On The Global Times

There is some debate as to what degree The Global Times, the relentlessly jingoistic English-language daily published in Beijing, is in sync with the government and the party. While some China-watchers suggest that the GT is a pure party mouthpiece, others believe that it Zhongnanhai’s leashed pit-bull, useful to scare the neighbors, but in no way representative of the leash-holders true nature.

Fine.

Let us stipulate the following:

  • The Chinese government is not monolithic, and thus does not hold a single unified viewpoint on anything;
  • Opinions expressed in the media are often trial balloons; and
  • State media have, in the past, often represented minority points-of-view in the party.

All the above said, it is also true that Xi is wont to visit key media outlets – including The Global Times – to underscore that it is the duty of all media “love the party, protect the party, and closely align with the party leadership in thought, politics and action.” It is apparent to anyone watching the media in China – and that’s a lot of what we have to do in my business – that whatever tolerance there might have been for a degree of editorial heterodoxy is evaporating fast, if it has not already turned to fog.

Thus the assertion that The Global Times is offering opinions at odds with the thinking in Zhongnanhai to be far less credible today than three years ago. Lacking evidence to the contrary, we can only believe that the GT speaks with the voice and support of the highest party leaders.

Is China’s Navy hiding its real secret weapon?

The Chinese navy has in recent times focused much attention upon a decidedly more mundane and nonphotogenic arena of naval warfare: sea mines. This focus has, in combination with other asymmetric forms of naval warfare, had a significant impact on the balance of power in East Asia. In tandem with submarine capabilities, it now seems that China is engaged in a significant effort to upgrade its mine warfare prowess.

Source: Chinese Mine Warfare: A PLA Navy ‘Assassin’s Mace’ Capability | Andrew S. Erickson

The prolific and insightful Andrew Erickson suggested in 2009 that by focusing on aircraft carriers and anti-ship missiles, we may be missing the hidden secret of China’s maritime strategy: huge investments in mine warfare.

Is the Liaoning nothing more than a showy distraction, meant to invigorate nationalists at home and deceive observers abroad? This study makes an implicit argument that the received wisdom on China’s strategy is probably a false trail.

If nothing else, Erickson’s study should serve as a reminder that China will use a full spectrum of weapons in its efforts to control the seas, and that we have to be imaginative about what they will do, rather than allow ourselves to be sucked into a seductive narrative about carrier-killing missiles.

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Philippines sends six Coast Guard vessels to South China Sea

Move to guard Filipino fishermen in Scarborough Shoal

Source: Philippines sends six Coast Guard vessels to South China Sea | GulfNews.com

So the Philippine Coast Guard is going to protect Filipino fishing vessels.

There are yachts and fishing boats in any given marina in the US that are more heavily armed than your average Philippine Coast Guard ship. It’s a fairly good bet that the PLA(N) is unfrightened, which suggests that these ships are aught more than a tripwire, a means to provoke an incident.

There will be much to watch in the coming weeks.

New Imperial China and the US-Japan Alliance

The rise of China poses many questions, foremost of which is will a powerful China be a responsible member of the international community, complying with established rules and norms of the current global system? Or will it defy global standards, and strive instead to project its own rules and norms, thereby challenging the world order established by the United States?

Source: New Imperial China: A Challenge for the US-Japan Alliance | East-West Center | www.eastwestcenter.org

Short but good, this sharp piece offers some interesting – and still relevant – perspective on the escalating tensions in Northeast Asia.

A Peaceful Racist Rise: China, Africans, Race, and International Relations

Last summer there were a spate of articles documenting the sometimes latent and often blatant antipathy that many Chinese feel toward people of African descent. In Foreign Policy, Fulbright Scholar Viola Rothschild described her findings while conducting research on African entrepreneurs in China. Ayo Awokoya offered this cogent exposition of anti-African racism on line in China. Promotional posters for Star Wars: The Force Awakens were modified in China to minimize or eliminate non-white actors. And shrill government mouthpiece Global Times published a cartoon showing President Obama in a way that would, in the United States, be beyond the ken for even those publications in most vigorous opposition to the President.

