Cablegate: Stomp Around and Carry a Small Stick: China´S New

Published: Fri 12 Feb 2010 10:12 AM
DE RUEHBJ #0383/01 0431012
O 121012Z FEB 10
E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/12/2030
Classified By: Deputy Chief of Mission Robert Goldberg.
Reasons 1.4 B and D.
1. (C) Summary: The harsh (per usual) PRC reaction to the
recent U.S. announcement of arms sales to Taiwan and
President Obama´s intention to meet with the Dalai Lama has
focused Chinese domestic attention on a phenomenon already
observed (and criticized) abroad: China´s muscle-flexing,
triumphalism and assertiveness in its diplomacy. Foreign
diplomats note that China is making no friends with its newly
pugnacious attitude, but the popular assessment of China´s
stance, personified by the nationalistic, jingoistic and
Chinese Communist Party-affiliated newspaper Global Times
(Huanqiu Shibao), is "it´s about time." More thoughtful
observers in China argue that this attitude has more form
than substance and is designed to play to Chinese public
opinion. They are disturbed by this trend and say that Vice
Premier Li Keqiang´s speech in Davos January 28 should be
seen as evidence that China´s leadership is looking to soften
China´s perceived sharp elbows. One senior media contact
advised that foreign observers should not take Chinese
rhetorical strutting too seriously, as "actions speak louder
than words." End summary.
Aggressive Chinese Diplomacy: Losing Friends Worldwide
--------------------------------------------- ---------
2. (C) Numerous third-country diplomats have complained to us
that dealing with China has become more difficult in the past
year. The Europeans have been the most vocal in their
criticism. xxxx, EU Mission xxxx in Beijing, said EU leaders had not been happy that
at the November 2009 PRC-EU Summit, Premier Wen Jiabao had
stated that China "expected" the EU to lift its arms embargo
before the next summit. UK Embassy PolCouns xxxx
said February 4 that China´s behavior at the Copenhagen
Climate Change Summit in December had been "truly shocking"
and that Chinese officials´ attitude toward other delegations
had been rude and arrogant to the point where both the UK and
French Embassies had been instructed to complain formally
about the treatment their leaders had received from the
Chinese, specifically from Vice Foreign Minister He Yafei.
Wilson noted that the MFA had not been receptive to these
demarches and neither the UK nor France had received a
3. (C) Indian and Japanese ambassadors voiced similar
complaints in recent meetings with the Ambassador. On
January 26, Indian Ambassador S. Jaishankar said India would
like to "coordinate more closely" with the United States in
the face of China´s "more aggressive approach to
international relations." Japanese Ambassador Yuji Miyamoto
said February 2 that Japanese corporations had been
experiencing some of the same difficulties doing business in
China as other international companies had reported. Japan
had noted a degree of "hubris" in China´s attitude, he said.
4. (C) Japanese xxxx told PolOff
February 5 that Japan was frustrated with Chinese
"inflexibility" on issues relating to the East China Sea. On
development of oil and gas fields, where Chinese companies
have already started extraction work, China had agreed to
Japanese participation. However, China was being "very
stubborn" and not following through on its agreements. Even
more worrying, xxxx reported, was the increased
aggressiveness of Chinese "coast guard" and naval units,
which had provoked "many dangerous encounters" with Japanese
civilian and Self-Defense Force ships. "We have not reported
all of these encounters," xxxx admitted.
5. (C) xxxx added that Japan had heard similar complaints
from its embassies in Southeast Asia about China´s behavior
on South China Sea issues. He said his Indonesian and
Singaporean colleagues in Beijing had referred to PRC policy
in the South China Sea as "more aggressive and arrogant."
The Japanese Embassy in Bangkok reported that in spring 2009
before the Pattaya ASEAN-plus-3 Summit (later rescheduled and
moved to a different location) the Chinese had been
"aggressive and difficult" on logistics and protocol issues,
alienating the other participants. "On the surface, and in
front of cameras, the Chinese are friendly. But underneath,
they are putting huge pressure on Southeast Asian countries
and trying to divide them," xxxx said.
