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New Cold War? About Those Improving Relations With China …

I certainly wouldn’t put much confidence in the claim that relations have improved between the US and China.  In fact, despite Obama’s claims, it appears they’re much worse.  Recent actions by the US have riled the Chinese to the point that they’re being anything but subtle about their feelings and certainly not  keeping those feelings out of state sanctioned publications.  According to the UK’s Sunday Times, 55% of Chinese agree that “a cold war will break out between the US and China”.

What has spurred this turn of events?

The finding came after battles over Taiwan, Tibet, trade, climate change, internet freedom and human rights which have poisoned relations in the three months since President Barack Obama made a fruitless visit to Beijing.

You’ll most likely remember how the administration touted the visit as one which significantly improved out relations with China. Apparently the administration was the only one which saw it that way:

During Obama’s visit, the US ambassador to China, Jon Huntsman, claimed relations were “really at an all-time high in terms of the bilateral atmosphere … a cruising altitude that is higher than any other time in recent memory”, according to an official transcript.

The ambassador must have been the only person at his embassy to think so, said a diplomat close to the talks.

“The truth was that the atmosphere was cold and intransigent when the president went to Beijing yet his China team went on pretending that everything was fine,” the diplomat said.

In reality, Chinese officials argued over every item of protocol, rigged a town hall meeting with a pre-selected audience, censored the only interview Obama gave to a Chinese newspaper and forbade the Americans to use their own helicopters to fly him to the Great Wall.

President Hu Jintao refused to give an inch on Obama’s plea to raise the value of the Chinese currency, while his vague promises of co-operation on climate change led the Americans to blunder into a fiasco at the Copenhagen summit three weeks later.

Diplomats say they have been told that there was “frigid” personal chemistry between Obama and the Chinese president, with none of the superficial friendship struck up by previous leaders of the two nations.

And, if you can believe it, it has gone downhill from there.

An independent survey of Chinese-language media for The Sunday Times has found army and navy officers predicting a military showdown and political leaders calling for China to sell more arms to America’s foes. The trigger for their fury was Obama’s decision to sell $6.4 billion (£4 billion) worth of weapons to Taiwan, the thriving democratic island that has ruled itself since 1949.

“We should retaliate with an eye for an eye and sell arms to Iran, North Korea, Syria, Cuba and Venezuela,” declared Liu Menxiong, a member of the Chinese people’s political consultative conference.

He added: “We have nothing to be afraid of. The North Koreans have stood up to America and has anything happened to them? No. Iran stands up to America and does disaster befall it? No.”

Apparently they’re on to the new but unspoken motto of the Obama administration “speak a lot, but do nothing”. What is being sensed by these military leaders in China is weakness. And such weakness is never left alone or ignored in international politics – it is always, in some way, shape or form exploited. While some may see this as nothing more than saber rattling, knowing the Chinese, it’s much more than that.  It signals a significant change in our relationship:

Chinese analysts think the leadership, riding a wave of patriotism as the year of the tiger dawns, may go further.

“This time China must punish the US,” said Major-General Yang Yi, a naval officer. “We must make them hurt.” A major-general in the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), Luo Yuan, told a television audience that more missiles would be deployed against Taiwan. And a PLA strategist, Colonel Meng Xianging, said China would “qualitatively upgrade” its military over the next 10 years to force a showdown “when we’re strong enough for a hand-to-hand fight with the US”.

Chinese indignation was compounded when the White House said Obama would meet the Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual leader of Tibet, in the next few weeks.

“When someone spits on you, you have to get back,” said Huang Xiangyang, a commentator in the China Daily newspaper, usually seen as a showcase for moderate opinion.

If that’s the moderate opinion, you can imagine what the more hawkish among China’s opinion makers are saying.

This is what happens when amateurs play at foreign policy and those they’re dealing with sniff out weak (or non-existent) leadership. As I mentioned quite some time ago, 2009 would be a year of relative calm as other nations took the measure of the new administration and what they could expect. Once that was done, 2010 would most likely be the year when they’d act – and frankly, given this from China, it’s most likely not going to be a pleasant year for US foreign policy.

