Tue, May 02, 2006 - Page 8 News List

'Status quo' momentarily more stable

By Emerson Chang 張子揚

At the press conference held following the conclusion of the summit between US President George W. Bush and Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤), Bush seemed to do away with conventions of the diplomatic code by talking of "disagreements" between the two leaders, rather than their having a "frank discussion," in Hu's presence. Both sides will scrutinize and dispute this very public act of causing loss of face and its significance for global relations.

This was Hu's first official visit to the US as Chinese leader, and many China experts such as Andrew Nathan and Elizabeth Economy, prior to his visit, were saying that the main purpose of his trip was to reduce US dissatisfaction with China. The major point of contention here was the US$200 billion trade deficit between the two countries, prompting Hu to send a trade mission, which signed deals worth some US$16 billion, to the US prior to his visit, as a gesture of goodwill.

When Hu first arrived in the US he took part in a conference in Seattle at which he attempted to allay US suspicions as to China's designs for the future, quoting Zheng Bijian (鄭必堅), his advisor and the person who came up with the term "peaceful rise," as saying China should follow the road of peaceful development and would not "export economic development models." During the conference, Hu himself also talked of a strategy of opening up foreign relations that would be of mutual benefit and lead to a win-win situation.

In addition, on five occasions during the welcoming ceremony prior to the summit, and in the press conference after its conclusion, Hu mentioned mutual benefits with a win-win outcome. This is how he would like to color US-China relations, but his emphasis on it also betrayed the dissatisfaction he feels regarding those relations as they stand. He has publicly said that he wants to see mutual respect and equal treatment between the two countries, and also opened his address during the welcoming ceremony with a reference to the opening chapter of China-US trade relations, when US merchant ships arrived off the Chinese coast in 1784.

Hu declined to make any concrete promises on Bush's demands of reducing the trade deficit, letting the yuan appreciate against the US dollar and improving China's record on human rights and religious freedoms. Bush was able neither to improve his own domestic approval ratings nor alleviate pressure from Congress as a result of Hu's visit, and the pressure Hu exerted on Bush to "oppose" Taiwanese independence also came to no avail, with Hu having to settle for Bush reiterating that he "did not support" it. All of the above meant that there was little improvement in China-US relations, and that Hu failed to achieve his goals for the trip.

There was, however, a subtle shift in the relations between the two countries. The Bush administration has, on many occasions, asked Beijing to enter into talks with Taipei to reduce tension across the Taiwan Strait, ever since China passed its so-called "Anti-Secession" Law in March last year, a move the US regarded as a unilateral change to the status quo. All Beijing has done, however, is increase contact with the Taiwanese public and opposition parties, treating the government itself as a non-entity.

During this summit, Bush made no demands for the two sides to engage in dialogue: This is very likely the result of the recent trip to the US of Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), after which the US has decided to wait until after the 2008 presidential election to see about having a Taiwanese government that is willing to maintain the status quo, a status quo that is defined by the US itself. This all means that the US is now appropriating a similar stance to China on the Taiwan question: It is trying to increase interaction with the Taiwanese public and opposition parties while marginalizing the Taiwanese government.

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