Thursday, 28 May 2009


China says 'no thanks' to G-2

By Jian Junbo
Asia Times Online

SHANGHAI - At the Sino-European Union (EU) summit in Prague
last week, Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao rejected the
concept of a Group of Two (G-2) comprising China and the
United States, saying "it is totally ungrounded and wrong
to talk about the dominance of two countries in
international affairs".

It was the first time a Chinese leader has publicly
commented on the notion of a G-2, though Wen and a number
of Chinese officials and think-tanks had cast doubt on the
practicability of past notions of a "Chimerica".

The idea of a G-2 was first forwarded by US academic
circles in 2006, but it was raised again by Zbigniew
Brzezinski, an influential specialist in international
relations and national security advisor to former US
president Jimmy Carter, in Beijing in January as the two
countries celebrated the 30th anniversary of establishing
formal diplomatic ties.

Similar to "Chimerica", which would put the US and China at
the forefront of international affairs, the idea of a G-2
grouping has attracted wide attention, especially as
Brzezinski was an advisor to President Barack Obama during
the presidential elections.

In the Group of 20 (G-20) summit in London last month, the
G-2 was floated again in the Western media and academic
circles. Then after several weeks, on the eve of this
month's just-concluded 11th Sino-EU summit, British Foreign
Secretary David Miliband predicted that over the next few
decades, China would become one of the two "powers that

He said, "China was becoming an indispensable power in the
21st century in the way [former US secretary of state]
Madeleine Albright said the US was an indispensable power
at the end of the last century". He also argued it would be
up to Europe if it wanted to change the G-2 into a G-3.

While widely discussed, the concept of a G-2 has not been
clearly defined. According to Brzezinski, G-2 described the
current reality, yet for Miliband, G-2 was a possibility in
the foreseeable future.

The exact structure of the proposed G-2 is also unclear. A
G-2 would seem to imply that the group would have the
strength, capability and will to set the agenda for
international affairs. It could be argued, as only two
countries are involved, that this would resemble world

China has neither the capacity nor the desire to become a
member of a G-2. It is true that China has the world's
third-largest economy, is the biggest creditor to the
world's sole superpower - the United States, and is one of
the five permanent members of the United Nations Security
council, and China indeed seems a big power.

However, with its huge population and wealth and
development gaps, China can also be seen as a poor,
underdeveloped country - its per capita GDP was ranked
104th globally last year by the World Bank. China is still
a developing country, and by comparison the US is far more
advanced in almost all economic sectors and in soft power
and military strength. At this stage and in the foreseeable
future, there is no match between China and the US in terms
of overall strength.

The responsibility of a G-2 member to jointly shape the
world's economy and international affairs is too far beyond
China's ability and ambitions. It is unwise for a country,
like a person, to commit itself to something beyond its
ability. That is why when Western commentators discuss the
G-2, China is inevitably suspicious of their intentions.
Many Chinese scholars fear that under a G-2, China could be
enmeshed into a structure built by the US, and required to
make more contributions to world economic and social
development than it can afford.

A G-2 would also imply a need for China to overhaul
domestic governance. As a member of G-2, China would need
to be a leader in both foreign and internal affairs, and
this has raised fears of Western intervention in China's
domestic affairs.

The grouping also goes against core principles of China's
foreign policy such as multilateralism and the desire for a
multipolar world order. For example, Wen stressed on at the
Prague Sino-EU summit the importance of China's relations
with the EU.

Another major reason for China to reject a G-2 is that it
is would not be legitimate international structure. If G-2
was built with the help of the US, then the question is who
can empower or authorize the US to do that? We can imagine
the G-2 would be refused by most countries if taken to a
global referendum. No other country, except for US, wants
to see the emergence of "pax-Chimericana". The rejection of
a G-2 does not mean China will shirk its global
responsibilities. China has welcomed the increased role it
and other big developing countries enjoy through the G-20

Even if a G-2 became a reality, it could never replace the
power, function and authority of the UN as the sole
international organization recognized by the majority of
states in the world. Although there are many problems that
the UN faces in regard to its effectiveness and
accountability, it is still the best platform for the
international community to peacefully deal with issues of
common interest.

As the US became the target of anti-Americanism in the
world after former president George W Bush started the Iraq
war in 2003, G-2 one day could also be the target of
anti-hegemony or anti-imperialist movements, affecting
China's global image.

Another reason is related to the rise of civil society as
an increasingly important factor in international
governance, especially since the end of the Cold War.
Without the participation of transnational non-government
organizations (NGOs), many international issues can not be
resolved successfully. Yet if G-2 was accountable for
international governance it could be a threat to global
civil society because as a hegemonic structure it could
limit the function and ability of other actors including
other countries, the UN and lots of NGOs.

It is self evident that a G-2 would not be good for other
countries and powers, especially rising industrial stars
like India, Russia and Brazil. All of these nations have
the ambition to compete for influence and power with both
US and China in the international arena. The idea of a G-2
is based neither upon the realities of international
politics nor on the willingness of China and the rest of
the world.

Dr Jian Junbo is assistant professor of the Institute of
International Studies at Fudan University, Shanghai, China.

Saturday, 23 May 2009


Chinese premier rejects allegation of China, U.S.
monopolizing world affairs in future

PRAGUE, May 20 (Xinhua) -- Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao on
Wednesday dismissed as groundless the view that China and
the United States -- or the so-called Group of Two (G2) --
will monopolize world affairs in the future.

"Some say that world affairs will be managed solely by
China and the United States. I think that view is baseless
and wrong," Wen told reporters at the end of a China-EU

"It is impossible for a couple of countries or a group of
big powers to resolve all global issues. Multipolarization
and multilateralism represent the larger trend and the will
of people."

