When Yiang Jiemian, president of the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, gets together with his brother, Yang Jiechi, China’s minister of foreign affairs, they don’t talk strategy or politics. “We talk about our grandfather,” he says, with a smile.
We’re sitting in a conference room at SIIS, though, and Yang Jiemian is talking strategy with a few visiting journalists. I ask Dr. Yang about China’s view of US policy in the Middle East and central Asia. What, exactly, is his opinion of the notion that the United States is seeking to control that crucial region, including its oil and natural gas reserves, as part of a strategy of containing China? President Obama has just left Shanghai, the sprawling city of 19 million people, and he told China that the United States does not want to contain or limit China’s influence in Asia or the world. Yet the United States and China don’t always agree on Iran, Afghanistan, and other questions.
“There might be a slight difference of understanding between our two cultures, our two languages,” says Yang, who is flanked by a team of strategists and area specialists. “”When America talks about strategy, it implies military, security, confrontation. In China, we have a much broader view of the idea of ‘strategy.’ We mean something that is long-term and systematic.”
Is he concerned about the idea of US hegemony in the Middle East? Could it be a detriment to China, which is excruciatingly dependent on that part of the world for its energy? “If you ask different people in China, you will get different answers,” he says. “Personally, I’m concerned about the possibility that these things could be part of a plan to ‘contain’ China.” But, he adds, China’s view is to work cooperatively with all countries in the region, and with the United States, to deal with what he calls a critical transition that the countries of central Asia and the Middle East need to make.
On Iran, Yang made it clear that, despite his pleas, Obama isn’t likely to get much support from Beijing over confrontation and sanctions against Iran if the nuclear talks don’t move quickly. “China and the United States have similar views on some issues regarding Iran, and we have some differences,” he says. He points out that China has supported limited, targeted sanctions against Iran at the UN Security Council in recent years, and he notes that China and the US both support the strengthening of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. “We will work together to persuade Iran to become part of the mainstream of the world community,” he says. “But China supports Iran’s right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy, and we oppose a military solution to the problem.” Adds a colleague, “Most of us believe that Iran’s nuclear program is for peaceful uses.”