America, China, and the Turds

Defense secretary Robert Gates was confirmed as defense secretary once again in December. Hilary Clinton has been confirmed by the Senate as America’s new foreign secretary. She had some more-than-just-constructive words for her country’s future relationship with China:

China is a critically important actor in a changing global
a positive and cooperative relationship with China, one where and strengthen our ties on a number of issues, and candidly differences where they persist.
But this not a one-way effort – much of what we will do depends choices China makes about its future at home and abroad.

It was her husband in the White House who helped bringing about Congressional agreement to China’s accession to the World Trade Organization. That probably lays out the baseline for the new administration’s foreign policies toward China.

Financial secretary Timothy Geithner on the other hand will need to do some polishing on his choice of words before being as nice to China as his predecessor Paulson used to be.

The most entertaining Senate confirmation hearing could have been that of Admiral Dennis C. Blair, Obama’s nominee for Director of National Intelligence and U.S. Pacific Command Chief from 1999 to 2002 – if only it hadn’t been in written:

Q (Sen. Bond, Republican): “A number of negative comments about United States policy toward Taiwan have been attributed to you in the past — I believe at one time, you referred to Taiwan as the turd in the punchbowl of U.S./China relations… what is your view on U.S. policy towards Taiwan?”

A: “It is absolutely incorrect that I ever referred to Taiwan itself as the ‘turd in the punchbowl of U.S./China relations. Whoever gave this account to the press was maliciously attempting to portray me as a supporter of China at the expense of Taiwan”.
“I did in fact use the too-colorful phrase ‘tossing a turd in the punchbowl’ in a closed meeting in 2000, but the phrase referred to a specific action by a former Taiwanese government official that had been taken without consulting the United States.”

distastefulAll in writing and not spontaneously. What a pity. Anyway, he’s confirmed now, too. Maybe at one of the press conferences to come, someone might care to ask a follow-up question: How long does it take a turd in a punchbowl to sink? Just curious.

Secretary of Defence Robert Gates discussed his ongoing institutional initiatives in a statement to the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, and shortly touched on China (pdf document, page 4):

As we know, China is modernizing across the whole of its armed forces. The areas of greatest concern are Chinese investments and growing capabilities in cyber-and anti-satellite warfare, anti-air and anti-ship weaponry, submarines, and ballistic missiles. Modernization in these areas could threaten America’s primary means of projecting power and helping allies in the Pacific: our bases, air and sea assets, and the networks that support them.

We have seen some improvement in the U.S.-Chinese security relationship recently. Last year, I inaugurated a direct telephone link with the Chinese defense ministry. Military to military exchanges continue, and we have begun a strategic dialogue to help us understand each other’s intentions and avoid potentially dangerous miscalculations.
As I’ve said before, the U.S. military must be able to dissuade, deter, and, if necessary, respond to challenges across the spectrum – including the armed forces of other nations.On account of Iraq and Afghanistan, we would be hard pressed at this time to launch another major ground operation. But elsewhere in the world, the United States has ample and untapped combat power in our naval and air forces, with the capacity to defeat any adversary that committed an act of aggression – whether in the Persian Gulf, on the Korean Peninsula, or in the Taiwan Strait. The risk from these types of scenarios cannot be ignored, but it is a manageable one in the short- to mid-term.

There may be surprises in the pipeline during the first months of America’s new government in its relationship with Beijing – but few lapses. Both Clinton and Gates have been there before.

Meantime, Rebecca MacKinnon has some advice for the new president:

… if you really want to take U.S.-China relations to a new strategic level that rises above the day-to-day issues, you need to find new ways to engage the Chinese people themselves — not just their government.

The funny thing about blogging and media is that many players have such short memories. Bill Clinton engaged the Chinese people themselves long ago.

But if Barack Obama wants to do likewise, he may have newer technologies at hand.

And if he should decide to run a blog, he shouldn’t lose interest as quickly as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad did. His Excellency’s most recent post in English is of December 2007. [Update, June 20, 2010 – the link is no longer available – http://www.ahmadinejad.ir/]

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