My point is not to suggest that China is alone in its attitudes – indeed, the candidacy of Donald Trump in the current U.S. Presidential campaign has demonstrated that America is far from ridding itself of ethnic hatreds. Rather, it is to highlight several important points around the dialogue of China and its role in the world.

  • First, that China’s status as a nation of “color” (i.e., predominantly non-white in ethnic makeup and dominated by non-whites) does not excuse it or individual Chinese for racist behavior,
  • Second, that words or policies that favor or disfavor one race or another are no less racist in China than they would be elsewhere;
  • Finally, that neither the Chinese nor the peoples around the world with whom they have increasing contact have yet to reckon with that racism, its policy implications, and its potential impact on the world as a whole.

As China emerges as an international power, it faces the danger that latent racism in its relations with other countries will undermine its efforts to win friends beyond its borders. Veteran journalist Howard French, author of China’s Second Continent: How a Million Migrants are Building a New Empire in Africa, notes that Chinese operating in Africa are racist to the point that they are unconscious of the aspects of their behavior and speech that cause offense.

Provoking local resentment, though, is only the beginning of the dangers implicit in Chinese racism. Racism can fester all too easily into the kind of cultural chauvinism that propelled the worst elements of Japan’s foreign policy between 1868 and 1945. For the sake of both the nation and the world, China cannot be allowed to fall into that trap. The example of Japan – and those of the great European empires – offers a surfeit of reasons to fear a world power convinced of its own ethnic superiority.

One friend suggested to me that authoritarian regimes are naturally less racist. Even if we leave aside the extreme systemic racism of the USSR and the Third Reich, one would be hard pressed to prove that authoritarian regimes are better at eliminating de facto racism (or what I call “social racism”) than their pluralist counterparts. As the articles linked above attest, there is certainly social racism in China. And as for systemic racism in China, one need explore no further than its immigration policy, which makes attaining citizenship in China fairly straightforward for an ethnic Chinese applicant, but practically impossible for a caucasian, an African, or a Latino.

If we are going to call out our own governments and institutions for their racist behavior, we cannot afford to give other governments a pass. This is not imposing our standards or culture on another: it is, rather, compelling China to eschew a behavior that is inimical to its own interests.

And it would do us well to contemplate the implications for the world if a fundamentally racist nation were to win its bid for global leadership. Would such attitudes mellow? Could they? Or would they instead sow a value system where “diversity” became an obscenity?

A thought for the National Day holiday. Enjoy, and see you after the break.

Innovation and Standardization in China

The study examines defining characteristics of the evolving Chinese innovation and standards system and explores possible impacts for China as well as the global economy. China considers standardization to be an essential tool for improving its innovative capacity, yet very little is known about this critical building block of China’s innovation system.

Source: Indigenous Innovation and Globalization: The Challenge for China’s Standardization Strategy | East-West Center | www.eastwestcenter.org

The Infrastructure Thing

More than half of Chinese infrastructure investments have “destroyed, not generated” economic value as the costs have been larger than the benefits, according to researchers at Oxford university, a finding that will fuel debate over the viability of China’s infrastructure-heavy growth model.

Source: China infrastructure investment model under fire – FT.com

A fascinating article, and a reasonable proposition. Except for three things.

First, China remains short of infrastructure in key areas. A few examples: freight rail remains in desperate need of an upgrade; highways are groaning under the load of China’s car-crazy masses; and the power grid needs a switch to sustainable energy sources before coal chokes the country. As such, spending on new infrastructure per se is not necessarily misdirected.

Second, much of the infrastructure that has been built over the last thirty years is either worn out or was poorly built in the first place. The Chinese slang term “tofu construction” refers to just this phenomenon, and news reports offer discouragingly regular examples of underbuilt architecture.

