Tag Archives: CCP

East Asian worries

Anonymous leaks from Chinese spokesmen along with mistaken translations of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s private remarks at the gathering of our lords and masters at Davos World Economic Forumn are alarming.

Bombastic comments from the Chinese – including the military as well as the controlled government media – are nothing new. And interpreting the Japanese has always been an art form never developed by the West most especially lacking in American media and by most U.S. politicians.

But if you add to these mutterings to the growing lack of influence of a befuddled Obama foreign policy, it is as some would have it, the makings of new and extremely dangerous possibilities in East Asia. It may not be 1914, 1936 or 1941 but with growing antagonism and friction between the two most important players in the region, it is a worrying moment and needs the required defusing of an incipient crisis.

The background, of course, is that the Chinese Communist regime is in deep do-do. The fantastic growth of the last two decades is now behind them. Rapid economic growth with its enormous rewards for the elite has been the Communists’ answer to their abandonment in all but name of Marxist-Leninist-Maoism. The capitalist formula for a truly great leap forward – the introduction of outside capital and accompanying technology and the enormous expansion of the infrastructure – is coming to a close. Despite propaganda by the regime, too often echoed in the world media, China is in another transition with the outcome very much in doubt.

In fact, it’s been success as so often happens, that has been the death warrant for the strategy of the past three decades. Rapid domestic changes in the leading coastal cities, including a diminishing of what has been until now an unlimited pool of cheap rural labor, are ending. It is one of the results of the one-child birth control policies. A sputtering recovery among its main international customers, particularly the U.S., plus competition for exports is squeezing even the modest profit margins. The lower end of their factory to the world is being drained off to other low-wage economies and the galloping increases in productivity brought on by new technology in the West and Japan limit movement to higher profit products. All this will trim the expansion of exports. Growing anxiety over debt, particularly by local governments that have exhausted their use of land sales to finance often overly ambitious projects, is ending resort to the infrastructure gimmick.

So far the Party’s response has been to talk about “reforms”. But except for minor chipping around the edges, the leadership has not been able to dramatically reverse old policies and their results.

Nor is there much hope of further future implementation of these so-called reforms, all of which have been talked up for years, even in the controlled party organs. For one thing omnipresent corruption – both gross and sophisticated – blocks what all agree ought to be done. For example, the switch to a more balanced economy with a growing consumption sector rather than unlimited investment is easier said than done. Recent shifts are now reversing, if those damned statistics cane be believed. [Again we have that problem, for example, of provincial GDP figures not gibing with the national claims.]  Without expanding the accompanying social services to include millions of temporary workers in the large cities who in effect are there illegally, that kind of consumer market can not exist. But to move on the question of the part-time city dwellers would be to abandon the kinds of population controls which have been basic to the system of political repression by the regime.

By “sophisticated” corruption is meant the built-in interest groups that have developed alongside the hell-for-leather economic expansion. For example, ending at least partially the one-child program, which has now been decreed, however corrupted it has become at the lower echelons, is difficult if not impossible because of a powerful bureaucracy which has developed over several decades to enforce it. The problem of pollution of land, water and air, is so gigantic that under the best of circumstances it could not be solved for decades and it will take enormous investment to do so.

The lament among some Western observers that Chinese nationalism is being purposely stimulated by officialdom as a direct response to these growing economic problems is a misinterpretation. The kind of nationalism that almost destroyed European civilization in two World Wars does not now nor did it ever exist in China. That Chinese world of more than 1.3 billion is so vast with so many ethnic, regional and linguistic  competitions and conflicts, that only a few detribalized students pick up a Westernized nationalist flag.

But there is another very real element that is more dangerous. Chinese military expansion is accelerating. It seems likely that however ambitious it may be, it is not as competent as its announcements suggest. [That’s whether losing a balloon over the contested East Sea/Japan Sea rocky shoals difficulties. The further embarrassment was the chief of Chinese ballooning had to be picked up out of the water by the Japanese Coast Guard who made less of it in propaganda than they might have.]

But there is no doubt that a lot of young and ambitious soldiers and sailors have new toys they would like to play with, many the applications of American technology sold or stolen by Beijing. Nor can military anomalies be excluded by a U.S. military often complacent as its more than half century of total world dominance. [One remembers the stories of how the. Japanese Zero fighter was described as being put together with string and paste in the pre-1941 period, only to turn out to be one of the best fighter planes in World War II.]

