China is ‘losing friends worldwide’ wrote the US envoy in Beijing last February, quoting India, Japan and Britain as among the countries who have seeking closer cooperation with Washington because of Chinese muscle flexing.
“The Indian ambassador to Beijing requested closer co-operation with the US because of “China’s more aggressive approach,” said the Guardian in its latest WikiLeaks coverage. “European diplomats were ‘most vocal’, although Indian and Japanese counterparts voiced similar complaints, Jon Huntsman wrote.”
Huntsman notes the ‘newly pugnacious’ Chinese foreign policy of ‘muscle-flexing, triumphalism and assertiveness’. The cable was sent at a time when US was coming to recognise its earlier attempt to partner with China on global issues was coming a cropper. US Presi-dent Barack Obama had been humiliated during a state visit to Beijing and China had just pulled the rug from under the Copenhagen climate summit.
India had already spent an entire year squabbling with China over Arunachal Pradesh and, increasingly, Kashmir. New Delhi was seeking to encourage Washington to be more sceptical about China, especially after the reference to a Chinese role in South Asia in a US-China joint statement.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had by then already publicly noted increasing Chinese “assertiveness.”
Beijing increasingly reads India’s closeness with the US as aimed at countering China. It is a concern New Delhi, in turn, has sought to use to moderate Beijing’s South Asia policy. A section of Chinese strategists now advocate strengthening strategic ties with India, partially to compensate for Sino-US tension and regional instability with Beijing's neighbours.
Since the cable, Sino-US relations have gone through strategic upheaval this year as Beijing objects to Washington’s ‘interference’ in its territorial and maritime disputes in South Asia.
“It’s no use for China to complain about India’s relations with the US,” said Shi Yinhong, director of the Centre on American Studies at Renmin University. “Anyway, India’s foreign policy is independent. China’s task is to exploit potential room for better relations with India to reduce Indian strategic consultations with the US.”
The Chinese foreign ministry has called the content of WikiLeaks cables ‘absurd’ and refused to comment on specifics. But Beijing will be poring over the fine print. Chinese muscle flexing is at the centre of a diplomatic debate on understanding China's growing clout on the world stage but it’s rare to read a top official describe it in writing.
The cable is titled ‘stomp around and carry a small stick: China’s new global assertiveness raises hackles, but has more form than substance’.
Huntsman is quoted saying that numerous third-country diplomats have complained it is more difficult to deal with China since the past year. Britain and France, he said, complained that Chinese officials were ‘shocking’ at the Copenhagen climate summit last December.