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.

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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.