Summit puts China on top of the world

Asia Times

BEIJING - The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit meeting that closed in Shanghai on the weekend proved to be an unprecedented success for Beijing.

China managed to stage a major gathering of heads of state without a security or organizational blemish, cozied up nicely to Russia and, best of all, embraced the United States while relegating Taiwan to the sidelines. This success will have a profound impact on regional and, indeed, global relations.

On an "ideological" front, APEC, strongly supported by US President George W Bush, laid to rest problems with China's communist past. The red flag flying in Beijing is no longer seen as an ideological hurdle in "the great coalition against terror", as Bush called it. This coalition is based on the values of free enterprise, the US president stressed. He said on October 20 that the attack on the World Trade Center was an assault on a free enterprise system that had fueled prosperity throughout the Pacific Rim. "The terrorists tried to shatter confidence in the world economic system, but they failed," Bush said. "The terrorists hoped world markets would collapse. But the markets have proved their resilience and fundamental strength."

Furthermore, the market-based system embraced by APEC countries "has brought more prosperity more quickly to more people than at any time in human history," he said. The vast Asia-Pacific region, Bush added, "is demonstrating the power and appeal of markets and trade". As an example, he cited China's per capita gross domestic product that has grown by 513 percent since 1975.

The difference is no longer between "capitalism" and "communism", as complex ideologies, which brought the world the Cold War, but looser concepts. This new "ideological concept" of free enterprise has the benefit of cutting through the sensitivities of systems such as those of China and Vietnam, which are communist in name but free traders in reality, and the sensitivities of the Muslim world.

President Jiang Zemin echoed Bush's remarks in his address to APEC. "We reaffirmed our unyielding commitment to free and open trade and investment both within our region and globally, and resolved to work together to fight against protectionism in all forms. We strongly support an open, equitable and rules-based Multilateral Trading System, and the launch of the WTO [World Trade Organization] new round at the upcoming WTO ministerial conference. This has assumed added urgency in the context of the current [world economic] slowdown. We condemned in the strongest terms the attack [on the US] as an affront to peace, prosperity and security of all people, of all faiths, of every nation."

In other words, the fight against terrorism must be waged by both narrow and broad economic means. In the narrow sense, this means finding out how terrorists are financed and then to block their sources of money. In the broad sense, this means to revive the global economy, which was the real target of the attack. It has been hit and it must now recover in the name of free enterprise.

In this sense the fight against terrorism, said the APEC leaders, is one of justice against evil, civilized against uncivilized, and terrorism is considered a "threat against all faiths".

All of this reflects what has been reported in Asia Times Online. For instance, "It is not realistic to wage a war against over a billion Muslims if we want to keep a semblance of economic development, which most of the world has been pursuing since the end of the Cold War. 'Economic development' and 'material improvements' were both the flags and the instruments that made victory over communism possible." Loose lips sink civilizations (Oct 4)

The Shanghai summit attained two goals on the ideological front. Even if not in so many words, it listed communist China as being among the free trading countries fighting terrorism. The summit also built a new "ideological" canvas which can now be used against Osama bin Laden, but which could also work against North Korea if it were to harbor terrorists, or for that matter any other state or group attempting to disrupt the free market.

On a second front, China won the recognition of the US of its interests in Central Asia. The US will seek more cooperation with China, especially with regard to Pakistan, a country where China has for decades held influence and friendships.

The US also tacitly removed the Taiwan thorn that has for a long time soured its bilateral relationship with China. Taiwan withdrew from the APEC summit on October 19 because Beijing did not accept its representative - Taipei wanted a political figure, Beijing insisted on an economic one. In the past, such an embroglio would have obscured all other issues. On this occasion, though, the US didn't utter a word as it was more concerned with obtaining unanimous approval of an anti-terrorism statement. The US did not want to become tied down in a wrangle over Taiwan, which had nothing to do with the present focus of the administration - the building of an anti-terrorism coalition.

All of these events mark an almost unimaginable victory for Beijing, especially when one looks back to just a few months ago when the US underscored its open determination to defend the independence of Taiwan by selling it an unprecedented package of arms.

In a way, now, Taiwan has been offered to Beijing on a silver platter, but there are many dangers. Even though Taipei now appears to be ripe for the picking, and it has few bargaining chips, Beijing must tread with the greatest of care as the fruit can easily be squashed, depriving all parties concerned of its value.

The Shanghai victory proves that Beijing must now not be tough, but soft to help find - in collaboration with the Taiwanese - the best solution for the reunification to which Beijing has so long aspired. Here there is no historical precedent to speak of, and thus imaginative minds on both sides of the Strait must start addressing the subject with haste. A new, even more delicate stage in bilateral relations has been reached and Beijing can't sit idle, thinking that it has already made the best offer.

It is likely that strong pro-independence factions in Taiwan will try to disrupt the process. This is normal, but any over-reaction from Beijing could set the two sides further apart, forcing the US to become involved again, even if it is unwilling to do so. On the other hand, China must not forget that all of this has been made possible by the US, and that, at this crucial juncture, Washington has leaned toward the other side, thus facilitating the conditions for peaceful reunification.

China has obtained almost everything it could have wished for - the fall of the ideological barrier towards communism, and the recognition of a new strategic environment. Now it is up to Beijing to make the best of all of this. (2001-10-23 Asia Times)


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