Does Thailand Want the US to Pivot?

Thailand guard

Thailand guard (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

“After Obama’s Visit: The US-Thailand Alliance and China”
Sasiwan Chingchit

East-West Center
December 4, 2012

The underlying assumption of U.S. President Barack Obama‘s strategy to shift the focus of the U.S. security establishment away from Southwest Asia and Europe to Southeast Asia is that the locals are going to be happy with the idea. A read of Sasiwan Chingchit’s essay, though, makes you wonder.

The author suggests that despite a long friendship with the U.S. that peaked in the early 1970s, Thai attentions and affections have since shifted north, to China. Little wonder: since China backed the Thai economy during the dark days of the 1997 Asian financial crisis, the money has continued to flow from China and into the Thai economy in the form of loans, direct investment, and plume of tourists that grows by the year. That one Thai in five is ethnically Chinese probably doesn’t hurt. The message is clear: don’t think you’re going to swoop in here and turn us against our new benefactors to the north.

Chingchit makes a fair point, but the elephant in the room should be obvious to any Thai realist: what happens if the price of Chinese friendship gets a little too high?

Thailand is not alone in Southeast Asia in finding itself caught between two giants. On the one hand, relations with the rising China carry the promise of commercial and economic benefit. On the other, the U.S. presence in Asia stands as a guarantor that limits China’s ambitions to the commercial sphere. Having the U.S. and China at loggerheads on their behalf suits the smaller nations of Asia as the competition between two eligible bachelors suits the coquette.

What happens, then, when the U.S., tired of a low diplomatic return on its security investment, allows the pivot to become a dead letter and leaves Southeast Asia to manage its own fate? The last time the region was without a capable protector it fell under the shadow of Japan’s East-Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere. It does not take a surfeit of imagination to see something altogether similar happening again.

Japan has Territorial Issues with Russia, too

“On Trenin’s Proposal for Russia to Return Four Disputed Islands to Japan”
Hakamada Shigeki
GFJ Commentary
February 28, 2013

As if having to argue with China and Korea over rocks was not complex enough for Japan, a third territorial counterparty is (re)emerging in the form of Moscow. It seems like, since everyone else in the neighborhood wants to clarify territorial issues, the Russians are chiming in as well.

This time, the tone is conciliatory, even though it does not come from the Kremlin. Dmitri Trenin, who directs the Carnegie Moscow Centre, put out a paper in December of 2012 proposing a mechanism by which four islands taken by the USSR from Japan at the end of World War II would be returned to Japanese control.

Professor Hakamada Shigeki of the University of Niigata prefecture is cool to the proposal. While conceding that any such opening is worth pursuing, he is under no illusions about Trenin’s position (a Western-funded think tanker rather than a Kremlin insider) and Putin‘s continuing need to prove to Russians he is a strongman.

To expect Russia to concede territory for nothing would be unrealistic. But Hakamada sees other wheels at work. China looms large for Russia (especially after Xi Jinping’s recent visit) but Putin will not want to close out other options in the region. Working out longstanding territorial disputes with Japan would allow Russia to play the conciliator in a Sino-Japanese standoff, and would keep Japan in the game as an alternate destination for Siberian natural gas.

The source of the suggestion is Machiavellian. To have the suggestion come from the Carnegie Centre could be serving as Putin’s trial balloon, giving him a chance to judge Japanese reaction without committing himself publicly.

The next move, as Hakamada hints, is Japan’s. It will be interesting to see how this plays out. Clearly, the diplomatic game is afoot in East Asia.

What is Beijing Thinking?

 

English: Profile image of Hu Shuli

English: Profile image of Hu Shuli (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

China 3.0
Mark Leonard, et. al.
The European Council on Foreign Relations
November 2012

Those of us watching the goings-on in Chinese politics have been treated to the non-fiction equivalent of a byzantine soap opera over the past two years. The unexpectedly turbulent generational leadership transition has given us opportunity to speculate ad nauseum about who was going to get what seat, a debate doubly invigorated by the drama surrounding Bo Xilai‘s metoric rise and fall.

But the seats are filling, the slate of leaders is falling into place, and our attention turns from personalities to policies. What, exactly, are those leaders going to be doing for the next ten years?

President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang have begun to lay out their policy priorities, but there are few surprises or insights to be gleaned from public positions. Of far greater interest are the debates taking place within government and the nation’s intelligentsia over the path to take in the future. As James McGregor summarizes in his recent book No Ancient Wisdom, No Followers, for the first time in generations the path forward for China is unclear, there are contending schools of thought at the top of the Party organization, and China lives under the threat of indecision and paralysis in Beijing.

Which is why this slim volume, edited by Mark Leonard, c0-founder and director of the European Council on Foreign Relations, is such a valuable survey. Rather than focusing on the dramatics, Leonard’s line up of scholars and observers (including Caixing’s Hu Shuli and blogger Michael Anti) focus on how the debates around finding that way forward are playing out.