It’s a slippery slope, as all characterizations of national character are, but there is another element: the Chinese have a sometimes fatal attraction for gambling. [All you have to do is look at the faces at the Las Vegas tables, or the gambling megametropolis of Macao]. By extension, recent Chinese history is replete with enormous political gambles, often failed ones costing millions of lives in Mao’s time. For an important if unnamed spokesman at Davos to be quoted as saying a Chinese strike at the contested rocky shoals in the East China could be effective before a Japanese [or U.S.] response is just that sort of gamble.

Into this mix comes a new Japanese turn, for the first time in several decades a strong Japanese prime minister would like to restore a modicum of national resolve to a population decreasing at a catastrophic rate but still hanging on to one of the world’s largest and most sophisticated economies That is going to mean, incidentally, throwing off some of the vestiges of the U.S. Occupation which tried to remold a more than usually tradition-bound society. Beijing, using the echo chamber of Western media and some U.S. scholars and politicians recalling the horrors of World War II, is trying to inhibit this resurrection of its old rival. Nor does the possibility even surface of comparing notes on Japanese wartime deprivations and the murder of a hundred million Chinese by the Maoist regime to which the current leadership still pays homage. The fact that China still depends to a considerable extent on imitating “the Japanese model” and the importance of Tokyo’s transfers of technology is another evidence of Beijing’s internal unresolved strategic conflicts.

Add to this the wandering strategies of the Obama Administration and the now challenged “traditional” role of the U.S. Navy to keep the seas open around the whole Eurasian land mass and you get some ugly possibilities. The Obama Administration, rather than playing a more substantial public role as an ally of Japan, has taken it on itself to be the part-time mediator between the two East Asian rivals. That not only befuddles Tokyo but obscures the issues, which at this time and place, is the aggressive Chinese demands. Beijing is being led to believe Washington will eventually accede to the expansion in its vast claims to areas which it believes can be restored to old traditions of East Asian suzerainty to the first centrally governed state in the region [and perhaps the world].

The American ambassador, an inexperienced Kennedy scion despite her attribute of a name that does have panache in Japan, is seemingly spending more time worrying about porpoises. The defense secretary refuses to cope with the anomalies of the troubled Tokyo-Seoul relations which is currently the chief obstacle to any regional stand-up to the Chinese. Washington is therefore counted among the missing. Its attention appears hung up somewhere between its Mideast fiascos, its domestic health care muddles, and a much publicized but unsubstantiated “pivot” to concentration on Asia.




How do you say “schmooze” in Chinese?

There was less than met the eye at the two-day summit of China’s Xi  and Pres. Barack Obama.Neither party was in a position to tackle the growing list plaguing the relationship between the superpower and the superpower-wannabe. That might or might not have been a product of their particular personal abilities – and the much too often media true- romance about relations among major world figures. It is a question better left to future historians.

But a two-day schmooze session was about all the leaders of two mighty world powers could hope for. Given their miserable overflowing in-boxes back at homeoffice, it was to be welcomed by both leaders.

Pres. Barack Obama’s administration has turned premature lame duck – even before midterm Congressional elections next year. They hold, at least for the moment, little promise for his Democrats to either retake the House where the purse strings abide but even threaten the fragile Democratic leftwing-nonentity Senate alliance.

Obama came to Sunnylands –  how appropriate for a supposedly serious geopolitical conclave vacuous to its core  – bloodstained from Washington.scandals still metastasizing Try as he has, Obama has failed to use the bully pulpit to take the spotlight with his talk of a somewhat improved economy and a handful of endorsements for social issues for his farleft base. Instead, there is the Republican Greek chorus drumbeat exploitation a growing spectacle of incompetence, petty corruption and failed ideologically-driven failed “comprehensive” solutions. Obama’s directed feints at infinitely complicated social, political and economic problems requiring petty politics maneuvering has never had White House vigor.

Pres. Xi Jinping, although superficially in better shape, also was vacationing from domestic problems that not only threaten his administration, but according to many knowledgeable observers, the Communist Party’s regime itself. Such warnings have come even from CPC leaders public statements. Xi’s answer to multitudinous crises bearing down on him in his first months in office is ever more slogans. A little learning is a dangerous thing, as they say, and Xi’s short American sojourns have apparently given him a heady notion of “soft power”. He played the role of Charming Old Uncle leading up to his elevation — assisted by his sing-along wife, purportedly a nationally known chanteuse if in military uniform.

But even the best imitation of American PR cannot camouflage a flagging economy with growth falling far below the formerly accepted minimum for stability, a pending regional and local debt-credit crisis, and an overall economy increasingly victim as “the world’s factory” of general world economic malaise, not excluding the EU. Despite repeated assertions of policy changes, Beijing has failed to get off the top-down unlimited expansion of capital plant jeopardizing what must in time become a shift to a  more consumer oriented economy if it is to prosper.

