“Global problem-solving” needs China

Updated On: Nov 27, 2007

French President Nichols Sarkozy could not have put it better when he said in his speech after an informal dinner on his first day in China, “we need China to find solutions to global problems …”. 

While President Sarkozy said the key goals of his trip is to persuade China to revalue is currency, improve its recode on the environment and to help resolve issues involving Iran and Myanmar, no one could miss the “unprecedented” US$30 billion deals that was inked between France and China involving nuclear, aviation and other contracts.  And while China continues to court the world with its economic prowess, China also seems ready to step up its political role in the United Nations.   

In contrast to past strategies of a low-key rise of ChinaChina this week has professed that it wants to play a bigger role in world affairs through the world body, United Nations. This role is self-declared and perhaps commensurate with the rising status of China globally in international economies and politics.

"This year, assessed contributions (UN membership dues) and peacekeeping assessments both will go up significantly for China, with the total being $270 million, a 42 percent increase against last year," Yu Hong, a member of China's delegation to the Fifth Committee of the 62nd UN General Assembly said.  Speaking at a conference on "Improving the Financial Situation" of the UN in New York last week, he said China has provided equipment worth more than $50 million to its peacekeeping troops in Sudan and Liberia, too. The country will pay the bulk of its outstanding peacekeeping dues before the end of the year, Yu said.

"China has a very good reputation in fulfilling its financial promises to the UN," Wu Miaofa, a UN expert with the China Institute for International Studies, said. "China has become an active participant and constructor of the organization." The increase in China's financial contribution and its fulfilment of the promises show that it's willing to shoulder more international responsibility, he said. "A sound financial condition is most important for the UN to perform its functions as the most important world body," Wu said, urging all member states to honor their financial obligations in time.

To play a bigger role in world affairs, China must also make peace with its immediate neighbours, especially the number economic superpower in the world. One of the most significant peace initiatives of late in China’s outreach to its immediate neighbourhood is towards Japan. Even the Dalai Lama’s visit to Japan did not draw as much flak from China as one would expect. China merely expressed "regret" whenJapan allowed the Dalai Lama to enter the country. Liu Jianchao, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, said that China is opposed to any country giving the exiled spiritual leader "a platform to engage in separatist activities."

The ruling party in Japan has picked up the vibes and return China’s outreach with similar statements of reconciliation. Sadakazu Tanigaki, the policy research council chairman of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) said that a stable relationship between Japan and China was of great importance to Asia's development and prosperity. He said "I think the key fact for the Japan-China relationship is that it not only concerns the two countries but also is vital to the peace, stability and prosperity in Asia and the world at large”.

He added that Japan has had much success in addressing the problems caused by public hazards, energy waste and unemployment, which are "worth sharing with China" and expressed his hope that Japanand China will further bilateral cooperation in fields such as trade, energy, environment and public health.  He also suggested that ties between the two Asian neighbors be regarded as "indispensable" and should be further boosted by "expanding common interests and furthering mutual understanding".

Tetsuo Saito, chairman of the policy research council of the New Komeito, who is a coalition partner with the LDP in ruling Japan, told Xinhua that his party attaches high importance to the exchange programs that involve the young generations of the two countries. The year 2007 marks the 35th anniversary of the normalization of China-Japan diplomatic ties. Also, China will host the Olympic Games next year. Both events will provide an opportunity to step up youth exchange programs, Tetsuo Saito added.

Even the militaries of both countries have done their part. Missile destroyer Shenzhen set off for Tokyo from ZhanjiangGuangdong Province, to become the first People's Liberation Army (PLA) ship to call at a Japanese port with Japan's Maritime Self-Defense Force holding a ceremony to receive the Chinese group. The two sides will conduct military exchanges and entertainment programs, including visiting each other's naval ships and holding a joint band performance for people in Tokyo. The ship will also be opened to the public in TokyoTokyo is likely to reciprocate with a Japanese vessel visiting Chinese ports. The whole purpose of the exercise is to build up transparency and goodwill in the recently-mended ties between the two regional powers.

