US-China summit begins in Beijing

US-China summit begins, Clinton advocates joint action against North Korea. 25 killed in Islamist attacks in Somalia. Thai government extends curfew as Bangkok returns to normal trading. Jamaica declares state of emergency in two Kingston parishes. UN children’s camp in Gaza torched. All this and more in today’s security update.
Laura Hilger
24 May 2010

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has urged greater partnership between the United States and China at the opening of the US-China summit in Beijing. Clinton called for a coordinated response to the sinking of a South Korean warship two months ago, blamed on North Korea. International investigators have stated that the ship sunk after being hit by a torpedo fired from a North Korean submarine. Clinton said North Korea must be held to account for the incident, though North Korea denies any responsibility. South Korea announced today substantial reductions in trade with North Korea until the matter is resolved, in addition to barring North Korean ships from passing through its waters.

The summit will largely focus on economic issues between the two countries, such as greater openness in regulations, nondiscrimination, fair access to markets and strong enforcement of intellectual property rights. Clinton has also advocated a joint effort with China to create UN sanctions against Iran for its nuclear programme.

openSecurity Verdict: Closer relations between the United States and China would have significant implications for international relations and security. The combined political and economic power of both countries would make a concerted push on Korea and Iran almost irresistable. However, a multitude of issues could continue to impede any such partnership.

China remains North Korea's main ally and has thus far been largely silent on the South Korean ship sinking. For China, North Korea remains a passive and relatively secure neighbour; the risk of a proseletising anti-communist state on its border that could follow regime change weds China to the status quo, so long as North Korean antagonism does not threaten to destabilise the wider region. The United States will have a difficult job gaining their support for a tough U.N. Security Council response.

While the US and China have already made progress on a set of sanctions against Iran, more work will be needed to get China to agree to specific Iranian companies and individuals that will be subject to penalties. However, as Clinton has stated, the draft resolution ''sends a clear message to the Iranian leadership: live up to your obligations or face growing isolation and consequences."

Chinese President Hu Jintao has seems to support a growing diplomatic partnership, speaking of the responsibilities shared by the United States and China for ''managing regional hotspots'' and ''safeguarding world peace and security.'' To accomplish this, of course, the perception of mutual benefit will need to be fostered if there is to be any meaningful support for a partnership. The idea that China and the US are engaged in a zero-sum game, with competition no longer confined to east Asia, but spreading to Africa, the middle east and Latin America, will be difficult to dislodge in both countries.

The greatest barrier to any alliance will be economic issues. The United States are pushing Beijing to “level the playing field” for U.S. companies in China and adopt the neoliberal economic model of the US, particularly in terms of transparent regulations, nondiscrimination, equal market access and promotion of intellectual property rights. Of even greater concern is Chinese currency reform, which the Chinese government has agreed to but without any definite timetable. These are important to US President Barack Obama's pledge to double U.S. exports within five years and create 2 million jobs. In response, China wants the US to lift its export controls on Beijing. 

The summit is aimed at creating long-term ties between the two, however the South Korea ship sinking has redirected the focus away from important issues on global finance, climate change, and counter-terrorism. There are many areas in which a US-China alliance could have a visible and positive impact on major international issues, however representatives and leaders at the summit will need to remain focused and open-minded if they are to overcome the variety of issues that could stand in their way.

In particular, the US will need to be tactful in their relations with China, whose own economic and political significance makes an alliance appeal, but not wholly necessary. The US will need to frame issues in terms of Chinese interests and be flexible to the values that underpin the Chinese political system. Some form of compromise on political issues that respects the often oppossed political cultures between the two will need to be found if they are to act in partnership.

Islamist attacks in Somalia kill 25

Somali insurgents attacked the presidential palace Sunday, killing fourteen and wounding 25. At least six mortar shells landed near the palace, leading to intense fighting between the insurgents and government troops nearby and in three other neighborhoods controlled by the weak government and peacekeeping troops from the African Union. The fighting involved heavy artillery and led to fires throughout the city, with reports of dozens of civilians wounded in both government- and insurgent-held areas. The insurgents included fighters from the Islamist groups al-Shabab and rival group Hizbul Islam. The fighting created the biggest surge in refugees in months.

President Sharif Sheik Ahmed is at a UN conference in Turkey. Last week Ahmed said he would appoint a new prime minister to end the longstanding rift within the government, however Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke will only leave office if a no-confidence vote in parliament forced him to, leaving the government paralysed.

Thai government extends curfew as Bangkok returns to normal trading

The Thai government extended its curfew in Bangkok and 23 Thai provinces Sunday after government action against anti-government protestors, known as ‘red-shirts’, last week. After hours of intense street battles, five protest leaders were taken into custody and three more turned themselves in. Red-shirt leaders called off the protest, but many smaller riots persisted across the city. More than 30 buildings were set on fire, including a bank, a police station, a local television station and Thailand's biggest shopping mall.

A massive clean up project was launched Sunday to prepare the city for the resumption of business Monday. The stock exchange will resume full-day trading, while businesses and schools will reopen following weeks of violent protests that paralyzed the commercial and business districts of Bangkok.

Jamaica declares state of emergency in two Kingston parishes

The Jamaican government has declared a state of emergency in two parishes in the capital on Sunday following a series of attacks. The parishes of Kingston and St. Andrew came under curfew at 18.00 on Sunday 23 May 2010 following shootings and firebomb attacks on police stations.

The attackers are suspected supporters of alleged drug lord Christopher "Dudus" Coke, currently facing extradition to the United States on charges of cocaine trafficking and gun-running. The United States initial request for extradition in August 2009 was refused on allegations that US evidence had been gathered through illegal wiretaps. However, Prime Minister Bruce Golding announced last week that he intended to start proceedings to extradite Coke. U.S. prosecutors have linked Coke to the infamous "Shower Posse" that murdered hundreds of people during the cocaine wars of the 1980s.

The violence comes as the government begins its loan programme with the International Monetary Fund. The Fund finalized a $1.27 billion loan for Jamaica in February, its first in fifteen years, to help address deep-rooted weaknesses in Jamaica’s economy.

UN children’s camp in Gaza torched

A group of masked gunmen attacked a UN summer camp for children in Gaza on Sunday. The attackers tied up a guard before burning tents and destroying equipment. The attackers also left a letter threatening John Ging, head of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). Ging has said UNRWA “would not be intimidated by such attacks.”

The attacks are being blamed on Islamic extremists opposed to such camps, though no group has claimed responsibility for the raid. Members of the Hamas government, which controls the Gaza Strip, have condemned the attack and vowed to find those responsible.

The camp, expected to open next month, is one of many camps organised by the UN offering summer programmes, including arts and sport. The camps cater to a quarter-million children in the Gaza Strip. Ging has pledged to continue the camp's construction and opening as planned.

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