China is committed to an independent foreign policy of
peace and pursues a win-win strategy of opening up, said
Wen. "It stands ready to develop friendly relations and
cooperation with all countries and it will never seek

Wen said China remains a developing country despite
remarkable achievements and that its modernization will
take a long time and the efforts of several generations.

On China-EU relations, Wen said the relationship was, is
and will be based on mutual respect and equality.

"In conducting strategic cooperation between China and the
European Union, the most important thing is to stick to the
principles of mutual respect and non-interference in each
other's internal affairs, accommodating each other's major
concerns, properly handling the sensitive issues and
working to ensure that our bilateral relationship will not
be adversely affected by individual incidents," he said.

"The China-EU relationship is a strategic and comprehensive
one that is advanced with the changing times. These are the
most important features of this bilateral relationship. It
is important to remain committed to this basic
characterization of the relationship when international
political and economic situation continues to undergo
profound changes," he said.

Wen said China wants to be a good friend and partner of
Europe. China has full confidence in its own future, in the
development of the EU and in future relations between China
and the EU, he said.

"The Chinese believe that word must be honored, an action
must produce results, a person without credibility cannot
establish himself and credibility is essential to the
exchanges between countries," said Wen.

"In my view, this should also be the principle that needs
to be observed in developing China-EU relations," he added.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009


A welcome new appraisal of Adam Smith's
free-market view

Sunday 19 April 2009
by Dan Glazebrook
Morning Star

When Adam Smith's head first appeared on the £20 note,
presumably as some kind of triumphalist homage to the
dominance of unfettered capital, it struck me just how far
the symbolism of this man has drifted from what he actually

While he was, as we all know, in favour of free markets,
what is usually forgotten by the bourgeoisie in their
eulogising is that he also argued that there should be a
strong state to oversee these markets.

He also believed in a monopoly of land ownership to ensure
that the fruits of the free market result in rising
standards of living for its citizens.

Which state is closest to this ideal today? Not the states
that cast Smith as their prophet, which long ago
conveniently forgot the qualifications to Smith's argument,
but their arch-nemesis - China.

Smith was writing in the late 18th century, at a time when
China was not only the most advanced economy in the world
but, according to Smith, one whose development had followed
a more "natural" - and preferable - economic path then that
taken by most of Europe.

China's economic development was based on increasing
agricultural yields, which facilitated a higher division of
labour and thus enough of a surplus to trade on foreign

Europe followed an inverted and "unnatural" trajectory,
beginning with foreign trade - and slavery and plunder -
and the growth of foreign markets, which then prompted
technical advance at home. In other words, the Chinese path
in reverse.

Smith argued that, although the path taken in east Asia was
economically superior, the monopoly of advanced firepower
acquired by the west had allowed them to dominate the east.

But a dominance based solely on such a monopoly, Smith
believed, could only ever be short-lived, after which "the
inhabitants of all the different quarters of the world may
arrive at that equality of courage and force which, by
inspiring mutual fear, can alone overawe the injustice of
independent nations into some sort of respect for the
rights of one another."

Giovanni Arrighi's thesis is that, with the fast erosion of
the West's monopoly of advanced weaponry, the "equality of
courage and force" prophesied by Smith could well be almost
with us.

The failure of US attempts to preserve its world hegemony
through military onslaught has merely served to perpetuate
and deepen its economic malaise, thus opening the door for
a truly multipolar world.

The real achievement of this book is its ability to put the
rapid changes we are currently living through in their
broad historical and economic context - demonstrating just
what a short blip the West's economic dominance of the
world really is or was.

China and Japan's share of world GDP was actually higher
than the combined share of Britain and the US until shortly
before the dawn of the 20th century.

Today, the West's two main projects for maintaining global
inequality - neoliberalism and military aggression - both
lie in tatters.

The increasing confidence and unity of the Third World, led
by the BRIC countries of Brazil, Russia, India and China,
look set to rewrite the rules of international relations.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009


Obama shows his smart power

Peoples Daily Online
April 17 2009

US President Barack Obama announced on April 13 that
he would eliminate the restrictions imposed on US citizens,
which prevent them from visiting their families in Cuba and
remitting money to their relatives in Cuba. The New York
Times said this is the most significant change in US policy
toward Cuba over the past few decades. Expressing friendship
to Cuba is just one of the highlights of Obama's soft diplomatic
policies since he took office.

From East Asia to the Middle East, from South America to
Europe, Obama and his senior officials have launched a
"springtime diplomatic offensive" with smiles and olive
branches. In Turkey, Obama said that he has never wanted to
make war with the Islamic world and that he wishes to hold
dialogue with Iran. In Europe, he raised the
denuclearization issue and said words that European people
like to hear. In Geneva, the US and Russia promised to
"reset" their bilateral relations. In Asia, US Secretary of
State Hillary Clinton visited four countries as soon as she
took office, which has become known as "a journey of
listening." Obama's diplomatic policies have begun showing
notable differences from the previous administration.