For all the talk of lessons learned from an entirely illogical historical analogy of China to Germany and Berlin’s aggressions in the 20th century as a latecomer to the table of the Westphalian nation-state, there isn’t much evidence Beijing has learned whatever “lesson” there was to be had. All the while touting peace and stability, China has laid fantastic claims to southern ocean resources never claimed before except with a few dots on a map, initiated a border incident to the century-old Himalayan frontier map dispute with India on the eve of their vice president’s visit, challenged a new more assertive Japanese government over islands for whose claim the Chinese can muster little authority, and been unwilling or unable to rein in chauvinistic and even threatening talk by mid-level military. Neighbors like the Southeast Asians, while always intimidated by their huge northern goliath when it is ascendant, are furious, flirt with whatever surcease Obama offers with his so-called “pivot” to East Asia, and try to get their ducks together for a united front to Beijing. [Meanwhile, they are lapping up the benefits of a new China economy next door.] Soft power, indeed!

Nor will Obama’s new foreign policy team likely have answers for any of the outstanding issues which Beijing’s policies or lack thereof present the U.S. Navy, the traditional peacekeeper in the Western Pacific. All are leaders from behind, American exceptionalism deniers, and UN-firsters who like their boss mask all this with macho pronouncements on drone warfare and guard intelligence data mining. SecState John  Kerry apparently blithely plans to outdo Hillary Clinton in accumulating mileague in some sort of timewarp in which he thinks he is continuing the old Mideast shuttle diplomacy in the midst of a total breakdown of the 1920s Anglo-French biorder arrangments. Susan Rice, with some of the sharpest elbows in Obama’s inner circle, is now supposed to be the great mediator of conflicting bureaucracies as National Security Adviser. Many will see her appointment, finally, as conclusive evidence it is time to make that NSA, too, subject to Congressional advice and consent, like every other cabinet post. For her very appointment was a poke in the eye to the Republicans – if not some of the conservative Democratic senators – given her still unexplained role as spokesman for the Administration in the Benghazi affair. The President, himself, had said she knew nothing and had nothing to do with it. The new ambassador-designate  to the United Nations, Samantha Power, is noted for her shoot-from-the-hip pronouncements on everything from how the UN should organize a military operation to “free” the Palestinians from the Israelis to hints Washington intervene in the current Syrian shambles. She is consistent in believing the highest US foreign policy priority is averting human rights catastrophes, whenever, wherever, however. In the not so far background is Brennan of Arabia as head of CIA, apparently the main influence on Obama’s serendipitous theories about Islam and Muslims – at least before the Arab Spring ripped open the real Mideast underbelly.

There is, of course, the mysterious disappearing act of Tom Donilon, outgoing NSA, as one of the President’s intimates and supposedly author of “the pivot”. Without much Asia background he was the China hand who went to Beijing to set up the meeting’s agenda such as it was. Civilian life is not, in the end, one would assume, going to protect him from Congressional inquisitors – if they ever get back to it – asking his role in the Benghazi “stand down” that refused aid to the beleaguered murdered victims in Libya

None of the outstanding issues between Washington and Beijing will get anything but rhetoric for a while: Former chief of staff and now Treasury Sec. Jack Lew has reaffirmed that Chinese manipulation of their currency is still as big an issue as ever despite its small appreciation in recent months as Fed Chairman Ben Bernandke continues to roll the dollar printing presses. But Treasury will not formally invoke the sanctions required if Beijing were to be formally named. The private sector, fortunately, has waked up to what continued, persistent and defiant cyberwarfare by the Chinese is doing to the already shredded concepts of intellectual property which Beijing ignores and, of course, eroding our vast but dwindling technological military lead.

Washington keeps lighting candles and praying Beijing will do something to restrain the North Koreans building weapons of mass destruction. But despite warm noises from various official and media sympathizers, in fact, what Beijing is doing is turning all its efforts to harnessing the North Korean economy such as it is but with its valuable direct access to the Pacific. Beijing obviously is anticipating that day when the starving, bluffing Pyongyang regime finally implodes and the remnants slide into the lap of South Korea, an American ally.

So, another year, another summit – although actually we are going to have at least two more this year. One has to have sympathy for poor old grand sumiteer Henry Kissinger, running around China before the big affair. The ageing Henry was only able to get the BBC to listen to his views of what, where and how relations ought to be arranged between the two powers. After all, Kissinger, whatever his exaggerations of his role, did live in the world of the giants now taken over by pigmies in pseudosumitry. No wonder he can’t get his foot in the door.