The Middle Kingdom Ends Its Silence On Obama & Afghanistan.

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Compare the two leadership styles and learn, because this relationship will guide the world:

Observe calmly; secure our position; cope with affairs calmly; hide our capacities and bide our time; be good at maintaining a low profile; and never claim leadership.” — China’s former Communist Party Leader, Deng Xiaoping.

“But I can say that the president of the United States said during his campaign and in the debates that if there is an actionable target, of a high-level Al Qaeda personnel, that he would not hesitate to use action to deal with that” — Vice President Joseph Biden.

There is a fascinating article about China’s Afghanistan policy in the Asia Times, written by Indian fmr. Ambassador MK Bhadrakumar. After long avoidance, China’s given voice to its interests in the Himalayan foothills. Despite the years of “Red Menace” hype, China prefers to act out of a path of least resistance, being an anti-US located between (US-Russia) extremes and neighboring conflicts. For this reason, the old moniker “The Middle Kingdom” retains relevance. Bhadrakumar begins with the Xiaoping quote, and ends with this paragraph:

It seems China has no problem with such an agenda [of occupation]. China will “hide its capacities” – to quote Deng – even as the US and Russia collide and negate each other and eventually drop down in exhaustion. As The People’s Daily concludes, Afghanistan is known as the “tomb of empires”. Therefore, China must focus on securing its position and simply bide its time – a strategy Deng could surely appreciate.

Much of this US tension with Russia stems from Afghanistan (tsarist and Soviet Russia’s backyard… and cemetery) and with the US boycott of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which is a rising 21st century intergovernmental group comprised of China, Russia and former Soviet Central Asian nations. As China is a stakeholder in both the SCO and the US system, it stands nothing to lose by waiting, and not antagonizing Russia.

Meanwhile, the article perceives the US’ own balancing act. “Clinton-era” former ambassador Richard Holbrooke is quite a noted diplomat, and now serving as Special Representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, another piece of the ongoing what-does-Obama-intend-for-Afghanistan puzzle. Holbrooke’s quite capable in Chinese matters and is favored by Beijing as a tool for what it sees as the “underlying” problem in the region–Kashmir. Indeed, the normally judicious China sees enough evidence for concern to risk alienating India:

Thus, we may get to see some amazing trapeze acts by Beijing in the coming period. The People’s Daily commentary has virtually called for an expansion of Holbrooke’s mandate to include the “Indian-Pakistani problem”. True, it stops short of mentioning Kashmir as such but leaves little to the imagination that Kashmir is precisely what it was referring to – that the US should mediate a solution to what Pakistan calls the “core issue” in its tense relationship with India.

The Chinese commentary says the mere dispatch of more US troops to Afghanistan cannot help achieve Obama’s “strategic goals” unless Washington stabilizes South Asia, especially Pakistan and the India-Pakistan relationship. The editorial continues:

It is clear that without Pakistan’s cooperation, the US cannot win the war on terror. Therefore, to safeguard its own interests in the fight against terrorism in South Asia, the US must ensure a stable domestic and international environment for Pakistan and ease the tension between Pakistan and India. This makes it easy to understand why Obama appointed Richard Holbrooke as special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan issues, and why India is included in Holbrooke’s first foreign visit. In fact, the “Afghan problem”, the “Pakistani problem” and the “Indian-Pakistani problem” are all related

These are not words that are in the nature of off-the-cuff remarks. And these unfriendly remarks are highly unlikely to go unnoticed in New Delhi. Indian diplomats pulled out all the stops to see that Holbrooke’s mandate did not include India, though there is a large body of opinion among American think-tanks and within the US establishment, which insists that so long as the Kashmir problem remains unresolved, underlying tensions in India-Pakistan relations will continue. Beijing now has waded into the debate. It openly expresses support for Pakistan’s stance.

Though China and Pakistan/Afghanistan do not have much in common ideologically, China’s avoiding framing the relationship in these small-minded terms for its own sake. Bhadrakumar talks about the possibility of forming local governments within Afghanistan (as opposed to, say, making a central government ruled by an elite like Hamid Karzai from one specific tribe out of many) which will build confederacy between Islamists and secularists in power-sharing, as well as bolstering the weakened Islamic government of Pakistan.

While China pivots, the US is aided by being seen as newly-credible by the Chinese. Not only the Asia Times article and the Chinese commentary on Holbrooke help confirm the wide belief that Obama is more respected than Bush’s Administration, but also the–I’ll admit it freely–the brilliance demonstrated by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during her recent visit. And when Clinton’s focused, she can dominate the English language. This pretty much encapsulates the situation for the coming decade.

“The global community is counting on China and the United States to collaborate, to pursue security, peace and prosperity for all”

Frankly, we speak through Clinton out of a position of some weakness. Or as she honored the Chinese by quoting this aphorism with Wen Jiabao during the China leg of her Asian tour, “when on one boat, help one another”. Despite chatter about China screwing the US Treasury and causing Armageddon, the Chinese couldn’t agree more. While China as ‘purse-holder’ does not have such incentives with a Europe suffering badly from the financial crisis, the US is still its greatest foreign investment if not the most profitable one.

So who’s up and who’s down? It’s going to take some time before everyone wakes up to how severely Europe and Russia and other regional powers have been diminished by this crisis. A union on the other side of the planet, however, will still hold enormous influence on Central Asia and the Middle East, while China extracts raw material across the third world, manufactures domestically and will position itself to gain no matter what happens in South and Central Asia. China has a strength of numbers and years of accumulated political capital to pull it through a crisis in a way others can’t.


    • nulwee on February 24, 2009 at 21:32

    Hopefully you found some small interesting or useful part to this diary.

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