new international norms to maintain world order and gather the power of all nations to prevent certain countries breaking these rules," he said. A world, in other words, where the U.S. cannot impose its own rules on others.
New order and new rules seem to be a hot topic among Chinese leaders these days.
Making the most of Obama's absence at the recent East Asia Summit in Brunei, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang made a shrewd analogy in his speech. "Many East Asian countries use chopsticks. Anyone who uses chopsticks knows it is very hard to eat with a single chopstick, and that you need a pair. And if you bundle chopsticks together, they are hard to break." It was as if to say that the U.S., as a non-chopstick nation, has no place at this table.
-- By The Nikkei Dalian Bureau chief Ken Moriyasu