China offers nervous welcome to Obama

China offered a nervous welcome on Wednesday to US President Barack Obama, expressing concern over the direction he may take bilateral ties while paying tribute to the efforts of George Bush.

The English-language China Daily, a vehicle for the government to air views to a foreign audience, published an editorial calling for Obama to follow the lead of his predecessor.

“Given the popular American eagerness for a break from the Bush years, many wonder, or worry to be precise, whether the new president would ignore the hard-earned progress in bilateral ties,” the editorial said.

“After decades of dramatic ups and downs, the once volatile relations are just beginning to show signs of stabilising.”

The most important legacy of Bush’s eight years in power was the improved Sino-US relations, according to the editorial.

“The good news for Obama is that his predecessor, through eight years in office, has laid a decent foundation for one of the world’s most influential relationships. That is a fine bequest he should generously embrace.”

While China’s foreign ministry has been more neutral in recent days, there were other signs of trepidation within the Chinese leadership about where Obama may take Sino-US ties.

Inauguration speech censored
Sections of the state-run press on Wednesday censored Obama’s inauguration speech to delete his praise for people who opposed communism and his warning that regimes who silenced dissent were on the wrong side of history.

The defence ministry on Tuesday also warned Obama against continuing US military support to Taiwan, a long-standing point of tension between the two world powers.

The China Daily editorial acknowledged that Bush’s foreign policy efforts were full of disappointments, and described the “yet-to-be-justified” war on Iraq as a discredit to both the former president and the United States.

But it said there were merits, namely his handling of US-China ties.

“Anchoring [the] relationship between the world’s single superpower and the largest developing country is no easy job. But the Bush administration managed it,” it said.

The editorial said the twice-yearly Strategic Economic Dialogue, which grouped Cabinet-level ministers from the two countries and began under Bush, was an “invaluable platform for meaningful high-level communication”.

However, Obama has yet to say whether he will continue with it.

“Now people wonder if its fifth session in Beijing early last month was its last,” the editorial said.

While Sino-US ties did improve under Bush, tensions remained, particularly over US arms sales to Taiwan, differences over human rights and how to conduct global trade.

The Bush administration consistently called on China to revalue its currency, the yuan, arguing it was being kept artificially weak to give Chinese exporters an unfair advantage.

Under Bush, the US also repeatedly expressed concern over China’s rapid military expansion, and a lack of transparency in this area.

Liu Weidong, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said Obama was expected to push an even harder line on some of these issues.

New tensions
“Obama is more concerned about human rights, trade and environment than Bush, so the US will put more pressure on China about these issues. That’s why some say that China feels nervous,” he said.

Niu Jun, a professor with Peking University’s School of International Relations, also acknowledged there would likely be new or deeper tensions, but predicted that this would not derail the general trend of better ties.

“I think the Sino-US relationship will generally proceed well with Obama in office, it will mature, because the relationship between two countries is much better than eight years ago and the mutual understanding is deeper,” he said. — AFP

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