Saturday, March 14, 2009

China’s Global and Pacific Island friends


Chinese President Hu Jintao shakes hands with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during a meeting in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing February 21, 2009. Clinton said the United States and China can pull the world out of economic crisis by working together. Pic by China Daily Post

By Mathew Yakai in Changchun, China

DID you notice that only last month, China and USA made major diplomatic tours to strengthen diplomatic ties with old friends and meet new ones?

New Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made the week-long trip to Asia starting with Japan signifying one of Washington’s cornerstones of regional security and ended with China, signaling Beijing’s role in both global and regional issues.

In fact, Hillary told Beijing that “money” is important today compared with other issues as reported by media, signifying China’s important role in the current world financial crises.

Hillary also visited Indonesia and South Korea. This is regionally focused.

The People’s Republic of China (PRC) did its diplomatic tour in Africa, Latin America and Asia last month, with a brief but important stop-over in Nadi (Fiji) when Canberra and Wellington are continuously bashing Suva.

Now the British Commonwealth issued an ultimatum for Fiji to hold election this year or face suspension in September.

While the U.S. is preoccupied with other parts of the world like Iraq and Afghanistan wars and the ongoing financial crises, China is paying ever more attention to Latin America, Asia and Africa, sending leaders to the region, opening banks and promising investments.

President Hu Jintao toured four African nations and Saudi Arabia on Feb 17 and Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping finished his tour to five Latina American nations and Malta on Feb 22.

The visits focused on the international financial crises felt world-wide, apart from enhancing political trust, promoting friendship and reached consensus on strengthening economic and trade ties.

More than 20 agreements were signed between China and the five host nations during Hu's tour, covering fields such as trade, investment and infrastructure.

Many bilateral agreements, aimed at boosting all-around partnerships in cooperation with Latin American nations, were also signed during Xi's trip.

Xi toured Mexico, Jamaica, Colombia, Venezuela and Brazil, all nations eager to enhance ties with China.

Elsewhere in the region, Vice Premier Hui Liangyu paid visit to Argentina, Ecuador, Barbados and Bahamas from Feb. 7 to 19.

Might seem like no big deal, you say? Well, recall that President Hu visited Latin America in last November, stopping in to Cuba and Peru.

And while Hu was rubbing elbows with most of the major Latin presidents at the APEC summit in Lima, China’s highest ranking military officer was elsewhere in South America on tour.

That officer, Xu Caihou, is vice chairman of the Central Military Commission, which controls the People’s Liberation Army.

Only President Hu outranks Xu in the military hierarchy. On his trip in November, Xu toured military installations in Venezuela, Chile and Brazil and promised increased exchanges between the two regions.

For Washington to match this pace of high-level visits, it would have to send President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen and a fourth senior official, perhaps Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, to Latin America within four months. I doubt will be seeing that.

The Chinese officials aren’t going empty handed either. Just take a look at the $7.3 million national stadium Chinese workers are erecting in the Bahamas, a quick boat ride from Miami.

If one were looking for a specific gauge of China’s growing influence on the world stage in relation to the United States, one could do worse that just studying the Beijing-Washington-Latin America triangle.

Consider the trade numbers between China and Latin America and the Caribbean, for example.

Trade between the region and China jumped 13-fold since 1995, from $8.4 billion to $110 billion in 2007. China is now the region’s second biggest trading partner after the United States.

A concrete sign of China’s growing trade importance occurred not long ago. On Jan. 12, China formally became a member of the Inter-American Development Bank, the leading hemispheric financing arm for long-term development projects.

As Chinese Ambassador Zhou Wenzhong signed the forms for membership, China also threw in $350 million into bank coffers.

Now the Chinese flag flies along with the other 47 flags of the IDB’s member states.

Another sign of Chinese interest: Beijing has agreed to open branches of the China Development Bank in Mexico, Brazil and two other countries, a sign of intensified trade cooperation.

The world has indeed grown smaller. If Latin America was once considered part of the U.S. backyard, it’s now also part of China’s backyard.

Let’s not forget USA’s backyard in the Pacific. After winning the Cold War in 1991, U.S.A. closed down most of its embassies in the region and left, leaving the isolated and impoverished island states under Canberra, Wellington and UK as its ears and mouth.

