Foreign Policy Blogs

US opportunity: develop multilateral ties with China

Hon. Kevin Rudd, AustraliaThe Honorable Kevin Rudd,  Leader of the Opposition in the Australian House of Representatives, spoke today at The Brookings Institution.  The topic:  US diplomatic engagement with China.  His remarks focussed almost completely upon issues of East Asia and the Pacific, but some of his comments apply quite well to US-Chinese diplomacy concerning Central Asia.

China's Priorities
Most Central Asia watchers will nod their heads in agreement with Mr. Rudd's assertion of China's five priorities: 1. national unity (Taiwan); 2. peaceful regional order, including the settlement of all border disputes with neighbor states and internal order; 3. better living standards; 4. energy security; and 5. environmental degradation.  As Mr. Rudd noted, “free trade and democracy are not on this list.”  Nevertheless, China's increased world presence has made the state an important stakeholder in world events, and diplomatic representations toward human rights, democratization, and the environment can be made through moderate modes of expression.

Relevant to Central Asia
U.S. articles on China's ambitions in Central Asia tend to emphasize energy security, but much of China's activities with Russia and Central Asia also emphasize regional security with its Northeastern province, Xinjiang.  One avenue to bettering Xinjiang's economy and living standards includes increased trade with Central Asian states.  Furthermore, as China becomes increasingly involved with environmental issues, the Central Asian region may well become a focus of new environmental ideas as proposed by Beijing.

US opportunity: develop multilateral ties with ChinaCollective security
Mr. Rudd noted that China's rapid growth and emergence into the world economy has also been accompanied by basic agreement on some major issues, such as nuclear non-proliferation in North Korea.  The Six-Party Talk agreements may not been fully implemented, but existing results are far better than the alternative.

China's diplomatic forays are marked by not just better bilateral relations but an increase in effective multilateral diplomacy.  Organizations such as APEC, ASEAN, and Central Asia's own Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) are pertinent examples.  To this list, one could add China's increasing diplomatic and aid efforts through the Asian Development Bank, which constitutes a diplomacy with financial markets as well as states and regions.

Mr. Rudd emphasized that these developments created a gateway for increased engagement with China over developing world issues.  The U.S. and others should neither expect an “automatic peace” or an “inevitable conflict”.  Following a middle road that nurtures China-U.S. relations could set the stage for new kinds of cooperation.   Likewise, in areas of disagreement, “megaphone diplomacy” is counterproductive.  Concerns over Sudan should be broached in moderate tone and recognize China's priorities, in order to obtain lasting, decisive agreement. 

Multiparty alliances over nuclear proliferation can form the basis of new multilateral initiatives.   One such aid regime proposed by Mr. Rudd would create military cooperation between the U.S., China, India, and Australia in the event of devastaing tsunami or other natural disasters.  Training in disaster remediation would be a trust-building measure that in turn builds greater cooperation.

Central Asian Multi-State Alliances
In essence, the SCO, composed of China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan are already implementing some of these trust-building measures in Central Asia.  The SCO holds military exercises in Central Asia.  One prestigious result for Kazakhstan: China has asked Kazakhstan for the assistance of their military to help provide security during China's hosting of the Olympic games. 

Russia's Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) also train with Central Asia's military.  Possible avenues of cooperation include observer delegations and, as Mr. Rudd suggested for the Asia-Pacific, new disaster preparation regimes and other useful modes of international cooperation for the Central Asian region.

In short, the U.S. could develop better relations with China through regional cooperation in Central Asia as well as East Asia and the Pacific.   China has learned a multilateral model from the world community; in turn, it is teaching these lessons to the world community.  If properly cultivated, existing diplomatic achievements will build future international cooperation.

Not yet up but soon available at Brookings: a transcript of the speech
Rudd to visit the U.S. April 19 through 21 at Australian Labour Party Web site

Many thanks to The Brookings Institution for hosting this event for the public.

Photo: Australian Newspaper, The Age