6. (C) The PRC had been increasingly assertive in its
interactions with Indonesia in recent years, but there had
not been any recent spike in diplomatic pressure, Indonesian
Embassy xxxx told
PolOffs February 8. xxxx noted past PRC objections to
proposed visits of the Dalai Lama and the transit of Taiwan
President Chen Shui-bian as well as the PRC´s strong reaction
to the June 2009 arrest of Chinese fishermen in Indonesia´s
EEZ. During the July 2009 visit of Foreign Minister Hassan
Wirajuda, PRC officials had insisted that the sailors had
been fishing in "historical fishing grounds" and had
reiterated extensive PRC claims in the South China Sea by
declaring to the Indonesians: "We have a border." Most
recently, however, xxxx said, relations had been better
in the run-up to State Councilor Dai Bingguo´s January 2010
visit to Indonesia.
7. (C) Norwegian Embassy xxxx told
PolOff February 9 that Oslo was unhappy with the trend of its
relations with China. Norway was proud of its human rights
dialogue with China, but there had been no results in 2009
and China had downgraded its representation at the December
2009 round from Vice Foreign Minister to Deputy Director
General. Though the Chinese had taken pains to call the
downgrade "not precedent-setting," Oslo had been
disappointed, and that disappointment had been compounded
when the Chinese sentenced democracy activist Liu Xiaobo to
11 years in prison December 25. Liu had studied in Oslo in
the 1990s and so had a "direct connection to Norway," xxxx
Domestic Criticism and a Change of Course
8. (C) Not all Chinese foreign policy experts are comfortable
with the new PRC approach. xxxx, xxxx at Beijing News (Xinjing Bao), told PolOff
February 3 that "China´s more aggressive defense of its
interests abroad is new; this is a change in how China
presents itself abroad." He acknowledged that this stance
was popular with the Chinese public, but wondered aloud
whether the policy had been "thought through completely." He
worried that Chinese people would be disappointed if China´s
more aggressive stance backfired and caused China to lose
face. He compared China´s aggressive treatment of foreign
concerns, such as the decision to execute British citizen
Ahmed Sheikh in December despite public appeals for clemency
from UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown, with the public praise
the Chinese government had given the Chinese navy in 2009.
"When China could not take any action against U.S. "spy
ships" (in the USNS Impeccable incident in March 2009) and
newspapers showed Chinese fishing boats arrayed against the
U.S. Navy, Chinese people had questioned where was their
navy, and they were disappointed." If China were to
experience diplomatic setbacks, xxxx argued, the people would
again feel that the government had overstated its strength
relative to other states and exposed China to humiliation.
For this reason, he said, China was changing its diplomatic
tune and re-focusing on Hu Jintao´s "harmonious world"
concept. For evidence, he pointed to Vice Premier Li
Keqiang´s January 28 Davos speech which he said demonstrated
a consensus Chinese leadership position that China should
play a more cooperative role in international institutions
and emphasized China´s support for the existing system.
9. (C) (NOTE: Vice Premier Li Keqiang, who is slated to take
over one of China´s leadership positions in 2012-13, gave a
speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos January 28 that
stressed the importance of collaborative efforts to solve
global problems, emphasized twice that "we are in the same
boat" (the same metaphor the Secretary used in her public
remarks in Beijing in February 2009), and reiterated that
China relied on a stable international situation so that it
could concentrate on its own internal development challenges.
Though there were a couple of digs at the United States,
such as a call for "a suitable degree of responsibility and
constraint on global reserve currency issuers," the criticism
was subtle compared to Chinese public statements in other
international forums, such as the EU Summit.)
10. (C) xxxx at the Institute of
American Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences,
was withering in her criticism of populist/nationalistic
media that exaggerated China´s strength and influence in the
world. Specifically citing the Global Times (Huanqiu Shibao,
Chinese edition), she told PolOff February 3 that the media
was "deliberately misleading the public to sell more
newspapers." She said that the Global Times and similar
publications were guilty of "ultra-nationalism" and
"overstating Chinese capabilities." The "powerful China"
theme, she said, was dangerous and wrong. "These newspapers,
and the people, need to sober up a bit and realize the
reality of China´s position. China and the West are not on
the same level, and we are not in the same stage of
development." This inequality made China´s relations with
the West very complicated, she said, and simplistic
nationalism in the press made it very hard for China to show
the necessary flexibility and creativity in its foreign
11. (C) In a February 9 discussion with PolOff, Beijing
University xxxx defended the Global Times´ more
"hawkish" editorial slant as "consistent with the demands of
the readers and normal for a market-driven newspaper." He
agreed that China´s leaders wanted to refocus on the "biding
one´s time and concealing one´s capability" (taoguang
yanghui) policy, even though it was not popular with the
Chinese public. xxxx said he had heard in a February 8 Global
Times internal editorial meeting (which he attended as a
frequent contributor to the op-ed pages) that Vice Premier Li
had not wanted to make the Davos speech because he had felt
it would be seen by Chinese audiences as insufficiently
muscular. President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao,
however, had insisted that he do it because of his role as "a
leading figure on the economy." (NOTE: "Biding one´s time
and hiding one´s capabilities" (taoguang yanghui) is a phrase
attributed to former paramount leader Deng Xiaoping that
suggests China should go along with the global status quo
while developing its society and economy.)
