US officials are breathing more easily now that an apparent resolution of the Chen Guangcheng episode is within reach. At the height of the crisis, it appeared that the implications might be drastic. NSC officials warned us privately that US-China relations – which, as we had reported last week, were improving – were ‘pivoting’ sharply to the downside. Hard-won gains in the relationship over issues like Iran and North Korea stood in jeopardy. We were told that, in advance of the Strategic and Economic Dialogue, the Chinese side had indicated a readiness to lean heavily on the Pyongyang regime not to proceed with a nuclear test. As the early agreement over the Chen case broke down, that readiness was withdrawn. Some experienced observers of China were speaking of a rift with Washington that was potentially as important at the Sino-Soviet split. What happened to mitigate these scenarios, we understand from NSC contacts, was that after early confusion with both sides striking confrontational attitudes, intense exchanges between the top officials in Washington and Beijing – including both Presidents Obama and Hu Jintao – produced a tacit understanding that the common national interests shared between the two countries transcended any differences on individual cases. In the words of one senior State Department official, “two superpowers decided to behave on the basis of their interests, not their emotions.” As a result, a number of pre-negotiated advances relating to the Dialogue’s economic aspects remained intact. The US side is now more hopeful that Beijing will continue pressure on Pyongyang. They are somewhat less certain with regard to Iran. They are concerned that China will be less compliant on the oil sanctions, but have no reason to conclude at this stage that Beijing will undercut the relative consensus in the P5+1 group in advance of the next round of talks in Baghdad on May 23rd. On the domestic front, White House political strategists acknowledge that the Chen episode has given an opening to the Romney campaign to undercut Obama’s assertions of foreign policy strength. One beneficiary will be Japan with whom a settlement of the long-running Okinawa base dispute was reached in talks between Prime Minister Noda and Obama. With China dominating the headlines, little attention was paid to deteriorating relations with Russia, requiring a visit by the National Security Adviser to Moscow. This also represents a threat to unity over Iran, as well as to the US missile defense plans in Europe.
Saturday, May 5, 2012
Posted by G, M, Z, or B at 7:10 PM