Finally – and perhaps most important – most infrastructure (at least, the bits not made out of “tofu,”) is designed to last for a long time, often dozens of years. Any ROI calculation taken soon after completion is likely premature. By design, infrastructure should precede development, and is often the impetus of wider economic activity. Thus the effect of any given project on the wider economy is often impossible to gauge until long after construction.

Waste and graft permeate infrastructure development in China, and the government would do well to avoid dependence on infrastructure spending for growth. That said, more well-managed and thoughtful investment in infrastructure is needed, and will be for a long time.

And one last thought: better for reasons both economic and political that the government’s Keynesian spending goes into infrastructure that is ahead of its time than into military hardware and facilities.

 

Only China Can Contain China

Only China Can Contain China”
Joseph Nye

The Huffington Post
11 May 2015

Ariana Huffington’s eponymous clickbait factory is so often a cloaca of journalistic offal that it is almost painful to cite it, but this piece by Joseph Nye is an important exception, if for no other reason than its source.

Nye is a calming voice of reason, suggesting that despite China’s frequent and heavily-covered displays of bad-actor behavior, the interests that bind China, Europe, and the U.S. run deep and are often overlooked. His point is well-taken, and generally that approach offers a foundation for diplomacy for both President Obama and his successor.

But Nye the strategic optimist slips into Pollyanna territory when he notes:

Some analysts see China as a revisionist state eager to overthrow the established international order as its strength increases. But China is not a full-fledged revisionist state like Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union in the last century. While it has joined in the creation of a BRICS development bank, and promotes regional organizations that suit its needs, China has benefited greatly from, and is not eager to destroy, existing international institutions such as the UN, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Trade Organization — as well as many others. American allies help shape the environment that encourages responsible behavior, and China cares about its reputation.

China does care about its reputation, but Nye appears to summarily dismiss the possibility that China sees its reputation best served not as a conformist participant in a “Western” new order, but as the power that exploited that order, demonstrated its fundamental weaknesses, and then replaced it with an ostensibly superior international system rooted in Beijing’s own ethos.

China, in short, may not appear today to be a “full-fledged” revisionist state like the Third Reich, the USSR, or interbellum Japan. But even Nye must acknowledge that Germany and Japan both appeared to operate as troublesome participants of the post-Versailles system until at least the Marco Polo Bridge incident in 1937 (for Japan) and the Sudetenland crisis in 1938 (for Germany). Revisionist powers do not always start the game (as did the USSR) in open opposition. Some operate within it until they must reveal their true intentions.

Nye, for all of his wisdom, is no more privy to the thinking of Beijing’s highest councils than we.  At the same time, a wise and cautious observer will find in the pattern of Beijing’s actions over time evinces a design to displace – if not actually replace – the global international order with one of its own making. At the very least, we must prepare for a future when China finds its participation in the current liberal global system more a hindrance than a help, dividing the world into competing systems if not upending the existing order altogether.

The PLAN figures out expeditionary logistics

Sustained Support: the PLAN Evolves its Expeditionary Logistics Strategy | Andrew S. Erickson

The old saw about military affairs still applies: “amateurs study tactics, armchair generals study strategy, and true professionals study logistics.”

The prolific and erudite Andrew Erickson now delves into the most important question surrounding China’s growing naval expeditionary operations: how it is handling logistics. For a military lacking a significant history of operations with globe-spanning supply lines, the speed with which China can learn this craft will do much to determine both the sustainability and effectiveness of deployments abroad.

It’s not easy to strike that balance and do so cost-effectively: the recent prosecution of USN Captain Donald Dusek underscores the dangers of running an overseas logistics procurement operation, and shipping supplies from home will be expensive and tricky. Projecting power abroad will, for China’s armed forces, prove itself to be a cluster of unanticipated challenges.

Revisiting the Umbrellas

“Hong Kong Revisited”
Jeffrey Wasserstrom
The LARB Blog
November 18, 2015

U.C. Irvine professor and prolific writer Jeffrey Wasserstrom offers a minimalist retrospective on the Umbrella movement a year after the events began, and on the lecture he gave in Hong Kong on the topic last fall.

