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.

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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.

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.