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Hope and Fear – China’s relations with its “neighbours”

Updated On: Dec 14, 2007

A recent survey entitled “Hope and Fear: American and Chinese attitudes toward each other” reflected the realities that Sino-US relationship will have to navigate to ensure that this important bilateral relationship will be one that is more hope than fear.

The survey reflected that while Chinese and Americans generally hold favourable views toward each other, a strong majority of Americans view China’s emerging economic and military power as a threat to the US, while many Chinese believe the US is trying to prevent their country from becoming a world power.

There is no doubt that the Sino-US relationship is important not only for the two powers, but is keenly watched by everyone else in the Asian region because of the impact it will have on regional peace and prosperity.  It is therefore gratifying that despite various differences and rising tensions that surfaced during the bi-annual Sino-American Strategic Economic Diaolgue, the US and China have pledged to take steps to fight protectionism. 

Before the Strategic Economic Dialogue, a one-day closed door consultation on trade and commerce was held. Chinese Vice Premier Wu Yi called the 18th Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade "substantial" and "evidence of sincere goodwill from both sides to resolve economic and trade issues through peaceful consultation." This established a positive tone for the third China-U.S. Strategic Economic Dialogue and provided a forceful boost to trade development, she said. "China has been the fastest-growing export market for the United States for five straight years," Wu said at the opening ceremony of the Economic Dialogue.

Three of the 14 agreements and memoranda agreed upon involve cooperation on the safety of drugs, medical devices, food and feed, alcohol and tobacco. The two sides also agreed to facilitate travel of Chinese tourist group to the United States, establish a forum on environmental protection technology and industrial cooperation and work more closely in the areas of agricultural science and technology and the development of bio-fuels. The meeting also completed guidelines on China-U.S. high-technology and strategic trade development, in an apparent effort to address chronic trade imbalances. Despite the lack of a headline-grabbing deal, US Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson maintained that the talks had been “substantive, robust and engaging”.

However, danger points remain.  US trade deficit with China appears set to balloon past last year’s record US$233 billion. Critics contend that China is keeping its currency artificially low to boost Chinese exports, and the US vowed to maintain pressure on China over its currency controls.

The other sticking point includes some legislative bills currently before U.S. Congress designed to manage the economic relationship with China.  Vice-Premier Wu Yi warned that US businesses would be hurt if Congress went ahead with the 50-plus bills aiming to penalize China for alleged unfair trade practices.  Chinese Finance Minister Xie Xuren added to this voice reiterating that if passed, the bills will cause serious harm to China-U.S. economic and trade cooperation and to the interests of the U.S. itself.  He said it is worrying to see the rising trend of trade protectionism in the United States, but he believed that cooperation still remains as the mainstay of China-U.S. economic and trade relations.  US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson acknowledged that mounting protectionist sentiments in both Washington andBeijing had caused trade ties to “recently become a source of tension”. 

Other than the US, another keenly watched relationship is that between China and Japan.  Relations between the two have been improving since Junichiro Koizumi stepped down as Prime Minister of Japan in late 2006.  Prime Minister Fukuda was scheduled to visit China early next year, but Opposition party leader Ichiro Ozawa headed to China last week (6 December), upstaging PM Fukuda in forging ties withBeijing. Ozawa’s visit is particularly significant since the opposition now has a strong footing in the parliament, controlling the Upper House. "We must cooperate and work together in resolving issues on environment, security, peace, the Korean Peninsula and all other areas," visiting Minshuto (Democratic Party of Japan) President Ichiro Ozawa quoted Hu.  He added that  "China-Japan relations must be maintained under whatever circumstances”.  

Ozawa said he told Hu: "Since the Far East is diverse in terms of political systems, political beliefs, stages in economic development and religion, peace and prosperity cannot be achieved unless utmost efforts are made. "Japan-China relations constitute the linchpin in this." Before the Ozawa-Hu meeting, Hu posed for photos with Ozawa and the rest of the delegation. "Such a reception is meaningful in deepening bilateral relations," Ozawa told reporters. Mr Ozawa said he travels to China every year. He told reporters that he travels to Beijing annually as part of grassroots exchange programme. Ozawa has generated considerable attention by beating his own Prime Minister in visiting China.

