Friday, January 21, 2011


"Western business and political leaders have chattered for years about China as a globally “responsible stakeholder” enjoying a “peaceful rise”. This is the acceptable face Mr Hu will present in Washington. But just because the musclemen aren’t listed on the Chinese leader’s passenger manifest doesn’t mean they aren’t flying the plane. China’s Communist party remains unquestionably dominant, and the PLA remains its most potent element....

Both Mr Hu and the PLA undoubtedly understand that China is dealing with the most leftwing, least national-security-oriented, least assertive American president in decades. This matters because China will be heavily influenced by its perception of US policies and capabilities. Mr Obama’s extravagant domestic spending, and the consequent ballooning of America’s national debt, has enhanced China’s position at America’s expense. Indeed, the only budget line Mr Obama has been interested in cutting, which he has done with gusto, is defence.

Sensing growing weakness, therefore, it would be surprising if China did not continue its assertive economic, political and military policies. Thus, we can expect more discrimination against foreign investors and businesses in China, as both the US and European Union chambers of commerce there have recently complained. Further expansive, unjustifiable territorial claims in adjacent east Asian waters are also likely. While the Pentagon is clipping coupons and limiting its nuclear capabilities in treaties with Russia, the PLA is celebrating Mardi Gras.

Consider two further important issues: Taiwan and North Korea. When Beijing threatened Taipei in 1996 President Bill Clinton sent two carrier battle groups to the Taiwan strait, demonstrating America’s commitment to Taiwan’s defence. Does anyone, particularly in Beijing, believe Mr Obama would do anything nearly as muscular faced with comparable belligerence today? On the North Korean menace, meanwhile, Mr Obama is conforming to a 20-year pattern of US deference to China which has enabled a bellicose, nuclear Pyongyang.

Of course, if China sensed an America determined to maintain its dominant position in the western Pacific, and ready to match its determination with budget resources, it might be dissuaded from its recent objectionable behaviour. In such circumstances, more balanced, co-operative and ultimately more productive relations would likely follow. On the other hand, if China is determined to increase its military strength regardless of Washington’s posture, all the more reason for America to ready itself now".

John Bolton, "The West needs to stand up to Beijing [Peking]," The Financial Times, 18 January 2011, in

"Even if there is an argument for economic interaction with Beijing, China is still a potential threat to stability in the Asia-Pacific region. Its military power is currently no match for that of the United States. But that condition is not necessarily permanent. What we do know is that China is a great power with unresolved vital interests, particularly concerning Taiwan and the South China Sea. China resents the role of the United States in the Asia-Pacific region. This means that China is not a 'status quo' power but one that would like to alter Asia's balance of power in its own favor. That alone makes it a strategic competitor, not the 'strategic partner' the Clinton Administration once called it....Some things take time. U.S. policy toward China requires nuance and balance. It is important to promote China's internal transition through economic interaction while containing Chinese power and security ambitions."

Condolezza Rice, "Promoting the National Interest," Foreign Affairs (January / February 2000), pp. 56-57.

"Most Chinese I encounter outside of government, and some in government, seem convinced that the United States seeks to contain China and to constrict its rise. American strategic thinkers are calling attention to China's increasing global economic reach and the growing capability of its military forces. Care must be taken lest both sides analyze themselves into self-fulfilling prophecies. The nature of globalization and the reach of modern technology oblige the United States and China to interact around the world. A Cold War between them would bring about an international choosing of sides, spreading disputes into internal politics of every region at a time when issues such as nuclear proliferation, the environment, energy and climate require a comprehensive global solution.

Conflict is not inherent in a nation's rise. The United States in the 20th century is an example of a state achieving eminence without conflict with the then-dominant countries. Nor was the often-cited German-British conflict inevitable. Thoughtless and provocative policies played a role in transforming European diplomacy into a zero-sum game. Sino-U.S. relations need not take such a turn. On most contemporary issues, the two countries cooperate adequately; what the two countries lack is an overarching concept for their interaction. During the Cold War, a common adversary supplied the bond. Common concepts have not yet emerged from the multiplicity of new tasks facing a globalized world undergoing political, economic and technological upheaval....

America's exceptionalism finds it natural to condition its conduct toward other societies on their acceptance of American values. Most Chinese see their country's rise not as a challenge to America but as heralding a return to the normal state of affairs when China was preeminent. In the Chinese view, it is the past 200 years of relative weakness - not China's current resurgence - that represent an abnormality....

American diplomacy pursues specific outcomes with single-minded determination. Chinese negotiators are more likely to view the process as combining political, economic and strategic elements and to seek outcomes via an extended process. American negotiators become restless and impatient with deadlocks; Chinese negotiators consider them the inevitable mechanism of negotiation. American negotiators represent a society that has never suffered national catastrophe - except the Civil War, which is not viewed as an international experience. Chinese negotiators cannot forget the century of humiliation when foreign armies exacted tribute from a prostrate China. Chinese leaders are extremely sensitive to the slightest implication of condescension and are apt to translate American insistence as lack of respect.