Oh, and if you think China is willing to back the US on new sanctions against Iran – as the administration has been claiming – I’d be willing to take that bet and give odds that no such backing will ever be given by China.



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31 Responses to New Cold War? About Those Improving Relations With China …

  • “What has spurred this turn of events”

    I wouldn’t say this is anything new. Some of us have been saying for years that the Chinese were not our buddies and that confrontation was, if not inevitable, at least not surprising or unexpected. I myself will be content if it stays at a ‘Cold War’ level.  The Obama administration is not doing much that any other administration, past or future, would not also be doing. They are probably, however, seen to be more amenable to coercion, which is not a good thing.

    • What’s different is the level of rhetoric and the fairly blatant lack of respect it carries. That, at least where I come from (an old Cold Warrior), signals a ratcheting up of tensions and means relations have suffered. China usually uses a bit of usually when it criticizes the US. Not much nuance in the quoted parts of that article (and I don’t necessarily mean the military guys – mostly the “moderate” source).

  • 55% of Chinese agree that “a cold war will break out between the US and China”.

    > > >

    The fact is China has been at cold war with us for quite awhile.

  • U.S. governments have been in the tank for China since Bush ’41. It started to get really bad with the Clintons. The Congress, both parties, is totally in the tank.

    Even if there was someone in the U.S. government who would be able to write the national security directive on this, there are no politicians left who would be capable of understanding it, let alone acting on it. Briefly: the Chinese have their fist up the rear end of our politics.

    Bush ’43 did begin a triangulation by vastly improving ties with India, but I don’t think that Obama is interested, or even could be interested.

    Part of the problem is that the free trade ideologists wear rose-colored glasses vis a vis China and don’t know how to pay attention to China’s geopolitical ambitions. They are not benign ambitions.

    Bottom line: the U.S. has the capacity to deal with this, but has lost sight of the will to do so. Yes, lost sight of the will to do it. It’s similar to the condition that evolved in France vis a vis the Germans between the world wars. The French put themselves to sleep and couldn’t act even though they had a huge military.

    • U.S. governments have been in the tank for China since Bush ‘41.

      YMMV, but they were in the tank since Nixon.

  • Now wait a minute – wait a Gosh darn minute. I could have SWORN that when The Clown™ was running for President, he and his (deluded) supporters all told us that once he was in office, things would be DIFFERENT – that the world couldn’t WAIT to be rid of George W. Bush, who was hated. Heck, all The Clown™ had to do was wave a bony finger and the world would bow at his feet, because they all love him and admire him and all that there.

    So what is the problem here? Why is China not listening to The Clown™? Why is Iran not listening to The Clown™? Why is Venezuela not listening to The Clown™? Why is North Korea not listening to The Clown™?

    What is going on? Hey – I know! Fox News is just reporting those things even though they aren’t true. Yeah…THAT’S THE TICKET!!!

  • I was surprised Obama even agreed to sell weapons to Taiwan. It would be easier not to. Good for him, I guess.
    The Chinese would be very stupid to start a cold war with the United States. They can simply wait and gain what they want on Taiwan, etc. They don’t need to anything for climate change, and its dead. They can ignore our call on human rights.
    Or maybe they really think they could survive a severe downturn in trade, with factories shutting down etc. as production moved to Vietnam, India, Indonesia, etc.? Sure there would be some supply chain hiccups for US consumers, but its not nearly as wrenching. It would be like our mal-investment in houses – very hard to survive.
    I guess non-US customers would be deluged with lower prices as factories battled for orders to keep running. I wonder what the EU would do? Sit on the sidelines?

  • Oh, and I really don’t think Obama’s spin is anything special. What was intriguing was that the Chinese “tested” him. Look for a major issue with Taiwan if their elections lead to pro-independence groups regaining power. The Olympics are over. Obama is busy. Not such a bad time to make a grab.

