What You Say in China Matters

Particularly when you’re the head of the world’s nuclear watchdog group, and you’re addressing the country with the greatest leverage over an off-and-on nuclear “rogue” state.  Speaking in Beijing, International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei sounded the right message on Iran and North Korea:

There is no other solution apart from dialogue,” ElBaradei said at a conference on nuclear energy in Beijing. “The only way to resolve these issues is not through flexing muscles … but to try to engage the root causes.”

ElBaradei, whose spats with the Bush Administration are well documented, is clearly pleased with the shift toward engagement with Iran occuring in Washington.  Now, though, the onus is on Tehran; ElBaradei rightly emphasized that, if Iran too is serious about negotiations, it will have to “reciprocate” the U.S. opening.  Opponents will assume that ElBaradei is simply talking soft when it comes to Iran, but this misses the point; it was the Bush Administration’s confrontational stance toward Iran that messed up the IAEA’s nonproliferation efforts, not the other way around (though I suppose if the IAEA had been able to continue its work in say, Iraq, it would indeed have dampened enthusiasm for U.S. hawkishness).

When it comes to China and North Korea, though, “dialogue” has to mean something different.  Talk of the U.S.-Iran opening abounds in the media; the issue is, one can conclude without much cynicism, also a domestic political one for both sides.  China and North Korea, on the other hand, will have to engage much more quietly, and behind the scenes.  Neither wants to let on any rupture in their alliance, so it is all the more important that Beijing talk — but talk tough — to Pyongyang.  Let’s hope ElBaradei pressed this on the Chinese once the cameras were off.

As for the alleged “freedom-hating” speech by Jackie Chan in China the other day, I’m going to have agree with Josh from FP that Chan was making a clever use of sarcastic doublespeak when addressing his Chinese hosts.  After all, this is a guy who, as UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, channeled his martial arts prowess toward the goal of peace in East Timor.