Two Ambassadors On China

US ambassador Gary Locke discussed the state of Sino-US relations, the deterioration of China’s human rights conditions, and his own strange celebrity in an interview with The Associated Press:

… Recent initiatives by President Barack Obama to strengthen the U.S. military alliances with Australia and other countries on China’s edge have not caused undue friction, he said, signs of the breadth of ties between the world’s largest and second-largest economies.

“The U.S.-China relationship is certainly stronger than ever before, much more complex than ever before. The economies of China and the U.S. have become much more sophisticated and much more complex” since the start of diplomatic relations 33 years ago, Locke said.

However, Locke expressed strong concerns over China’s rights record, saying abuses had been rising over the past year as Chinese leaders worried that the democratic uprisings that swept Egypt and other Arab countries might spread to China. He cited the widespread detention and arrest of activists and lawyers and a lack of judicial independence.

“It’s getting worse. I think certainly the last several months, or actually the last year or so, we’ve seen developments and incidents that give us great pause and a great deal of concern,” Locke said.

The Economist’s Banyan blog, meanwhile, reported comments made by former Australian ambassador Geoff Raby on Sino-Australian relations during his four-year term (2007-2011) and China’s politically tainted legal system.

Mr Raby said foreign governments can only hope to push patiently, persistently and diplomatically for “incremental” progress on its justice system and human rights. “I don’t think megaphone diplomacy gets you anywhere in this space.”

Mr Raby noted that during his four years as ambassador China’s leverage in world affairs has increased dramatically, as it became, for example, Australia’s number-one trading partner. He said that China’s economic power, combined with its authoritarian system, pose an historic diplomatic challenge as China’s ambitions—including its military ambitions—continue to grow.

“We have never seen in world history, with Nazi Germany perhaps to one side, a global economic power that has stood so far apart from the international norms of social and political organisation, so it’s something different. It really, really is different,” Mr Raby said. He later assured me that when he uses this line in speeches, he throws in a mention of Nazi Germany to pre-empt the nitpickers of history, not as a point of comparison to China. That would be rather undiplomatic indeed.

See also Raby’s recent op-ed at Caixin Online on the challenges and opportunities China presents to Australia, via CDT.