China's rogue visitors
May is usually a pleasant time to visit China. This year, however, the month was one of the busiest in recent memory as numerous leaders of several of the world's rogue states traveled to Beijing, one after another. The parade of leaders from states of concern created a scene reminiscent of the old imperial order where China was perceived as the center of the world and ultimate arbiter of international disputes and all other nations paid tribute or sought strategic support.
The procession began days after the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, with Pakistani Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani traveling to Beijing on May 17 for a visit that led to a sharply beefing up of the two countries' defense and strategic alliance in a clear strategic message aimed at Washington.
The Gilani visit was followed on May 20 by the arrival in China of the world's most secretive and dangerous dictator, Kim Jong Il of North Korea. Kim entered China for the third time this year for a strategic pow wow with his Chinese overlords. The entire nine-member ruling Chinese Politburo Standing Committee, minus one member who was abroad, gave Mr. Kim a lavish welcome.
Upon returning to Pyongyang, Mr. Kim promptly set off yet another crisis by announcing North Korea would unilaterally and immediately cut off all communications with South Korea. He warned ominously that Pyongyang is ready to deliver an "all-out military blow" to Seoul.
Then on May 24 Iran's foreign minister Ali Akbar Salehi arrived in Beijing for yet another high-profile visit to discuss Iran's worrying nuclear program and to invite China to send nuclear experts to visit Tehran's nuclear facilities, much to Beijing's delight. The visit represents a not so subtle rebuff by both states to the West's credibility and efforts to deal with Iran's rogue nuclear programs.
Meanwhile, China and Vietnam are squaring off again in the South China Sea over disputed isles. The confrontation coincided with a visit to China by members of the Burmese military dictatorship. The junta's president Thein Sein — shunned by Burma's ASEAN neighbors — went north the same week the Iranians were in Beijing to discuss "the situation in Southeast Asia." China gave the Burmese dictator a red-carpet welcome. Chin's courting of Burma is widely seen as Beijing's efforts to build a diplomatic alliance aimed at strategically isolating Vietnam.
Shortly after the Iranians and the Burmese left the Chinese capital, China's Syrian friends arrived in Beijing to discuss important issues of mutual concern in the Middle East. China remains one of the Bashar Assad regime's strongest backers and has vociferously fought against United Nations Security Council resolutions condemning Syria for the ongoing bloody crackdown against Syrian protesters.
China "betrayed" by Russia on Libya
Following the tumult in Libya that began several months ago, China and Russia loudly criticized U.S.- and NATO-led efforts in Libya. China and Russia jointly abstained on the U.N. vote to establish a no-fly zone over Libyan airspace but both strongly condemned American and NATO military actions in Libya and refused to call for Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi to step down.
Among all major powers, only China and Russia avoided diplomatic contacts with Libya's rebel government-in-waiting, the Libyan Transitional National Council.
But on May 24, China's communist government was stunned by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's statement that Moscow was ready to recognize the rebel government and would soon establish official contact. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev went further and said in clear unequivocal terms at the G-8 summit May 27 that Gaddafi had lost legitimacy and must step down.
The Russian about-face put China in the embarrassing position of being the only permanent member in the U.N. Security Council without diplomatic ties to the rebel organization. Some Chinese news outlets, reflecting official angst, cried about a Russian betrayal and the age-old Sino-Russo animosity appears suddenly on the rise again. Isolated and bitter, Chinese government spokeswoman Jiang Yu issued a statement Tuesday saying China is now willing to "keep contact with all sides in Libya."
Influenced by a deep anti-American strategic culture, China's reaction highlights the country's historically poor record of making friends in the world, mainly a result of Beijing's tendency to befriend whoever the United State views as rogue states or enemies, including in the past North Vietnam, North Korea, Yugoslavia under Slobodan Milosevic, Saddam Hussein's Iraq, Angola, Albania, Cuba and Libya. Since 1982, China was Col. Moammar Gadhafi's main ally on the world stage and Libya has become China's chief investment outlet in North Africa, totaling more than $20 billion, mostly through telecommunications, railways, and oil fields investment, with close to 36,000 Chinese workers living in Libya at the beginning of the current unrest.
• Miles Yu's column appears Thursdays. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.