Tag Archives: Hillary’s “pivot”

Testing China’s aggression

Apparently Pres. Obama has learned a lesson from his lack of strategy in Syria: The Financial Times reports he has finally acceded to Sec. of Defense Ashton Carter’s pleas to assert freedom of the seas in Southeast Asia.
Within the next two weeks, senior American officials say, U.S. naval vessels will challenge Beijing’s claim to incorporate vast stretches of the South China Sea into its territorial waters.
The vessels will enter the 12-mile limit which Beijing has drawn along “the nine dot line”, its only claim to a group of coral shoals where it has been building at breakneck speed. During the past two years, the Chinese have scooped up enough mud and gravel to build thousands of acres on the several islands replete with military airstrips.
The new bases permit China to advance beyond the so-called first-island chain which has restricted its naval activities to occasional feints across the Strait to threaten the Taiwanese, and contest islands long claimed and occupied by Japan in the East China Sea.
These new bases, hundreds of miles from their Mainland ports and justified only with ancient maps showing vague Chinese claims could become important for projection of strategic power, already menacing nearby Philippines and Vietnam.
The White House has been reluctant to permit the Navy to exercise time-honored rights of passage in one of the world’s most important naval commercial waterways, whether recently because of the state visit just concluded of Chinese leader Xi Jinping, or a part of Obama’s general withdrawal of American power around the world. That lack of resolve has put into question former Sec. of State Hillary Clinton’s “pivot to Asia” which the Obama Administration has made part of its worldwide strategy.
It has been clear, however, that although there were glowingly optimistic statements anticipating the Xi visit, Obama got nowhere in negotiating any of the major issues which now confront the two countries. These include, of course, recent Chinese hacking of U.S. cybernetworks, violation of intellectual properties of American and other foreign companies, or other trade issues such as the manipulation of its currency [which Washington has refused to formally recognize, a flagrant example exercised on the eve of the visit with a Chinese devaluation.].
But no issue between the two countries has carried such dangerous longterm implications and possibilities of confrontation as Beijing’s aggressive behavior in the South China Sea. The move could be even more important – and fraught – than any of the red lines which Obama has drawn, and then violated, in Syria and the Mideast. Or as important as the growing aggressive behavior of Russia’s Valdimir Putin in Ukraine, and now, in Syria.
A successful test of traditional right of peaceful passage through international waters, in this case those which Beijing has unilaterally claimed as its own territory, is seen by most traditional naval scholars as something long overdue.
Today China’s elaborate and rapid efforts to create a “blue water” navy are still in their infancy. American spokesmen, including the highest echelons of the U.S. Navy, have in the past recognized that China has the right and as an emerging great power, would, build a modern naval fleet. At one point, an American admiral, noting the difficulties of building and maintaining aircraft carriers – China has rebuilt one bought from Ukraine and has another building – was something the U.S. might assist in for a “peacefully emerging China”.
But increasing signs of aggressive behavior by the Chinese have vitiated, at least for the time being, that kind of open military collaboration. And, in fact, Beijing has generally rejected the most routine military to military communication which has become normal and practical among the major powers in their effort to avoid untoward incidents.
Insisting , along with traditional U.S. allies in the region, that peaceful passage through international waters must be preserved and the valid claims of neighboring states honored, is, however much a risk now, one to be preferred than at a later time when Beijing’s resources will be greater and when dangerous precedents would be established.

The Chinese Puzzle

A servile media has again misrepresented the important if unproductive Asian tour of Pres. Barack Hussein Obama, most importantly the promised engagement with China which failed to materialize.
The ballyhooed U.S.-China climate change agreement, appealing to the fashionable, signed between the U.S and China was much less than meets the eye. It committed America – until it gets to a Congress which will have a different sense – to a rigorous cutback in industrial carbon emissions to be achieved at the price of economic growth and jobs.

It couldn’t be more bogus. Beijing, by far the world’s greatest polluter and not only through carbon emissions but through poisoning of its arable land and most of its water, only formally signed on for something ambiguous down the road. Worse still, as Japanese and South Korean consumers have found – and those Walmart customers may one day learn too at their peril — it exports its poisons through cheaper processed foods.
Recent history is littered with the evidence of failures of the Chinese Communist adherence to international agreements it has signed. Ironically, many of them were pushed through international forums by Washington administrations, both Republican and Democrat, anxious to bring “a rising China” into the world family. For example, none of China’s promises have been fulfilled after the U.S. shoehorned it against considerable opposition into the World Trade Organization with all its benefits.

