Over the weekend, President Obama chose Utah Governor Jon Huntsman as his Ambassador to the Chinese Communist regime (Washington Post). Most of the analysis on this side of the Pacific has focused on the domestic politics of the move (Huntsman is a Republican and was considered a strong possibility to be Obama's opponent in 2012). Far less time has been spent examining the international implications - mainly due to the assumption that Hunstman's appointment typifies the pervasive "engagement" mentality among the political establishment (for more on that, see Agence France Presse via Yahoo). Still, one would have to assume that a Democratic President being able to pick off a high-profile Republican to advance "engagement" in Beijing would make it a good week for the CCP. If so, one would be wrong.
For starters, Hunstman's Ambassadorship makes any 2012 campaign almost impossible for him. This actually increases the possibility that the Republicans look to an anti-Communist as their nominee in 2012. How much is hard to say - if a week is a lifetime in American politics, 2012 might as well be an eon or two in the future - but removing a telegenic defender of "engagement" from the presidential field certainly can't be good for the CCP and its cronies.
More importantly, the Huntsman appointment does nothing to alleviate the numerous internal and external problems the CCP faces, some of which are the CCP's own doing, and one of which - by far the most problematic - hits close to home.
First, there is the regime's continued military buildup and geopolitical expansion - both of which are necessary to justify the regime's existence to the Chinese people, but neither of which are exactly neighborly. As the Communist military boasts of its latest achievements (United Press Int'l) and tries to extend the CCP's reach into the hotly disputed South China Sea (Bloomberg), the United States - engagement or not engagement - is beginning to get nervous (Arstechnica). More ominously for the Communists, the US is largely responding to this by developing closer ties with India (Times of India).
Even outside military and territorial matters, foreign affairs is increasingly more foreign. Whatever one may think of the new Administration's efforts to reduce carbon emissions, it has put the CCP in the unusual (and uncomfortable) position of taking it on the rhetorical chin from American environmentalists and their left-of-center allies, such as Paul Krugman in the New York Times.
Then there's the economic front, where the cadres are suffering the worst of both worlds. Outwardly, there is growing alarm at what the Communists could do to the American economy (London Telegraph), making "engagement" all the harder to sell to a beleaguered (and already skeptical) American public. Inwardly, however, all of the signs of a quick recovery - to say nothing of a return to the white-hot days of the last decade - have vanished. Foreign investment is way off (Wall Street Journal). Hong Kong is suffering its worst economic contraction since the "Asian flu" of the 1990s (Financial Times). Meanwhile, the regime's attempt to reverse this is leading to comparisons not with the the CCP's go-go era, but the American housing bubble (Bloomberg).
As for the regime's ominous hints of ending its binge on U.S. Treasury notes, it's not happening (AFP via Google); the powerlessness of credit continues to thwart the CCP. Rather, it is American investors unloading Communist-controlled assets as fast as they can (Wall Street Journal).
Of course, the release of Zhao Ziyang's memoirs (Wall Street Journal) is sure to cause some heartburn in Zhongnanhai; although, like John Pomfret, I don't think the regime will suffer too much. It's not as if they didn't see this coming, and any genuine reformers were purged from the regime long ago. Still, it will remind the Chinese people (those who can get a hold of the book) and the rest of the world that the continuing abuses of human rights by the regime (Asia News and Religious Intelligence is the rule rather than the exceptions.
The biggest threat to the regime's plans, however, has arisen on the island democracy just across the Taiwan Straits.
As the Associated Press reported, at least 100,000 Taiwanese/free Chinese marched in opposition to ROC President Ma Ying-jeou's own "engagement" policies with the Communists (Yahoo). By itself, a protest doesn't mean much (Zhao's memoirs will, ironically, confirm that, too). However, the march is symbolic of increasing nervousness on the island democracy about Ma's olive branch to the CCP. At least one poll had more Taiwanese disapproving of Ma's performance in office than approving (AP via eTaiwanNews) - an outcome driven largely by concern over Ma giving away the store to Beijing.
A new American Ambassador can't make this problems go away (heck, American Presidents have tried to help the CCP win over the Taiwanese people - with disastrous results). Despite the Obama Administration's acceleration of "engagement," the rest of the world continues to get nervous about the Chinese Communist regime - especially those closest to it. That tension will likely continue to grow as the regime - bereft of the economic growth needed to assuage even the tens of millions of party members - bets even more heavily on radical nationalism and growing geopolitical power to survive.
Thus, the American people will be more likely to seek out anti-Communist leaders in 2010 and 2012 - and one the regime's best chances to head that off in the Republican presidential nomination contest was just taken out of the picture. In time, the CCP may rue their supposed good fortune over the Huntsman selection.