Beijing is repositioning its foreign policy with an emphasis on securing arms deals and additional diplomatic support to shore up its effort to threaten Taiwan
By Cao Chang-Ching 曹长青
The Taipei Times
Friday, April 28th, 2000
Jiang Zemin's sweeping state visits to Israel, Palestine, Turkey, Greece and South Africa this month may be China's most aggressive diplomatic activity of the first half of year 2000. From the countries Jiang has visited to the issues on his agenda, observers can clearly perceive that China is repositioning its foreign policy.
First, Beijing is shifting from "forming alliances with Europe to resist the US," to "marginal diplomacy," for all the counties on Jiang's list are neither typical third world counties nor political heavyweights on the world stage, although they all have some characteristics that China is especially interested in.
Second, there has been a shift from "ideological diplomacy" to "realistic diplomacy." In recent years China has eased away from the traditional communist foreign policy of attaching great importance to ideology, as shown by its establishing an economic diplomatic relationship with South Korea regardless of the reaction from North Korea.
Moving away from China's long time position of supporting the Palestinian Liberation Army and Arabic countries, Jiang's visit to Israel took China's "realistic foreign policy" to a new level. In addition to enhancing the two countries' economic cooperation, arms trade was obviously China's primary interest.
Third, there is shift from a "one-way relationship" to a "balanced relationship." This new strategy has been clearly emphasized by Jiang's trip as shown by his adding Palestine to his itinerary after visiting Israel and traveling to Greece immediately after receiving medals in Turkey.
Beijing is intentionally playing a balancing game between two adversaries in order to stimulate both to compete for its attention and thereby reap the spoils of the contest.
Fourth, Beijing is shifting from "political diplomacy" to "economic diplomacy," using the lure of China's big market to reach military and economic agreements with Israel, Turkey and South Africa.
Fifth, there is a shift from focusing on Europe and Asia to focusing on the Middle East. During the interval between his visit to Israel and Palestine, Jiang briefly visited Egypt and met with its president.
Following the visit last year to Syria by Li Peng, the No. 3 man in China, and last February's visit to Kuwait and Iran by Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan, Jiang's stops in Israel, Palestine and Egypt once again shows China's intention to influence the Middle East in order to weaken US dominance in that area.
For several decades, China tried to play a leader's role among the third world countries, with strong support for Arab countries. It denounced Israel domestically and deliberately alienated Israel internationally with its firm declarations that Israel was nothing more than a US marionette.
Not until 1991 did China establish diplomatic relations with Israel. However, the relationship between the two countries developed rapidly. China's National Defense Secretary Chi Haotian and Li Peng both paid visits to Israel last winter and the Commander in Chief of Israel army's paid a return visit to Beijing last January.
Without a doubt, the arms trade is at the core of this recent intimacy between China and Israel. Beijing is well aware that only Israel can obtain advanced military technology from the US and a close relationship with Israel is a shrewd way to get US technology indirectly.
According to the US press, Israel has proposed providing the Chinese army with four Phalcon AWACS aircrafts, which would give China a clear military advantage over Taiwan. Jiang's visit to Israel was precisely aimed at guaranteeing that China would get the technology without interference from the US.
Despite discontent in the US Congress over Israel's arms deals with China, the US government does not have a treaty that could restrict Israel's arms pacts with other countries. Israel also claims that the Phalcon sale to China does not involve American technology or the transfer of American-made equipment.
Nevertheless, under pressure from the US , Israel finally compromised by agreeing to sell Beijing just one Phalcon aircraft and postponing the sale of the other three indefinitely.
According to a report in the The New York Times, selling one Phalcon aircraft, would net Israel about US$230 million, while the total of its arms sales to Beijing would generate about US$2 billion, which is estimated to be one sixth of China's total military spending budget this year.
As a nation which has always been oppressed by foreign forces, Israel's cooperation with China is an unforgivable sin -- the sale of its soul for profit. However, Israel may only be hurting itself, if someday China transfers these technologies it is buying to Israel's foes Iran or Iraq.
In addition to producing large amounts of missiles of its own, Beijing has recently purchased a Russian-built Sovremenny-class destroyer, SU-30 jet fighters and Israel's Phalcon aircraft, which all shows that China's military focus has been shifting from defense to offense. Of course, its major target is Taiwan.
This desire to improve its offensive capabilities also prompted Jiang's visit to Turkey. As the only Muslim country in NATO, Turkey has access to advanced NATO weapons; a close relationship with Ankara will not only assist Beijing in reaching NATO's top military technology, but also help it to restrict the independence movement in East Turkestan, the area the Chinese call Xinjiang.
Despite China's severe oppression in East Turkestan, which is seen by the Turkish people as its "motherland," Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit, a well-known leftist communist sympathizer, awarded Jiang Turkey's highest honor. This is akin to Israel awarding Hitler a medal for his "final solution."
Jiang's final stop on this trip was South Africa. After the end of apartheid, civil rights leader Nelson Mandela became president. Mandela spent 27 years in prison and his moral courage was respected worldwide. However, after achieving power, Mandela, who had called on Western countries to place sanction on South Africa's apartheid government and stressed that moral principles should be placed above economic interests when he was in prison, went to Libya to meet with dictator Muammar Qaddafi, severed diplomatic relations with Taiwan and recognized the Chinese dictatorship for economic purposes.
What is more bitterly disappointing is that Mandela, who received Li Peng, called the butcher of Beijing for his role in the Tiananmen massacre, refused to meet with his fellow Nobel Peace Prize laureate, the Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.
China is well aware of South Africa's economic problems and the weakness of South Africa's leaders. Jiang has tried to use his visit to South Africa to establish a sort of bridgehead in Africa in order to isolate Taiwan diplomatically; after all, most countries that have diplomatic relations with Taiwan are in Africa.
Beijing will hold a forum on China-Africa cooperation in October to further strengthen its ties with African countries and diminish Taiwan's influence in that area.
If China's diplomatic focus for the first half of the year is "marginal countries," then its priority for the second half of the year will be African countries, with both focusing on the same goal: obtaining more advanced weapons to enhance its ability to threaten Taiwan and scraping together more countries to squeeze Taiwan's diplomatic room.
Therefore, no mater what "soft words" Taiwan's new president uses in his inauguration speech, China will not be derailed from its course of isolating Taiwan diplomatically and menacing Taiwan militarily.
Cao Chang-Ching is a writer and journalist based in New York.