The Cable

McCain: China’s political and social progress lacking

SINGAPORE - China is making huge strides in increasing its economic and military influence in Southeast Asia and around the world, but is not meeting its commitment to be a global leader due to a lack of progress on political reform, human rights, and support for rogue regimes, according to Sen. John McCain.

Top Obama administration officials are going to great lengths this weekend at the 10th annual IISS Shangri-La Security Dialogue to avoid criticizing China as part of their effort to portray a warming of U.S.-China relations. Even as Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced a slew of new U.S. military commitments to the region, he emphasized what he sees as the positive trajectory of U.S.-China relations and avoided any issues of contention or conflict.

But McCain, the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee and the only U.S. senator to attend the conference, has no problem pointing out where he sees China failing in its commitment to rise peacefully and in harmony with its neighbors. In a Saturday interview with The Cable, he said that China was falling short on its treatment of its own citizens and its global responsibilities. This is part of the reason the U.S. must bolster its commitment to Asian diplomacy and security, he said.

"Chinese economic penetration has been remarkable, not just in the region but in the world. A lot of their behavior is in keeping with the emergence of a world economic superpower. At the same time, they have not made the progress that we expected of them in a variety of ways: social, political, the basic freedom of their people, and their continued support of North Korea," McCain said.

"We give the Chinese great credit for thinking tens or hundreds of years ahead, but I cannot think of a rationale for propping up North Korea when they continue to spark confrontation and export weapons of mass destruction to places like Syria and allegedly to Burma."

McCain said he largely supported the Obama administration's China policy, although he regretted the administration's lack of focus on human rights. The new military commitment to Southeast Asia that Gates announced today shows that the administration is clear eyed about the risk of a more assertive China, even if they won't say it out loud, he said.

"Of course it's about China, but it's also about the importance of the region," McCain said about the Gates announcement. "The administration realized that we have challenges and potential serious issues in the region and the best way to prevent those is to have alliances, robust presence in the region, and the cooperation the secretary emphasized."

On China's military strategy, McCain said, "I think they are complying with Deng Xiaoping's last priority (a military build up), and they are building a military that is in their view that comports with their economic power."

The U.S. needs to explore every avenue for possible cooperation while at the same time understand the realities and prepare for any contingency. As for the human rights issue in China, "At some points, we have to stand up," he said.

McCain pressed Chinese Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs Dai Binggou on the issue of personal freedom in China during Dai's recent trip to Washington.

"I asked Dai Bingguo, ‘When are you going to allow people to Tweet,'" McCain said. "He gave no answer."

Keep your web browser pointed to The Cable for McCain's detailed account of his recent trip to Burma and his meeting with Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi.

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The Cable

Gates: Taliban talks could begin this winter

SINGAPORE - Political reconciliation talks with the Taliban could begin as early as this winter, but only if the U.S. keeps up the military pressure and convinces the Taliban they are losing the war, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Saturday

"There is a generally accepted view that nearly all conflicts of this kind eventually come to a close with some kind of a political settlement, but the reality is, in my view, that the prospect of a political settlement does not become real until the Taliban and the others... begin to conclude that they cannot win militarily," Gates said following his remarks here at the 10th annual IISS Shangri-La Security Dialogue.

After 15 months of ejecting the Taliban from their home territories in the regions of Helmand and Kandahar, the momentum is on the side of the Afghan government and the NATO coalition, but if there's a military pullback, the prospects for negotiations decrease, he said.

"If we can sustain those successes, if we can further expand the security bubble, we have enough evidence that the Taliban are under pressure and that their capabilities are being degraded, that perhaps this winter the possibility of some kind of political talks or reconciliation might be substantive enough to offer some hope of progress," said Gates.

The Obama administration is devising a strategy for the way forward in Afghanistan referred to internally as "Plan 2014" that may call for U.S. troop reductions beginning this year. But Gates, who leaves office July 1, is warning against such a pullback.

"My own view is that the political opportunities will flow from military pressure. And only as long as the military pressure is kept on and there are further gains, will the prospects for a political solution improve," he said.

Gates reiterated the U.S. position that any reconciliation with the Taliban must include their agreement to sever ties with al Qaeda, agree to adhere to the Afghan constitution, and lay down their arms. But he acknowledged that the Taliban are here to stay.

"The Taliban are probably a part of the political fabric of afg at this point and can... potentially have a political role in the future of that country," said Gates.

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, told The Cable in a Saturday interview that he totally agreed with Gates's assessment and would continue to press for heavy military pressure to continue.

"It's very simple. What motivation would the Taliban have to talk if they think they're winning. It clearly is a situation where if they think that they losing... then they will be willing to have serious talks," McCain said.

But McCain admitted that whatever progress has been made militarily in Afghanistan, problems remain with the effort in Pakistan, the relationship with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, and corruption in the Afghan government

"If they had good government, they probably wouldn't have the insurgency in the first place," McCain said.