The US is the world's number one power, and is a dominant
power in the existing international order. The shift in
diplomatic policy by the US will inevitably have
far-reaching impacts on changes to the international
situation. Looking at the current momentum, this type of
"smart power-oriented" diplomacy has already played a
certain positive role in raising the image of the US and
easing the deterioration of main issues on the global

The adjustments to Obama's diplomatic policy is favorable
firstly for restoring relations between the US and certain
countries, as well as for reinforcing cooperation with its
allies; secondly, from the perspective of the current
general background of the changing political environment,
the influence of public opinion is increasingly important,
and has become the focus of competition between each power
on the international stage. Obama's diplomatic policy is
clearly helpful for improving the US image in the world;
thirdly, facing the current serious financial crisis, the
US should make more use of soft power and less use of hard
power, which will ease its burdens and will be more
favorable for US efforts to put enormous financial,
personnel and physical resources into its economic

Obama's diplomatic policies have shown the world the
following outstanding features: more flexibility, more good
will, more affinity, and more reliance on diplomatic
negotiation. In essence, this type of diplomatic policy is
aimed at forming a sort of moral and just influence. Such
policies are aimed at dominating the commanding height of
morality and justice by means of "skillfulness and wisdom"
such as "flexibility and good will."

The US will not give up its dominant role in world affairs.
In the past, perhaps it relied more on the deterrence of
its military power to meet this strategic goal. Now and in
future, it will rely more on its moral and just influence
to influence the world.

Of course, influence in international affairs through moral
force does not mean completely throwing away big sticks and
picking up sweet carrots. Wrapping a big stick in a layer
of soft sponge or putting a carrot at the front and a big
stick at the back, the US has never given up its powerful
military force. However, more initiative and active
employment of soft power by the US is likely to help it
change form a binding force or a dominant force into a
force that respects public opinion around the world.

Diplomatic policy is also a kind of political game. One of
its fundamental principles is to obtain the largest benefit
at the least cost. The adjustment of Obama's diplomatic
policy notably predicates reduction of cost, without any
change in their goal to obtain the most benefits. In the
future, it remains to be seen what impact the US reduction
in hard power will make on global political, economic and
security patterns; in particular, when meeting with less
traditional security challenges, can the Obama
administration continue to make the most effective response
at the least cost?

By People's Daily Online

Saturday, 16 May 2009


Obama's reversal on abuse photos implies
puzzle in U.S.
anti-terror policy

by Xinhua writer Yang Qingchuan

WASHINGTON, May 15 (Xinhua) -- Reversing his earlier
position, U.S. President Barack Obama said this week that
he will block the court-mandated release of hundreds of
photos that show past U.S. abuse of prisoners in
Afghanistan and Iraq.

White House lawyers are reportedly making preparations for
a legal fight at the Supreme Court.

Obama's change of mind came after a careful calculation of
political situation, primarily aimed to prevent the
sensational story of abuse photo from distracting his major
domestic and foreign policy initiatives.

However, the new attitude risks alienating some from his
own political base.

Moreover, it also points to the complexity of the issue of
prisoner abuse and an ethic dilemma for U.S. anti-terror
policy which has no easy solutions, observers said.


The issue of prisoner abuse photos is a George W. Bush-era
legacy but its fallout is far from being over.

In 2004, media release of photos that depicted U.S.
soldiers' abuse of prisoners at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prisoner
infuriated the international community, becoming an icon of
the ethic deficit of the U.S.-led war "war on terror."

Since then, the American Civil Liberty Union, or ACLU, a
leading U.S. civil rights group, has been pressing federal
courts to order the U.S. government to release abuse

In 2006, a federal judge in New York ruled in favor of ACLU
and ordered the release of photos.

A federal appeals court upheld the decision last September
and refused to rehear the case in March.

Then on April 24, the Department of Defense under the new
administration said it will comply with the court ruling
and release hundreds of abuse photos by May 28.

At the time, the White House said it won't seek to appeal
the case.

However, Obama told his legal team last week that he had
changed his mind and asked them to prepare documents trying
to block the release of the abuse photos.

The president made a statement about his new position on

On surface, Obama made two points in explaining the

First, after consulting with top generals on the front-line
and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, his conclusion is
that the release of the photos will "further inflame
anti-American opinion" in Iraq and Afghanistan and thus put
nearly 200,000 U.S. troops in those places in "greater

Secondly, he said the photos wouldn't provide additional
knowledge of the issue, and may even cause a "chilling
effect" to the ongoing investigation of those past abuses.

However, legal experts said the two reasons are not new and
not adequate.

Stephen Yeazell, a top scholar on civil litigation rules,
said federal courts have already rejected both arguments.

In September 2008, a federal appeals court in New York
ruled that it is "plainly insufficient" for the government
to claim that releasing such photos "could reasonably be
expected to endanger some unspecified member of a group so
vast as to encompass all United States troops."

It also said the government's argument that releasing those
photos would not add any additional benefit to the
investigation of abuse "disregards" laws which require
governmental accountability.

Experts said without raising new arguments, the government
faces an uphill battle in the Supreme Court.


Observers said as a well-trained lawyer himself, Obama
clearly knows the chance of winning an appeal at a higher
court is slim.

But obviously he made the decision after assessing
political pros and cons.

As the Los Angeles Times put, it may be risky, but
"politically necessary."

One unspoken reason for his reversal of position is that
the issue popped up at a crucial juncture for Obama's
policy returning toward the Muslim world, with his upcoming
key speech on U.S.-Muslim relations to be made in Egypt on
June 4.

The pictures' release before May 28 according to federal
court's order, in the new administration's opinion, could
have negated the significance of the speech and put the
president in an embarrassing position.

But a more profound reason may be a fear of stirring up a
consuming bipartisan war which could endanger the
president's major policy agenda.

Obama clearly learned the lessons from last month's release
of memos which showed the Bush administration authorized
harsh interrogation techniques on terror suspects.

The president supported the release, but soon found things
slipping out of his hand.

Right groups and the left wing of the Democratic Party used
the memos to make their case for prosecution of top
Bush-era officials.