And while there are many reasons to be deeply worried about Hong Kong’s future, it is important to remember that, at least for now, a public lecture focusing on protest and featuring a large group of citizens thinking together about their city, their politics, and their future, is still possible in that very special city.

Wasserstrom does not come right out and foretell the end of democracy in Hong Kong, but the tone carries that ominous, almost fatalistic, overtone. It is impossible to say whether the umbrella protests of 2014 will have a meaningful effect on how Hong Kong is governed. The real question is whether we have witnessed the last such protest in the city’s modern history.

We who live outside of Hong Kong shall have no say in the matter. The future of politics in Hong Kong lies in the hands of the people of that city and the men and women who rule China.

The CSIS on 2016

The end of the year always produces some superb retrospectives and forecasts. I’ve spent a few minutes every day of the last week going through The Economist’s 2016 forecast, and have found it excellent, although suffering from the limitations imposed by a generalist audience.
Those looking for a deeper dive into some of the world’s hot spots would be well-served to pick up the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ (CSIS) 2016 Global Forecast, available for a free download at the CSIS website. Of particular interest to China-watchers is part 5, which includes articles from Christopher Johnson (“rReform Cold, Politics Hot,”) Bonnie Glaser and Matthew Funaiole (“Geopolitical Consequences of China’s Economic Slowdown,”) and the brilliant Scott Kennedy (“Economic Consequences of China’s Economic Slowdown.”)
Add this to your January and Chinese New Year reading list.

Review Essay: An Unbetter China

Chinese armies defeating the Dzungar prior to the genocide.

There is a growing chorus of voices, mostly Sinophilic or Russo-philic, who attempt to bestow upon China a mantle of moral superiority in its dealings with the wider world for the sole reason that it has not waged any form of expeditionary warfare in its recent history.

This forum and this writer have criticized many of America’s forays into overseas military engagements over the past 50 years. That said, there is no moral standard of which this writer is aware that bestows moral ascendancy upon a country that systematically slaughters its own citizens over another country that engages in misguided adventures abroad.

It is possible to deplore most or even all major exercises of American military power abroad since the cessation of hostilities in Korea in 1953, to see them as misguided and their outcomes to be awful, and yet to acknowledge that with a few exceptions the intentions were neither evil, nefarious, nor malicious. As an historian, you judge the decisions of the past in the context of the times, on that basis this writer would argue that that on the balance the US mostly acted in good faith, with notable and egregious exceptions in Chile, Iraq and Afghanistan.

China’s history leaves the nation much for which it must answer, including the “red on its ledger” from the nation’s imperial period that has not been entirely expunged by decades of foreign incursion, Republican rule, civil war, and Communist rule. Indeed, in the period following the revolution, the Chinese Communist Party has continued some of the tendencies that characterized the worst behaviors of its emperors.

Explore, if you will, how a middling agrarian kingdom actually managed to expand to dominate the continent. I’ll give you a hint: they weren’t invited by their subject peoples, Han or otherwise. Dig, if you dare, into the the gritty details of China’s imperial tributary system, which was outwardly peaceful but often ugly and violent, involving the stationing of military forces beyond China’s borders. Ask the Koreans, Mongolians, and Russians how their histories see China as a “ good neighbor.”

Consider the forcible takeover of the Tibetan region in the 1950s, China’s war with India, and its attack on Vietnam in 1977. And finally, look at the background of the 20+ territorial disputes in which China is currently engaged, including China’s extraordinary claim to the overwhelming majority of the South China Sea, and it’s effort to buy vast swaths of land in Africa and elsewhere. China has been, and is once again, an Imperial Power with 21st Century Characteristics.

