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NYTimes.com Article: Asian Leaders Find China a More Cordial Neighbor
by threehegemons
18 October 2003 02:49 UTC
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This article from NYTimes.com 
has been sent to you by threehegemons@aol.com.

Doesn't really require comment.

Steven Sherman


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Asian Leaders Find China a More Cordial Neighbor

October 18, 2003


BANGKOK, Oct. 17 - More than 50 years of American dominance
in Asia is subtly but unmistakably eroding as Asian
countries look toward China as the increasingly vital
regional power, political and business leaders in Asia say.

China's churning economic engine, coupled with trade deals
and friendly diplomacy, have transformed it from a country
to be feared to one that beckons, these regional leaders

That new, more benign view of China by its neighbors has
emerged in the last year as President Bush is perceived in
Asia to have pressed America's campaign on terror to the
exclusion of almost everything else. 

The most recent efforts by the administration to persuade
China to revalue its currency are seen, many in the region
say, as an unproductive use of American political capital. 

Symbolically, perhaps, the Chinese president, Hu Jintao,
landed a day ahead of Mr. Bush in Thailand, still basking
in the afterglow of China's first space mission. The
Chinese leader was welcomed with banner headlines and a
sumptuous dinner given by King Bhumibol in his
golden-roofed Bangkok palace. 

Both leaders are being accorded a state visit to Thailand
before the opening on Monday of the 21-member Asia-Pacific
Economic Cooperation meeting. Then, almost in tandem, they
will move south to Australia, where Mr. Bush will address
Parliament on Thursday, followed the next day by Mr. Hu. 

The United States' two most important strategic Asian
allies, Japan and South Korea, are particularly benefiting
from China's growth. Last year for the first time, Japan's
imports from China surpassed those from the United States.
At the same time, Japanese exports to China surged by 39.3
percent. China has now become South Korea's largest trading

One prominent Singaporean businessman, Ho Kwon Ping,
illustrates the shift in Asian attitudes toward China.
Compared to a year ago, he said, Asians are viewing China
as a "cup half full, not half empty." 

Mr. Ho, the executive chairman of the Banyan Tree Resorts
hotel chain and a member of the board of Singapore
Airlines, gave speeches in Hong Kong and London last year
describing China as a juggernaut poised to smother the weak
economies and less educated populations of Southeast Asia. 

Now, he says, "The perception is that China is trying to
do its best to please, assist, accommodate its neighbors
while the United States is perceived as a country involved
more and more on its own foreign policy agenda, and
strong-arming everyone onto that agenda." 

China is streaking ahead, developing its technology,
advanced education and scientific and other research at
extraordinary rates, and Asian countries now see that as an

"They are not seeing a China that threatens their economic
livelihood," Mr. Ho said. 

The United States remains the region's biggest trading
partner, but trade between China and the rest of Asia is
booming, and China is also offering attractive add-ons: new
investment and nonthreatening diplomacy. In a direct
challenge to the United States, Prime Minister Wen Jiabao
of China urged Southeast Asian nations last week to achieve
$100 billion worth of trade with China in two years, nearly
double the current $55 billion volume. American trade with
the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian
Nations, or Asean, was $120 billion in 2001. 

There, and farther south, in Australia, China is scooping
up raw materials that it needs for its rapid modernization:
liquid natural gas from Indonesia and Australia, iron ore
from Australia, rubber and palm oil from Malaysia. 

In Australia, President Hu is planning to sign an agreement
that will make China not just a customer but an investor in
the North West Shelf gas venture. 

China began its formal courtship with the countries of
Southeast Asia a year and a half ago when it offered a free
trade agreement with the members of Asean by 2015. 

The United States countered last October with the
Enterprise for Asean Initiative, a plan to offer bilateral
free trade agreements with Southeast Asian countries that
were already members of the World Trade Organization. 

Washington completed the first of those with Singapore this
summer. President Bush is expected to announce the start of
a similar agreement with Thailand this weekend. 

The United States trade representative, Robert B. Zoellick,
said Friday in an interview here that China's offer of a
free trade accord with Southeast Asia was a "thoughtful
move" that "institutionalized what these countries now
recognize: that China's growth is a benefit to them." 

But Mr. Zoellick said that once trade agreements between
individual Asean members and the United States were
completed they would be worth more than deals with China. 

"Ours are more complex and comprehensive," he said, noting
that the United States still represented more than 25
percent of the world's economy. 

In Singapore, one of America's staunchest Asian friends,
the political leadership has begun to sketch what it sees
as the coming redistribution of power in Asia. 

The prime minister, Goh Chok Tong, last week outlined a
situation in which the relative roles of Japan and South
Korea would diminish and that of China would grow. 

The United States would remain the most significant power
in the region, but the inevitably competitive relationship
between Washington and Beijing would have far-reaching
consequences, Mr. Goh said. 

"All Asian leaders are looking ahead at the relentless
economic march of China," he said. 

On the diplomatic front, China and the United States are
enjoying a friendly phase, one that Secretary of State
Colin L. Powell described recently as the best since 1972,
when President Nixon visited Beijing. Formal diplomatic
relations began in 1979. 

For now, this cordiality helps other Asian countries deepen
their contacts with China without forcing a choice between
Washington and Beijing, diplomats in the region say. 

Some of China's specific diplomatic moves in the last few
months, particularly its efforts to bring Washington and
North Korea together, have been widely praised elsewhere in

In a less publicized but important step, President Hu met
with Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi of Japan on May 31 in
the Russian city of St. Petersburg, a gesture viewed as a
way to start improving the icy Chinese-Japanese

That kind of Chinese diplomacy is contrasted by Asians with
some of President Bush's remarks about the region. 

Answering a reporter's question before leaving Washington,
Mr. Bush said mostly white Australia was not just a deputy
sheriff for Asia, as the reporter suggested, but a

This word, particularly associated with a major American
military ally, provokes shudders and distaste across Asia.
The Australian defense minister, Robert Hill, hurriedly
disowned the comparison. 

"It remains too soon to pronounce that Asia has become
`China-centric,' " said David Shambaugh, professor of
international affairs at George Washington University and a
specialist on the Chinese military. 

"But the trend lines are clearly moving in that direction,"
he said. "To some extent this means that the United States
is being replaced as the main power in Asia, but that
perspective is really too simplified. The reality is that
the United States and China together are dominating the



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