Coming Away with Nothing

There was a great deal of hoopla last month when President Obama broke with tradition and declined to meet with the Dalai Lama when he was in Washington, DC. While no American president has had a formal state visit with the Dalai Lama in the Oval Office, presidents of both parties have made it tradition to meet with the leader of the Tibetan government in exile every time he comes to DC. This pisses off the Chinese government to no end and the presumption was that if the Obama administration shirked the Dalai Lama, it would please the Chinese government and make them more likely to negotiate with the US on other key issues. In effect, Obama was voluntarily making concessions to the Chinese government with no concrete concession in return – only the presumption that doing so would yield results down the road.

Not surprisingly, this strategy failed.

On the currency:

Mr. Obama did not appear to move the Chinese on currency issues, either. China has come under heavy pressure, not only from the United States but also from Europe and several Asian countries, to revise its policy of keeping its currency, the renminbi, pegged at an artificially low value against the dollar to help promote its exports. Some economists say China must take that step to prevent the return of large trade and financial imbalances that may have contributed to the recent financial crisis.

Mr. Obama on Tuesday could only cite China’s “past statements” in support of shifting toward market-oriented exchange rates, implying that he had not extracted a fresh commitment from Beijing to move in that direction soon.

On Iran and nuclear sanctions:

The administration needs China’s support if tougher sanctions are to be approved by the United Nations Security Council. But during the joint appearance in Beijing on Tuesday, Mr. Hu made no mention of sanctions.

Rather, he said, it was “very important” to “appropriately resolve the Iranian nuclear regime through dialogue and negotiations.” And then, as if to drive home that point, Mr. Hu added, “During the talks, I underlined to President Obama that given our differences in national conditions, it is only normal that our two sides may disagree on some issues.”

On climate change:

Mr. Obama announced a setback on another top foreign policy priority, climate change, acknowledging that comprehensive agreement to fight global warming was no longer within reach this year.

Again, none of this is surprising, except perhaps to the administration. We’ve watched the Tibetan Government in Exile make concession after un-returned concession to the Chinese government for the last number of years. In all cases, China has taken these concessions and then continued to attack and smear the Dalai Lama, while making no concessions of their own. Now we see the Chinese government doing exactly the same thing to the US government’s non-negotiated concessions.

China is never going to compensate the US for political concessions we made when negotiating by ourselves, just as they will never do the same for the TGIE, just as the Republican Party will never recognize concessions Democrats make with themselves prior to sitting down at the negotiating table. Given that essentially no DC Democrats — the White House included — have learned how to negotiate from strength with the GOP, it’s not shocking that their efforts to appease China at the expense of Tibet have failed.

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