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China-US thaw will upset neighbouring dictators

Posted by Author on September 11, 2010

John Garnaut, Sydney Morning Herald, September 11, 2010 –

BEIJING: China rolled out the red carpet this week not only for Burma’s dictator, General Than Shwe but, more surprisingly, a lower level delegation from the White House.

General Than Shwe thanked his ”most important friendly neighbour” for supporting his coming elections, which China says will boost democracy and some Western nations have decried as a sham to entrench military rule.

A fortnight earlier North Korea’s dictator, Kim Jong-il, made his second trip in five months to meet China’s President, Hu Jintao.

Zhang Lianggui, a usually loquacious authority on North Korea at the Central Party School, told the Herald yesterday he still had no idea what that trip was about.

But it was the warm reception for two US presidential advisers, who had come to deliver tough messages on military etiquette and the Chinese currency, that left analysts befuddled.

About a year ago China was shifting its stance to provide more support for the regimes of North Korea in particular but also Iran, Sudan and Burma, in the face of international pressure. The Chinese leadership appeared to enjoy receiving the Obama administration’s overtures to join hands as strategic partners but gave no warmth and little co-operation in return.

This year China’s propaganda apparatus unleashed a barrage of fury at President Barack Obama’s decisions to approve a major arms sale to Taiwan, to meet the Dalai Lama, to send US warships to the South China and Yellow seas and other moves to ”contain” China.

And yet this week a smiling President Hu Jintao, in contrast to his stony faced reception for Mr Obama on his visit last November, took time to meet the National Economic Council chairman, Larry Summers, and the deputy national security adviser, Thomas Donilon.

Not only did Hu accept meetings with officials several tiers below his station but he sent four other Politburo colleagues ahead of him: the Premier, Wen Jiabao; the Central Military Commission deputy chairman, Xu Caihou; the international finance chief, Wang Qishan; and Li Yuanchao, the rapidly rising head of the Communist Party’s secretive Organisation Department.

Li was kept waiting for half an hour as the Americans languished in Beijing traffic, but nevertheless warmly greeted his visitors in fluent English and fondly recalled studying at Harvard University when Summers was president. The US emissaries also squeezed in China’s top foreign policy maker, Dai Bingguo, the Foreign Minister, Yang Jiechi, the central bank chief, Zhou Xiaochuan, and the Finance Minister, Xie Xuren.

US officials were tight-lipped about the content of their ”frank” and ”productive” discussions but it is understood they were here to tell China they would no longer be pushed around. And yet the English language China Daily, known as China’s diplomatic noticeboard, observed ”a rare signal that military ties could be improved”.

Equally notable was the silence coming from another arm of the Chinese propaganda apparatus, the rabidly nationalistic Global Times……. (more details from Sydney Morning Herald)

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