- The Washington Times - Monday, May 29, 2006

In the Pentagon’s 2006 report to Congress on China’s military power, released last week, the Pentagon notes with concern — in addition to the aggressive buildup, increasingly menacing posture toward Taiwan and a continued lack of transparency — that the PRC’s dealings with Venezuela, Cuba and several African nations are “undercutting international efforts to influence those states.”

China is doing in Latin America what it is doing in Africa and the Middle East: pursuing raw materials and natural resources, particularly energy resources, with a narrow-minded mercantilist drive. China would consider it an added bonus if, in the course of procuring the resources it needs to sustain its economic growth, it can also chip away at some of the diplomatic support for Taiwan in a region where several countries recognize the autonomy of the island.

With Cuba, China shares a general ideological and revolutionary kinship, but cementing the relationship now is China’s need for raw materials, especially nickel. In Venezuela, the PRC’s interests center around oil and gas reserves. To this point, China has been careful to avoid being dragged into Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s verbal barrage against the United States. The Chinese “have a way to make it clear to Venezuela that they don’t want it playing the China card,” said Thomas A. Shannon Jr., assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, during a recent meeting with editors and reporters at The Washington Times. “They tell us that they are not interested in political or military adventures,” Mr. Shannon noted, but the pentagon report raises the question of “whether or not arms sales are used to facilitate access” to energy resources in Venezuela. Such transactions would undermine U.S. policy toward Venezuela, a country that the United States recently banned arm sales to after the State Department designated it as not fully cooperating with efforts against terrorism.

The extent to which China’s foreign policy will reflect the ideal Washington has established — that China will be a “responsible stakeholder” in the world — can certainly be measured by China’s involvement in the Western Hemisphere. China could pursue natural resources in South America either in a way that is neutral to U.S. policy or in a way that is detrimental to U.S. objectives in the region. While its rhetoric suggests the former, evidence points more to the latter. Given China’s established pattern of military development discordant with its stated goal of a peaceful rise in the world, Washington needs to scrutinize both China’s ambitions and its tactics.

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