A lot of people have been getting on China’s case about not exerting enough effort to stop Iran and North Korea from becoming volatile nuclear missile holding powers. After Wikileaks latest release this Sunday, some frank discussions of China’s role in geopolitics have emerged. The Secret U.S. embassy cables released Sunday have been seen by some as showing an increase in tensions between the U.S. and China over the China, Iran, North Korea triangle of arms deals, natural resources, and diplomatic goals. Most commentators have focused on the multiple requests Hillary Clinton made over the past few years for China to stop shipments of weapons components, or possible weapons components to Iran, and to intervene in the North Korea-Iran ballistic missile trade, not to mention the Chinese Politburo’s hacks into Google and the Dalai Lama’s personal computer. While all of these negative portrayals of China are certainly there in the more than 250,000 cables, there are quite a few points where China’s diplomatic strategy seems to more closely follow, or in fact depend on, that of the U.S.
For example, below is an excerpt from a May, 2009 cable showing that China was vocal about the importance of the United States being a leader in the Middle East, contrary to the aspirations many pundits have assigned to China.
“MFA’s Xu Wei told PolOff that China was closely following the ongoing review of our Iran policy. He said
that China believed that the United States maintains a leadership role in the Middle East and that the results of the review will have an impact on Chinese engagement with the region. He said that Beijing hoped for more clarity from the United States on policy adjustments resulting from this review, adding that China had been left to guess at how U.S. policy might change on a very important set of shared concerns.”
The excerpt above shows a clear desire to respect U.S. foreign policy decisions in the region, and a willingness to listen and cooperate with U.S. concerns. Below is another excerpt, from September, 2009 portraying a China that is not only cooperating with the U.S. vis-a-vis Iran, but is acting directly in accord with U.S. wishes, by encouraging Iran to participate in strategic dialogue, but keeping Iran at a diplomatic distance.
“China continues to urge Iran to respond positively to the P5-plus-1 offer for talks, and these entreaties have been passed directly to Supreme Leader Khamenei. Iran reportedly requested to upgrade its relationship with Beijing to a “strategic partnership,” but China refused.”
And of course, there is the Saudi-Chinese deal concerning Iranian nuclear weapons and Chinese energy security. Saudi and Chinese Foreign Ministers met in January of this year and discussed an exchange of energy security from Saudi Arabia if China “more actively counters Iranian nukes.”
In all of these cables, Chinese diplomatic strategy seems clear; respect U.S. goals in the Middle East, but maintain economic and geopolitical security for the domestic Chinese population. While there are calls in recent media for China to assume more responsibility on the world stage, for example, through pressuring Iran and North Korea into dropping their nuclear programs, there are also countless examples of fear of China being too influential. And as we can see from the Wikileaks cables themselves, the Chinese haven’t always been kept up-to-date on what the United States foreign policy is in the Middle East. So the question is, how much responsibility does China have to defend United States foreign policy decisions, as opposed to responsibility towards its own population to maintain energy and economic security? Or, what if the United States stopped pressuring China, and instead stepped back to let other burgeoning world powers, like Turkey and Brazil, help to solve these conflicts?
Update: Fox-reading Americans think Wikileaks is a Terrorist Organization. Do you?