Both China and the US have done great things, and both have done atrocious things. But we do ourselves and those countries a disservice by exaggerating the good or whitewashing the bad of either. And if China appears to be under more of a microscope at the moment, there is good cause. For if we accept the premise proffered by scholars both within and outside of China that America is entering a period of relative decline in its international power and China is in a period of relative ascendancy, we must use extreme care in bestowing moral superiority over a nation whose record is distinctly mixed. Doing so only grants it license to engage in much more of the same.

Li Keqiang takes on the Aparatchiks

“In some cases after the senior leaders study an issue for over a year it takes another year to get the implementation procedures settled. Isn’t this ridiculous?” Mr. Li was quoted as saying.

“Before we can simplify administrative procedures and delegate authority to lower levels of government, we really need a revolution in our own thinking,” he reportedly added.

via China’s Levels of Bureaucracy Have Gotten ‘Ridiculous,’ Premier Says – China Real Time Report – WSJ.

As skeptical as I am about the ability of a one man to alter a governance model that has been in place since well before Beijing became the Imperial capital, I hope he succeeds. But I am not optimistic.

The problems of China’s bureaucracy are not unlike those that governments face elsewhere: corruption, careerism, and the promotion of the mediocre. Those call for more than simple spankings and token firings. They demand a systemic overhaul.

When Li creates a system that recognizes, rewards, and promotes public servants who are clean, dedicated, and effective and shitcans everyone else, he will have fixed the problem. Anything short of that is so much political theater.

Why China is Playing Nice in the East China Sea

Analyzing China’s support for a crisis management mechanism in the East China Sea” 
Mathieu Duchâtel
SIPRI

SIPRI’s Mathieu Duchatel offers this short paper on why China went from confrontation to conversation in the East China sea, thus defusing an increasingly tense situation of its own manufacture.

He identifies and evaluates several hypotheses as to why the change has taken place, and underscores why this may – or may not – signal even bigger foreign policy changes in Beijing.

China and the Arctic Long Game

China and the Arctic: Objectives and Obstacles,” Caitlin Campbell, U.S. China Economic and Security Council Review Commission, Washington, April 13, 2012

China’s Arctic Aspirations, Linda Jakobson and Jingchao Peng, SIPRI Policy Paper 34, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Stockholm, Sweden, November 2012

China’s New Arctic Stratagem: A Strategic Buyer’s Approach to the Arctic,” Timothy Curtis Wright, Journal of Military and Strategic Studies, Volume 15, Issue 1, 2013

The Dragon Eyes the Top of the World: Arctic Policy Debate and Discussion in China, David Curtis Wright, China Maritime Studies Institute, United States Naval War College, Newport, Rhode Island, August 2011

Polar Bearings: China Pursues its Interests in the North” The Economist, July 12, 2014

Race to the North: China’s Arctic Strategy and its Implications,” Shiloh Rainwater, Naval War College Review, Providence, RI, Spring 2013, Vol. 66, No. 2

Will China Purchase a Piece of the Arctic?” Mark Strauss, io9.com, April 29, 2014

 

China holds no territory or coastal waters that encroach upon the Arctic, and the closest the nation gets to being an arctic nation is a point of land in Heilongjiang province some 53 degrees north of the Equator and some 1,500 kilometers south of the Arctic Circle.

Those inconvenient facts have not prevented China from beginning a measured, multi-faceted campaign to establish claims on the region and its resources. There has as yet been no definitive statement on the nation’s policy in the region, but Rear Admiral Yin Zhuo of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) noted in March of 2010 “The Arctic belongs to all the people around the world, as no nation has sovereignty over it. . . . China must plan an indispensable role in Arctic exploration as we have one-fifth of the world’s population.”

The Chinese government has not distanced itself from Admiral Yin’s position, and China’s efforts since – launching two large icebreakers, establishing an Arctic research station in Norway, and politicking hard to get itself admitted (albeit as an observer) to the Arctic Council suggest that his quote may well serve as de-facto policy. That Admiral Yin’s statement is in direct contravention of the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS, to which China is a signatory) should not be ignored.

