The online reactions in China to the death of Osama bin Laden have been diverse, with some celebrating the death of the terrorist, while a few mourned the passing of someone who challenged the global dominance of the U.S. Officially the Chinese government welcomed news that an American military team took out the Qaeda leader in Pakistan on Monday. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu called bin Laden’s demise “an important event and positive development,” in a written statement issued late Monday.
A day later the effects of bin Laden’s killing on China’s broader strategic concerns began to emerge. At a news briefing Jiang stated that China believed Pakistan had made “important contributions” to combating terrorism. Her comments offered support to Pakistan at a time when its credibility is under intense scrutiny after bin Laden was found to be living in a house near the country’s leading military academy. Pakistan has a deep relationship with China dating to 1950, when it was one of the first nations to recognize Mao’s new People’s Republic. It has maintained close ties with the Beijing government in part to help offset its huge neighbor and rival India. How Pakistan fares in the aftermath of bin Laden’s demise is just one of China’s worries.
Perhaps more important is the extent to which the U.S. will shift its strategic focus. The fight against terrorism has preoccupied the U.S. since the September 11 attacks, drawing its attention away from China, the 21st Century Business Herald, a leading Chinese financial newspaper, argued in a story today. It quoted Shen Dingli, director of the Center of American Studies at Fudan University in Shanghai, as saying that the U.S. will “close the barn door after the horse has bolted, and in the future put more energy in Asia.” The U.S. will reduce its efforts combating terrorism and devote more focus to the rise of big emerging nations, Jin Canrong, an international studies professor at Renmin University, told the paper.
President Obama said during his 2009 visit to Beijing and Shanghai that the U.S. has no intention to contain China, but many here feel otherwise. Revelations in the latest tranche of leaked U.S. diplomatic cables will only confirm Chinese suspicions. In one document summarizing a 2009 meeting between U.S. and Japanese officials on plans to relocate an American air base on the island of Okinawa, the U.S. side raised concerns about Chinese military expansion as an argument to keep the base where it is. Assistant U.S. Secretary of State Kurt Campbell told the participants that unlike 1995, when a previous plan to relocate the U.S. Marine Corps Futenma station was developed, the region was now facing a “build-up of Chinese military assets,” according to the document. That factor, which the cable said could not be discussed publicly, “was now a driver of U.S. military assessments for the region.” Yukio Hatoyama, the Japanese Prime Minister at the time, had come into office vowing to move the base off the island. He resigned in June 2010, just eight months after coming into office and shortly after reversing course and dropping his base-move pledge.