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Political Situation in China ‘Very Delicate’: US Ambassador

Ansuya Harjani|Assistant Producer, CNBC Asia-Pacific
Thursday, 19 Jan 2012 | 1:39 AM ET

U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke has told National Public Radio (NPR) in the U.S. that the political situation in China is “very, very delicate” and the country’s human rights record had worsened.

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His comments followed an interview with Charlie Rose, earlier in the week, where he criticized the country’s human rights record.

On Wednesday, China’s foreign ministry reacted to Locke’s earlier comments saying it objected to interference in its internal affairs.

Frank Lavin, the former U.S. Ambassador to Singapore told CNBC.com that Locke’s comments were a little more forceful than the usual statements made by senior members of the U.S. government.

In an interview with NPR’s Steve Inskeep, Locke said there is growing frustration among the Chinese people over the “operations of government, corruption, lack of transparency” and he referenced China’s “Jasmine Revolution” last February, which was modeled on the pro-democracy demonstrations seen across the Middle East.

Shaun Rein, Founder & Managing Director, China Market Research Group believes the statement won’t be taken lightly and says this incident just adds to the risk of a trade war between the U.S. and China.

“Many in China take Ambassador Locke's words as misguided at best, or trying to contain China at worst,” he said. “After President Obama's announcement to rotate 2500 marines to Darwin, Australia, many within China are pushing for the government to take a muscular course to show America it cannot be pushed around and end American hegemony in the region.”

But, Rein doesn’t expect a strong reaction from China just yet because Vice-President Xi Jinping's is expected to visit the Washington in the coming weeks.

“Both sides will use strong rhetoric at the foreign service level but the real leaders will make a show of friendship or partnership in the days leading up to the meetings,” he said.

However, Rein says Beijing will retaliate over the next six months by making China a more difficult environment for American firms, through means such as taking longer to approve business licenses.

Huang Jing, Visiting Professor and Director, Centre on Asia and Globalization at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, who agrees with Locke’s view of China political atmosphere, says that further escalation of the issue will hinge on whether the issue rises beyond the ambassador level.

“If it goes higher to the Obama Administration, China’s response will get more aggressive,” said Jing, adding that Beijing is likely to give Locke “the cold shoulder” after this incident.

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