12. (C) xxxx added that the text of Foreign Minister Yang
Jiechi´s speech at the Munich Security Conference February 5
had been "totally uninteresting" and had been designed to be
indistinguishable from the Li Keqiang speech. However, he
said, according to a People´s Daily reporter who had been
there (and who was also at the February 8 Global Times
editorial meeting), Yang had been "flustered" by Taiwan arms
sale-related questions during the Q-and-A session and
reverted to his "strong China" message, which became the
basis for Western media reports of his "blunt" remarks. "He
was not supposed to say that," xxxx asserted.
Public, Global Times, Love the New China
13. (C) xxxx of the Global Times´
English-language edition and a former reporter and editor of
People´s Daily, told PolOff February 9 that Chinese people
were increasingly seeking to express opinions to the
government on foreign affairs, and their primary outlets were
online and through the media, which "reflects popular
opinion." He acknowledged that the government and the
Communist Party influenced what got reported in the Chinese
press, but claimed the pressure was not heavy-handed.
"Instead of telling us what to say, they instead guide us by
saying ´more of this´ or ´less of that,´" xxxx said. He
drew a distinction between papers of record, such as People´s
Daily, which existed to promulgate the Party´s position on
issues, and "market-driven" media like Global Times, which
"must reflect public opinion to make money." Global Times,
he said, listened to its readers and therefore advocated an
editorial line that "demands international respect" for
China. China´s foreign policy tilted toward assertiveness in
2009, xxxx acknowledged, but he cautioned that this "new
trend" might not continue. "Biding our time and hiding our
capabilities" was not satisfying to the Chinese public (or
the People´s Liberation Army), xxxx said, but the government
felt it necessary to achieve China´s domestic goals.
14. (C) Global Times xxxx told
PDOff February 9 that the paper was willing to publish
different views and was actively seeking opportunities to
interview U.S. government officials. xxxx felt the current
strong Chinese rhetoric was in reaction to netizen anger at
U.S. arms sales, but that Global Times could present both
sides. The paper´s Chinese- and English-language editions
ran an opinion piece by the Ambassador February 11 noting the
importance of U.S.-China relations and explaining how U.S.
arms sales to Taiwan have maintained stability across the
Strait (creating a better, stronger and more confident
cross-Strait dynamic) for the past 30 years.
15. (C) Professor xxxx of the Central Party School´s
Institute for International Strategic Studies acknowledged
that the editorial line of Global Times made it very popular
among common people and leaders. "I read Global Times every
day," he told PolOff February 3. In this respect, Global
Times appears to sometimes outshine its parent organization,
the flagship newspaper of the Communist Party, People´s
Daily. When asked February 3 about a nuanced, full-page
analysis of U.S.-China relations published January 19 in
People´s Daily that called for restraint in addressing the
"inevitable" bilateral frictions in the relationship that
would come up in 2010, four of Beijing´s top experts in
U.S.-China affairs (including Professor xxxx and the
ubiquitous commentator xxxx of Renmin University)
confessed they were unaware of it.
Watch China´s Actions, Not Words
16. (C) Global Times xxxx advised PolOff "not to
be concerned" about the aggressive tone in China´s
interaction with the West, including in recent commentary
about the U.S.-China relationship. The Chinese government
had a clear vision of China´s interests, xxxx said, and it
was most important to maintain a "favorable foreign policy
environment" for the government to pursue pressing economic
and social development goals at home. A good relationship
with the United States was essential, a view he had heard
recently expressed by Chinese officials. China´s statements
criticizing the United States on the Google case, Internet
freedom, Taiwan arms sales and the President´s planned
meeting with the Dalai Lama were all "necessary to satisfy
the Chinese people," but China´s actions in 2010 would be
aimed at preserving China´s relationships with the rest of
the world. Quoting a Chinese phrase used to describe Deng
Xiaoping´s strategy for mollifying ideological Communists
with socialist rhetoric while pursuing capitalist economic
reforms, xxxx said we should expect China in its 2010
foreign policy to "put on the left turn signal in order to
turn right."
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