Saturday, December 11, 2010

Don't ask, don't tell, Chinese style (part 2 of what is sure to be an ongoing series)

After this earlier case of China enabling and defending North Korean acts of war against South Korea, we have another case. None of this is news, of course, but the following peak into China-South Korea relations is an interesting window into the new, intransigent, passive-aggressive China.

Foreign Policy magazine reports on a Washington post article about a meeting between Chinese State Councilor Dai Bingguo and South Korean president Lee Myung-bak. Dai is often described as China's top diplomat, though his position merely makes him a high-ranking cabinet member without a portfolio per se.

As an aside, China's secretive, brutal government is murky in many ways, but especially for its organization. Dai is a State Counilor because he is on the State Council, China's cabinet, but also a Central People's Government, which is apparently synonymous. Hu Jintao is China's president, but there are also the posts of General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, premier, Chairman of the Central Military Council (Kim Jong-il holds a post with a similar name), and Chairman of the National People's Congress.

There is also the position of Paramount Leader (held by Hu), which you can hold without being president, premier or any of that fun stuff. In fact, Deng Xiaopeng ran the country for 15 years without a truly lofty title except for Paramount Leader. In short, outcomes in Chinese politics are arrived at in the same bizarre, non-adversarial way as NCAA football championships.

At any rate, this is how the Post reported on the meeting, with the truly egregious parts bolded:

China's attitude to the problems on the Korean Peninsula was on display Nov. 27 when its top diplomat, State Councilor Dai Bingguo, visited South Korea for talks. China, according to South Korean officials, notified South Korea 15 minutes before Dai's departure that he was headed for Seoul and that he wanted to land at a South Korean air force base that is normally reserved for heads of state. China also informed South Korea that it wanted President Lee Myung-bak's schedule cleared for an immediate meeting with Dai. The South did not agree and Dai met Lee the next day.

During that meeting, Dai essentially gave Lee "a history lesson on the relations between Beijing and Seoul" and did not mention the North Korean attack on Yeonpyeong, said a South Korean official. "He just told us to calm down," the official said. Then at the end of the meeting, as the two were readying to shake hands, Dai, off the cuff, told Lee that China wanted to call an emergency meeting of the six-party talks, grouping the United States, Japan, South Korea, Russia, China and North Korea, to help lower the heat on the peninsula. Lee told Dai that - given North Korea's actions, a meeting would be tantamount to rewarding North Korean bad behavior. But Dai ignored Lee's rejection and when Dai returned to Beijing, China's chief North Korean negotiator, Wu Dawei, announced what it framed as a bold Chinese initiative: more talks.

Yesterday the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Chinese writer and activist Liu Xiaobo. In response, China took the following measures:

- Beijing police warned restaurants and bars to be on the guard for celebrations from large groups of people (six or more), after some people wrote on the Internet that they would observe Liu's absence from the ceremony by making reservations for six people and leave one chair empty.

- Security forces abducted human rights activists

- A Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman referred to the Nobel peace prize committee as "clowns"

- made up a new peace prize, the Confucius Peace Prize, which it awarded to the former president of Taiwan, who had no idea that he'd won

- the websites and television signals of foreign news organizations like the BBC or CNN were blocked

China is very popular in the developed world for its "don't ask, don't tell" approach to foreign relations. We know this best in its support of North Korea, but it increasingly finds allies with dictatorships around the world, such as in Africa, because it's willing to do business with questionable governments without tying business to some social good as well. This country boasts a vast network of international support one day and the next day says it exerts no influence over a basket case like North Korea (China supplies it with cash and fuel to stay afloat).

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