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NYTimes.com Article: Letter From Asia: China Is Romping With the Neighbors (U.S. Is Distracted)
by threehegemons
03 December 2003 02:17 UTC
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This article from NYTimes.com 
has been sent to you by threehegemons@aol.com.

Wallerstein has often predicted that the US obsession with Iraq will provide 
opportunities for its rivals.

Steven Sherman


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Letter From Asia: China Is Romping With the Neighbors (U.S. Is Distracted)

December 3, 2003


JAKARTA, Indonesia, Dec. 2 - When Citibank was casting
around for a brand name speaker at its annual retreat here,
the bank spurned the usual Western investors. Instead,
Citibank chose the Chinese ambassador, Lu Shumin, one of a
new generation of diplomats from Beijing who speak flawless
English and play a mean game of golf. 

The envoy's presentation was relentlessly upbeat: what
Southeast Asia sells, China buys. Oil, natural gas and
aluminum to build bigger bridges, taller buildings, faster
railroads to serve the country's flourishing cities, like
Shanghai, which is beginning to make New York City look
like a small town. Palm oil for frying all that food for
the swelling middle class, even eggs from faraway New
Zealand on the region's southern periphery. 

China's buying spree and voracious markets provide the
underpinning, he said, for the peaceful coexistence that
everyone wants. 

Contrast this with the dour message from the United States.
Congratulations, said President Bush to the Indonesians
during his short stopover in October, for "hunting and
finding dangerous killers." Cannily, China has wasted
little time in capitalizing on the United States
preoccupation with the campaign on terror to greatly expand
its influence in Asia. 

A new team of leaders in Beijing who came to power last
spring - President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao
- have led the charge, personally traveling in the region
bearing sizable investments and diplomatic warmth. In fact,
some forward leaning analysts think China may already have
become Asia's leading power. 

"After Afghanistan, after Iraq, after bringing democracy to
the Middle East, when the United States refocuses on Asia,
it will find a much different China in a much different
region," James J. Przystup, a research fellow at the
National Defense University, wrote recently. 

Beyond the economics and the diplomacy, something else is
going on. China has the allure of the new. A new affinity
is developing between the once feared China and the rest of

Karim Raslan, a Malaysian lawyer and writer who traveled to
Washington recently on a Fulbright scholarship, put it this
way. The American "obsession" with terror seems tedious to
Asians, he said. "We've all got to live, we've all got to
make money," said Mr. Raslan. "The Chinese want to make
money and so do we." 

So as American tourists have vanished from an area made
uninviting by State Department travel warnings, Chinese
tourists have started to arrive. They are pouring into
Malaysia (with a substantial minority Chinese population)
and Singapore (majority Chinese) where they can talk to the
locals and are not afraid to go out at night. They are
beginning to buy big-ticket items - five-figure diamond
watches, designer clothes - that used to be favored by
modish Japanese and American tourists. 

This affinity is a two-way street. Singapore's newspapers
are filled with stories giving advice on how Singaporean
professionals - who face a tough job climate at home -
should behave when they work in China. (Don't lord it over
the Chinese, is one of the tips.) 

Most disturbing for the United States, China's surging
economy has much to offer America's most important Asian
allies. Japan's rebound is being driven by a surge in
exports to China. Australia's healthy economy is being kept
that way by Chinese investments in liquid natural gas
projects. China is now South Korea's largest trading

Among Southeast Asian countries with significant Muslim
populations, places where the American concentration on
terror is particularly unappealing, China is on a buying

In Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines (and to a lesser
extent Thailand), Washington's primary concern is the
presence of Islamic militants. China's main interest is to
scoop up what it can for its modernization. Indonesians
have come to call this new relationship with Beijing as
"feeding the dragon." 

As Asia warms to the confident new China, Asians say they
are not betraying the United States. "We don't have to
choose," said a Singaporean businessman. 

This is because relations between the United States and
Beijing have rarely been warmer. In the Bush
administration's book, China has emerged from the
diplomatic doghouse. 

In a speech at Texas A&M University devoted to China last
month, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell listed all the
positives. China has stated its support for the campaign on
terror, and has voted with Washington at the United
Nations. It is playing a major role in trying to solve the
North Korea problem. Mr. Powell jocularly portrayed his
relationship with the Chinese foreign minister, Li
Zhaoxing, as being so chummy that one of their Saturday
telephone conversations was interrupted by the secretary's
barking terriers, a knock at the front door, and his wife,
Alma, calling from upstairs. 

For all China's burst of activity, the United States
remains the biggest foreign investor in Asia, and
Washington maintains by far the most significant military
presence in the region. No one is suggesting that China's
antiquated armed forces are about to catch up with the
might of the world's superpower. 

But the People's Liberation Army is doing its own
diplomacy, and naval exercises last month by China and
India - the first between the two old rivals - caught
people's attention. Militarily they did not add up to much,
but the symbolism of an Indian destroyer at the Shanghai
docks was widely noted. 

Not everyone is convinced that China's courtship of the
region will last forever. "They're making progress because
we're invisible and distracted; or bull-headed when we do
show up," said Robert L. Suettinger, the author of the
recent book "Beyond Tiananmen" and a member of the National
Security Council during much of the Clinton administration.
"There's no natural condominium for China in Southeast
Asia. But I think it would behoove us to pay a bit more

But the more provocative Mr. Przystup counters, "Today,
China is East Asia's great power." 



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