In the economic sphere, China and Japan will open their first high-level economic dialogue in Beijing on 1 Dec 2007. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda agreed on the opening date during their meeting in Singapore, a spokesman of the Ministry of Commerce (MOC) said. The theme of the dialogue is "Cooperation, Win-Win and Coordinated Development". The event will be a discussion of major bilateral economic concerns and a chance to strengthen communications on major regional and international economic issues and will focus on macroeconomic issues, energy conservation and environmental protection, trade and investment, and regional and international cooperation.

The Japanese opposition party, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), however, has decided to adopt a different strategy and publicly expressed support for a call by the Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual leader of Tibet currently visiting Japan, for greater autonomy for Tibet.

The Dalai Lama told the Secretary-General of the DPJ, Yukio Hatoyama,  at their meeting at a Tokyo hotel, which was open to the media, that the "right hand" had reached out to "the Chinese central government," but nothing came of this, which is why "our left hand has to reach out to our supporters," referring to Europe, the United States and Japan. Hatoyama, in response, said, "We would like to offer strong support to your left hand until your right hand is satisfied," referring to China's response.

But the real tests when it comes to Chinese external relations are dealing with the US and Taiwan. Sometimes both issues are inter-connected. Sino-US relations was given a small test in Hong Kong as the USS Kitty Hawk aircraft carrier and several support vessels, including a nuclear submarine, were scheduled to dock in Hong Kong for a four-day visit. But the group was refused entry, Lt. Cmdr. Amy Derrick-Frost told The Associated Press by telephone from the U.S. Navy's Pacific Command headquarters in Hawaii, adding that no reason was given. Port officials said they had not been notified of the previously scheduled visit.

Hundreds of sailors' families had flown into the city to spend the holiday with their loved ones, while dozens of Americans living in Hong Kong had prepared turkey dinners for those on their own. It was only hours later that Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said thousands of American sailors on board a flotilla of U.S. warships could spend Thanksgiving in Hong Kong as planned on humanitarian grounds but the message was a little late as the ships had already left.

This incident probably came at a bad time as, back in the US, congressional advisers say

Chinese espionage poses "the single greatest risk" to the security of US technology, a panel has told Congress. China is pursuing new technology "aggressively", it says, legitimately through research and business deals and illegally through industrial espionage. China has also "embraced destructive warfare techniques", the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission’s annual report says, enabling it to carry out cyber attacks on other countries' infrastructure.

This was immediately denied by China. A foreign ministry spokesman in Beijing denied any spying activities by China. "China and the US have a fundamental common interest in promoting sound and rapid development," said Liu Jianchao, quoted by the Associated Press news agency. China also denied reports that it had hacked into Pentagon computers

The advisory panel, appointed by Congress, recommended that US security measures and intelligence be stepped up to try to prevent the theft of military technology, in particular. "Chinese espionage activities in the United States are so extensive that they comprise the single greatest risk to the security of American technologies," the report said. It urged Congress to study "military, intelligence and homeland security programmes that protect critical American computer networks and sensitive information, specifically those charged with protecting networks from damage caused by cyber attacks".

The report also identified other grounds for concern, such as the fact that the Chinese are manufacturing "sophisticated weapon platforms" speedily and efficiently. The unexpected pace of China's military development has fuelled analysts' suspicions that it is being helped by stolen information, the commission said. In addition, the Chinese media - firmly under state control - are being used to create "deep feelings of nationalism", it said. In an international crisis, the panel warned, that could turn misunderstanding into conflict. The report also criticised Chinese economic policy, saying that small and medium-sized American businesses "face the full brunt of China's unfair trade practices, currency manipulation and illegal subsidies for Chinese exports".

While some sparks are flying in Sino-US relations, Taiwan is also throwing a spanner into the works for cross-straits relations. The appointment of a Chinese judge, Zhang Yuejiao, to the highest court in the World Trade Organization (WTO) has been blocked by Taiwan in a surprise decision. "We have deep concerns on the question of impartiality and qualification of one of the recommended candidates," the Taiwanese delegation said in a statement. Zhang would have been China's first judge on the body, which rules on trade disputes between WTO member states. This decision has surprised even Taiwan’s closest allies like the USJapan and the European Union, and the US has urged Taiwan to drop its opposition.