Republicans fought back, accusing Nancy Pelosi and other
leading Democrats were also implicated in the authorizing
those techniques.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney seized the opportunity to
launch a media offensive against the Obama administration's
national security policy and urged Republicans to take a
tougher stand with the administration.

Obama saw the danger of an all-out bipartisan fight and
tried to cool things down.

His reversal on abuse photos were welcomed by ranking
Republicans, including his foe in last year's presidential
election, John McCain.


It's still unclear whether Obama will succeed in putting a
lid on the abuse photo controversy and the larger
torture-related issue.

But a comparison between his position on those issues
during presidential campaign and his related policies as
president, will find a number of gaps.

The profound reason goes beyond his political calculations
and points to a long-term puzzle in U.S. anti-terror

It's hard for anyone to argue that the decay of U.S.
international image over past several years has a lot to do
with its controversial policies during "war on terror,"
including the abuse photos, CIA's "black prisons" and
renditions, and Guantanamo.

Obama has promised to fix the moral deficit and "make
things right."

In his first business day in office, he signed directives
to close the Guantanamo prison within one year and called
for overhauling the Bush-era system of treating terror

However, the president soon found it will be very hard for
him to make a complete break from old practices.

Under the new administration, the practice of transferring
terror suspects between countries is continued and
detainees are still being held indefinitely in Afghanistan.

Moreover, On Friday, May 15, Obama announced that he has
decided to reinstate Bush-era military tribunals to try
some of detainees held at the Guantanamo prison.

There is nothing wrong for the administration to make
decisions which it believes is best for its own country.

However, it may be an illusion to believe or claim all U.S.
policies will become correct both politically and morally.

The "ethnic deficit" in U.S. anti-terror policies can be
reduced, but will be hard to be eliminated. That's a
long-term puzzle.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009


Beijing's capital ideas

Kerry Brown and Peter Wood
Sunday 10 May 2009

While much of the world sinks in a welter of public and
­private debt, and stock ­markets ­continue to ­struggle,
there is one place where the money is still looking good.
China's £2 trillion of foreign currency reserves – accrued
through two decades of strong exports and foreign
investment – is ­casting a long shadow.

While the developed world has spent, China has been saving.
This mountain of capital, in the hands of the world's last
major one-party state, is the result partly of the
non-convertibility of the Chinese currency, the yuan, and
part of the hunger of the EU and the US in the last decade
for cheap goods from China. And as the G20 in April made
clear, ­having helped China build up this mountain of
money, it now expects ­Beijing to contribute some of these
riches towards solving the current ­global economic crisis.
The question is how much will China play along with this.

Having this much money, as the ­Chinese premier, Wen
Jiabao, admitted a year ago, is a mixed blessing. A weak
dollar back then meant that billions were wiped off the
value of these reserves (70% of the money is kept in
dollars). The strengthening of the ­dollar has solved that
problem, for the moment. But the challenge to Chinese
policymakers of how to use this money remains – and using a
universal ­currency, as one Chinese minister ­speculated
earlier this year, only solves the problem of currency
depreciation. It does nothing about what use to actually
put this capital to.

There is one clear area where the ­Chinese can, and are,
using their money: overseas investment. China now ranks as
the world's sixth largest outward ­investor, according to
the UN ­Conference on Trade and Development. Even this
figure is almost certainly an underes-timate. Chinese
financial institutions have significant minority
shareholdings in US and European financial institutions. In
2008 the UK overtook Germany as the largest destination for
outward-bound money. As one commentator has said, the era
of Made in China is drawing to a close. The era of Owned by
China is starting. And we had better be ready for a rapid

The Chinese government encourages its large state-owned
enterprises (SOEs) and some of its non-state companies to
"go out". The aim is to expose Chinese companies to
international markets and to show others that China is not
only interested in selling but also in investing and
building globally competitive ­companies and brands. Partly
as a result of this, China's global integration has moved
up several notches in the last two years. The current
economic crisis has accelerated this.

Foreign governments ask two questions about Chinese
investment. Will it be managed on a purely commercial,
profit-driven basis? And will the Chinese government seek
to use investments for political ends? The answers at
present are mixed. China's investments last year in Costa
Rica appear to have been made on condition that the country
shifted its allegiance from Taiwan to the People's Republic
of China. But the behaviour of Chinese SOEs has evolved
considerably over the past decade. The government has made
it clear that it expects them to generate a return and pay
dividends to the state. The top managers of ­Chinese SOEs
themselves have become a lobby group in their own right,
seeking increasingly to maximise their own interests.

The west needs to overcome its doubts about Chinese outward
investment and recognise that a more ­welcoming approach
will bring not only immediate economic gain, especially
welcome at the moment, but also longer-term strategic
benefits. The ­benefits ought to be obvious. Western
economies will receive much needed investment. The economic
integration between China and the west will deepen. A
powerful interest group within the Chinese elite will be
drawn into fuller engagement with their western
counterparts. And perhaps the west will find that the
political influence of which it is most afraid works both

One thing is certain: some time in the coming year, we have
to expect a bold move from China. We had better make our
minds up before then how we are going to respond to this.
Otherwise it will look as if we've just allowed ourselves
to be bought out. And that is in no one's interests.

