January 17, 2003

China: Straddling the Fence Just Right

Two important delegations arrived in Beijing this week – both hoping that China can help defuse a crisis.

First, US Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly is looking to the Chinese to exert pressure on North Korea and relieve the tension that threatens to result in chaos and death on the peninsula. After the DPRK turned its back on the Non-Proliferation Treaty and demanded a Non-Aggression Pact and a resumption of aid, the US found itself facing a spitting, starving alley cat with a nuke strapped to its back.

Unable and unwilling to crush North Korea for its insolence, the Administration backed down from its earlier "no negotiation" stance and promised aid and further contact in exchange for North Korea scrapping its nuclear program.

This was enough to bring China out of the corner and onto the stage with an offer to host the talks that Bush vowed he would not hold. As the US loses face and prestige, China is reaching out and taking its opportunity to appear helpful and influential while not actually doing anything.

But this is a step by step process and what North Korea is really doing is calling out for help and attention. The actual likelihood of nuclear war has passed, now that the US has agreed to talk, and the real problem laid before the feet of the developed nations with a stake in East Asia (Japan, North Korea, China and the US) is the rehabilitation of a dead and/or dying nation.

It will take years to get North Korea to come out of its shell and years still to bring the nation "out of the dark ages and into the light."

The US – currently undertaking a "sonic speed" transformation of the Afghan landscape under the able leadership of Paul Wolfowitz – still may go to war in Iraq and may commit to some form of developmental aid to North Korea when the talks finally take place. With three rogues under construction and Iran, Yemen, Syria and other evil nations in need of a good dose of American-ism, it looks as if Foreign Service, Peace Corps and developmental NGOs based in the US will have a lot on their hands in the next decade or two.

Is this the destiny of a hegemon: incessantly spending the people's money in order to rebuild a nation the Empire has destroyed? Is it a form of Manifest Destiny to destroy and then remold a nation/person in the image of one's self?

US Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly's trip to China may have more to do with the next 20 years on the Korean peninsula than with the current "nuclear arms crisis." The crisis came at the perfect time for North Korea, which was in desperate need for aid and attention as well as something to take the people's minds off of their stomachs.

The Second Trip

My investor buddy Sky has been begging me to go and visit my family in Turkey. He mentions the beauty and mystery of a nation he has never visited and the need to see family members neither of us have ever met.

So what is it that he really wants? Perhaps the chance to help bring Turkey out of the economic pit in which it finds itself by increasing the number of trade routes between the two nations – trade routes that are built upon some of the most ancient caravan roads in the world. Just this week, Turkey's State Institute of Statistics announced that the country's gross domestic product fell 7.4 percent last year, while its gross national product, which includes foreign income, plunged 9.4 percent.

Turkey currently imports 2 billion-plus from China and exports just 48 million. This ratio has no real chance of balancing out as exports into China tend to be high-end, high-tech Western goods – goods Turkey also imports. The demand in China for Turkish rugs and hookahs is quite low at the moment. Things may change, and this is why Turkish JDP Chairman Recep Tayyip Erdogan is in China.

The East Turkestan issue may or may not be a fly in the Sino-Turkish oinment, but it doesn't matter: Erdogan will tell China anything it wants to hear in exchange for increased trade, tourism, investment, aid etc., including issuing a joint statement calling for a stronger UN role in a peaceful solution of the Iraq crisis. This statement coming just a few days after Turkey granted the US permission to inspect suitable sites for airbases, used to bomb the hell out of Iraq.

The US has also promised serious reward money ($28 billion, give or take), so Turkey feels no moral pangs in flapping its gums one way and then the other in order to get the money. Erdogan was recently elected, remember – an unpopular war can always be forgotten if the money starts flowing.

China, as always, seems to straddle the fence just right: getting the words it needs from both nations (ONE CHINA) to increase prestige on the home front, the huge delegations of foreign businessmen eager to help prop up a top heavy economy and the chance to make its first baby steps as an international player in a crisis that promises to push the US ever further into the role of partner, not competitor.

–Sascha Matuszak

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Sascha Matuszak is a teacher living and working in China. His articles have appeared in the South China Morning Post, the Minnesota Daily, and elsewhere. His exclusive Antiwar.com column (usually) appears Fridays.

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