Chinese President Hu Jintao and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev had a pleasant, two-day summit last week in Beijing. The agreeable nature of their public encounter was evident when Hu thanked the Russian government for its assistance to the victims of the May 12 earthquake in southwest China, which may have killed as many as 80,000 people. “Between friends, there can be no other kind of relations,” Medvedev replied, while offering to provide additional help. Their only unpleasant comments were directed at third parties. The two governments expressed resentment of Western criticism regarding their human rights practices and actions abroad. A […]

HONG KONG — The sight this weekend of an emotional Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon surveying the devastation wreaked by the Sichuan earthquake should allow the rest of the world to breath a collective sigh of relief. Gone was the Beijing-manufactured nationalistic nonsense that had been gaining in fiery strength with every leg of the Olympic torch relay. Instead, the human face of China was visible, humbled by a tragedy inflicted with a brute force that only mother nature is capable of delivering. It wasn’t always like that. Initial offers of help for quake victims […]

China’s Self-Appraisal

Three opinion columns in the People’s Daily Online pretty much run the gamot of the takeaway from the response to the Sichuan earthquake: Chinese pride, international solidarity, and finally pan-Chinese solidarity (Taiwan, Hong Kong, etc.). I don’t think there’s anything cynical about noting that this is about the best possible narrative that could have come out of the enormous catastrophe, mainly because however much it serves the interests of the Chinese government, it also serves the interests of humankind as well. Frankly, if we couldn’t pull together around something of this magnitude, there wouldn’t be much hope left. The only […]

Taiwan’s New President

It’s farfetched to imagine that China and Taiwan can magically resolve their differences overnight, but this passage from new Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou’s inauguration speech is food for thought: “I would like to propose with sincerity that the two sides, whether over the (Taiwan) strait or in diplomatic circles, reconcile, cease fire and assist each other with respect in global organisations and activities,” he said. Noting that the people living on both sides of the Taiwan Strait “belong to the Chinese race,” he said Taipei and Beijing should work together for peace “instead of wasting resources in negative competition”. One […]

Disaster Relief as Political Gesture

Last night was one of the rare times I watched the televised news, so I finally saw footage of the impact of the Sichuan earthquake. There’s really no comparing the heartrending effect of video to even still images, let alone press coverage. The impact it had on me reminded me of remarks by a French diplomat for an article I did on the EUFOR Chad mission. He talked about the “CNN effect” on public opinion, and how it has increased the pressure on governments to intervene in far off crises. I’d add to that the observation that, in ways that […]

Blogging the China Earthquake

Chinese citizens have been turning to the Internet for information on loved ones who went missing after an earthquake in Sichuan province took up to 13,000 lives. Twitter, the online tool that allows friends and family members to send short updates to one another via IM, SMS, and social networking sites like Facebook, has helped many Chinese keep each other up-to-date on their safety as well as on news related to the quake. There’s been discussion of Twitters becoming more and more popular as a “platform for serious discourse,” used by citizen and professional journalists alike. Twitter apparently broke the […]

On Saturday, Hu Jintao concluded the first state visit by a Chinese president to Japan in almost a decade. President Jiang Zemin traveled to Japan in 1998, but the subsequent deterioration in relations between Beijing and Tokyo severely curtailed high-level meetings. Although Chinese and Japanese officials managed on this occasion to finesse such recently contentious issues as Tibet and food safety, Hu’s May 6-10 sojourn failed to resolve the deeper sources of these earlier bilateral tensions. Before Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to Beijing in October 2006, the Chinese government had frozen high-level summits with Japanese leaders outside the […]

China’s Controlled Transparency

Yesterday I mentioned that China’s reaction to the Sichuan earthquake — specifically whether it called for (or accepted international offers of) aid — would reveal something about how secure it is with its newfound global status. Over at FP Passport, Mike Boyer pointed out that the degree of information transparency would also be revealing. So far, it looks like the Chinese government is adopting a forward-leaning, if guarded, approach on both counts. As this page from Xinhua demonstrates, information is being quickly updated, and a French-language report from Le Figaro includes government announcements on some ecological risks posed by the […]

In a recent announcement that went virtually unnoticed in the Western media, an official of Saudi Aramco — Saudi Arabia’s national oil company — stated that Saudi Arabia aims to double its oil exports to China from last year’s levels, reaching 1 million barrels per day by 2010. Should this goal be realized, China will soon rival the United States and Japan as one of the top destinations for Saudi petroleum. In addition, the China National Petrochemical Corporation (Sinopec) already has an agreement with Iran to buy 250 million tons of liquid natural gas from the country over 30 years, […]

OLYMPIC PARDONS PROPOSED FOR CHINA DISSIDENTS — U.S.- and Hong Kong-based human rights group Dui Hua May 8 made public a previous appeal to Chinese officials to pardon political prisoners ahead of the Beijing Olympic Games. The appeal, which was delivered to the head of China’s parliament through government channels in April, said such a move would reinforce Olympic ideals and promote peace and humanitarianism. “This is a concrete step that China can take. We’ve hopefully tried to raise it as a suggestion, not a criticism,” Joshua Rosenzweig, head of Dui Hua’s research and programs told the Los Angeles Times. […]

The BRIC Wall

Another thing that complicates the scenario of the “Rise of the Rest” or the birth of a “BRIC identity” is that many of the emerging powers are as much strategic rivals as they are tactical partners. Just yesterday, for instance, India successfully tested a nuclear-capable ballistic missile with a range of 3500 km. That’s a range that’s designed more for catching Peking’s attention than Islamabad’s. Similarly, India recently announced plans to reinforce and modernize its military presence along the Sino-Indian border. As much as trans-Atlantic relations can get bumpy from time to time, that’s one area where the West has […]

During a visit to Burma a few years ago, I decided to avoid the country’s legendarily deadly airlines and instead hire a car to take me along the somewhat less deadly roads. Distances that on the map looked like they should take an hour to cover took entire days. The criminal extent of the country’s neglect was already obvious in Rangoon, where I saw a mother sitting with a large crowd on a downtown sidewalk, despondently holding in her arms a baby so malnourished that I’m sure it died not long after I gave her a small amount of money, […]

Olympic Torch Back in China as Darfur Haunts Relay

HONG KONG — The Olympic torch was paraded through the wet and windy streets of Hong Kong on Friday amid small but rowdy protests and accusations that Beijing is underwriting the atrocities in Darfur with billions of petrodollars. American actress and activist Mia Farrow lent an air of glamour as thousands thronged the streets with the relay, taking in the city’s spectacular harbor and venues for this summer’s equestrian events, which will be held here. But Farrow’s attacks on China over Darfur, along with protests by pro-Tibet and free speech activists, meant hopes were fading that this year’s games can […]

TOKYO — Next week’s scheduled visit to Japan by Chinese President Hu Jintao is the latest evidence of a continuing thaw in the two countries’ relations, which only three years ago were decidedly icy. The Japan-China relationship reached a low point in April 2005, when thousands of Chinese across the country, outraged by Japan’s approval of textbooks that critics say played down Japanese aggression in World War II, joined a series of anti-Japan protests. Some of the protests turned violent, with attacks on shops selling Japanese products and the stoning of Japanese consulates. “Things were pretty bad,” said Maria Hsia […]