In the course of a dozen pithy essays we are treated to a glimpse of how the nation’s leaders are thinking about the future of domestic politics, the economy, foreign policy, and the search for models from which China can glean its own pathway to the future. Most of us will never get a chance to sit in the halls where these decisions are being made, but in China 3.0 Leonard and the ECFR have given us a chance to sit outside the door and listen at the keyhole, all while being treated to the perspectives of 17 of China’s own most astute observers.

Do Washington and Beijing Offer Alternative World Orders?

Between Integration and Coexistence: US-Chinese Strategies of International Order
Liselotte Odgaard
Strategic Studies Quarterly
Spring 2013

The past five years have witnessed much debate as to whether a world order dominated by liberal internationalists institutions (UN, WTA, World Bank, IMF, etc) has reached the end of its era, and whether perhaps the time has arrived for the rise of a new international order that finds its inspiration in China. The rise of the Chinese economy, the nation’s growing assertiveness in international affairs, and its readiness to interpret international agreements to suit its own purposes makes that question real. Is China happy to run rampant across an established world order, or does it sincerely propose to offer a unique international order of its own?

In an article in the just-released edition of Strategic Studies Quarterly, Danish security strategist Dr. Liselotte Odgaard notes that China and America have espoused two visions of the way the world should work, but she suggests that they are incompatible. Why? Because both are based on domestic ideologies that appear to prevent either side coming to a practical accommodation. The real challenge is whether either of these approaches will garner international support. Odgaard takes a bold step by suggesting which side she thinks will prevail and why.

My Power is Softer than Yours

English: Press room of State Council Informati...

Press room of the State Council Information Office of China (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

China’s Soft Power in East Asia: A Quest for Status and Influence?
Chin-Hao Huang
National Bureau of Asian Research
January 2013
24pp

China has pledged itself to winning the “soft power” game in Asia and worldwide ever since the phrase became a buzzword among international relations literati following the 204 publication of Joseph Nye‘s Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics. Beijing has spent billions on this campaign, funding schools of Chinese language and culture, big-budget films, and an expanding global media network of foreign language television, radio, magazines, newspapers, and wire services all controlled by the State Council Information Office.

Beijing has done little to help itself in this campaign, especially with its neighbors. Armed belligerence in the South China Sea and the Senkakus, bolstered by questionable legal claims, has made China look less attractive to its neighbors and more like a teenaged dragon out to test the limits of its growing power.

Chin-Hao Huang of USC tells us not to let ourselves get lulled by this ham-handed behavior. China appearing itself in the foot does not mean that the U.S. and Europe can let up their efforts to build attraction and influence in the region. In fact, it doesn’t mean that it is losing the soft-power war, either. Studies indicate that China’s soft power is rated just below that of Japan and the United States by populations in Asia. So, in fact, the U.S.  needs to get better at playing the game right now, both to exploit the current opportunities and as a hedge against the day that China begins playing the coquette again.

We also have to consider the possibility that the elements that invite soft power may vary from culture to culture. We see that in our own efforts to build soft power among Muslim populations worldwide. It may be that by compartmentalizing the Senkakus and South China Sea disputes that China is able to play divide-and-conquer among its neighbors. Or it may be that some cultures respect the might China has created even as that power is aimed at them, especially if China is able to rise at the cost of Japanese and American prestige in the region. Asia for the Asians Redux, if you will.

Whether you buy Huang’s argument or whether you think he is repeating the obvious, he deserves credit for pointing out that just because China is playing the bully doesn’t mean they’re losing hearts and minds, and we need to figure out how to play that game much better in a region that has stymied us for half a century.

Why China will make its own rules

Drawing of an early Chinese soldier lighting a...

Drawing of an early Chinese soldier lighting a rocket (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“More Security for Rising China, Less for Others?”
Denny Roy

East-West Center
January 2013
8pp

In this brief but thoughtful paper, Denny Roy suggests that China’s days of playing by international rules are over. He notes that despite China’s assertions that it will play within international bounds and rise peacefully, mounting evidence suggests otherwise.

Specifically, Roy points to two factors that will put an end to the “peaceful rise.” First is a strong sense of Chinese manifest destiny that the nation is the rightful leader (read “hegemon”) in Asia, both among the leaders in Beijing and the Chinese people. The second is the constant stoking of nationalism by a new generation of leaders who, uncertain about the course to chart for the nation at home, is turning to international conflict to keep the country united.

What will determine China’s success, Roy suggests, is not what is said in Washington or Brussels, but what the nations of Asia do in response to China’s efforts. The nations of the region can simply give in to becoming satellite states within an uncontested Chinese sphere of influence, or they can work to stop it.