However, perhaps as a sign that relations while on the mend may not always be smooth-sailing, it was recently reported that Japan is infuriated by China's deletions from joint press communiqué coming out from the bilateral economic talks that took place on 1 December. China deleted two views of Japan from a joint press communique that the two countries had agreed upon during the talks, sources said over the weekend (9 December). The deleted parts were Japan's expressions of hope for a rise in the value of the yuan and Tokyo's mention of China's role in an energy charter.

Japanese Foreign Ministry Masahiko Komura responded, "It (the economic dialogue) was a success as we were able to release a joint (press) communique." But that success has been marred by the omission. This has forced the Japanese Foreign Minister to mitigate the optimistic atmosphere. China released a unilaterally rewritten Chinese-language version of a joint document issued with Japan on the occasion of a recent ministerial economic dialogue in Beijing after both nations agreed on its content and Tokyo wants the version corrected, Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura and a diplomatic source of the two countries said. "I think there were some slip-ups and this is why (some parts) were dropped," Komura told reporters, referring to the initially agreed-upon text that cited the yuan.

"It is a reckless act that must not be conducted in diplomacy," a Japanese government official said. "A vice premier and other Chinese ministers agreed on the communique," a Japanese official said. "Despite that, they changed its contents without the approval of Japan. Such an act will injure the trustworthy relations between the two countries." "The Chinese side was negative toward working out a communique," a Japanese government official said. "It was probably reluctant to write into documents what it did not want to be told by others."

A source familiar with diplomatic relations between Japan and China said: "The only reason (I can speculate on) is that the Chinese Communist Party leadership urged the Chinese government to delete the portions." A senior Japanese Foreign Ministry official said, "The yuan issue has been bothering China so it might have avoided putting that issue in writing," but added that the ministry has not yet confirmed if the deletion was intentional.

China is also watching its ties with Vietnam closely.  It has expressed unhappiness over the recent protest by a group of Vietnamese outside the Chinese Embassy in Vietnam over the sovereignty of some islands in the South China Sea.  China paid close attention to the recent so-called protest in Vietnam targeting China, said Chinese Foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang. "We hope the Vietnamese government takes a responsible attitude and effective measures to stop it and avoid bilateral ties from being hurt," said Qin.

Qin also reiterated China had indisputable sovereignty over the South China Sea and adjacent waters, and this was China's consistent stance. He added that China was clear about this situation. The leaders of the two countries had exchanged views on this issue several times and agreed to settle the dispute through dialogue and consultation to safeguard the stability of the South China Sea and Sino-Vietnamese relations, he said.

While China is testing the diplomatic waters with Vietnam, it is also making conciliatory gestures to another southern neighbor, IndiaChina appears to have reversed its long-held policy of refusing to give visas to Indians from the disputed Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh by allowing a professor from the state, Marpe Sora, to visit China. Diplomats and analysts feel this gesture may be a prelude to China ultimately accepting Arunachal Pradesh as part of India.

Mr Marpe Sora has already left for China with some other Indian professors for a programme conducted by the India-China Alliance Centre, officials said. They said Mr Sora belongs to one of the local tribes of Arunachal Pradesh. Officials say he will visit the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing and several other institutes as part of his trip. Such gestures may have opened the way for better Sino-Indian ties as the Chinese army has also decided to hold its first joint military exercise with the Indian army at Chengdu late December with a special focus on anti-terrorist drills.  (14 December 2007)

Sources:

China, US wide apart on solving trade rows (Straits Times, 13 December 2007)

US, China agree to fight protectionism (Straits Times, 13 December 2007)

ChinaU.S. sign substantial agreements, paving way for strategic dialogue (People’s Daily, 11 December 2007)

China pays close attention to so-called protest in Vietnam over South China Sea (People’s Daily, 11 December 2007)

PR Newswire “New C-100 Mirror Survey of Chinese and Americans Show Mutual Perception characterized by hope and fear” (10 December 2007)

Chinese FM warns of "serious harm" to trade if U.S. bills are passed (People’s Daily, 10 December 2007)

Japan infuriated by China's deletions from joint press communiqué (Asahi, 10 December 2007)

Japan asks China for correction of joint statement on yuan (Japan Times, 10 December 2007)

Hu says strong ties with Japan are key (Asahi, 8 December 2007)

Chinese 'border gesture' to India (BBC News, 7 December 2007)

Ozawa beats Fukuda to China visit (BBC News, 6 December 2007)