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Who is encircling whom?: China and the US


Economic and military threads are warp and weft of the same cloth, yet too many continue to believe the fallacy that nations that trade together do not war with one another. The reality is that they trade so long as their national cost-benefit analysis tells them to continue doing so. Tipping points exist. The key is to recognize their immergence and be prepared to prosecute them. Short of that, business must address the uncertainties as their governments jostle for advantage.

It is no secret that the US and China have a multi-faceted relationship, one part of which is China's rise, the US, and lesser EU, effort to shape, even control, that rise, and China's countermeasures. At the moment, I rate China better at playing its hand than has the US. Worse, I feel that the broad US posture in both Washington and the UN has unnecessarily alienated potential allies while allowing China an easier path in its patient pursuit of Asian hegemony at a minimum and perhaps more. Following are some thoughts along that road.

Uncertain containment allies in the Pacific

It should not be a secret to readers that part of US efforts to contain China is the creation of marine defense network linking the US with Japan, Australia and India in order to deliver control of the Pacific and Indian Oceans into western hands.

The so-called "golden age" of US-Japanese relations under Prime Ministers Koizumi and Abe came to an end with the election of Yasuo Fukuda, a man definitely not "on the same ideological wavelength" as Bush43. The US had seen, and still hopes to see, Japan as a key component of its defense planning for a generation:

The key calculation for the Pentagon is whether Japanese military assistance will be available to the US should a crisis erupt with China, perhaps over Taiwan or some other cause... "To put it in stark terms, the question for us is whether Japan regards itself as an offshore island of China or of the US."... The official stressed that the US continues to view Japan as an "extremely reliable" ally with which highly sensitive defense cooperation [will] continue.

The resignation of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe came as a surprise to the US; the election of Yasuo Fukuda over the preferred Taro Aso came as an unpleasant smack:

"Japan is the crown jewel of [US] Asian defense posture. If Japan becomes less reliable, we will have to rethink our plans." Of special concern are US hopes for a defense network which includes the US, Japan, Australia and India. This idea has been the subject of regular exchanges between US officials and their foreign counterparts, most recently on September 9th..

Bush43 had promoted Japan as a new member of the UN Security Council based upon the expectation that Japan would expand its role in global security and assist the US should relations worsen with China:

"We are taking many measures to promote stable relations with China, but it would be irresponsible not to plan for a deterioration. Japan is a big part of this planning." The US concern is that Fukuda will rule out a role for Japan in an anti-China alliance. Should this happen, the US would, in the words of a Pentagon planner, "have to go back to square one for our Asian policy."

Worse, Japan could yet invite China in:

"A nightmare would be if Japan suggests that China joins the alliance. This would defeat its rationale." On the economic front, the US also has concerns that momentum toward reform is slowing [and that] recent requests on privatization and liberalization will meet resistance. The combined result of the potential setbacks on both the security and economic fronts is that US-Japan relations may become, in the description of a White House official, "problematic."

For its part, the Japanese postwar Jekyll & Hyde of diplomatic runt and economic workhorse is winding up. As part of the postwar Pacific realignment, it is interesting to contemplate a nuclear Japan that is not a "US Japan," that Sancho Panza will ride on his own:

The Six Party Talks are no longer an institutional mechanism to terminate the Cold War structure that persists on the Korean Peninsula. It has now metamorphosed into a detente approach predicated on continuous confrontation and coexistence with Pyongyang's die-hard dictatorship. The aim of this approach is to defuse politico-military tensions created by Pyongyang's confidence in the efficacy of the threat and use of nuclear weapons. Yet any transformation of the tensions is expected to occur only in the form of a series of concessions made by North Korea in response to large-scale international economic assistance given to it. Such economic assistance would be provided synchronous with the creation of a post-Korean War peace regime and the eventual formation of a regional multilateral security framework in Northeast Asia. This means the resolution of the North Korean nuclear and abduction issues will have to wait until Korean unification takes place.

