China Leadership Monitor

PRC Foreign Relations after the National People's Congress: Iraq, North Korea, SARS, and Taiwan

Wednesday, July 30, 2003

The National People's Congress (NPC) in mid-March produced all the major leadership outcomes predicted by experts on Chinese Communist Party (CCP) personnel issues: Hu Jintao, of course, became president of the People's Republic of China (PRC); Jiang Zemin maintained his powerful position as chair of the Central Military Commission (CMC); and, as long anticipated, Li Zhaoxing replaced Tang Jiaxuan as foreign minister. Tang was promoted to replace Qian Qichen in the role of party overseer of Chinese foreign policy, while trade negotiator Wu Yi will handle the trade portfolio and advise Tang. This lineup is exactly what was predicted by my interlocutors in Beijing in January. Although the NPC followed predicted paths, this outcome does not mean the event was unimportant to PRC foreign policy. On the contrary, China's behavior on the international stage has changed significantly since the NPC on two key issues for U.S.-China relations and China's role in the region: North Korea and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). Although neither problem is close to being solved permanently, China adopted an about-face on both issues in the weeks after the NPC ended and the U.S.-led war in Iraq began. The military overthrow of Saddam Hussein's regime in Baghdad and the passing of the NPC were, arguably, the two most important determinants of the new trends. Relations with Taiwan have been affected by Iraq, North Korea, SARS, and electoral politics in Taipei. Release of the anticipated "assessment" of cross-Strait relations—allegedly a road map for how to pursue gradually the development of direct air, shipping, and communications links (the "three links") across the Taiwan Strait—has been delayed by some combination of international and domestic factors relating to the March 2004 Taiwan presidential elections (for discussion of the assessment, see my entry in CLM 6).