Tag Archives: Xi’s ambitions

The Growing China enigma


American policymakers are having to deal with an increasingly mystifying China.

The giant culture that is less than a nation-state but far more than an amorphous one and half billion people is, perhaps inevitably, moving rapidly in different and conflicting directions. As always is the case in a world of jungled conflicts, the U.S. must hope for the best but prepare for the worst. And that worst could be an inevitable conflict over basic American international policy, not least, freedom of the seas.

The Chinese are continuing to build what can only be called military bases in a barrier across one of the most strategic commercial route in the world through the South China Sea. It may take years before the Chinese can project sufficient power from those reconstructed coral shoals to challenge the U.S. Navy. But the world moves faster and faster, and assurances that we are technologically meeting the threat of asymmetrical warfare in which the Chinese traditionally have excelled has to be periodically reexamined

China continues spending in her own terms vast resources on these bases and on the expansion of her military, particularly her seapower. That’s despite the fact that her economy has drifted – one could say inevitably – into slower rates of growth than the double-digit increases of the past three decades. The actual drop, always subject to speculation because of Beijing’s “create accounting”, is perhaps less important than the speed at which she is slacking off.

This has already impacted world commodity markets where China custom had caused high growth, and those countries – including Russia — which had been sucked into single product export patterns. Beijing’s galloping economic invasion of raw material producers, particularly in Africa, where infrastructure projects were sold  as a “swap” for raw materials, are in trouble. That’s telling in such countries, such as Angola, with the energy price halving in no small measure because of the Shale Revolution in the U.S. American lower prices and a gas surplus has sent the oldtime oil price guardians such as Saudi Arabia, and now Iran, pumping as fast possible to maintain market share. But in Southeast Asia Beijing continues to push subsidized giant railroad and highway construction and damn the home finances.

These gambles have been matched by an unprecedented campaign against corruption by Pres. Xi Jinping in his effort to create a new personality political culture matching that of the fabled Mao Tse-tung. These campaigns in the past, while based on evidence in a totally corrupt society, actually are intended to eliminate opposition within the ruling one-party Communist state. More recently, Xi has gone further afield than just high Party officials, and named  multi-billionaire Party-favored oligarchs. That seems inevitably another economic gamble given the slowing economy.

In fact, Xi – despite criticism within and without the Party that they were the greatest obstacle to economic progress – has enhanced the power of the government-owned huge behemoths with near monopolies. Whittling them down and their political hold on credit for a move toward the tiny private sector and most of all, increased consumption, was supposed to be the order of the day. But it is not happening.

The Obama Administration, for the most part, is tip-toeing around all these issues and the puzzles they present for American policy in Asia, and, indeed, in the world. Cutting back on the U.S. military at a time of aggressive Chinese rhetoric and movement is not exactly apt. Minor tinkering with currency manipulation and export subsidies, which will probably expand given the Chinese slowdown, is not an answer to the loss of American manufacturing, now interestingly enough also moving away from China toward more low-wage countries.

China policy has, of course, been a major battleground for American strategists for the past half century or more. But it is looming still larger and the next administration, whatever and whoever it is, had better come with some preparation.

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A Chinese bombshell


The unanticipated Singapore meeting Nov.7th [Saturday] of People’s Republic Pres. and Communist Party Boss Xi Jinping and Republic of China [Taiwan] Pres. and Kuomintang Party leader Ma Ying-jeou is a bombshell in Chinese and East Asian affairs.

It is not only the first encounter of the two heads of rival Chinese states and movements since the defeat and retreat of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek to Taiwan in 1949, but it is precedent shattering on a number of other counts.

The Beijing Communist regime has always insisted the Taiwan institutions have no validity, that they are in fact the presence of a rogue regional regime in rebellion against their own legitimate central government. Much of the world has not accepted that characterization – and with the stability and exceedingly successful economic model on the Island – has maintained  various nonprotocol relationships with Taipeh.

The U.S. link, considered by both sides as essential to Taiwan’s continued success, was enshrined in the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act. America’s formal acceptance of the Beijing de facto control of the Mainland came after years of Washington refusing “to recognize” a Communist regime. Much of that new role – for example, its veto on the United Nations Security Council – had come from the Franklin D. Roosevelt Administrations insistence that Chiang’s China be accorded great power status after its long struggle as a victim of European colonialism and Japanese aggression. But the Act, by a recalcitrant Congress after Pres. Jimmy Carter switched sides, not only maintained an American relationship with the then Kuomintang regime but assured it of continuing military aid support to sustain its independence.

Beijing’s tacitly made a concession to the Taiwan Chinese – and the U.S. – by an offer for reunification under the slogan “one country, two regimes”. But Beijing until now has always refused the protocol concession of treating the Taiwan government as an equal negotiating partner. And, indeed, the forthcoming meeting is being carefully circumscribed by referring to Ma only as Taiwan’s “leader” and describing the summit as a “pragmatic arrangement”.

Hwoever, this abrupt break by Beijing with what was considered an sacrosanct policy is explained by Xi’s growing personalized power structure in Beijing. First and foremost, as a former Communist leader in the coastal regions on the Mainland facing Taiwan, he considers himself an expert on Taiwan politics. That, coupled with his own hard-charging personal takeover of the Communist Party as no leader since Mao Tse-tung in the 1950s, emboldens him to take what other Communist officials would not have dared. By offering some measure of conciliation – although little of substance is likely to come of this particular meeting – he hopes to strengthen Beijing’s current pitch as a responsible member of the world’s family of nations.

A more important explanation is that Xi is lending his support to Ma’s Kuomintang Party, which according to all the polls, has collapsed in anticipation of January elections. The opposition Democratic Progressive Party, with a long history of putting distance between Taiwan and the Mainland, even suggesting formal independence, is now headed for a landslide. Whether, in fact, Xi’s gesture may not backfire is the subject of current debate in Taiwan where the growing unpopularity of the Kuomintang is linked to Ma’s ambitious series of economic and political agreements with the Mainland.

Student groups and other political activitists have been increasingly critical of Ma’s moves. The growing friction between local interests in Hong Kong and Beijing has also influenced public opinion in Taiwan. The same “one country, two regimes” was used to smooth the 1997return of the former British Colony to China. But recent encroachments on local government and, ironically, former British freedom of speech and equality before the law, have been noted in Taiwan.

Only time will tell if Xi has overplayed his hand. But it is certain that this new nuanced play of Chinese forces increases the importance of the U.S.’ own China policy, with Taiwan’s critical strategic geography again a growing factor in aggressive Beijing moves in both the East China and the South China Seas.