Before letting loose on the upcoming U.S.-China Strategic & Economic Dialogue in my next posting, I want to offer a couple of thoughts on the recent posting, “China’s Friends Indeed?” by my friend and colleague Evan.
Evan suggests that I am off-base in arguing that China is establishing a set of informal alliances with countries such as India, Brazil, South Africa and Russia. In his eyes, the competitive elements among these countries overwhelm any potential for meaningful cooperation.
True, there is as much competition as there is cooperation among these countries. From the perspective of U.S. foreign policy, however, it may just not matter that much. India and China may have a border disagreement, but it doesn’t keep them from working together to prevent effective sanctions against Myanmar and Sudan because they are both knee-deep in these countries’ oil and gas reserves. Brazil may be a democracy and China an autocracy, but together they are making their voices heard on climate change, global financial reform, and now, even sanctions against Iran. These large emerging economies may not have a unified political or economic platform, but they are certainly finding common ground on key issues in ways that make life very difficult for the United States.
Evan also points out that we shouldn’t worry because the United States, itself, has been a leader in welcoming a larger voice for these economies by pushing to expand groups such as the G-8 to the G-20. Also true. That doesn’t mean, however, that these countries won’t sit down before an international conclave or negotiation to hammer out a few agreed-upon policies. The BASIC countries (Brazil, South Africa, India and China), for example, are meeting five times between Copenhagen and the the next round of climate talks in Cancun. These countries, which are all part of the global climate negotiations already, each occupy a significant position of authority within the climate talks. It is therefore hard to see these gatherings as anything other than an effort to forge a common platform on issues such as mandatory targets and timetables for greenhouse gas reductions or measurement, reporting, and verification.
Evan may be right that these countries aren’t friends; but we ignore their shared interests at our peril.