While Ahmadinejad and Hamas are making nicey-nice in their first overtures to President-elect Barack Obama, leaders in Russia and China have sent their first rhetorical “shots” across his bows.
The “shot” (challenge) from Moscow came in the fairly familiar language of military threats and escalation: Yesterday President Dmitry Medvedev said he would station surface-to-surface missiles next to Poland if the US stationed an anti-missile system inside Poland.
(Today, there have apparently been moves by both Medvedev and the Bush administration to tamp down tensions over the issue. This is not surprising. Despite the rhetoric and the needs both leaderships have to play to their domestic constituencies, I still think that neither Medvedev nor the Bushites want any very serious tensions in their relations.)
The challenge from China, however, came in a very different form of language: the language of expressing a tough negotiating position, on the issue of climate change.
I have been arguing for some time that climate change is set to become an increasingly big issue in international politics, and this seems now to be happening. Today in Beijing, Chinese premier Wen Jiabao told the UN’s chief climate change official, Yvo de Boer, that,
- rich nations [should] transfer greenhouse gas emissions-curbing technology to China and other developing countries, and address climate change responsibly by changing their unsustainable lifestyles.
The position spelled out by Wen has the twin advantages of (a) having a lot of moral validity, and (b) being very popular among the 88% of the world’s population that does not belong to the “rich” western bloc.
On moral validity, we need remember only two important points: (1) Though China’s total annual CO2 emissions are now roughly the same as those of the United, its population is four times greater; therefore the per-capita emissions rate is only one-fourth that of the US; and (2) Historically, the US and the other long-rich countries have contributed considerably more to the “fund” of toxic greenhouses gases that has been accumulating in the earth’s atmosphere over the past 150 years than have China and other long-poor countries.
China’s Communist Party leadership made some extremely wise judgments over 30 years ago, and they seem to have stuck to them ever since. They have maintained a steadfast policy of seeking ever fuller integration into the world’s numerous economic and political networks, and of sticking as much as possible by the rules of these networks to enhance their effectiveness within them. And they apparently also made a strategic judgment a long time ago that seeking to “compete” on the global stage against the US (or anyone else) in terms of externally directed military power projection capabilities was not a fruitful way to proceed. Hence, China has not engaged in nuclear or non-nuclear arms-racing with the US. It maintains only a “minimum deterrent” nuclear arsenal. And it has won positions of real political influence with all the countries around its periphery– and in some areas considerably further afield– not through military domination but through extensive economic and diplomatic/political cooperation.
These judgments and policies have proved to be well chosen. After all, during the past 30 years, the actual utility of military power in international relations has been declining rapidly– a decline that has been in almost direct proportion to the explosion in the efficiency and reach of global communications.
But I, for one, am not surprised that, when China seeks to send a “hey, don’t stomp on me” message to President-elect Obama, it does so in a way that is (a) quite discreet, and (b) absolutely unrelated to the military realm.
It’s an interesting world we live in…