Sunday, November 19, 2006

The influential and bipartisan U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission’s 2006 report to Congress, released last week, focuses on the theme of how China approaches its new role as a world power. In addition to strongly criticizing China’s failure to implement and enforce many new laws that it created to after gaining entry to the World Trade Organization, the report hits China’s continued refusal to break from its single-minded mercantilist foreign policy and accept the responsibilities fitting of a world power.

“China’s growing thirst for oil and natural gas, combined with its interest in counter-balancing U.S. power, has been leading it to unsavory partnerships with international outliers such as Iran, Burma and Sudan,” said panel Vice Chairman Carolyn Bartholomew. This critique has become all but synonymous with China’s rise. To meet its energy requirements, China will need to double its oil imports by 2010, and meeting this, along with its other energy needs, in the predominant concern for Chinese foreign policy in the Middle East, Africa and South America.

When policy-makers in Beijing are forced to weigh a supply of natural resources against a threat to regional or international security — in such cases as Sudan and Iran, for instance — they invariably opt to secure energy resources. China’s growing investment in Latin America, particularly oil-rich and anti-American Venezuela, should also garner significant attention. China provides the alternative to the U.S. market that Venezuela has sought, and that burgeoning relationship appears to be progressing beyond crude oil deals. China may be content with a mercantilist relationship, but Venezuela will try to rope China into a political bond, adding might to its would-be anti-American alliance that has thus far lacked it.

One particularly important recommendation, from the more than 40 that the commission included in its report, is that Congress press the director of National Intelligence to put in place a program better able to determine the progression of China’s military modernization — a development that Beijing has rebuffed diplomatic efforts to make more transparent. The need for a better understanding of China’s military capacity was emphasized again by a report in The Washington Times last week revealed that a Chinese submarine had followed the USS Kitty Hawk and its battle group without detection, perhaps portending a greater projection of China’s military force in the Pacific.

While the United States can, and should, continue to work diplomatically to convince China that it’s increasing influence is best used as a “responsible stakeholder” in international affairs, U.S. policy, both in the short-term and long-term, needs to be formulated around the assumption that China will continue to eschew such a role.

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