Kerry Brown is senior fellow, Asia programme, Chatham
House; Peter Wood is an independent China strategist based
in Hong Kong

Thursday, 7 May 2009


Beijing and Havana: Political Fraternity and Economic Patronage

Jamestown China Brief Volume: 9 Issue: 9
By Yinghong Cheng

"History has proved that we [China and Cuba] are worthy of
the name of fast friends, good comrades and intimate
brothers,” commented Chinese President Hu Jintao on the
state of Sino-Cuban bilateral relations during a visit with
Cuban President Raul Castro in Havana on November 16-19,
2008 (China News Net, November 20, 2008). Hu's comments
echoed Chairman Mao's incendiary rhetoric during a time of
world revolution, and accentuated the notion that both
China and Cuba still claim to be “communist.” Yet, since
the late Patriarch Deng Xiaoping's economic policy of
opening-up China, Beijing has departed from its Maoist
socio-economic model and even further according to party
stalwarts still loyal to Mao's teachings. Following Hu’s
remarks, Raul chanted “The East Is Red,” a Chinese song
popular during Mao’s time comparing the Chairman to the
sun. Raul’s impromptu charade was widely reported in China
and deeply touched the cords of various old and new Maoists
and leftists.

Unlike North Korea or Vietnam, Cuba has neither entangled
China in a dangerous nuclear security complication nor
contested its territorial claims for oil-rich border zones,
respectively. In this context, Hu’s comments carry a lot of
weight and Raul’s singing is by no means a solo. After all,
Hu has been known for his reputation as the party’s “good
boy” since the 1950-1960s and there is no evidence to
suggest that he would allow Mao's legacy to be more
critically reexamined in public. While Hu visited Cuba
twice before (1997 and 2004), the timing of his third visit
was more auspicious, as the Chinese media emphasized: Raul
Castro has replaced Fidel as being on top of the Cuban
leadership (with an implication of more reform-oriented
policies following the “Chinese lesson”) at the same time
that China has issued “China's Policy Paper on Latin
America and the Caribbean.” The Chinese White Paper, which
was released two weeks before Hu’s visit, is the third such
Chinese policy paper, following a Chinese White Paper
released on the European Union in October 2003 and another
paper released by Beijing on Africa in January 2006. These
three White Papers articulate China’s dynamic and evolving
national interests in an increasingly globalized world.

Political Relations: A Duet on the International Stage

Sino-Cuban relations have been strategic in nature since
the two governments established an alliance in the early
1990s in an effort to defy international isolation against
the backdrop of the Soviet's collapse, China’s 1989
Tiananmen massacre, and the Soviet/Russian jettison of
Cuba. Debates on human rights issues, the “unilateralism”
of U.S. foreign policy and the “unfair international
economic order” were some of the issues that they
collaborated on. In a region where China and Taiwan have
fought for diplomatic recognition, Cuba has been a “staunch
supporter” of the PRC's interpretation of “One China” and
has used its influence to convince several smaller Central
American and Caribbean countries to switch their
recognition from Taiwan to China. In 2008 when China’s
moral qualification as the host of the Olympics was being
challenged, Cuba proved to be quite vocal in its support
for Chinese efforts to host the Beijing Olympic Games. The
ailing Fidel Castro even published an article entitled “The
Chinese Victory,” which was highlighted in the Cuban media
and hailed by the Chinese [1]. Cuba has also loudly
condemned Tibetan exiles and their Western supporters.
Another important aspect in the bilateral political
relationship that has evolved over time is Beijing’s
attempt to introduce Chinese style market-oriented reforms
and a private entrepreneurship-driven economy to the Cuban
leadership. These efforts were received sympathetically
among some Cuban leaders, particularly Raul Castro [2].
Indeed, the “Chinese model” has proven applicable to some
extent in Cuba’s limited economic reforms in small-scale
private businesses such as restaurants, taxis, and barber
shops and has provided some incentives to stimulate
production, attracting foreign investments. In addition,
Cuba has been hailed as the most undaunted anti-American
hero by the Chinese Maoists, old and new leftists and
nationalists. At the same time, China has served Castro’s
purpose for domestic consumption of the vitality of
“socialism” in the contemporary world [3].

Economic Patronage: China’s “Blood Transfusion” to Cuba

This high-pitch political duet has been accompanied by the
rapid development of economic relations and technology
transfers. Since the early 1990s China has risen to become
one of Cuba’s top foreign trade partners—second only to
Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela—particularly in energy-related
areas. According to Zhao Rongxian, the Chinese ambassador
in Havana in an interview before Hu’s recent visit, “made
in China” merchandise has “quietly changed the way of the
Cuban daily life,” presumably referring to a change from
outdated Russian/Eastern European technologies. For
example, Haier refrigerators have replaced previously
energy-inefficient ones; incandescent bulbs have given
their way to compact fluorescents; and more than 1000
Yutong buses have replaced truck-drawn carriages to become
the major public transportation tools, making the brand
“Yutong” synonymous with “bus” in Cuba (Xinhua News Agency,
November 17, 2008). According to a spokesperson of the
Chinese Foreign Ministry, in 2007, the bilateral trade
volume amounted to $2.28 billion, up 27 percent from the
previous year (Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s
Republic of China, November 6, 2008).

Much of the burgeoning Sino-Cuban trade relationship has
been made possible by Chinese loans, which have resembled
an economic blood transfusion to Cuba’s meager foreign
currency reserve. China has granted Cuba numerous
long-term, low or interest-free loans. The largest of these
loans was a $400 million long-term interest-free loan that
was granted by former President Jiang Zemin during his
visit to Havana in 2001. During Hu’s 2004 visit, sixteen
documents were signed including a loan for the improvement
of Cuba’s education system, an agreement to defer the
repayments of four interest-free loans, a Chinese loan for
Sino-Cuban telecommunication cooperation and the Cuba’s
purchase of one million Chinese TVs [4]. This grandiose
display of Chinese generosity was perhaps what prompted
Fidel Castro—who was in crutches—to stand instead of
sitting in a wheelchair at a public welcoming rally for Hu,
while raising his arm and shouting “Long live China!”
(Xinhua News Agency, November 29, 2004). During Hu’s 2008
visit, he attended five document-signing ceremonies, in
which China gave Cuba a gift credit of $8 million, deferred
the repayment of an $8 million government debt by five
years, and offered a $70 million loan for upgrades to Cuban
hospital (Beijing Review, December 2, 2008). China has
become a major consumer of Cuban sugar, nickel (20,000 tons
between 2005 and 2009), tobacco, bio-technology products
and some medical instruments. China also signed a tourism
agreement in 2003 with Cuba, which was the first of such
agreements in Latin America and has contributed to a
portion of Cuba’s foreign currency revenue.