  • schadenfreude but look how much jeopardy this a..hole has placed us all in

  • none of the superficial friendship struck up by previous leaders of the two nations
    Barack “Spock” Obama. It’s hard to strike up a superficial friendship with a “cold fish.”

  • In reality, Chinese officials argued over every item of protocol, rigged a town hall meeting with a pre-selected audience, censored the only interview Obama gave to a Chinese newspaper and forbade the Americans to use their own helicopters to fly him to the Great Wall.

    Well, he did say he’d sit down to tea with tyrants.

  • China can march on Taiwan, Obama will not interfere. Weakness will be exploited.  I knew he was an amateur, but I didn’t think Obama could cause this much chaos in such a short time.  I am pulling my money out of volatile securities for 2010.

  • “We have nothing to be afraid of. The North Koreans have stood up to America and has anything happened to them? No. Iran stands up to America and does disaster befall it? No.”

    Not only do we have Obie to thank for this, but Bush as well. Watching GWB continue his predecessor’s appeasement route with the NorKs and then giving the Iranians a pass with their meddling in Iraq was infuriating.

  • International Affairs is a game of power politics.    The US has, over the last thirty years, amassed a huge debt, and the value of the dollar, and the ability to finance continuing deficits, depends greatly on China’s willingness to continue investing — investments most Chinese do not think rational or safe.   Meanwhile, China is diversifying its economic activity so that the US market is not so fundamental to its capacity to continue growing, thereby making the United States relatively less important in terms of its calculation of national interest.
    This would be true no matter who is President, and explains why since Bush the Elder every candidate criticizes America’s China policy, and every President tends to continue the policy of the one before.   They have the United States by the economic short hairs, and both we and they know it.  They have no reason to put sanctions on Iran, nor do they especially care about US interests in that region.  They have geopolitical and energy interests there that trump US concern about Iran’s threat to Israel.   Their concern is to avoid conflict that might disrupt oil flows, and improve access to oil in coming years.
    One error that amateur analysts make in assessing foreign policy is to place too much emphasis on the person, and less on the geopolitical and “real” interests in play (the name for this approach is, in fact, “realism.”)   For instance, from 2005 onward the US has had a consistent foreign policy.   Obama has not fundamentally altered Bush the Younger’s approach.  That’s why Obama’s election did not herald in any sudden improvement in US relations, Bush had made major strides in improving the damage done in the three years before Obama came to office.   Moreover, Bush’s errors in his first administration can easily be traced to an over-estimation of US power based on a belief that the military was more powerful than it was in terms of regional wars and shaping political outcomes, and underestimating the core weakness of the US economy.   They also overestimated the value of military power vis-a-vis economic strength.    By 2005 they learned their lesson, and the second Bush Administration had a much better and more realistic foreign policy.


      Remember that Scotty boy?

      • Uh, Shark, you’re making no sense.  Who said anything about fear?  What do you mean here?

        • You pratt, you don’t even remember your own stupid posts……but we do.

          • Oct 17, 2009 So you guys are paranoid about China too? Fear! Fear! Fear! China’s not a military threat

            Try to remember the spew that comes out of your mouth please

          • China is not a military threat.   There is no need to fear China.  I’m trying to explain why it is that China’s actions are not going to be in accord with what the US wants, and how China’s economic power is great.   You have to take real power considerations into account in analyzing and assessing policy.  China definitely is not a military threat, and certainly it would be foolish to “fear” them.  You just have to have diplomacy with a clear sense of political and economic realities.   If you have a fear reaction to that, well, that’s your problem.

  • jeez, when did Scott come back?

  • Obama has not fundamentally altered Bush the Younger’s approach.

    But he comes across as weak and easy to manipulate.  I believe that China would talk tough and see how far they could push against any US President.  The difference is in the results, and I suspect that China will be much better off than they would have if we did not have Obama in the White House.  And that comes at our expense.