To date, the region has been happy to let the US fight its battles, but it will be Asia, and in particular India and Japan, who will be compelled to respond to an increasingly aggressive – and entitled – China.

Meet the New Generals. Same as the Old Generals?

“China’s New Military Leadership and the Challenges It Faces
Greg Chaffin
National Bureau of Asian Research

Greg Chaffin interviews Roy Kamphausen, Senior Advisor for Political and Security Affairs at NBR, on what he thinks the new Central Military Commission will mean for the People’s Liberation Army and for China’s defense posture.

Reign in the Drones

IAI Heron 1 UAV in flight. Location: NAVAL AIR...

IAI Heron 1 UAV in flight. Location: NAVAL AIR STATION, FALLON, NEVADA (NV) UNITED STATES OF AMERICA (USA) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Reforming U.S. Drone Strike Policies
Micah Zenko

Council on Foreign Relations
January, 2013

Have drones become the hammer that has turned every U.S. foreign policy challenge into a nail? Micah Zenko isn’t ready to go quite that far, but he does suggest that the lack of a policy framework to regulate their use hurts the U.S., and that we are best served long-term by helping to promulgate a set of international rules and norms to govern their use.

The piece is not directly China related, but given China’s active effort to develop its own unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) force, Zenko’s calls for international norms should bring China immediately to mind.

Today’s Free eBook: Crisis and Escalation in Cyberspace

Crisis and Escalation in Cyberspace
Martin C. Libicki
RAND
2012
198pp

We are starting a new feature of The Peking Review today: our Free eBook of the Day.

While the books featured here will usually have a China hook (and we’ll explain it when it does), the primary purpose of this feature is to simply call your attention to a book we think our readers might find interesting that is available for the effort of a download.

Our first book is Martin Libicki’s examination of what the US Air Force would have to do if it found itself operating in the midst of a cyber-attack. As the most technologically-dependent of the US services, the Air Force makes a superb test-case of the rigors of operating in a hostile electronic environment.

As China is the implicit adversary in a conflict of this nature, it is a compelling read for those of us watching events both immediate and long-term unfold in the western Pacific.

Perspective on China’s New Senior Services

“China’s Navy and Air Force: Advancing Capabilities and Missions
Greg Chaffin interviews Andrew S. Erickson
National Bureau of Asian Research
September 27, 2012

With the most recent changes in the Central Military Commission, the Chinese Navy and Air Force now have a degree of prominence denied them for the past six decades. With the growing importance of global trade and far-flung interests, these services look to be the focus of defense policy during Xi Jinping’s first term.

Andrew S. Erickson of the U.S. Naval War College and Harvard University offers his perspective on why this is the case and what it will mean for the world in a thoughtful interview with Greg Chaffin of the NBR.

Finding Innovation in Dark Corners

“Global Technology Sourcing in China’s Integrated Circuit Design Industry: A Conceptual Framework and Preliminary Findings”
Dieter Ernst and Barry Naughton
East-West Center
August 2012

For nearly a decade, Chinese policy-makers have been on a seemingly Quixotic quest to turn the nation’s low-cost manufacturers into innovation-driven firms. The question that has plagued that effort from the start is whether Beijing’s “indigenous innovation” drive isn’t just a form of techno-protectionism, and if not, whether and how policy might actually aid in the emergence of world-class innovative firms.

That question remains largely unanswered, but Dieter Ernst and Berry Naughton have gone looking for answers in China’s integrated circuit design business. What the paper reveals is an example of how innovation is taking place outside the purview of government industrial policy, calling into question the value of centrally-driven strategic emerging industries.

A growing body of evidence suggests that the ship of state capitalism will founder on the rocks of innovation. The emergence of the new and the novel from overlooked quarters offers a reminder of the agrarian entrepreneurialim that emerged in 1980s China when Deng Xiaoping simply lifted the heavy hand of central planning. Ernst and Naughton’s study seems to points the nation toward a more productive approach to industrial innovation, yet one that would sorely test the natural interventionist urge of Party aparatchiks.

When the French Left Fell Out of Love with Maoism

Roland Barthes

Roland Barthes (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

The Sideways Gaze: Roland Barthes’s Travels In China
Dora Zhang
Los Angeles Review of Books
June 23, 2012

I am an unabashed fanboy of the Los Angeles Review of Books, for several reasons. First, the publication was pulled together by a group of literary critics that had been marginalized since Tribune & Company all but disowned serious coverage of the arts in the Los Angeles Times. The very existence of LARB is a thumb in the eye of both the Times and the local alternative press. Perhaps more important, it stands as testament that the vibrancy of culture in California does not depend on the support of mainstream media: the Golden State has become a center of the arts and literature to rival New York and Paris nearly ex nihilio.

