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US will have to play Chinese checkers

US will have to play Chinese checkers

By Susenjit Guha

Barack Obama and John McCain may differ on domestic issues and foreign policy, but their near unanimity on China as they head toward the final showdown proves the emerging Asian tiger will be a future big bother.

Obama’s talk of friendship with China rather than competition early on in the campaign has been scaled up recently urging punishment for manipulating the Yuan, dumping goods into the US and violating intellectual property rights. McCain wanted hazardous cheap toys banned and took a swipe at the Chinese leadership for gagging free speech and religion.

But how far will they be able to walk the talk when China is holding nearly $491 billion in Treasury securities--- financing US’ budget deficit compared to $60 billion in 2000--- is anybody’s guess. Since George W Bush took office, US exports to China have rose 400 per cent according to Commerce department figures, while Chinese exports to US tripled.

Again, ground realities made both George W Bush and Bill Clinton earlier temper their campaign speech rhetoric on China soon after they took over.

Now the surging- ahead –Chinese-juggernaut, ready to devour resources at any cost in any part of the world, may upset certain set in stone ethics and democracy parameters.

Public opinion in the United States and most parts of the world about George W Bush’s foreign policy has impacted the need for a change which has propelled little known Barack Obama into the forefront. But there are no safety nets for ordinary Chinese who cannot affect any changes to their near totalitarian regime which sups with the most reviled despots of the world, sells them arms while going on an overdrive in defense expenditure themselves. If the US Department of State’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, 2006 is to be believed, the Chinese state is brutal, officially executing somewhere between five thousand and twelve thousand people every year, more than all other states in the world combined.

So how can the US confront China with the cold war worn policy of ratcheting up US defense budget which John McCain has in mind while being saddled with billions in piled up debts?

Recent tamping down of Tibetan protestors and veto for any aggressive UN aid push into Myanmar where a man-made humanitarian crisis was underway and tens of thousands--- most of them children--- were starving, proved the Chinese leadership still does not care for world opinion, not even before the Beijing Olympics. It will foil global attempts to bear on despots who trample human rights to clean up their act.

And this happened when China was working toward an image makeover after foreign investments started flowing in and when people form all walks of life were urged to build national image. Support for the Sudanese government accused of genocide in Darfur went alongside the sprucing up exercise.

As Xinxua News Agency, CCTV, China Daily and China Radio International competed with BBC in SE Asia, the Chinese administration worked toward creating regional groups sidelining the US, a concern expressed by John McCain. And the rebuttal that China was a developing country incapable of sophisticated cyber crimes like allegedly hacking into congressional computers, have few buyers in the US.

The lid is firmly placed after a semblance of measured openness following the catastrophic earthquake. AFP journalists were told in no uncertain terms to keep off earthquake ravaged school buildings to avoid contacts with parents of victims who blamed the government for corruption.

It would be naïve to expect China’s interest in the six-party talks to make North Korea give up nuclear arms production to be without any reason. US presidents in the past have stuck to a one China policy regarding Taiwan. But nearly 40000 US troops are stationed in South Korea. A near equal number in Japan, Philippines and a few in Guam may also have to be pulled back after troops in South Korea head home in case North Korea comes clean. US cannot bank on the other traditional pro-US partner nations where latent nationalism may surface once US troops leave South Korean soil.

Can the US leave the region totally exposed to China if the six-party talks finally succeed and Kim Jong-Il suddenly turns benign, unshackles North Koreans and opens the gate? China may have an interest in such a scenario. But, how will the US deal with such a situation?

Resisting democracy, protection from eroding influences, sidelining Japan, an US ally, tacitly resisting India, another emerging, but democratic Asian economy and setting up firewalls to shield despotic regimes floating on scarce energy resources, may warrant compromises in US’ China policy once again.

And it would also be a test in diplomacy when an emerging superpower enjoying the best of both worlds---some in Beijing’s Security Ministry want to trace back the Middle Kingdom era and centuries of dominance in Asia--- will keep playing by its own rules.


Susenjit Guha’s weekly blog is

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