US has ‘nothing to fear’ from an active China

ASIA INTERVIEW

But Beijing must be responsible as it engages the world, says Rice.

THE United States has nothing to fear from an “active” China, which is a big power with lots of influence, said US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

In an exclusive interview with The Straits Times, she said:

“Why can’t China have friends in the world? It’s better than China having enemies in the world. There was a time when we worried about the opposite, that China would be a destabilising factor in the world.”

“So, I would rather see a China that is trying to reach out, that is trying to have friendships around the world.”

Dr Rice was responding to a question on China’s growing influence, which has seen Beijing rapidly building up trade and economic links with countries in Asia and Africa in recent weeks.

And Chinese President Hu Jintao will make his maiden trip as national leader to India and Pakistan later this month as China forges ahead with its charm offensive to woo its Asian neighbours, both in Asean and Central Asia.

Pentagon officials believe that Beijing is attempting to undercut American influence in the region through this “new diplomacy” coupled with the slogan of “China’s peaceful rise”.

Dressed in a navy-blue jacket and designer heels, Dr Rice was relaxed during the 17-minute interview at her State Department office.

The bad news coming in of Republican losses in the US mid-term elections had no apparent effect on her; she was confident as she fielded questions on various issues, occasionally breaking into laughter.

But China clearly commanded serious attention. And she gave a nuanced response on how Washington viewed the rising power.

She noted that there were some aspects of China’s external policy that was “not positive”. This included intellectual property rights violations and Chinese military build-up in Asia. There were also concerns about human rights and religious freedom.

But she made clear that overall, China’s expanding global influence was good for the international community.

An active China, however, had to be a “responsible stakeholder” – a phrase coined to describe Beijing’s role in world affairs.

“Now, China has to be responsible in its engagement with the world because it is a big power. It is not just a developing country. It is a big power with lots of influence. So… it needs to be a responsible stakeholder.”

Washington was looking to Beijing to share the burden on a range of issues that included North Korea, Iran and even Africa.

“It needs to take responsibility in Africa, not just to take resources but also to contribute to the development of Africa so that people’s lives are improved.”

She said that China – along with other countries – would play a major role in preventing a nuclear North Korea.

The UN Security Council has voted unanimously in favour of imposing weapons and financial sanctions on the North over its nuclear test.

Dr Rice said that under such conditions, diplomacy through revived six-party talks could yield results.

“I am hopeful that diplomacy with the North Koreans, in a situation where they see what the alternative is, will be more successful this time,” Dr Rice said.

She also stressed that while Iraq was “very important” for the Bush administration, the United States continued to remain engaged in Asia.

In recent months, she has made trips to East Asia and South-east Asia.

President George W. Bush would also be travelling to the Apec Summit in Hanoi this month, with stopovers in Singapore and Indonesia.

“People are keeping an eye on Asean and Asia. We are all spending a lot of time in Asia.”

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