The Sino-Cuban political fraternity and economic patronage
have made bilateral relations a special case in China’s
strategy toward Latin America. For example, “China's Policy
Paper on Latin America and the Caribbean” stated that:

“The Chinese Government views its relations with Latin
America and the Caribbean from a strategic plane and seeks
to build and develop a comprehensive and cooperative
partnership featuring equality, mutual benefit and common
development with Latin American and Caribbean countries”

Yet, in Hu’s most recent visit to Cuba, he
suggested—directly to Raul Castro—that they should further
strengthen Sino-Cuban relations in four key areas, which to
some extent superseded the scope of the White Paper in
political implications as well as the extent of partnership
in other dimensions: “First, the two sides should continue
high-level exchanges and enhance political ties to cement
the political foundation for bilateral relations. Second,
China and Cuba should further develop trade and economic
cooperation. Third, the two countries should increase
exchanges in fields such as culture, education, health,
sports and tourism. Fourth, the two sides should work
together to protect the interests of developing countries
and build lasting peace and common prosperity in a
harmonious world” (Beijing Review [English], December 1,

Cuban Chinese under Castro

One particular aspect of the Sino-Cuban relationship that
may not seem immediately significant from a diplomatic
perspective but has long-term ideological and cultural
consequences for bilateral relations is the historical
experience and treatment of the Chinese Cubans. Ethnic
Chinese began to migrate to Cuba in the 1840s, initially as
indentured laborers to replace the black slaves who were
about to be emancipated. By the time Castro came to power,
the Chinese community in Cuba had become the largest one in
Latin America. With a vibrant economy, the Chinese
community had a population of more than 50,000 and Havana’s
Chinatown was one of the most bustling business districts
in the capital. Many Chinese Cubans participated in the
country’s 19th century nationalist revolution and Fidel
Castro’s July 26th movement. Yet, shortly after taking
power, the Chinese community became a major target in
Fidel’s socialist nationalization campaign. By 1968, when
Fidel launched the Revolutionary Offensive (a parallel to
the combination of Mao’s Great Leap Forward and the
Cultural Revolution), even street vendors—many of whom were
Chinese Cubans—were appropriated. The majority of Chinese
Cubans—particularly those in the upper and middle
classes—chose to leave the country while those who remained
suffered from political discrimination. In a matter of just
a decade, the once flourishing Chinese Cuban community
disappeared. By the 1990s, there were only about 1,000
first-generation Chinese Cubans and 20,000 second
generation ones; most of the former were very poor and
almost none of the latter spoke any Chinese [6].

After Cuba resumed its relations with China, marked by
Castro’s high-profile endorsement of Beijing’s crackdown on
the pro-democracy movement in 1989, the Cuban government
came to realize the potential of the Cuban Chinese
community in its relations with China. Castro made an
inspection tour of Havana’s Chinatown as early as 1989.
Later the government supported several projects to
revitalize Chinatown in the 1990s, especially in the second
half of the decade. These projects included allowing the
Chinese to run private restaurants, a preferential policy
not entitled to ordinary Cubans, and endorsed a Chinese
association by placing it under the guidance of a member of
a Cuban party Politburo and offered its staff government
salaries. Despite these efforts, the damages inflicted upon
the Chinese community still seem beyond repair, and
Havana’s Chinatown is nowhere near a complete restoration
of its old prosperity and dynamism. Many Chinese
visitors—often party and government officials—can not help
but lament the deplorable conditions of the Chinatown and
the near complete oblivion of the “Chinese-ness” among the
remaining Chinese Cubans.

This history in Sino-Cuban relations casts a shadow on the
Chinese popular perception of the Cuban Revolution and
Fidel Castro, and to some extent raises skepticism about
the official bravado for Sino-Cuban camaraderie, which had
been sapped by Chinese liberal discussion on world
communism at large and its criticism of Chinese aid to Cuba
in particular. In 2006, a book entitled Family Letters from
a Cuban Chinese was published describing the miserable life
experiences of the Cuban Chinese under Castro during the
1960s and 1970s [7]. The book was widely circulated and
provoked online discussions about Sino-Cuban relations, in
the context of the similar treatments of overseas Chinese
by communist Vietnam and Cambodia during the mid-1970s [8].

In 2005, Pathfinder, a leftwing and pro-Castro press source
in the United States, published Our History Is Still Being
Written—The Story of Three Chinese-Cuban Generals in the
Cuban Revolution. The book is a collection of the life
stories of three Chinese who joined Castro’s guerrilla war
and rose to senior positions to convince the reader of the
myth of “racial equality” brought about by the revolution.
The book’s Chinese version was published in 2009 and its
release became a public relations issue; the Chinese
People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries
held an official ceremony with the attendance of the Cuban
ambassador (The Chinese People’s Association for Friendship
with Foreign Countries, March 13). Discussion about the
different versions and political implications of “life
stories” of the Chinese Cubans are still ongoing. There are
about 30,000 Cuban Chinese who still live in Cuba and a
small portion of them have improved their economic standing
by taking advantage of the Cuban government’s favorable
policies toward small-scale private businesses, but the
majority are as poor as other ethnic groups. Currently,
other than appearing at ceremonials to welcome visiting
Chinese delegations, the Cuban Chinese community is not
playing any noticeable role in the relationship between the
two countries.