Domestically, China knows that one of the most important foreign policy issues which has attracted worldwide attention is that of its energy consumption. The world fears what it perceives as China’s uncontrolled consumption of world resources or the regional impact of its uneven distribution within China. A top energy team under China's cabinet is drafting a strategy to increase access to sustainable energy among the rural poor and is based on research of other countries' experiences and is scheduled for release in 2008, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) announced.

The UN agency will help the Energy Leading Group affiliated with the State Council to attract global energy experts to work on the draft. "We want to help the (Chinese) government come up with a viable rural energy strategy, which may serve as a role model for other developing countries," Shen Yiyang, program manager of UNDP's Energy & Environment Team, told China Daily.

China’s environmental challenge is complex because of its vast size and the tendency for the periphery to disobey central directives. When Beijing announced a nationwide campaign to reduce energy consumption in 2005, officials in regional capitals like Qingtongxia engineered creative schemes to evade the requirements. Local officials arranged for their flagship companies like Qingtongxia Aluminum Group to be removed from the national electrical grid and supplied directly by the local company, exempting it from expensive fees and, as a result, Qingtongxia continued to get its power at the lowest price available.

Such actions prompted leaders in Beijing to criticize the performance of some local leaders, and they have vowed to use more of their powers to bring wayward officials into line. In May 2007, China’s premier, Wen Jiabao, complained bitterly. “Understanding is not adequate, responsibilities are unclear, measures are not complementary, policies are incomplete, investment doesn’t arrive, and coordination is ineffective,” he said of efforts to cut energy consumption. “If these problems are not turned around, it will be difficult to achieve any obvious progress.” More recently, other officials like Zhang Lijun, a deputy director of the State Environmental Protection Administration, warned: “We haven’t spotted any substantial indicators of a slowdown in the expansion of energy-intensive sectors”.

Closely linked to the environmental challenge is that of food and product safety. The European Union (EU) which will be holding its 10th summit with China on 28 November, will be looking at expanding cooperation beyond trade to look at multi-million euro loans to fight climate change and possibly setting up a clean-energy research centre in China.  However, even before the EU-China Summit begins, the Chinese have been ired by the tough comments made by Peter Mandelson, EU Trade Commissioner, and his call to Beijing to address the issue of food and product safety and  a “tidal wave of counterfeit goods coming out of the country”.

The speech made at a high level food safety forum in Beijing ahead of the Summit meeting was not at all well-received.  Vice-Premier Wu Yi, who has been put in charge of ensuring and raising product standards and quality appeared visibly annoyed with Mandelson’s speech.  Earlier, Wu Yi, who spoked before Mandelson condemned parties which politicized the issue of food safety, or used it as a guise for political trade protectionism.  (27 November 2007)


EU-China food fight (27 November 2007)

French firms land$43 billion worth of deals with China (Straits Times, 27 November 2007)

Sarkozy urges China to revalue yuan (Straits Times, 26 November 2007)

DPJ's Hatoyama backs Dalai Lama's Tibet plea (Japan Times, 24 November 2007)

Japan-China relations "most important", say Japanese ruling party leaders (People’s Daily, 24 November 2007)

Far From Beijing’s Reach, Officials Bend Energy Rules (NYT, 24 November 2007)

Energy plan aims to meet rural demand (People’s Daily, 24 November 2007)

Nation ready to shoulder 'bigger responsibility' in UN (People’s Daily, 22 November 2007)

PLA ship on maiden voyage to Japan (People’s Daily, 22 November 2007)

ChinaJapan to hold first high-level economic dialogue early next month (People’s Daily, 22 November 2007)

China says Kitty Hawk can enter Hong Kong, hours after sailors already left (BBC, 21 November 2007)

Taiwan blocks Chinese WTO judge (BBC, 19 November 2007)

China spying 'biggest US threat'(BBC, 15 November 2007)