Thursday, April 20, 2006
Accidents at the White House?
And during Hu Jintao's "official" (not "state") visit to Washington, a series of gaffes and mistakes. The Washington Post's Dana Milbank described how the "protocol-obsessed Chinese leader suffered a day full of indignities -- some intentional, others just careless." A reporter for a Falun Gong affiliated newspaper with a prior record of confronting Chinese leaders on their overseas trips was issued a press credential; the Secret Service took 3 minutes to respond; the official White House announcer introdued the national anthem of the "Republic of China" (the Nationalist style and retained by the government on Taiwan), and so on.
Standard responses: sorry, mistakes are made; we have a free press and it is difficult to control events, and so on. The problem is that the Chinese Embassy staff are not country cousins dazzled by life in Washington. Anyone who followed the 2004 presidential campaign knows how both the Bush and Kerry teams choreographed events, controlled access, stage-managed productions to a flourish. What's the credo of the Godfather? Accidents don't happen to people who treat accidents as a personal insult. So will they assume that these accidents were done deliberately, a way to call attention to U.S. complaints about China (religious persecution, Falun Gong, Taiwan), but without having to put the president on the spot?
All of this begs a more serious question. The Sino-American relationship is one of the most critical building blocks of the international political and economic order. China cannot "go away" (not certainly if we want our debt financed). How do we deal with disagreements and tensions? Do we downplay them in our official statements but have them pop up "with plausible deniability"? I don't know.
At any rate, as Milbank pointed out: "Bush apologized to the angry Chinese leader in the Oval Office. "Frankly, we moved on," National Security Council official Dennis Wilder told reporters later. It was, he said, a "momentary blip."
Maybe, but Hu was in no mood to make concessions."
So, instead of any major breakthrough, what did the White House announce today?
"MEDICARE CHECK-UP: Prescription Drug Benefit Enrollment Hits 30 Million . . . ."
And we're surprised at how the talks on Iran in Moscow are going?
The NSC staffer quoted seems too quick to dismiss the impact. Aren't we still getting flack over the bombing of the embassy in Belgrade in 1999?
It shows that comparmentalization isn't working. We can't act forcefully on human rights issues if we are economically dependent; we want the human rights issues to go away because we don't want to pay higher prices for goods and we don't want to undertake the Cold War level of effort to contain China as we did the USSR.
We have yet to learn in our dealings with China and Russia that a policy consisting of non-negotiable demands and pokes in the eye will fail to induce them to agree with us. Here's a priceless bit which sums up or foreign policy cluelessness over the last decade or so:
"The geostrategic implications of uneven moralizing on democratization issues when it comes to Russia are even more significant when one looks at the long-term and specifically at the emerging Sino-Russian relationship. At some point in the perhaps not too distant future Russian can begin to reduce gas sales to Europe, replacing them with sales to China, its new partner in opposition to America’s democratization-centered foreign policy (one that ignores Saudi totalitarianism, downplays China’s harsh authoritarianism, but rings alarm bells about Russia’s soft authoritarianism). Sales of oil to the U.S, can be foregone in favor of the same customer. As China expert with Russia’s Oriental Studies Institute Sergei Lazyunin noted in a recent interview: “China will not haggle, like Ukraine. It will be world prices. It is a vast market at world prices. So, Russia when discussing gas with China is simultaneously talking with Europe. It seems to say, it is not for nothing that we are a Eurasian power and the distance from West Siberia to Western China is shorter than to Europe.” At least when Western energy supplies begin to dwindle and economies grind to a halt, we will be comforted by the thought that NATO members like Poland and Ukraine buy a few airplanes and some spare parts from U.S. contractors and the three-plane Latvian air force adds to the Western military power forced to confront China and its good friend Russia and fight the war on Islamist terror simultaneously."
Whether the slights were intentional or not they will have ramifications for US-China relations down the road--Hu will not forget the face lost this week, so when the US asks for a face-saving concession from the Chinese it won't be forthcoming.