China is playing a long-term game in the Arctic, but its end game should be clear. The only question should be whether the world is prepared to grant China its wish: a major change in the rules governing and protecting one of the world’s last great frontiers.

Is China Playing Straight in the East China Sea?

The Japan-China Maritime and Air Communication Mechanism: Operational and Strategic Considerations
Marta McLellan Ross

Japan Institute of International Affairs

Recent tensions in the South China sea have raised the possibility that confrontational behavior designed to make a point can all too easily escalate into something far more dangerous.

Apparently eager to avoid this scenario, China and Japan have begun developing a series of protocols to ensure that both countries can make their points in the standoff without things spinning out of control. Marta McLellan Ross of the Council of Foreign Affairs suggests in this paper, however, that these ostensibly laudable efforts may be nothing more than a Chinese tactic to neutralize Japan.

A fascinating read.

Greek Vote opens the door for China and Russia

China State Official Hints Beijing May Bailout Greece”
Tyler Durden
Zero Hedge
2
 July 2015

While Europe (and much of the west) shakes their heads at Greece’s referendum vote against the EU bailout offer, in the east, the aparatchiki and the mandarins are likely rubbing their hands together in anticipation of a foreign policy coup.

The always thoughtful and often weird folks at Zero Hedge have hinted that Beijing may be planning to step into the Greek Breach with loans, and recently suggested that Russia and China may together form Greece’s bailout.

My bet is that this has been the plan for some time, and that the referendum has simply been a play to lay the domestic political groundwork for that plan to be put into action. When the time comes that there are no more terms to be had from Europe, Alex Tsipras can present the Asian superpowers as the answer to the EU’s austere terms. It would be a fair wager that the Greek people are unlikely to be too picky, as long as they don’t need to cough up any lifestyle changes.

The geopolitical opportunities of having Greece in either a Russian sphere of influence, an Chinese one, or in both are significant. At the very least it would ensure that the Russian Navy and the PLAN would have forward operating bases in the Mediterranean.

This may not happen overnight, or on this round. But Russia and China are playing a long game with Athens (and vice-versa,) one that the EU will likely not ignore as it debates terms for Greece and contemplates problems in Italy and Iberia as well.

Understanding the South China Sea

Historical Truths and Lies: Scarborough Shoal in Ancient Maps

This essay offers a thoughtful review from the Philippine point of view of the history of territorial claims in the South China Sea. The site, from the Institute of Maritime and Ocean Affairs, was built around a 2014 lecture by Senior Associate Justice Antonio C. Carpio of the Supreme Court of the Philippines.

The Philippines is not a neutral arbiter in the issues surrounding the South China Sea, and even the nation’s Supreme Court is not above nationalistic impulses. Source notwithstanding, the depth of the site demonstrates that the arguments against China’s claims cannot be as casually dismissed as Beijing might wish.

Beijing’s Belgrade Syndrome

China Matters: How It All Began: The Belgrade Embassy Bombing.

This is a superb post, and well worth the read. I do agree that we in the United States – including most of our leaders in Washington – underestimate the psychological impact that the bombing of China’s embassy in Belgrade had in certain quarters in Beijing. Nor do we realize, I think, the degree to which this shifted a modicum of power and credibility to the People’s Liberation Army.

That said, to suggest that the Belgrade bombing was the origin point of China’s grand strategy is to overstate, if not ignore history. The plans and doctrine that form the basis of China’s grand strategy were set in motion (at the latest) with the accession of Deng Xiaoping, and more likely traces its roots back to the Zhou Enlai’s Four Modernizations. (Defense, for those who will recall, was the fourth modernization, after agriculture, industry, national defense, and science and technology.)

China has been on this general course for decades. Have specific goals and force structure evolved as they adapted to new circumstances and opportunities? Certainly. But the tune China is playing today was first set on paper fifty years ago.