When Kevin Rudd was busy extinguishing the devastating bush fire in Australia, Vice President Xi Jinping, who is likely to succeed President Hu Jintao made a brief stopover in Nadi, Fiji, en-route to Latin-America tour.

The PRC delegation was welcomed with the traditional Fijian ceremony, only reserved for special guests, under a tight security and journalists were barred, except for those who managed to be in the hotel earlier.

This is not the first visit. In April 2006, China’s Premier Wen Jiabao visited and spoke of a new partnership and agreed to provide several hundred million dollars worth of preferential loans, tariff reductions, developmental assistance and investments to Pacific Island states.

Interim Prime Minister Commodore Frank Bainimarama said that the visit allowedboth Governments to reflect on the strength and the deepening of the bilateral relations between Suva and Beijing.He described the stopover as a gesture of true and genuine friendship between the two since 1975.

Bainimarama wasted no time to brief Xi on the political situation, expressing that the military took over to restore confidence and later return to total democracy.

“The Military, essentially assumed control of the Government two years ago with clear objectives to eliminate corruption, racial discrimination policies and practices, and to bring about necessary reforms in the area of public service, governance as well as the Electoral System in an effort to build a better and more progressive Fiji.”
“The Military did not intervene for the purpose of remaining in control and power beyond a reasonable time than what would be required to achieve the above objectives,” Fiji Daily Post reported.
Fiji and China established diplomatic relations in 1975 soon after Fiji gained Independence from the United Kingdom.
Since then the relationship has broadened to encompass a range of interests in agriculture, tertiary education, trade, economic and development assistance and other sectors such as telecommunications and information technology.
In the last few years there has been heightened bilateral exchange visits involving senior Government officials, Ministers, as well as at the level of Heads of State and Government.

Bainimarama also thanked Beijing for understanding Fiji’s situation and not interfering in its internal affairs unlike Australia and New Zealand.

Many may not see Xi’s stop-over in Nadi as significant but in the period when Bainimarama was continuously bashed by Canberra and Wellington, Fiji may take China as a genuine friend or already did.

A famous military strategist once perpetuated, “if one wants to defeat the enemy then he must make his enemy’s friend his own friend first”.

The scribe does not directly refer to Australia and New Zealand but in some cases because Australia and New Zealand join USA to accuse Beijing on certain issues like human right and China’s “dollar diplomacy” that allege to corrupt the island countries.

I stop my ink on this topic for politicians and bureaucrats to discuss but my point is this. Bainimarama is running a sovereign nation, which is now becoming more multicultural.

Looking back to those blood-less coups, Bainimarama is correct to say that he must fix the underlying problem before Suva returns to total democracy.

Why not Canberra and Wellington assist Fiji to solve those underlying problem before Fiji returns to democracy? If they do not answer this question then Fiji must be careful when dealing with them, because they would use the “divide and rule tactic”.

That’s when Beijing may come in easily to help Suva find its rightful place in the international community, like what she is doing with African countries which were once exploited by Westerners.

This scribe would say that Fiji is now at a transition point where it can learn much from China. China, in the last 30 years has surprised the world with its economic progress.

A visit to China will tell you the dramatic changes in infrastructures, health services, education….now attracting overseas Chinese who were once fleeing their motherland because of it backwardness.

Washington knows that Beijing is important in the world today to enhance countries to live harmoniously.

Of course, China aims to maintain itself as one of the competitive nation-state like any countries with an aim to maintaining a strong, independent, powerful and united China.

When achieving this ambition, China’s foreign policy does not pursue any hegemonic or warlike ambition.

Xi’s stopover in Fiji depicts Beijing’s presence in Oceania today given the Asia-Pacific century with China leading.

Hillary flew over the Pacific from Indonesia to South Korea without even paying a visit to express Washington’s condolence towards the victims of Australian fire, leave alone the Pacific Island countries.

However, living in this anarchic and dependent world order, Pacific Island countries need both USA and China for regional peace and economic cooperation, only at the expense of their mutual relationship.

The world is heading for an interesting century.
Significantly, these are after the fanfare of “One World-One Dream” slogan of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Game.

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