Sino-Cuban engagement in the 21st century is best described
as a political duet with a massive economic blood
transfusion. It will keep on this track in the foreseeable
future until improvement in Cuba’s international
circumstances enables the island to broaden its ranks of
foreign trade partners and aid providers. On the Chinese
side, Cuba’s strategic importance outweighs its economic
value. The CCP will continue to pay for Cuba’s support, but
while Chinese public opinion of Cuba and its government
policies have changed, it will not likely have any
immediate impact on official relations.


1. Castro’s article was published on April 1st by Granma,
the Cuban government mouthpiece and was appreciated by the
Chinese. For an English version of the article, see

2. For a recent discussion on the topic, see Yinghong
Cheng, “Fidel Castro and ‘China's Lesson for Cuba’: A
Chinese Perspective,” The China Quarterly, 189, March 2007,
pp, 24-42.

3. The most recent examples of Castro’s popularity in China
were the wide read article by Kong Hanbin, titled “Ka s te
luo zen yang zou shang fan mei zhi lu?” (How Did Castro
Choose Anti-American Position?”,
originally published in Shi Jie Zhi Shi (World Knowledge,
March 2008) but has appeared on many websites; and the
release of Castro’s autobiography in Chinese (March 2008).

4. Jiang Shixue, “Sino-Cuban Relations Enter New Phase of
Comprehensive Development,” (Chinese Academy of Social
Sciences, November 2008),

5. Consulate General of the People’s Republic of China,
“China's Policy Paper on Latin America and the Caribbean,”

6. Zhou Li, “Gu ba hua she lu ying” (A Glimpse of the
Chinese Community in Cuba), Hai Wai Zhong Heng, 2004, No.
5. Zhou was a high-ranking officer in China’s international
cultural exchange administration and the article was
written to introduce the conditions of the Chinese Cubans
by 2004.

7. Huang Zhuocai, Gu ba hua qiao jia shu gu shi (Guangzhou:
Jinan University Press, 2006). The book is an annotated
collection of a Cuban Chinese sent from Cuba at the time.

8. For example, see Yinghong Cheng’s article “Hua yi gu bar
en: zai ge min de hong liu li” (“Cuban Chinese: In the
Midstream of the Revolution”), Southern Weekend March 17,

Friday, 1 May 2009


Russia, China on comradely terms

By M K Bhadrakumar
Asia Times Online

Westernism is giving way to Orientalism in Moscow's
outlook, if the past week's happenings are any guide. As
Russia's ties with the West deteriorate, an upswing in its
strategic partnership with China becomes almost inevitable.

The resumption of Russia-NATO (North Atlantic Treaty
Organization) dialogue has gone awry. And the nascent hopes
regarding a "reset of the button" of the Russian-American
relationship are belied. With Moscow under multiple
pressures from the West, two top Chinese officials have
arrived in the Russian capital to offer support -Defense
Minister Liang Guanglie and Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi.

Moscow angrily reacted to NATO's expulsion of two Russian
diplomats on Wednesday. In exceptionally strong language,
it called the NATO move a "crude provocation" and an
"outrageous action". The Foreign Ministry alleged that
certain "completely unscrupulous ... forces" in the West
were "hectically" creating pretexts for obstructing
Russia's dialogue with Europe.

The two diplomats to NATO headquarters in Brussels are the
Russian mission's senior adviser and political desk chief
Viktor Kochukov and mission attache and executive secretary
Vasily Chizhov. They were accused of espionage
"incompatible with the diplomatic status".

The Russian mission to NATO went a step further to allege
an attempt to "disrupt a reset in relations between Russia
and the US". In immediate terms, the scheduled Russia-NATO
foreign minister-level meeting on May 19 in Brussels
appears problematic. Hardliners have prevailed.

Unsurprisingly, Moscow has also ratcheted up its
condemnation of NATO's 27-day military exercise in Georgia,
due to start this coming Tuesday. President Dmitry Medvedev
called the exercises "an open provocation" and warned that
there could be "negative consequences for those who made
the decision to hold them". He accused the alliance of
encouraging Georgia's "re-militarization". Russia seems to
estimate a larger plot to corner it in the Caucasus.

In a pre-emptive move, Moscow on Thursday signed five-year
border defense agreements with Georgia's breakaway regions
of Abkhazia and South Ossetia whereby the two regions will
delegate their border security (including the maritime
frontiers) to Russian forces.

Rivalries over control of Caspian oil provide the backdrop
to these rapid developments involving Georgia. Conceivably,
the hardliners would exploit the spiraling tensions to
brand "revanchist" Russia at the summit meeting of the
European Union (EU) in Prague this coming Thursday, which
is expected to take a view on the two rival pipeline
projects that aim to transport Caspian and Central Asian
gas to Europe - South Stream, sponsored by Russia, and
Nabucco, supported by the US.

At the Prague summit, Europe's dependence on Russia for its
energy supplies will come under scrutiny. There is mounting
frustration among the proponents of Nabucco that Moscow is
steadily advancing South Stream. Yet, leading European
countries like Germany, France and Italy are at ease with
Russia. US attempts to stall South Stream have been of no

Last Tuesday, Russia's Gazprom and the Bulgarian gas
utility Bulgargaz initialed a cooperation agreement on a
feasibility study for South Stream. But the Bulgarian side
cannot formalize the South Stream agreement before the EU
summit meeting of May 7. Washington hopes that the
parliamentary elections in Bulgaria due in early July may
postpone the agreement. It will be a close call.

