Munich is a world away from Taiwan. So too is the rhetoric coming from Hotel Bayerischer Hof.
Stressing that China is committed to a path of peaceful development, Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi told the Munich Security Conference that China is an opportunity rather than a threat to the world. He might as well have been speaking directly to President Obama.
“We must respect the values and independent choice of the development path of other countries, respect other countries' core concerns and refrain from interfering in their internal affairs,” Yang said. “In the same vein, China, like any country in the world, will stick to principles on issues affecting its core interests and major concerns, and defend its hard-won equal rights and legitimate interests.”
In essence, stay out of our hemisphere and we’ll stay out of yours.
Yang still insisted, “The argument that a strong nation is bound to seek hegemony finds no supporting case in China's history and goes against the will of the Chinese people.”
With respect to the Foreign Minister, we can see your dagger. China is already exhibiting signs of hegemony through economics and its new-born global military within its own region, the Middle East, Africa, and South America. Buying American debt is an attempt to dominate.
China seeks to lead the Asian continent - and why shouldn’t it? The strongest state in any region naturally attempts to assume the leadership role: America, Russia, Britain, Saudi Arabia, Iran, India, Pakistan, China, Japan, Australia, Brazil, South Africa, Turkey. Hegemony has become a dirty word, but we don’t view it as such.
It’s a matter of truth - a competition for global influence - and no other states are in it to win it like America and China.
Naturally a former Foreign Ministry official’s word shouldn’t be taken over China’s current Foreign Minister. But having learned from the symbiotic nature of US government officials and the US media, China has taken to speaking through former officials holding positions in state-owned institutions.
Gao is now a director at the China National Association of International Studies and active in the media, yet no one can accuse him of exaggeration. Back in November 2009, during President Obama’s China landing, Gao had some standard but real talk to dispense.
“We anticipate on major international issues - either economic, financial, climate change, energy, geo-political, and strategic - if China and the United States can not see eye to eye, then what will be the situation in the world?” he asked. “It can not be a peaceful, a stable world."
Three months later and Gao’s forecast rings truer. After a smile affair smothered in Chinese PR, it seems America and China have realized each other’s insincerity and dropped the gloves. Trade, currency, climate, Google, Taiwan, Iran, North Korea, Tibet - all have been tossed in the ring in a relatively short span.
"On the one hand, the United States needs China's help; on the other hand, China is hurt because the United States displays a complete disregard for China's fundamental interests," Gao said yesterday... "I see a lot of dark clouds on the horizon,"
These interests and issues won’t be decided at international summits or through secret government channels, but by who moves smoothest on the raw surface of the world.
And here the trick kicks in, a smile and a frown. Clearly China is aggravated and Yang’s speech is as much policy as performance. A good one too, because he speaks the truth.
But Gao says,"If the United States think the Taiwan issue is just a Taiwan issue, that it can do whatever it wants regarding Taiwan without triggering backlashes from China, it's dead wrong."
Taiwan is about everything: trade, currency, climate, Google, Taiwan, Iran, North Korea, Tibet, and wherever the future may open. All are spaces to compete over and all are connected. There is no stepping back because one move could lead to multiple losses.
This is a hegemony war.
The real question is what China is thinking right now, because it did blink first. Yang’s speech was intricately prepared and delivered the same day China “resolutely opposes” meeting with the Dalai Lama on February 17th.
"China resolutely opposes the visit by the Dalai Lama to the United States, and resolutely opposes U.S. leaders having contact with the Dalai Lama," Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said in a statement late Friday.
It can be seen that China is striking from multiple directions in the media: a hard-line official statement followed by a soft official speech, underlined by “dark clouds” seeded in the US media by Gao.
This forms a unique attack demanding a thoughtful response from the White House. Former US trade minister and Washington insider David Rothkopf told CNN that tensions between America and China have a lot to do with the Obama administration swinging too far in one direction and then swinging too far in the other.
"Year one of the Obama administration saw a stance towards China which was too soft. This year has opened with a tough stance on Google and a tough stance on these arms sales. I think it's time for a new kind of doctrine. We need to develop a kind of doctrine of interdependence.”
Until then it may be wiser to stay still rather than poke the tiger.
“It's really popular in the United States to go after the Chinese,” Rothkopf warns. “In fact, it's too popular.”"It's a trap for President Obama. “It's a trap for any president. You want to score points? Make China the bogeyman."
Obama must watch out and stay humble. Despite every warning China has given and matched by America, Yang just offered an opportunity to avoid the trap. Right now isn’t the time to escalate a conflict of such magnitude, and yet Obama would be slaughtered for bowing out of Taiwan or the Dalai Lama.
But are they more important than Iran and North Korea? Here Yang executes China’s plan.
Addressing the 46th Munich Security Conference in Munich, Yang said that the Iranian nuclear issue, "has entered a crucial stage. The parties concerned should, with the overall and long-term interests in mind, step up diplomatic efforts, stay patient and adopt a more flexible, pragmatic and proactive policy.”
"The purpose is to seek a comprehensive, long-term and proper solution through dialogue and negotiations and uphold the international nuclear non-proliferation regime and peace and stability in the Middle East.”
Yang proposed nearly the identical strategy for North Korea, saying, "We must find a peaceful solution to this issue through dialogue and consultation and by political and diplomatic means. This is the only right choice, a choice which serves the common interests of all parties.”
He vowed that, "China will work tirelessly with other parties concerned and the international community as a whole for the denuclearization of the peninsula, the normalization of relations between relevant countries and the achievement of enduring peace and stability in Northeast Asia.”
Backing up these words is the delegation of Wang Jiarui, head of the liaison office of China's ruling Communist. Wang is expected meet North Korean President Kim Jong II and deliver a peace message.
This is a far cry from Obama boasting in his State of the Union address, “North Korea now faces increased isolation and stronger sanctions, sanctions that are being vigorously enforced. That's why the international community is more united and the Islamic Republic of Iran is more isolated. And as Iran's leaders continue to ignore their obligations, there should be no doubt: They too will face growing consequences. That is a promise.”
By advocating the opposite position of Washington - dialogue and patience - China is jamming US strategy of progressive military engagement towards Iran and North Korea. America and China’s dark clouds will become Obama’s alone is he decides to start a unilateral confrontation with either.
At which point China can step in as some sort of savior role - a true force for global good.
The conflict of interests over Iran, North Korea, trade, and the rest of the list outlines the foundation of hegemony war. Analysts in Washington and Asia claim that China was proclaimed a global power too early, leading to America’s loss of control. This may be true to an extent, but the core dilemma appears to be that America and China don’t share the same definition of global power.
"There was too much of a hype about sea change in Sino-American relations," says Peking University professor Zha Daojiong. "There was never a G2 to speak of. Sino-American relations are going to be shaped by the same sort of issues that have troubled the two governments in the past."
The fact is that America is attempting to attach China to its own urgent problems by bestowing “global power” status, in the hopes that Beijing will, as Pakistanis know well and good, “do more.”
But China isn’t so foolish as to accept the lopsided nature of G-2, at least given Washington’s current line of thinking. And so Obama cannot pressure China too hard in his panic for achievement, to score political points at home, or because he's already miscaculated. As Gao says, and everyone else knows, America needs China too much.
It’s too early for confrontation. The White House must figure out its grand foreign policy strategy before making any more reactionary or retaliatory moves towards China, lest it step into the dark clouds alone.