Saturday, February 20, 2010

Cloudy with a chance of thunderstorms

No, I haven't sacrificed my studies at Fletcher for a career in meteorology, nor am I trying to predict any weather. The title instead is my expectation of Sino-U.S. relations for the next few years.

The New York Times is running a story about the differences in priorities between China and the United States. I think they hit the nail on the head about why the United States and China can't seem to agree on anything, and made a plausible argument for why China will come around and do things the American way (China doesn't want to be seen as the bad guy in the global community).

However, the piece itself is short on why the Chinese government maintains its current position on the variety of topics raised (Renminbi valuation, Iran, and American job creation). As I see it, China can't change its policies on these issues because of domestic concerns. If China were to allow its currency to appreciate (read increase) in value, then its exports would become more expensive, something that companies and consumers don't like. On Iran, China enjoys a strong position serving as the only major economic power investing in the country. As a result of the sanctions and growing Russian dissatisfaction, Iran increasingly relies on China for investment. Moreover, China benefits from the natural and energy resources it is able to extract from the country. China would love to see job creation in the States to increase demands for its exports, but it won't sacrifice Chinese jobs to make it happen.

The article mentions China's sovereignty concerns for not cooperating, but I think this misses the point. The Chinese government may very well use the sovereignty excuse for not cooperating, but really it's because the changes required of it would harm the Chinese economy and by extension domestic society. Going forward I think we can expect to see more of these instances, where deriving mutual benefit will be more difficult. However, just because something is difficult does not mean it isn't worth pursuing. After all, you don't let cloudy skies prevent you from getting things done. Neither should the American or Chinese governments.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Bad timing

Today President Obama met with the Dalai Lama which will no doubt provoke a response from the Chinese government tomorrow. It was interesting reading about the meeting in the news, especially this article. What really struck me was how far Obama is distancing his administration from Tibetan independence and human rights. A little off topic for the blog, but it certainly seems that the president has toned down his optimism after a year in office.

I've discussed Tibet and how it relates to the PRC's concerns about sovereignty and legitimacy to rule, so I won't go there. Instead, I think there are a few points to be made about the recent (read 20th century) events concerning Tibet.
  • A Chinese government never governed Tibet until 1950 when PLA forces entered the territory.
  • Tibet during the early 20th century requested assistance from Britain, India, and the U.S. to maintain its independence in the 1940s, but got nothing.
  • When PLA forces entered Tibet, no nation came to Tibet's defense, even when there was a large uprising in 1958.
With those points taken into consideration, it makes sense that Obama would distance himself from Tibetan independence and make it clear that Tibet is part of the PRC. If the U.S. was really concerned about Tibet, it would have done something about the issue long ago.

I also can't help but feel a little sorry for the PRC. Yes, PLA forces seized control of the territory by force, but let us not forget that the U.S. did the same thing when expanding from 13 states on the east coast to the west by almost exterminating the Native Americans. Unfortunately for the PRC, no previous Chinese government sent in troops to lay claim in the 18th or 19th centuries. If they had, Tibet wouldn't be an issue today. Apparently timing is key not only for jokes and investments, but also seizing territory.