    • Tonus, in what way?  I don’t see much of a change in Chinese policy.   I don’t think they’re going to invade Taiwan (that would be against their national interest — Taiwan is very integrated in China’s economy and I suspect that at some point they’ll mutually agree to ‘unify’).  China’s rise from 1979 to the present has been dramatic.  How much of that can you blame on US Presidents?   I think you not only underestimate Obama, but also aren’t taking into account that the President relies on a foreign policy team.    Also, I don’t see how Obama is different in any substantive way than Bush in his second term regarding China.

      • Because the Chinese know if they backed Bush into a corner, they’d have had a fight on their hands.  If they back Imeme into a corner?  Ha…He’ll make a frowny face for a little while and tell us all that we have to buck under to Chinese demands now because Bush left him this mess.  He’s a weak ass leader Scott, it’s that simple, and you’d better hope that Chinese demands will be reasonable and moderate when they come to collect.  And by the way, he’s only a leader at ALL because he’s in a leadership position.  Otherwise I wouldn’t even give him credit for being a leader.

        • You apparently weren’t paying attention to the second Bush Administration.   Bush was not feared, and given public opinion after Iraq, everyone knew that Bush really could not choose to have a conflict.   Obama seems not only to be a more competent leader than Bush (though in his second term Bush did learn a lot from his mistakes, which I do give him credit for), but he also shows a pragmatic sense of knowing that politics is the art of the possible.   You’re just suffering from acute ODS.   It’s sort of amusing how suddenly the right is acting towards Obama just like the left acted towards Bush — you guys are so predictable.   And now you know how those on the left felt having to endure Bush as President — very much the same feelings you’re having having to endure Obama.   Enjoy the bitterness!

          • No, there’s a difference.  In a pinch Bush could actually do the leadership thing.  Obama doesn’t have it in him, never did, never will.
            “Enjoy the Bitterness” – the expression is “embrace the suck”.     Oddly, I will, because in the end you won’t like where it all ends up and that thought is making me smile right now.

  • I think timactual hits the nail on the head: Red China is NOT our pal.  Past presidents have pretended to various extents that they are as a matter of practical international politics: it makes little sense to deliberately p*ss off a powerful opponent.  I’m shocked that Imeme has been so apparently aggressive toward the Red Chinese, though: kowtowing to thugs is more his style.  I hope (pray) that he isn’t getting us into anything very serious, because, even without open military conflict, the Red Chinese can hurt us BAD.  I’m not sure what we can do to protect ourselves or even mitigate the threat in the future.

    • The Chinese are doing it to themselves Doc, freedom and information are dangerous drugs, we just need to keep them busy for another, say,  15 years, and keep ourselves out of the hole that Imeme and his ilk would like to put us in.

  • I won’t like where it ends up?   Why would you think that?   Where do you think I want it to “end up?”   Personally, I don’t think it will “end up.”  Politics changes constantly…I do think we have to come together and make some pragmatic decisions if we’re not going to see a real decline in our way of life in the coming years.  That is very important to me, which is why I find the BDS followed by ODS approach among the political junkies left and right to be counter productive.  To too many politics is a ‘game’ where you want your “side” to win and the other side to “be upset.”   Emotions.  Sport.    But the stakes are real, and neither left nor right is all good or all evil.   The country works best when we compromise — which is why we tend to go left then right then left then right, a way to keep any “side” from getting their way completely.

  • One of the most amusing things about you, Scott (aside from the fact that without looking at the name it’s almost impossible to tell your comments from Ott Scerb’s), is that of all the things you know almost nothing about, your own field is what you know least about. That’s got to be because there is where your indoctrination is the highest and tightest. So, your arguments, which show cyclical motion but no development, are just as well made by Ott, who actually does a little better than you at getting your core points across.

    That brings me to your character, which is just an abyss of deceit and ten other awful things, some of which I’m not sure there are words for, yet.