31 October 2003

A Chinese lesson for the US: how to charm South-east Asia

In addition, the post-9/11 respite China received from adverse US scrutiny has provided room for Beijing to pay more attention to cultivating its stature as a regional leader.

When Mr Hu assured the Australians that China would conduct serious business with the country in spite of its status as the US' 'sheriff' in the region, he was conveying a message to the US regarding both China's intention to play a constructive role in the region and to work with the US' regional leadership.

At the same time, however, it could not have escaped Chinese leaders' minds that regional divisions vis-a-vis perceived current US unilateralism may play to China's advantage, as some countries evince a preference for developing better working relations with China as a hedge against American arrogance and other problems in relations with the US.

Mr Bush's unprecedented visits to Manila, Bangkok, Singapore and Bali, in association with the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) summit, were designed first to demonstrate a high regard for its friends and allies from the region in the wars on terrorism and Iraq; and second, to press home Washington's expectations of continued or increased support from them.

All told, Hu Jintao had a fairly successful visit all round. He even, thanks to the energy of Speaker Andrew, managed to escape and parliamentary quibbles over China's atrocious human rights record.

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