The dragon and the eagle try to get along
Nov 21st 2005 From The Economist Global Agenda
In China last weekend, George Bush and his counterpart, Hu Jintao, made friendly noises but little progress. The two countries continue nervously to appraise each other's intentions
HU JINTAO, China's president, has a favourite phrase these days: "harmonious world", in which countries of different outlooks live together in peace. Mr Hu first unveiled this idea, more Lennon than Lenin, in a speech at the United Nations (UN) on September 15th. During recent visits to Asia and Europe, his official talks have been peppered with it. George Bush no doubt heard it himself during his visit to China at the weekend. Mr Hu does not say so himself, but the Chinese media have made it clear that "harmonious world" is, in part, a rebuff to American "hegemonism".
Mr Bush isn't short of opinions on China's rise either. In Kyoto, before arriving in Beijing, he said: "As China reforms its economy, its leaders are finding that once the door to freedom is opened even a crack, it cannot be closed." He went on to heap lavish praise on Taiwan's democracy, in a move that was sure to irritate his hosts in China, who consider the island to be a renegade province.
Yet America and China offer each other opportunities as well as threats. Mr Bush made little progress on his main demands at the meeting with Mr Hu, but said it was a "good, frank discussion". After carefully trading talking-points, the two men must now return to trying to face down their nationalists at home. The issues between the two countries fall broadly into the categories of security and the economic relationship.
Encircling the dragon?
Mr Bush and Mr Hu made little obvious progress on the main items on the security agenda. They talked about ending North Korea's nuclear ambitions, but without any obvious breakthrough. At least, on that issue, they are on roughly the same side. But after Mr Bush's praise of Taiwan in Kyoto, Mr Hu said that "we will by no means tolerate Taiwan independence."
The two countries display the classic tension between an established great power and an emerging one. A bipartisan panel from America's Congress has just issued a gloomy 263-page document saying that "China's methodical and accelerating military modernisation presents a growing threat" to American security interests in the Pacific, though a Pentagon report in July noted that China's ability to project force beyond its periphery is "limited" for now. But as China continues to spend huge sums on its armed forces, including adding around 100 ballistic missiles to the coast facing Taiwan each year, hawks in America are bound to worry. Though America still recognises only one China, it has promised to come to Taiwan's aid if it is attacked from the mainland.
China, meanwhile, is trying to strengthen its relationships in Asia and further afield. This is partly a precaution against encirclement by a string of American bases around the region (see map) and an enhancement in recent years of American security ties with Japan and Taiwan. China has no bases abroad.
In Central Asia, the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation (SCO), a security forum comprising four central Asian states plus China and Russia, is increasingly challenging America's military presence in the region. In July the SCO, prompted by China and Russia, demanded a timetable for the withdrawal of American troops from member states. In August, China and Russia staged their first joint military manoeuvres since the cold war. "Peace Mission 2005", billed as a counter-terrorist exercise, looked far more like preparation for a Chinese assault on Taiwan.
China has also irritated America by forging ties with states-especially energy suppliers-shunned by Washington. These include Iran, Sudan and Venezuela. On the other hand, China has impressed America by hosting talks on ending North Korea's nuclear ambitions. But many Americans believe that the government in Beijing could do much more to pressure the isolated and impoverished Hermit Kingdom, which counts China as one of its only friends. China, meanwhile, has used the talks to cosy up to South Korea, with which it shares a view of North Korea as a worry but not an imminent threat.