Japan is practically the only country capable of providing such a massive amount of aid. However, Pyongyang's impending nuclear threats and indisputable offenses against sovereignty in the form of repeated abductions of Japanese nationals have convinced the Japanese government not to provide aid until Pyongyang has achieved complete denuclearization, scraped its ballistic missiles, and settled the abduction issue. Since this government policy is rooted in a solid national consensus, Tokyo has little room for making compromises, at least in principle.

Furthermore, the Japanese public is now fully aware that Washington has ceased to speak of complete denuclearization (CVID), the HEU programs and, most crucially, the dozen or more rudimentary nuclear warheads that North Korea is believed to possess. It will not take long before the Japanese public realizes that Washington is extending a de facto, if not de jure, recognition of Pyongyang's nuclear power status.

Consequentially, Washington's detente approach will sooner or later cause a backlash in Japanese public opinion, which will force the Japanese government to rethink its strategic calculations and alliance policy. Now that the opposition Democratic Party of Japan has seized control of the upper house of the Diet, Washington can no longer take Japan's followership in diplomacy for granted. Tokyo has become increasingly less pliable to US security interests...

For China's part, Beijing is doing what it can to unwind the last decade's effort of a US China containment policy. One wonders when Japan hits a tipping point, as much by demographics as defense, in its ability to deter the Chinese.

US relations with India are "awkward":

Of greatest concern to the [US] are indications that there is growing Indian hostility to Washington’s hope of turning India into a "new Japan in South Asia", that is, an ally wholly aligned with US interests. US officials had noted with satisfaction the signing in late 2006 of an India-Japan Global and Strategic Partnership but now see it losing momentum. They are confident that relations with New Delhi will get back on track but concede that opportunities have been missed.

The US had hoped to create a trilateral defense relationship with India and Japan as the US felt that that regional multilaterals such at the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) deferred to China. (I would were I them.) The US wants "India to see itself as a maritime power" allied with the US/EU rather than a continental power allied with Russia and China.

The strong US-Australian rapproachment ended or was at least curbed with the victory of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd over the hawkish John Howard. Given Rudd's "strong Chinese connections," observers expect Australia to break away from a foreign policy supportive to the US and specifically move to further accommodation with China.

Elections reverse governments, at least in the West, and so regional policy may swing more towards US interests. My point is that the long tail of postwar certainty in US assumptions is waning while I see that of China increasing. Too much of the difference is a US self-inflicted wound.

China strategy patiently executed

My 2004 short trio summarize the approach that China continues to pursue with consummate skill:

'Peaceful Rise' overcoming 'China Threat' opens:

China's regional and global diplomatic initiative, "peaceful rise" or heping jueqi, literally "emerging precipitously in a peaceful way," is a masterful endeavor to extricate itself from the collar of "China threat" imposed by the US. Heping jueqi shows a level of nuance, patience, and simultaneous flooding of regional and global diplomatic channels with a level of personal diplomacy at which the US can only marvel, if indeed, it has recognized.

Heping jueqi is marked by:

  • Diplomatic drive for regional acceptance of PRC's expanding sphere of influence
  • Enshrining China as Asia's predominant economic force
  • Leveraging economic cooperation into political influence over Southeast Asia
  • Offsetting and eventually diminishing US influence
  • Regional and international acceptance of China as the Asian superpower with hegemony over the region

China's controlled 2004 deployment of police/peacekeepers to Haiti marked its end of diplomatic non-intervention. See China reverses a half-century on diplomatic non-intervention as it becomes a model UN citizen.

