Leaks reveal US frustration at more assertive China

PUBLISHED : Monday, 06 December, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 06 December, 2010, 12:00am

US embassy cables released by WikiLeaks yesterday revealed growing frustration felt by the United States and some other major economies when dealing with a China that is becoming richer and more assertive.

'How do you deal toughly with your banker?' US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said over lunch with then Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd in March, according to a US State Department cable obtained by the British newspaper The Guardian.

In another cable, the US ambassador to Beijing, Jon Huntsman, warned of a rough year with China, and that 'Chinese hubris' was making economic negotiations more difficult. 'Whereas 2009 was a year to build the US-China relationship, 2010 will be a year that tests it,' Huntsman wrote.

'Yet, with 10 per cent US unemployment, more than ever before we must ensure that our relations with China continue to pay real dividends - especially in creating jobs for Americans,' Huntsman wrote.

Emphasising China as the world's fastest-growing major economy and market for US goods and services, Huntsman suggested a list of actions for increased co-operation. Some were 'carrots', including relaxing of export controls over technology and visa policies for Chinese visitors. But most should be real 'sticks' that could achieve market opening and job-creation objectives, he wrote.

One suggested 'stick' was to 'highlight to [the] Chinese possible congressional action on hot-button issues like renminbi valuation and carbon tariffs on Chinese imports'.

However, the use of sticks would 'require some consideration of just how much disruption in our economic relations we are willing to countenance if we must carry through our threats', he cautioned.

In a cable Huntsman sent in February, obtained by The Guardian, he reported that Beijing's 'newly pugnacious' foreign policy was 'losing friends worldwide'. 'Numerous third-country diplomats have complained to us that dealing with China has become more difficult in the past year,' he wrote in the cable, entitled 'Stomp around and carry a small stick: China's new global assertiveness raises hackles, but has more form than substance.'

He accused Beijing of 'muscle-flexing, triumphalism and assertiveness', but added that some observers saw this rhetoric as targeting domestic opinion.

European diplomats were 'most vocal', although Indian and Japanese diplomats made similar complaints about Chinese aggressiveness. A British diplomat described Chinese officials' behaviour at the Copenhagen climate conference as 'shocking', while Japanese diplomats complained about increased aggressiveness of Chinese coastguard and naval units, and difficulties working with Chinese officials during summit preparations.

A Norwegian diplomat said Oslo was unhappy with the lack of progress in human rights discussions, citing the case of jailed writer Liu Xiaobo, named the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in October.

Other cables suggested that while some African diplomats preferred China's practical, bilateral approach to development assistance, others felt 'a degree of suspicion and resentment', including a Nigerian who suggested poorer countries were 'coerced' into aid-for-resources deals.

In response to Clinton's question in March, Rudd, now Australia's foreign minister, said he was 'a brutal realist on China', according to the cable. He called for a policy 'integrating China effectively into the international community and allowing it to demonstrate greater responsibility, all while also preparing to deploy force if everything goes wrong'.

US-China relations expert Professor Jin Canrong of Renmin University said China had not changed its foreign policy of staying low-key and stressing mutual benefits. 'It has only become more outspoken on matters that affect its national interests. It has become more aware of its rights internationally ... and other countries are finding this change difficult to get used to.'

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