Rising China set to haunt Bush

Agence France Presse

Washington, January 16:

US president George W Bush may keep a wary eye on China during his second term in office as the Asian giant musters greater political and economic influence across the globe. But US reliance on Beijing to keep nuclear-armed North Korea on a leash and Washington’s preoccupation with insurgency-wracked Iraq may limit any pressure Bush may want to exert on China, especially on human rights and trade issues.

Growing at a rapid pace, China is using its economic clout to expand its political influence in both the East Asian region as well as around the world, including Latin America, Africa, South Asia and Europe, analysts say. “Bush will have to pay a great deal of attention on China because he owes China on the North Korea issue and because US-China trade relations is enormously important,” said David Steinberg, director of Asian studies at Georgetown University, “But there has been a lack of US policy in relation to Chinese and US roles in Southeast Asia, where the Chinese campaign for influence has been very, very successful.”

Some analysts warn that China may seek to push its diplomatic momentum further in the hope that the United States will not be a position to resist it.

One short term problem Bush may have to confront with is Europe’s potential lifting of a 15-year arms embargo on China, seen as a landmark development that could change the dynamics of the trans-Atlantic alliance. “The Chinese have very cleverly discovered an issue that can drive a wedge between the Europeans and Americans and they managed to frame it in a way that the Europeans are inclined to choose China’s side,” said John Tkacik of the conservative Heritage Foundation. The US fears China may use any lifting of the arms embargo — imposed in the wake of the Tiananmen Square massacre — to turn the weapons against its own people or Taiwan, which Beijing covets and the United States has pledged to help defend. The Bush administration has often been accused of not appreciating the gravity of the challenge posed by a rising China.

“The failing of American diplomacy is that the United States does not know how to leverage its economic clout whereas China is an expert on it,” Tkacik said. If Bush is not firm with China, he warned, the US Congress might start looking at ways of exerting American economic leverage on the world’s most populous nation.

“Otherwise we are going to find our support from democracies in Asia collapsing under the weight of China’s growing political and economic influence,” he said. But Elizabeth Economy, director of Asian studies at the US Council on Foreign Relations, dismissed any notion that China could rapidly assume a leadership role in Asia. “When you speak to people in the region, they are very keen to keep Japan and the United States and potentially even India around because from their perspective, there is a lot of value to being able to balance the powers and much less interest in having China become a regional hegemon of any sort,” she said.

China, too, has to address key issues such as transparency and accountability, intellectual property rights, environmental safety and copyright piracy before it can deepen its influence in the region, she said.