The Straits Times
Sept 23, 2005
Hu shows hard-soft diplomacy in North America
He stresses China's peaceful intent in his trip but draws the line on Taiwan and Tibet
By Chua Chin Hon
China Bureau Chief
BEIJING - A TRIP to the White House, postponed by Hurricane Katrina, scuttled the public relations centrepiece for Chinese President Hu Jintao's first official trip to North America earlier this month.
The Chinese plan was for Mr Hu to use his meeting with President George W. Bush to take his message about China's pursuit of 'peaceful development' directly to the American public and leaders.
The message was to act as a counterweight to the growing talk in America about the so-called 'China threat'.
But the chaotic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which preoccupied the Bush administration and knocked Mr Hu's White House visit off the agenda, denied Beijing that much-needed public relations exercise.
Mr Hu pressed on with the remaining legs of his North American trip, and there was no mistaking Beijing's increasingly distinct brand of hard-soft diplomacy - one backed by the country's growing economic prowess and driven by the country's ravenous need for resources.
Combined with a desire to soften the rough edges of China's public image, it's a foreign policy doctrine that has been brought to bear on many of his earlier trips, such as the ones to Australia in late 2003 and Latin America last year.
In his 10-day swing through Canada, Mexico and the United Nations in New York, the Chinese leader stressed time and again China's peaceful
But on China's 'core interests' like Taiwan or Tibet, Mr Hu had no problems talking the tough talk and backing it up with real action.
'China will unswervingly keep to the path of peaceful development and continue to hold high the banner of peace, development and cooperation,' he told world leaders last week at the UN summit marking the 60th anniversary of the world body.
He offered the world's poorest countries tariff-free trade, debt relief, job training and US$10 billion (S$17 billion) in cheap loans.
This grand gesture to mark Beijing's move from a recipient of aid to a donor country, however, came with a diplomatic catch.
The offers were excluded from a dozen states which recognise Taiwan instead of China, among them some of the poorest countries in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean.
In Canada, Mr Hu elevated bilateral ties to the level of 'strategic partnership' - clearly with an eye on Canadian oil reserves, the second largest in the world after Saudi Arabia - and vowed to double trade between the two countries by 2010.
But he also warned in no uncertain terms that China would not compromise on the Taiwan issue despite its massive energy needs.
'There have been some noises, discordant noises, on the question of Taiwan coming from within Canada,' the Chinese leader told a press conference, referring to attempts by a Canadian parliamentarian to pass a Bill that would make it easier for Taiwanese leaders to visit.
He added: 'We hope that this question can be appropriately addressed so as not to undermine the political foundation of China-Canada relations.'
China's worry is that Canada, a major Western country, would set off a 'domino effect' should it pass Bills more sympathetic to Taiwan, said Associate Professor Jiang Wenran of the University of Alberta in Canada.
He told The Straits Times: 'Hu Jintao responded diplomatically on questions about human rights.
'But he wasn't diplomatic at all about Taiwan or Tibet...Taiwan is the bottomline issue and it's always on their radar.'
Talk of a second visit to the United States later this year has not been confirmed.
In the meantime, Chinese analysts contend that Beijing should try not to score more 'own goals' and provide ammunition to China-bashers.