Hegemons come and go: a renewing Chinese hegemon eyes a mature US hegemon, also 2004, drew on "Chinese open source literature paint an intriguing view of the Sino American relationship":

  • The US is a hegemonic power that is "a major obstacle and competitor for influence in Asia"
  • The US is a superpower in decline, losing global economic, political, and military influence
  • China aspires to be a "major international power and the dominant power in Asia. To that end, China is actively pursuing a multipolar world where it could align with other rising powers such as Russia, Japan, and Europe in order to check or challenge U.S. power"
  • China can counter US power by its pursuit of a multipolar world "where it could align with other rising powers such as Russia, Japan, and Europe"
  • Maintain stable and good relations with the US as it is "an important market for Chinese goods and an important source of science and technology, financial capital, and foreign direct investment--all central components of Chinas rising status and strength"
  • "Although technologically superior in almost every area of military power, [the US] can be defeated, most particularly, in a fight over Taiwan in which China controls the timing"
  • Al Qaeda's 11 September attack changed only Chinas approach to the US but not the fundamentals of its vision

Beijing has continued to pursue this plan with great success, in which success is defined as many incremental steps that do not draw undue backlash on either economic, diplomatic or military fronts. China needs economic growth to stave off domestic unrest, but that restraint has limits.

In July 2006 the Chinese ambassador to the UN, Wang Guangya, uncharacteristically lost his temper of the Security Council's attempt to word a rebuff of Israel's bombing of a UN Observer mission that killed four, one of whom was Chinese:

Without naming any countries... Wang lashed out at "a tyranny of the minority in the council" and vowed that there would be "implications for future discussions" on other subjects. Once the meeting ended, Wang [complained] that the presidential statement had been "watered down," observing in several different formulations that "we have to take into account the concerns of other countries" and predicting that the "frustration" his country felt "will affect working relations somewhat."...

In an earlier era, when the People’s Republic of China tended to conduct diplomacy by tantrum [but] China cares too much about the international order for such revolutionary shenanigans... China now aspires to play an active role on the global stage... The bad news is that China’s view of "the international order" is very different from that of the United States, or of the West, and has led it to frustrate much of the agenda that makes the U.N. worth caring about...

"First world" mentality in a "third world" body

China plainly wishes to join the international community on its own terms. The People’s Republic is a singular entity, a world-class power almost wholly preoccupied with harnessing its internal energies and preventing domestic conflict. Unlike Russia, for example, China has little wish to use the power at its disposal, save to establish a harmonious environment for its "peaceful rise."... China thus cares a very great deal about matters of little concern in the West "territorial integrity," [and] very little about the burning issues in [the US, UK and France. China supports the view of the now expanded "G77 plus China" that the UN] should pay more attention to economic and social issues and less to matters of peace and security...

China’s economy has made it a global force, and the accompanying need for resources has pushed it to forge new ties throughout Asia, Africa and Latin America. The old revolutionary ardor is gone, and China surveys the world with increasing pragmatism and confidence. China is now a status quo power "an exporter of good will and consumer durables instead of revolution and weapons."... Unlike the United States and the West generally, China views the current global situation as fundamentally benign and malleable a setting conducive to diplomacy...

The impact of that economy on US security can be seen in many areas; here are three:

Returning to the diplomatic front:

China has chosen to enmesh itself in global bodies like the World Trade Organization, regional groupings like the six-member, security-oriented Shanghai Cooperation Organization and a vast range of bilateral partnerships. China has begun routinely signing arms-control agreements and antiterrorism conventions. And it has begun playing a more active role at the U.N., contributing troops almost all of whom provide medical or engineering services rather than front-line patrolling as well as policemen to U.N. peacekeeping operations...

China has become so influential a country, such an object of imitation, respect and fear, that you can no longer talk about an "international community" that does not include it. The West has a profound interest in China’s development as a global power and its acceptance, however gradual and grudging, of the rules by which the West has defined global citizenship...

The great issue that divides the U.N. is no longer Communism versus capitalism, as it once was; it is sovereignty [which flies in the face of those who deride the UN for failing to] defend individuals against an abusive state... But this failing is a Western preoccupation: most developing nations, with their history of colonial rule [object] to all such inroads on sovereign rights. [In China] sovereignty has long been a fighting word...

