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John Metzler Archive
Monday, January 3, 2011

‘Peaceful rise’ talk and China’s walk as summit
with U.S. nears

NEW YORK — The growing economic, military, and political power of the People’s Republic of China has encouraged Beijing’s geopolitical hubris on the global stage.


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A snow covered Stormont estate is pictured in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on Dec. 17.  AFP/Peter Muhly

Now set to the backdrop of rising tensions on the Korean peninsula, continuing trade rows with the U.S., and thorny territorial issues in the South China Sea, PRC President Hu Jintao and Barack Obama are slated to meet at a Washington summit later this month.

Beijing’s Foreign Ministry advised, “President Hu’s visit will be a major event of China-U.S. relations in the new era, and China hopes the visit could further push forward the positive, cooperative and comprehensive China-U.S. relations.”

Korean Vortex

Keeping the peace on the divided Korean peninsula remains paramount for both the PRC and the USA, although for different reasons. While Beijing has long backed and still supports the quaintly titled Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, China does not want its comrades to pull it into a military confrontation with South Korea and the U.S. Though realists in China realize that conflict in neighboring Korea is bad for business and investment, they equally fear the emergence of a united Korea under the democratic South extending to China’s frontier along the Yalu river.

Thus while Beijing has maintained booming business ties with capitalist South Korea for two decades, it has still invested ideologically in the moribund Marxist North Korean regime, which serves as a buffer state and over which they still hold leverage. What concerns China is the Kim Dynasty’s nuclear weapons program which offers Pyongyang’s rulers greater political independence and equally the opportunity to recklessly play it’s nuclear trump card to counterbalance Seoul’s treaty ties with Washington.

Thus the PRC favors the long-running if still unproductive Six Party talks (South and North Korea, China, Japan, Russia and the U.S.) which offer a multilateral diplomatic framework to reign in communist North Korea’s nuclear capabilities.

Trade and Investment

Trade and commerce between the PRC and USA will also form part and parcel of the discussions. America’s massive trade deficits with the People’s Republic hit $227 billion in 2009 (a recession year) and will likely exceed $ 250 billion when numbers are in for 2010. Beijing’s huge foreign reserve treasure trove allow the PRC not only to be one of the USA’s largest creditors, but let’s face it, given that Washington is in such deep financial debt to communist China, does this not impinge on American political sovereignty and freedom of action in the international arena?

Equally China has become a major investor globally, in no small part due to all those trade dollars sloshing around. According to Beijing’s Ministry of Commerce, China’s overseas investment stood at $43 billion in 2009 and is slated to pass $50 billion in 2010. That’s investment in places as diverse as Sudan, Venezuela, and Brazil.

The PRC has renewed its historic focus on courting African states for trade, especially petroleum and raw materials for its growing economy, and political support in the United Nations for its policies. Territorial Disputes The PRC aggressively pursues territorial claims with a host of countries. The South China Sea, a vast body of water bordering six sovereign countries and through which vital maritime lines of communication pass, has been unilaterally declared China’s “sovereign waters,” in spite of the internationally recognized right of freedom of the seas. Moreover island groups such as the Daoyutai/ Senkaku disputed between China, Taiwan and Japan remain another flashpoint, as do the Spratelys.

In recent but largely overlooked comments, China’s Defense Minister Liang Guanglie stated unambiguously, “In the coming five years, our military will push forward preparations for military conflict in every strategic direction.” Does this connote asymmetric warfare; cyber war, Space? He intoned ominously, “We may be living in peaceful times, but we can never forget war, never send the horses south or put the bayonets and guns away.”

As part of China’s growing military muscle, the PRC Navy is developing a “carrier-killing” ballistic missile that could sink American aircraft carriers from a distance, fundamentally reordering the balance of power in East Asia. Though the anti-ship missile, the Dong Feng 21, has achieved “initial operational capability”, such a deployment could tilt the balance of power in the Pacific in three to five years. The U.S. has relied on its aircraft carrier battle groups to project power and protect East Asian allies; South Korea, Japan, Taiwan and the Philippines. Should the PRC be able to neutralize that advantage, the military balance would dangerously shift in the Pacific.

The upcoming Sino/American Summit is more than just talk about trade and currency issues and but clearly underlining regional security in Korea, reiterating internationally accepted rights of freedom of the seas, and sober reaffirmation that the PRC’s political trajectory is indeed on a “peaceful rise.”

John J. Metzler is a U.N. correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He writes weekly for

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