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.
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.