All these factors are at work in the current tensions
between NATO and Russia. But that isn't all. NATO, with
active US support, is once again making a determined effort
to pitch its tent in Central Asia. The latest Western
attempt to establish a NATO regional centre on terrorism in
Tajikistan comes on top of the US's agreement with
Tajikistan regarding a basing facility for NATO operations
in Afghanistan. The US has secured similar facilities in
Uzbekistan and negotiations are underway with Turkmenistan.

However, no matter the criticality of the Afghan situation,
the US is insisting that NATO should sidestep offers of
help from the Collective Security Treaty Organization
(CSTO) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). In
effect, the US's containment strategy of the George W Bush
era still remains intact at the operational level in
Central Asia, no matter President Barack Obama's promise to
revamp US regional policy.

Chinese newspaper the People's Daily recently featured a
commentary broadly estimating that while Obama's diplomacy
was characterized by "soft power", that was merely
tactical, since "the US will not give up its dominant role
in world affairs ... Wrapping a big stick in a layer of
soft sponge or putting a carrot at the front and a big
stick at the back, the US has never given up its powerful
military force ... Diplomatic policy is also a kind of
political game. One of its fundamental principles is to
obtain the largest benefit at the least cost. The
adjustment of Obama's diplomatic policy notably predicates
a reduction of cost, without any change in their goal to
obtain the most benefits."

The commentary likely had Central Asia in mind. Both Russia
and China will take note that US regional policy cuts into
their core interests. Russia's state television, Rossiya,
showed a documentary last week accusing the US of using its
air base in Manas, Kyrgyzstan, for running intelligence
operations. Rossiya showed clippings of a windowless
two-storey building in the Manas base, which it said was
the hub of a major US radio-intelligence unit. (Manas is
close to China's missile sites in Xinjiang.) There are
signs that Moscow and Beijing will invest the SCO as a key
instrument to counter the US moves to expand NATO into the
Central Asian region. The SCO conducted war games in
Tajikistan recently, simulating an attack by al-Qaeda from
Afghanistan, in which terrorists seized a chemical factory
and took its workers hostage.

Medvedev has called for a stronger role for SCO in
stabilizing Afghanistan. Arguably, by prevailing on Bishkek
to evict the US from Manas, Moscow signaled that it was
reviewing the rules of the game in Central Asia. A cat and
mouse game is going on. Washington kept up an appearance
for weeks as if it was reconciled with the closure of
Manas, while Moscow (and Beijing) put on an air of
indifference. But now it transpires the Pentagon is seeking
a reversal of the decision by the Kyrgyz government. "We
are still engaged with the Kyrgyz ... They have given us
notification and they want to end the presence of the US
basing abilities in Kyrgyzstan, but the story is not over
there yet," a US official was quoted as saying.

On Wednesday, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said, "I
think there's actually progress in dealing with the Kyrgyz
on Manas ... And I think we see reason for hope there, that
that can be worked out ... We hope we're getting closer."
On the other hand, Bishkek keeps affirming that its
decision is irrevocable. Kyrgyz Prime Minister Igor
Chudinov insisted, "Not a single government official has
been authorized to hold such negotiations. No one. I have
no information about such negotiations."

At any rate, Russia plans to increase the number of
military aircraft at the Kant air base in Kyrgyzstan. "It
is in line with the situation in Central Asia and
Afghanistan," CSTO secretary general Nikolai Bordyuzha
said. There is also a concerted attempt on the part of
Moscow to rally the CSTO. Moscow will host a CSTO summit
meeting on June 14, which is expected to formalize the
creation of the alliance's new rapid reaction forces. To be
sure, Moscow is reasserting its role as the guarantor of
security for Central Asia.

But Moscow also regards the SCO as a forum within which it
has the unique opportunity to coordinate with China. While
receiving the SCO defense ministers who gathered in Moscow
this week, Medvedev said, "Overall, the region in which the
SCO operates is a complex one, and so we have to take into
account the reality that surrounds us, and the need for our
countries to jointly coordinate efforts on a wide range of
issues, including security and the defense capability of
our countries on a collective basis."

The defense ministers' meeting in Moscow on Wednesday saw a
strong affirmation by China on enhanced SCO cooperation to
confront regional challenges. In an oblique reference to
the US, Liang called for the eschewal of "antagonism,
clique politics and unilateralism" and underlined that the
SCO has a role to play in the entire Eurasian region.
Russia and China separately agreed on an intensified
program of bilateral military cooperation that includes as
many as 25 joint maneuvers in 2009 in a demonstration of
the strengthening of strategic ties.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also expressed
similar sentiments earlier in the week after his talks with
his visiting Chinese counterpart. Lavrov said Moscow and
Beijing favored the "comprehensive strengthening of the SCO
as a key factor of the promotion of stability and security
in the Central Asian region". Lavrov summed up that two
chief principles lie at the core of the "dynamically
evolving" Russian-Chinese strategic cooperation. One, the
two countries share a common perspective on the
contemporary world processes.

Two, the two countries will "always support each other on
concrete issues" that directly affect their national
interests. Carefully choosing his words, Lavrov added that
Russia and China agreed during consultations in Moscow that
"such comradely mutual assistance" is only going to be

Ambassador M K Bhadrakumar was a career diplomat in the
Indian Foreign Service. His assignments included the Soviet
Union, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Germany, Afghanistan,
Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Kuwait and Turkey.