If your vocation is watching and assessing China’s foreign diplomacy, you can be impressed by China’s sophistication in international organizations and the way they have been able to skillfully convince many western governments of China’s ‘peaceful rise’ and role as ‘responsible stakeholder’.
Certainly, the case can be made that China is engaging in multilateral diplomacy – for example the Six Party Talks over North Korea. But there always seems to be a flip side to China’s engagement so that the opposite case can be made, that China frequently acts as an irresponsible stakeholder, putting narrow national interests ahead of resolving major regional problems or reaching global solutions – think Burma, Darfur, Sri Lanka and so on.
We were reminded of this again over the past weeks. In early May, the Dalai Lama visited Copenhagen, Denmark to give a public teaching. During the visit, the Dalai Lama met both the Danish Prime Minister and Foreign Minister. The Danish Prime Minister insisted his meeting with the Dalai Lama did not alter Denmark’s One-China policy, but the Chinese government responded that the meetings had “severely harmed China's essential interests and relations between China and Denmark."
It so happens that the Danes will also host and mediate between 192 countries at ‘Cop15’ in December of this year in Copenhagen. ‘Cop15’ is basically the follow-up to the Kyoto Protocol on greenhouse gas emissions and countering global warming and is the key event to reach some kind of global common approach to this issue for the coming decades. Clearly China, along with other major nations, is crucial to any agreement on the future global response to the climate situation.
So what would a responsible stakeholder do? You might imagine they would engage actively and constructively on an issue of global importance – but what does China do? Well on 1 July, the Danes hosted an informal international meeting with around 30 ministers and delegates from United States, Germany, Britain, France, Russia, Japan, India and Brazil in Ilulissat, Greenland in order to try and find some common ground on key aspects of the COP15 outcomes in advance. And China did not attend.
The Chinese government is following through on an implied threat they made before the Dalai Lama arrived that Danish meetings might jeopardize the Chinese engagement at COP15 – and this is the response. A global issue, an issue that affects us all, and China’s response is petulant threats and silly tantrums. One Danish China analyst called the Chinese action a “heavy blow” while another said “It’s nerve-racking for us as the host”.
It’s not the first act of its kind from China. When German Chancellor Merkel met the Dalai Lama in 2007, China pulled out of an international meeting hosted by Germany on Iran’s nuclear program and in December last year China caused shockwaves in the EU by pulling out of a major EU-China Summit that was to discuss the global financial crisis after French President Sarkozy met the Dalai Lama in Poland.
Now no-one is suggesting that China will deliberately wreck COP15, but the fact that Chinese officials would even hint at holding such a event hostage over the Dalai Lama isn’t an act of diplomatic sophistication, it’s bullying of the crudest kind.
(Caption: Ilulissat, Greenland – warmer than Denmark-China relations these days. Credit: Greenland.com)