China and Green Finance

Greening China’s Financial System: Synthesis Report
Zhang Chenghui, Simon Zadek, Chen Ning, Mark Halle

International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD)
March 16, 2005

Making China more environmentally friendly is more than simply a matter of installing scrubbers on factories and catalytic converters on cars. There are systemic issues that run deep, and that must be addressed in order for real, long-term change to take place.

In Greening China’s Financial System, global sustainability guru Simon Zadek teams with Zhang Chenghui, Chen Ning, and Mark Halle to examine how China’s financial system can be revamped in order to enable and support the nation’s shift to a more sustainable economy. Beyond simply identifying the problem, though, the report also offers specific recommendations for change based on current practice in China and best practices from abroad.

For those looking for a realistic, system-wide approach to greening a polluted China, this is an essential read.

Hong Kong, Police, and a Legacy of the Square

For China, Limited Tools to Quell Unrest in Hong Kong”
Edward Wong and Chris Buckley

NYTimes.com
September 29, 2014

Ed Wong and Chris Buckley explain how China’s leadership has very little at their disposal to mollify the protesters filling the streets of Hong Kong’s financial districts and shopping neighborhoods. Strategically, Beijing may have backed itself into a corner. 

But tactically, Xi Jinping has more, better choices for handling this unrest than his predecessors did a generation ago. 

We know precious little about the decisions that led to the People’s Liberation Army retaking Tian’anmen Square from the Chinese people who occupied it 25 years ago. But we do know that one of the reasons that China formed the People’s Armed Police (Wu Jing) in the early 1990s was to ensure that in the case of severe unrest, the government would not have to turn the guns of the Army on the people ever again.

Today, China has at its disposal the Hong Kong Police, who remain one of Asia’s more professional law enforcement agencies. If the local cops can’t handle things, China has Wu Jing units that it can send in to bolster them – and they probably already have. They have the weapons that are appropriate for the containment of demonstrations and riots – tear gas, bean bag shotguns, water cannons, and other non-lethal means – and that are designed to avoid heavy casualties.

The question now comes down to tactics. How will the commanders go about dispersing a protest that is not only peaceful, but polite as well? Because Wong and Buckley make clear that the concessions required to send the people home are not forthcoming, and Beijing’s patience with disruption is not infinite.

 

Understanding “Tao Guang Yang Hui”

A phrase that is making the rounds among China watchers is “tao guang yang hui.” I will not attempt to explain the concept: any brief explanation would hide too many nuances, and nuances are important here. I just watched an online debate amongst some of my more scholarly friends, and the battle was about different interpreteations of of the phrase.

One interpretation of the phrase is captured in Deng Xiaoping’s maxim “keep a low profile and bide your time, while also getting something accomplished.” Given the noises China has been making in the South China Sea, the East China Sea, the Indian frontier, and Hong Kong, it appears to some that China has abandoned the tao guang yang hui strategy altogether.

Others, however, suggest that the strategy was not abandoned, but that Deng’s intention all along was to wait for a time when China was ready to assert itself in the global sphere, not simply lay low forever.

Yang Wenchang, President of the Chinese People’s Institute of Foreign Affairs, offers his interpretation in “My Views about ‘Tao Guang Yang Hui.” It is a worthwhile read, and an important one: not only does he provide an erudite explanation of the idom’s roots, his interpretation of the phrase seems to be at odds with China’s current foreign policy.

The entire debate may seem a petty tempest among the cognoscienti. If China is becoming more assertive globally, what does it matter whether this is Xi’s own policy or a continuation of the past?

In truth, it does matter: the answer to the question of whether this is part of a long-standing plan or whether this is Xi rejecting Dengist strategy would help us better predict where China is likely to jump next. We are unlikely to get clarification from the leadership compound at Zhongnanhai: Xi will want to seem unpredictable so as to keep his percieved opponents, both at home and abroad, guessing as to his intentions, leaving him with the initiative. Hence a better understanding of his strategic approach is essential to ensure that Asia and the west are not caught unawares by China’s next Great Leap Outwards.