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Thursday, March 24, 2005

The China card, part II 

Jim Lobe of Asia Times has an interesting essay this morning discussing the impact of China's recent anti-secession law on American efforts to slow down the lifting of Europe's arms embargo against China. Under the headline "Bush wins big as China overplays its hand," Lobe argues that China's Taiwan legislation opened the door to upsetting its strategy of triangulating the U.S. and Europe.
The apparent decision by European leaders to delay the lifting of their 16-year-old arms embargo on China beyond June marks a clear-cut foreign-policy victory for US President George W Bush, who made the issue a major priority in his visit to Europe last month.

China itself may have inadvertently made Bush's victory possible. Its enactment last week of an Anti-Secession Law that lays the foundation for a possible military attack on Taiwan if, in Beijing's judgment, it were to move toward formal independence, gave the administration powerful new ammunition against ending the ban - as well as political cover to those European governments that were wary about confronting Bush on the issue....

Whether the Anti-Secession Law was actually the straw the broke the camel's back or simply a convenient pretext for defusing tensions with Washington remains unclear, but it marks both an important political victory for Bush and a boost for neo-conservative and nationalist hawks in and out of the administration who favor a more aggressive containment policy against China in ever-closer collaboration with both Japan and Taiwan.

Lobe does not connect this controversy to Hu Jintao's recent pressure on North Korea, but only because he's looking at different tea leaves.

UPDATE: The VOA reports that China is so far coming up empty. The article does provide some insight into China's strategic concerns. Among other things, the article explains why China would not appreciate an American "regime change" strategy, which in turn explains why the United States has not pursued one.
Analysts say China is growing increasingly impatient with the North's refusal to resume nuclear disarmament talks with South Korea, Japan, Russia, China and the United States....

Chinese officials also have taken Mr. Pak to factories as part of a strategy to persuade North Korea to reform its centrally planned economy, giving him a look at the prosperity that has kept the Chinese Communist Party in power.

China does not want the diplomatic crisis over its communist neighbor's nuclear weapons to worsen. Among other concerns, Beijing fears possible international sanctions could trigger a wave of North Korean refugees into its territory.

Larry Niksch, an Asian Affairs specialist at the Congressional Research Service in Washington, says Beijing does not want to see a collapse of the North Korean government and a subsequent unification with U.S. ally South Korea.

"China does not want to see Korean unification result in a major strategic gain by the United States," said Mr. Niksch. "And, I think as long as China has that fear, China is going to support North Korea."

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