China and the United States are the twin bêtes noires of the U.N.: the U.S. insists on enlisting the organization in its crusades, while China refuses to let any crusade get in the way of national interest. Washington is all blustering moralism; Beijing, all circumspect mercantilism... It’s a truism that the Security Council can function only insofar as the United States lets it. The adage may soon be applied to China as well...

"We don’t want to make anyone feel uncomfortable."

With some accuracy, I fear, certainly in recent years, UN ambassador Wang told his interviewer (Traub) that "blunderbuss diplomacy is the American way "because America is a superpower, so America has a big say." China would appear to have a big say of its own, but that’s not Wang’s view." Wang virtually encapsulated the paragraphs above by saying, "The Americans have muscle and exercise this muscle [whereas] China has no muscle and has no intention of exercising this muscle."

With continuing understatement and self-effacement, Wang clarified the remark with the CCP's need to protect China's peaceful rise and to "reassure all who fear its growing clout. "We don’t want to make anyone feel uncomfortable."" China is well on its delicate, thoughtful path of replacing the US as the Bretton Woods' model world citizen and in the end taking the UN away from the US.

Without correction by the US, that may well happen:

Japan's Evolving Relations with China
by Yoshio Okawara
Association of Japanese Institutes of Strategic Studies
AJISS-Commentary No. 19
14 December 2007

Australia and Japan: Both Moving in Beijing’s Direction?
Published on: December 8th 2007 14:24:55

East China Sea Dispute: Learn from the Australians and East Timorese
By Yasuhiro Goto
Association of Japanese Institutes of Strategic Studies
AJISS-Commentary No. 17
7 December 2007

America, Don't Count on Our Followership
by Masahiro Matsumura
Online Publisher: Yukio Satoh
President of The Japan Institute of International Affairs
The Association of Japanese Institutes of Strategic Studies
4 December 2007
AJISS-Commentary No. 16

Japan: End of the Golden Age
Published on: December 1st 2007 13:34:13

India: Stable but Awkward Relations
Published on: November 17th 2007 17:34:22

Japan: US Trying Not to Worry
Published on: November 10th 2007 12:20:05

Japan: US Insists on Reform, Japan Temporizes
Published on: November 3rd 2007 16:02:08

India: Problems on the Nuclear Question
Published on: October 20th 2007 14:36:44

Japan: Complications on Defense
Published on: October 20th 2007 14:36:57

Russia: New Puzzles, Same Answers
Published on: October 13th 2007 16:45:55

Strengthening Security Cooperation with Australia: A New Security Means for Japan
By Yoshinobu Yamamoto
Association of Japanese Institutes of Strategic Studies
AJISS-Commentary No. 13
9 October 2007

Japan: Back to the Drawing Board?
Published on: September 22nd 2007 08:57:12

Is Washington Losing East Asia?
The Drawbacks of Linking Trade and Security in America’s Foreign Policy
Heribert Dieter, Richard Higgott
Paper prepared for the CSGR/GARNET Conference on Pathways to legitimacy? The Future of Global and regional Governance
University of Warwick, 17 to 19 September 2007

Japan and India: A Joint Defense Destiny?
Published on: June 2nd 2007 00:09:54

The World According to China
New York Times
September 3, 2006

Bretton Woods Institutions
Ngaire Woods
Oxford Handbook of the United Nations
Ed. by Thomas Weiss and Dam Daws
OUP, 2006

China Engages Asia: Reshaping the Regional Order
David L. Shambaugh
International Security - Volume 29, Number 3, Winter 2004/2005, pp. 64-99

Bretton Woods and the UN system - relationship of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank to the UN
by Hans W. Singer
Ecumenical Review
July, 1995

Bretton Woods Conference Collection: Photographs
IMF Archives: funding Aids
Date(s): [1940-?]-1944, [May 14, 1956?]

Gordon Housworth

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