North Korea provides a good example of differences in perspective. America is focused on the proliferation of nuclear weapons. China, which in the long run has more to fear from nuclear weapons there than we, in addition emphasizes propinquity. It is concerned about the turmoil that might follow if pressures on nonproliferation lead to the disintegration of the North Korean regime. America seeks a concrete solution to a specific problem. China views any such outcome as a midpoint in a series of interrelated challenges, with no finite end, about the future of Northeast Asia. For real progress, diplomacy with Korea needs a broader base....

The test of world order is the extent to which the contending can reassure each other. In the American-Chinese relationship, the overriding reality is that neither country will ever be able to dominate the other and that conflict between them would exhaust their societies. Can they find a conceptual framework to express this reality? A concept of a Pacific community could become an organizing principle of the 21st century to avoid the formation of blocs. For this, they need a consultative mechanism that permits the elaboration of common long-term objectives and coordinates the positions of the two countries at international conferences. The aim should be to create a tradition of respect and cooperation so that the successors of leaders meeting now continue to see it in their interest to build an emerging world order as a joint enterprise".

Henry Alfred Kissinger, "Avoiding a US-China Cold War," The Washington Post. 14 January 2011, in

Reading Ambassador Bolton's remarks on China makes at the very least this observer scratch one's head. Given the fact that the greatest degree of Chinese advancement in power political terms occurred during the tenure of office of the administration in which he served (AKA the regime of Bush the Younger), one can only smile at the fact that this factum, is ignored. At least overtly. Although the fact that he refers to the Clinton Administration as the prime example of a properly tough handling of the PRC perhaps is a sotto voce way of admitting the truth of what took place between 2001 and 2009. Which is not to entirely gainsay what he has to say about the need to confront the PRC. In of course the proper circumstances. The issue is what are the proper circumstances? Can the Americans en fait, adopt say the stance that the Clinton Administration did during the mini-crisis over Formosa in 1995? Especially when Peking is now the largest holder of American Treasury notes? Does in fact any American administration have the stomach to play the role that the Clinton Administration played? One is strongly tempted to say 'non'. Simply by virtue of the fact that the last occasion that the USA had the opportunity to re-play the Formosa crisis of 1995, was back in the Spring of 2001, with the shooting down of an American aircraft in international waters by the PRC. What occurred was the direct opposite of the policy line that Mme. Rice's article in Foreign Affairs would have lead one to suspect. In short, Washington choose to overlook the incident and to avoid as much as possible, inflating it or using it to ensure that Peking remained on notice that there were certain lines that it was dangerous to cross, vis-`a-vis the United States. Indeed, one gets the impression that the entire Bush national security team, suddenly awoke to realize that the concept of China as a 'strategic competitor', was a more akin to a cauchemar than anything else. Hence, how happy they all seem to relish the prospect of concentrating on that allegedly much more worrisome issue of the Hussein regime in Iraq allegedly possessing weapons of mass destruction....Overall of course, Ambassador Bolton's remarks, if one abstracts out the nonsense emitted about the domestic policies of the current Administration (as if the Bush regime were any better in terms of its track record on the issue of deficit spending), is infinitely better than say the less than illuminating verbiage that former Secretary of State Kissinger reiterates on the occasion of the Hu visit to the United States. In the latter case of course, one is tempted to say that Kissinger's many millions of dollars in fees paid for by the regime in Peking over the past thirty-five years has bent his usual intelligence the wrong way. The real issue is how has the changed economic dynamics of the Sino-American relationship, both now and in ten to twenty years from now, going to change the perspective of American policymakers as they approach Peking in the future, as the PRC inevitably grows both economically, politically and militarily? Not mind you that the PRC will be able to convincingly challenge the USA on the military plane, ten to twenty years from now. As I have pointed out in this journal, it is highly unlikely that this is an outcome which will come into play. Even if the PRC's economic prospects are as good as many commentators say. The real issue is, if in say ten to twenty years time, will even the thought of a military conflict between the two powers become to American leaders unthinkable, in the same fashion say that for British leaders by the early 20th century, military conflict with the USA, became viewed with(in the words of A.J. Balfour): "some of the unnatural horror of a civil war" 1. At which point a total American abdication from any power position in the Eastern Pacific and the South China Sea will most definitely be at hand. With all that implies for weltmachtpolitik.

1. On this British feeling, and for Balfour's quote, see: Kenneth Bourne, The Balance of Power in North America. (1967), p. 411. See also: George Boyce, edited. The Crisis of British Power: the Imperial and Naval Powers of the Second Earl of Selbourne, 1895-1910. (1990), p. 115, for Selbourne's quote when First Lord of the Admiralty in 1901, that: "I would not quarrel with the United States if I could possibly avoid it."


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