By George Koo
New America Media
One week in America and China’s leader Xi Jinping has established his credentials as a world leader to be reckoned with. This was particularly evident during his last stop in New York at the United Nations.
His first stop was Seattle where he was greeted with great warmth, not surprising since the state of Washington has been the foremost business friendly state with China.
Xi in turn did not come empty handed but brought an order for 300 Boeing commercial jetliners, valued at $38 billion less whatever undisclosed discount. Bringing a present to the host (jian mian li) is a common Chinese practice and tradition.
He was accorded a VIP tour of Boeing and Microsoft, a round table conference on the Internet and a group photo op with CEOs from China and the U.S. worth a total of $2.5 trillion in market cap.
President Xi also did not come to the nation’s capital empty handed either. Last November the surprise out of the Obama/Xi summit in Beijing was China’s commitment to join the U.S. in combating global warming and restrict emission of green house gases by 2030. The response from the western skeptics was to wait and see.
This time, Xi indicated that China was ready to stand with the U.S. by instituting a nation-wide cap and trade program by 2017 to limit CO2 emission from major industrial sources. China has come up with a plan based on an American idea within one year, a plan that Obama has not been able to get Congress to go along in more than four.
Xi also pledged that China would minimize financing third world projects with high carbon emission. One observer noted, “China appears poised to enact the same climate change policy that Mr. Obama failed to move through Congress.” Someday, the world may look back and applaud the consequence of the bilateral agreement as the greatest contribution to the world’s future.
The summit also made progress in cyber security and repatriation of fugitives from China. In the cyber space, both countries agree on certain rules of the road and to communicate and consult with each other in the event of hack attacks. Much does lie in the details and how effectively both sides will work together in lieu of public finger pointing.
The U.S. and China also agreed to cooperate on repatriating fugitives from China via periodic charter flights and to return ill-gotten gains. This could become a significant deterrent and cause corrupt officials to look elsewhere for safe havens overseas. American officials privately claimed that it has been the snail pace by the Chinese officials in providing the necessary documentation that impeded expediting repatriation in the past. Again, the devil will be in the implementation.
Xi’s jian mian li [gift bringing] to the UN was even more dazzling. After his short speech on Saturday pledging $2 billion for immediate debt relief owed to China by the poorest, debt-ridden nations and to invest $12 billion by 2030 in the least developed regions, he was mobbed. Eyewitnesses say as many as 30 other heads of state, also attending the 70th celebration of founding of UN, formed a queue to shake his hands—unprecedented to say the least.
In his address to the General Assembly before returning to China, he announced a straight $1 billion donation to the UN over 10 years for peaceful development under the UN aegis. China will also send 8000 police as part of the UN peacekeeping force and provide $100 million to the African Union to help them develop their peacekeeping capability.
Xi’s message at the UN was to reiterate China’s commitment to peaceful development as the key to avoiding conflict and protect human rights by raising living standards. He declared that China would never act as a hegemon or impose an exaggerated sphere of influence but treat every nation, big or small, with mutual respect.
Unlike the US that ignores the UN when it suits them, China has consistently insisted on working within the confines of the UN Charter.
In the coming days, Xi said China would propose six 100-project sets to address problems of common worldwide interest. The six subject areas will consist of (1) poverty alleviation, (2) agriculture development, (3) global trade facilitation, (4) climate protection, (5) improving health care and (6) education.
President Xi came to America offering cooperation and collaboration. His only stipulation, which China has raised since 2008 even before he became the leader, was that the U.S. treat China as a peer and strike up a new relations between “big countries” (da guo).
This is turning out to be a hard sell in America. Obama seems to have difficulty reconciling the U.S. position as the only hegemon with the need to accommodate China. Perhaps the toxic political atmosphere in America does not allow Obama to act otherwise.
Current batch of American presidential hopefuls are falling all over themselves to out bash China in search a tiny decimal gain in the opinion poll. No doubt in debates to come they will find hidden threat to America’s security in Xi’s message of peaceful development.
Perhaps because the U.K. has long ago given up any aspiration of being the world hegemon, George Osborne, their Chancellor of Exchequer, went to Beijing with unbridled enthusiasm for collaboration with China. Just as Xi was about to visit America, Osborne met with Premier Li Keqiang and signed 53 assorted agreements and memorandum of understandings on economic cooperation.
This was advanced work to tee up Xi’s state visit to Britain in October and ensure total success. Osborne said that his mission was to make clear that Britain wants to be China’s “best partner in the West.”
Not that long ago, Britain was America’s best partner in the invasion of Iraq and shared in the sorrow of that disastrous adventure. Now Britain sees that it’s in their national interests to move away from the shadows of American foreign policy. Last March, despite White House urging not to support Xi’s Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, UK led the ranks of western powers in becoming founding members.
China is making friends around the world based on common economic interest and not on military alliances. While they have no wish to compete on arms, their recent air-to-air missile development with the capability comparable to the U.S. is another indication that they also won’t be intimidated.
Whether Washington will ever see more to gain from collaboration with China than continue as “frenemies” will depend on the day a statesman/woman emerge from the current comedy that passes as an exercise in democracy.
George Koo is on the Board of New America Media and writes for Asia Times.