Wikileaks: China Tells US ‘Not In Our Mutual Interest To Expand UNSC Permanent Membership’

Wikileaks has released 58 more diplomatic cables. None of them is between the US State Department and the US Embassy in New Delhi. There are some very interesting cables of 2009 relating to the visits of US officials to China and Singapore.

The cable from the US Embassy in Singapore on May 30, 2009, gives the views of Lee Kuan Yew, former Prime Minister and Minister Mentor to the present Government, on the present situation in China and the Chinese leadership. He was reported to have expressed these views during a meeting with visiting US Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg.

Lee has been quoted as saying: ” Xi Jinping ( My comment: Hu Jintao’s expected successor) is a princeling who succeeded despite being rusticated. When the party needed his talents, Xi was brought in as Shanghai Party Secretary. Xi is seen as a Jiang Zemin protege, but in another three and a half years Jiang’s influence will be gone. The focus now is on maintaining the system. There are no more strongmen like Deng Xiaoping. Jiang did not like Hu, but could not stop him, because Hu had the backing of the system and he did not make mistakes. Vice Premier Wang Qishan, whom the MM (Minister Mentor) saw in connection with celebrations in May of the 15th anniversary of Singapore-China Suzhou Industrial Park, is an exceptional talent, very assured and efficient. Wang handled SARS (?) superbly when he was in Hainan. He excelled in coordinating the Beijing Olympics. Li Keqiang may not get the Premiership and the Party is looking for a way to keep Wang on past his 65th birthday until he is 70. MM Lee said he had met first Wang back in the 1990s but had forgotten their meeting. This time when they met, Wang told Lee he had reviewed the records of all Lee’s meetings with Chinese leaders going back to the days of Deng Xiaoping to see how Lee’s thinking had developed. Wang told Lee he respects him as a consistent man. China is following an approach consistent with ideas in the Chinese television series “The Rise of Great Powers.” The mistake of Germany and Japan had been their effort to challenge the existing order. The Chinese are not stupid; they have avoided this mistake. China’s economy has surpassed other countries, with the exceptions of Japan and the United States. Even with those two countries, the gap is closing, with China growing at seven-nine percent annually, versus two-three percent in the United States and Japan. Overall GDP, not GDP per capita, is what matters in terms of power. China has four times the population of the United States. China is active in Latin America, Africa, and in the Gulf. Within hours, everything that is discussed in ASEAN meetings is known in Beijing, given China’s close ties with Laos, Cambodia, and Burma. China will not reach the American level in terms of military capabilities any time soon, but is rapidly developing asymmetrical means to deter U.S. military power. China understands that its growth depends on imports, including energy, raw materials, and food. This is why China is working with South Africa on the China-Africa Development Fund. China also needs open sea lanes. Beijing is worried about its dependence on the Strait of Malacca and is moving to ease the dependence by means like a pipeline through Burma. The best course for the United States on China is to build ties with China’s young people. China’s best and brightest want to study in the United States.”

A cable of April 30, 2009. summarises the views of an unidentified Chinese official at a lunch hosted for him by the US Charge d-Affaires in Beijing. It says: “The Charge expressed concern with China’s defining Tibet as a “core issue” with the apparent expectation that others would “step back.” Instead, our two sides should agree to continue to discuss the issue in an attempt to resolve our differences. The United States recognized that Tibet is a part of China. Nevertheless, the Dalai Lama is a respected religious leader and Nobel Laureate, and U.S. officials meet with him in that capacity. Future meetings by U.S. officials with the Dalai Lama could not be ruled out. Moreover, there were serious concerns among the U.S. public, the Administration and Congress over the situation in Tibetan areas of China. China should take steps to address Tibetans’ legitimate grievances and engage the Dalai Lama’s representatives in productive dialogue. Denying a visa to the Dalai Lama was not being contemplated.”

During this lunch, the unidentified Chinese official has been quoted as saying as follows: “China was concerned by “momentum” that was building on UN Security Council reform, which was “not good” for the P-5, XXXXXXXXXXXX said. China wanted the United States to maintain its position on UNSC reform and not be “proactive” on the matter, which the PRC feared could result in a UN General Assembly resolution on the subject. The P-5 “club” should not be “diluted,” XXXXXXXXXXXX said. If we end up with a “P-10,” both China and the United States would “be in trouble.” Moreover, it would be difficult for the Chinese public to accept Japan as a permanent member of the UNSC. The Charge replied that the Administration had not completed its policy review on UNSC expansion, so we do not yet have a position on specific proposals. Nonetheless, the United States believed that UN members should be allowed to state their positions freely and openly without undue P-5 influence. Regarding Japan, the Charge said that, while no decision had been made about which countries to support for permanent membership on the UNSC, it was hard to envision any expansion of the Council that did not include Japan, which was the second-largest contributor to the UN budget.”

A cable of September 29, 2009, quotes Chinese State Councillor Dai Bingguo as telling visiting US Deputy Secretary of State Steinberg as follows: “The U.S.-China relationship was of crucial importance, said Dai. China would do its best to cooperate with the United States wherever possible. “If we expand the pie for the common interest, the pie will be larger and more delicious.” Together, the two sides should work collaboratively for the good of the world, especially since the two countries were “passengers in the same boat.” Dai urged careful management of the relationship and respect for each other’s core interests and concerns.”

These cables relate to the preparatory meetings held by US officials with their Chinese counterparts before the visit of President Barack Obama to China in November, 2009. The atmosphere and cordiality were very good. The Chinese referred to only Tibet and Taiwan as their core interests. They did not refer to the South China Sea as their core interest. It was only subsequently this year that they started referring to the South China Sea also as their core interest. This was one of the factors that contributed to the cooling-off this year.

B. Raman

B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai and Associate, Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: [email protected]

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