China and its Discontents

Archive for the ‘NATO’ tag

What about the Chinese Leadership Scares Me? This.

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Dr Zheng believes that the leaders who promote a nationalist discourse are not driven simply by a cynical search for legitimacy. He argues the top Chinese leadership has internalised nationalist views – and the rather paranoid opinion of foreign powers that goes along with them. In a fascinating passage, he quotes extensively from leaked discussions held among the country’s leaders, in the aftermath of the Nato bombing of China’s embassy in Belgrade in 1999. Even in private, none of the leaders accepted America’s explanation that the bombing had been an accident – all saw it as a deliberate challenge to Chinese national honour, and some saw it as a plot to provoke and undermine China.

This from the Financial Times, reviewing Never Forget National Humiliation, by Zheng Wang of the Whitehead School. The existence of the “Century of Humiliation” in the national political discourse is obvious to any observer of China. It is to some extent “true” (however one defines that term–although it of course does not define the modern international system), and it seems a natural reaction by the political elite to the perceived sense that the CCP is losing legitimacy after the evaporation of any cohesive ideology and elimination of the Cult of Mao. What else could credibly replace socialism or rationalize the continuing necessity of CCP rule? It is one tool in the vast array of propaganda and educational materials available to the CCP. I had previously thought, as the article mentions, that of course the CCP elite understands the “Century of Humiliation” merely as a tool to preserve both their institutional political power and personal perquisites.

But if the CCP elite believe it writ large? Then the U.S., and really the world, have some serious problems on their hands. If this is true, there can be no set of arguments in favor of China’s ultimate integration into the current internationalist system that would convince the Chinese. If this is true, what you read in the Global Times and in incendiary PLA publications really do reflect what the Chinese leadership thinks. Of course, there are many examples to the contrary: most famously, Zheng Bijian, and indeed, many official statements coming out of the mouths of Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao.

I will have to read the book itself to get a more thorough understanding of the argument (and I would like to know how the author got leaked politburo discussions following the Belgrade bombing–maybe the same source as the Tiananmen Papers?). Even taking the point at face value, like any political system, it is impossible to conceive of the CCP in monolithic terms–there are factions of leftist conservatives and liberal reformers, cultural internationalists and nativist reactionaries. But if accurate, this argument might truly represent a profound ideological undercurrent driving US-China conflict, one that, even if not shared by all Chinese leadership, can do significant damage to prospects for peace if propagated through internal CCP training, rectification, “struggle sessions,” and self-criticism.

Geopolitical Risk Analysis of a Cold War Between the US and China?

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Ian Bremmer, President of the Eurasia Group, gives a great interview at the World Economic Forum blog, summarizing the possibilities for conflict between the U.S. and China. Currency adjustments, cybersecurity, trade disagreements, and North Korea are all mentioned, although China’s naval expansion and relations with Burma, Iran, and various states in Africa are all suspiciously left out. This, however, will never happen:

If the Chinese suddenly decide, we are moving away from the dollar and into the euro, but we are going to demand strong conditions, political and economical conditionality in return for us bailing these guys out. That could be the end of NATO. This would certainly be the end of the dollar as the world’s reserve currency, and would completely change the way we think about global geopolitics.

I cannot accept this will ever happen. NATO members would never accept any conditions that would result in the breakup of NATO. That’s because these conditions wouldn’t just result in the breakup of NATO–it would mean a significant loss of trust between the U.S. and its European allies. Who would Europe depend on then? China? That’s ludicrous.

Wikileaks as it Pertains to China and Korean Relations

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Over an official lunch in late February, a top South Korean diplomat confidently told the American ambassador, Kathleen Stephens, that the fall would come “two to three years” after the death of Kim Jong-il, the country’s ailing leader, Ms. Stephens later cabled Washington. A new, younger generation of Chinese leaders “would be comfortable with a reunited Korea controlled by Seoul and anchored to the United States in a benign alliance,” the diplomat, Chun Yung-woo, predicted.

That is a bold prediction – and the Guardian (here and here) is much more direct than the New York Times in claiming this. I agree with Stephen Walt that in regards to China and North Korea, the embassy cables are much more of a wash than they are portrayed as (what an ambassador says to another ambassador is not necessarily the discussion the Politburo Standing Committee is having). Even assuming Kim Jong-eun or the military cabal is somehow incapable of successfully negotiating the power transfer, there would need to be some pretty astounding diplomacy for China to be comfortable with a unified Korea. The entire idea behind supporting a divided peninsula from China’s perspective is that, regardless of how odious the North Korean regime is (and it is a serious headache to China), any unbalancing of the status quo will ultimately hurt China’s interests. Any US or NATO military presence above the DMZ and the floods of North Korean refugees, as the article notes, would be untenable. But that’s not all.

An ascendant, unified Korea could not be a benign ally of the US, according to certain Chinese viewpoints. Already, China is boxed in on all sides by countries closely-partnered with the US: South Korea (of course), Japan, the Philippines, Indonesia, Australia, and India. Unification means a great deal psychologically. A unified Korea would have subtle, but greatly-expanded persuasive powers on the international stage. I hope that, as the Guardian suggests, younger leaders are no longer concerned about this, and want to work with both Korea and the US in a mutually beneficial manner. But that’s not a given.

The goal, then, is to make unification in China’s interest. China might not be able to prevent it – the regime might slide so quickly as to be unsalvageable (and China certainly is never going to war over North Korea again). But the US and Korea should want China to recognize the unified state on its own terms. Not consulting the Chinese would harm our relations with them on all fronts. Incentives for Chinese investment in Korea would help – so would significantly paring back American military presence on the peninsula. (Why, in a post-North Korean world, would we even need military bases there? Is war with China a realistic threat in this day and age? And besides, we always have Japan) We could even couple some of the things China wants with some of our own priorities (on trade, fiscal policy, climate change, energy policy, you name it). I have a feeling that this is not a zero-sum negotiation in which China and the US negotiate, tit-for-tat. Instead, an outcome in which both sides are satisfied can only be positive.

I’m having a hard time imagining how painful the reunification process would be. The North Korean state, if it did merge with the South, would probably go down in flames. The state is already a wreck with food shortages and the like, but without even minimal state assistance many more would probably starve. The military would suddenly be a loose cannon – and the nuclear material currently lying around Yongbyon would be up for grabs. Of course, South Korea and the United States have certainly drawn up coordinated response plans to rush into the vacuum when needed, and have practiced plenty of military scenarios (the current exercise with the two countries’ navies being conducted right now included). But it still boggles the mind.

Written by Will

November 30th, 2010 at 6:10 am