As previous administrations, most notably the two Bush II terms, Washington did not take on China’s manipulation of its currency and its subsidized exports which have disemboweled American manufacturing. That Chinese thrust had to be met at the same time U.S. industry was trying to cope with the digital revolution, with its enormous increases in productivity but an absence of low and medium-skilled job creation.

The sagging European economy and the slowest recovery from recession in American history bite into the Chinese economy as well, particularly its dependence on exports [and its growing debt burden which financed an overly ambitious infrastructure expansion]. President Xi Jinping’s answer to this growing economic dilemma is to screw down on the regime’s growing difficulties with its exposure to the internet’s erosion of the old Party information control while making an effort at economic reform.

Xi has encouraged talk that he is the new Mao with more than a hint that his repression of dissent would be as draconian. There is growing acknowledgement at home and abroad that the Chinese regime is headed into a crisis of the regime, perhaps an attenuated one, when the answers of the recent past will not be sufficient. That could well mean that Washington [and Tokyo and South Korea] strategists not only face an increasingly powerful Chinese military force but one being guided by an arrogant Party leadership in charge of an increasingly unstable behemoth.
Obama’s answer in Beijing to this new conundrum was hardly convincing. He signed one more agreement to open up Chinese military communication with the U.S. armed forces. It is another of a series signed over the years, for all of which Beijing initially signaled its intention to follow through on. But all have languished for continued stone-walling on any official information illuminating Chinese force structure, armaments development or strategic intent. The U.S, along with its allies, will have to continue to piece together what the massive increases in budgets for the Chinese military actually mean, and where Chinese theft of intellectual property and imitation of American, Russian and Japanese arms is taking its ability to wage war.

All of that is of great moment. The possibility of an aggressive Chinese military – often seemingly with mouths out of control of the Communist Party’s supposed tight rein – will remain. As long as China unlike any other great power, refuses to divulge any of the details of its military buildup, its counterparts are playing blind man’s buff with always the possibility of untoward incidents developing into major exchanges.

Compounding this lack of official interchange is what is happening on the Chinese domestic scene. A dramatically slowing economy now has fallen far short of what foreign and Chinese convention held as the minimal 8% annual growth in gross domestic product necessary to maintain internal stability. Plucked from the air by foreign analysts and the Chinese themselves, it was never clear that such a figure really had all that much magic. It relied on what was believed to be the need for jobs for a rapidly growing population. But now, China, even more than the industrial societies, in part the result of its inhuman and corrupt one-child policy, is facing a rapidly ageing population as well as a shortage of the abundant cheap workers which underlay the boom.
Rapid economic development had long since taken the place as the raison d’etre of the former Marxist-Leninist-Maoist dogmas which justified an authoritarian regime based on the political monopoly of the Communist Party And increasingly with the remarkable growth of the last three decades, it was the justification for growing class and regional inequalities. That included a pampered elite with incomes and luxuries denied all but the most publicized millionaires/billionaires in the West and Japan. One signal of the stress the regime is now under is the flight of leading members of the Communist elite, following their children in foreign universities – and their money — to foreign climes, not least North America.

Sec. of State Hillary Clinton’s much publicized “pivot” to East Asia from American entanglements in the Middle East was still voiced at a meeting of the Association of South East Asia where Obama proceeded after his Beijing visit. But to the increasingly nervous Southeast Asians – caught in the vice of their increasing commercial exchanges with the Chinese and their fear of growing Beijing imperialist designs on their territory and raw materials – Obama offered little comfort except more rhetoric. With a straitened American military, the transfer of U.S. power to the region has been slow if at all. The Japanese are rumored concerned that Obama’s former friend, Turkish Pres. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s refusal to permit use of the Turkish-American-NATO base at Enrcilik, has put a strain on the new carrier-based air war against ISIL. That, of course, turns out to be a renewed commitment of the U.S. in the Near East region. The Japanese have grumbled quietly because of the ISIL campaign demands, East Asia will be four months without a U.S. carrier homeported in Yokosuka. And the esoteric strategic arguments about aircraft carriers in a new era of warfare notwithstanding, their geopolitical psychological import is not to be disabused.

With a turbulent U.S. domestic political scene – one in which Obama has apparently decided to challenge the new Republican majorities in both Congressional houses rather than try for conciliation – China policy is probably going to be relegated to a backburner. That may give both sides a respite of benign neglect for U.S.-China relations. But it also hints that problems will not be addressed, at the risk that an explosive confrontation between Washington Beijing might prove inevitable.