Recent diplomatic moves by China indicate strong ongoing efforts to hold its own against what was perceived as containment efforts by the US.
This include Condi Rice’s ‘trilateral congregation’ (US-Japan-Australia) and renewed interest in Southeast Asia via economic arrangements and maritime security, and Pentagon’s criticism of China’s military spending that gained wider audience at the recently concluded Fifth Asia Security Summit (the Shangri-La Dialogue), even if the two countries had resumed high-level military talks on June 8.
But China’s rise to power and diplomatic manouerves are not losing steam. Three recent developments testify to this observation.
First, Beijing has earned the reputation of being the grandmaster of the global resource geopolitical game over the past few years, by combining the stakes of energy security with astute diplomacy to great effect. Its current shopping spree is landing deals with Africa and Kazakhstan (with India).
President Hu Jintao's visit to Morocco, Nigeria and Kenya in April yielded billion-dollar deals for oil and minerals, including major oil exploration rights in Nigeria, in return for investing US$4 billion in the country. Premier Wen Jiabao is set to follow-up with a visit to Egypt, Ghana, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola,South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda from June 17 to 24.
As part of a new pact signed in January between China and India to develop a joint strategy to secure global energy assets, India’s Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) and China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC) are planning to make a US$2 billion joint bid for oil assets Calgary-based Nations Energy's assets in Kazakhstan.
Second, China has signed a total of 13 bilateral agreements on economy, agriculture, education and loan with Kyrgyzstan during President Kurmanbek Bakiyev's first state visit to China on June 9.
The third and most important development is the platform of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), which is touted to counter-balance the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato), the US-dominated military alliance in Europe. Leaders of China, Russia and four Central Asian states of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan,Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan will meet in Shanghai on June 15 for the fifth SCO summit.
Top of the SCO agenda – under the watchful eyes of US and Europe – will be the diplomatic stand-off between Iran and the West with regard to the former’s nuclear development programme. Iran has recent observer status at the SCO, a move that is criticized by US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who called the SCO 'exclusive'. Other than Iran, Mongolia, Pakistan and India will also attend as observers, beefing up status of the SCO as a formidable security platform, and a widening alternate sphere of influence for China.
China, Kyrgyzstan issue joint statement, ink 13 deals (Xinhua, 9 June 2006)
China and US hold top-level defence talks (AFP/AP/ The Straits Times, 9 June 2006)
China and India plan joint oil bid in Kazakhstan (AFP/ The Straits Times, 9 June 2006)
China's interests in Africa 'go beyond oil' (The Straits Times, 10 June 2006)
West's eyes on Shanghai talks (The Straits Times, 12 June 2006)
Iran crisis to top agenda of Asian security meet (The Straits Times, 12 June 2006)