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Rice Surprises China With Tough Talk

by Antoaneta Bezlova

Rice European Tour Saw Change In Style, But Not In Substance

(IPS) BEIJING -- Chinese analysts had already sized up Condoleezza Rice before she made her first official visit to China this week as U.S. secretary of state.

They said she was a "wen guan" or "scholar" and likened her to one who commanded knowledge of the Far East and had a pragmatic approach at the same time -- qualities seen as favorable to understanding Beijing's ambitions.

Comparisons were drawn to Rice's advantage over her predecessor Colin Powell, a former army commander, who has often been described in traditional Chinese bureaucratic language as a "wu guan" or "military official." Powell, said these analysts, knew firsthand about the balance of power in the region but lacked insight into the intricacies of Chinese politics.

"There is always the concern that as a Russia expert, Condoleezza Rice, might allow certain Cold War thinking to influence her judgement," said an editorial in the official 'Beijing News.' "But also as a person with profound knowledge of Russia and the Far East, Rice would know that once a giant country with a long history 'awakens,' there is an enormous energy to be released and the prospects of its development are stunning."

Chinese experts also held hopes that if Washington wanted Beijing to influence North Korea to get back to nuclear disarmament talks then the White House might give a tacit nod to China's newly enacted law allowing force to be used against Taiwan, should it declare independence from the mainland.

"It is a normal quid pro quo," said Wang Xuedong, an international relations expert at Zhongshan University. "If U.S. officials think we are not exerting enough pressure on Pyongyang to negotiate, then they should consider Beijing's demands that Washington stop expressing support for Taiwan and doesn't interfere in China's internal affairs."

During her two-day visit to Beijing that ended Monday, Rice left little doubt that she intended to use her unique knowledge to further U.S. strategic interests in Asia. Emphasizing on every occasion that the U.S. recognizes China as a rising force in global politics, she made it adamantly clear that Washington intended to keep China's military power in check.

Throughout her trip, Rice's unambiguous message was that in the face of China's ascendance, Washington would support its ally Japan in Tokyo's efforts to exercise more influence in the world.

Speaking in Tokyo, she appealed to all U.S. allies in the region to hold together and create a political environment that would induce China to eventually embrace democracy.

And again, the U.S. secretary of state spoke in opposition to the European Union's plans to lift its arms embargo on China and warned of the need to counter a new Chinese threat against Taiwan.

On Sunday, while in Beijing, she bluntly told the European Union not to meddle with the balance of power in Asia. "It is the U.S., not Europe, that has defended the Pacific," she declared.

Rice's remarks might have been nothing new to Chinese officials, but their hard-edged conservative resonance left many experts disturbed. They had expected Rice's trip as something of an "exploratory" visit to gauge China's views and were least prepared when the U.S. state secretary actually spoke.

Wang Jisi, who researches North American issues at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, attributed Rice's unyielding attitude to recent developments in the Middle East that seem to lend support to the U.S. attack on Iraq, supposedly to promote democracy in the region.

Others, like Wang Xuedong, reasoned that unlike the European Union, which sees China these days primarily as a trade partner, Washington would always view Beijing as a potential competitor.

U.S. officials are concerned that the EU is considering transfers of valuable weapons technology to China just when Beijing has repeated its hostile intentions towards Taiwan.

In an outburst of patriotic fervor, China's parliament last week approved an anti-secession law that asserts Chinese sovereignty over Taiwan and authorizes military attack should the island's leaders cross the line on independence.

China's parliament also approved a 12.6 percent increase in military spending this year. People's Liberation Army leaders told the legislators they intended to reduce the army by 200,000 men to devote more of its budget to improving high-tech technology.

Rice was explicit on both developments. She publicly denounced the anti-secession law as an unwelcome development.

"Because anything that is unilateral, that increases tensions -- which clearly the anti-secession law did -- is not good. China and Taiwan are not going to be able to solve this alone. They are going to eventually need each other to resolve this," she said in Beijing.

Addressing China's military build-up, she said the European Union "should do nothing to contribute to a circumstance in which Chinese military modernization draws on European technology."

"There are concerns about the rise of Chinese military spending, and potentially Chinese military power and its increasing sophistication," she said before departing from South Korea to China.

Ripple effects of the U.S.'s implacable opposition to ending the arms embargo on China were beginning to be felt this week. British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw betrayed Britain's unease on Sunday when he said that the unanimous approval of the anti-secession law by the Chinese parliament had "created quite a difficult political environment."

"Politically there are problems and these problems have actually got more difficult, not least because there hasn't been much movement by China in respect of human rights," Straw was quoted as saying.

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Albion Monitor March 23, 2005 (

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