The third reason I am such a fan is that LARB under co-founder and publisher Tom Lutz chose Megan Shank as Asia Co-Editor. That Lutz was motivated to give Asia such a profile in the publication spoke volumes both about the publication and the comparative short-shrift the region is given among other mainstream publications. That he chose Shank, who spent six years living in and covering China, speaks volumes about how serious he wants that effort to be.

A great example of the fruit of that effort is Dora Zhang’s excellent review of Roland Barthes’ Travels in China. Zhang offers more than an essay extolling the book’s virtues and vices. What she offers instead is a chronicle of how in the wake of a 1974 trip to China, the elite of the French left fell out of love with Maoist China.

In the process, she holds up a mirror to those of us who, at some point in our lives, believed with perhaps a tad too much credulity that China represented the birth of a new world order. We may sneer at the gullibility of those French Maoists of the 1960s and 1970s, but what of we pale-faced Dengists of the 1990s and 2000s? Did some of us not believe that China would grow rich and strong and change the world, even for the better? Do some of us yet bristle and lash out at those who criticize the Middle Kingdom? And why do we do so?

Even at its most inscrutable moment in modern history as the Cultural Revolution reached its final crescendo in the mid 1970s, China beguiled outsiders. Zhao focuses on Barthes not because he was the least beguiled, but because his disenchantment was incited by small things that with others might have been dismissed or unnoticed. Try as he might, Barthes could never “connect” with China on his terms. I come away from Zhao’s review wondering if each of us, in our own time, will find ourselves disconnected from China, and thence disenchanted.

What then?

Is Brazil Helping China Train Carrier Pilots?

“Using BRIC to build at sea: The Brazil-China Aircraft Carrier Agreement and Shifting Naval Power”
Kai Thaler

IPRIS Viewpoints #9
IPRIS – Portuguese Institute of International Relations and Security

As the discussion fades over China’s first aircraft carrier, it is worth diving into exactly how China is building its carrier force. As much as China’s politicians and many of China’s people might want to think that the Navy’s renewal is an entirely homegrown project, in reality China is drawing from sources around the world to cobble together its naval aviation arm.

The Liaoning itself is, of course, the former Varyag, a Soviet-designed Admiral Kuznetzov class “aircraft-carrying heavy cruiser” around half the size of a U.S. Nimitz-class aircraft carrier. China purchased four carriers – the ex HMAS Melbourne from Australia, and the Varyag, Minsk, and Kiev from the republics of the former Soviet Union. As IPRIS expert Kai Thaler notes, the ships were purchased to introduce aircraft carrier construction and engineering to China’s navy and her shipyards as a part of China’s longstanding plans to build a carrier.

But Thaler’s revelations go further. More than just drawing from foreign sources for hardware, China had also signed an agreement with Brazil to have that country’s navy help train Chinese carrier aviators. The question is what this signals in terms of the Brazil-China relationship. While much attention has been focused on China’s relationships with pariah western hemisphere states like Cuba and Venezuela, the relationship between Brasilia and Beijing clearly deserves further attention as both countries gain in global influence.

Zbigniew Brzezinski and America’s Pivot

How U.S. Can Secure the New East
Zbigniew Brzezinski

The Diplomat

All too often I find myself on the opposite side of an issue with Mr. Brzezinski, but his recent contribution to The Diplomat is deserving of consideration. His feeling: the U.S. should stay out of direct military involvement of conflicts among Asian powers.

While not altogether unique (I hear echoes of Douglas MacArthur), the warning is timely. With our strategic pivot to Asia, the U.S. looks altogether too ready to leap into a fray over the South China Sea, to give one example. In that there are some twenty unresolved border conflicts involving China alone, we may be writing a check the U.S. armed forces could never cash.

What worries me about Mr. Brzezinski’s advice are telltale signs that Jimmy Carter’s former National Security Advisor has some reasonably large blind-spots in Asia. In describing the strains between India and China, for example, he is oddly silent on the matters of Tibet, the Himalayan republics, and Sino-Indian territorial disputes. Instead, he isolates Pakistan and India’s naval power as the core points of contention.

He suggests getting too close to India would open the door for Russia in Central Asia as America would be “distracted.” All of this, of course, assumes capability that it is unclear lies within the grasp of Putin’s Kremlin and that China and India would sit idly while it happened.

More disturbingly, Brzezinski seems blind to the calculation of the Asian nations who on the one hand are concerned about China’s growing power, but on the other hand want to profit from deep engagement in its rise. Walking this fine line would be served elegantly by drawing the U.S. into the “bad cop” role in Asia, allowing Singapore, Indonesia, South Korea, Japan, and the Philippines to play off the US and China against one another to their benefit.

He concludes:

Ultimately, the United States’ geopolitical role in the new East will have to be based on mediation, conciliation and balancing and not on military engagement in mainland Asia.

A fine sentiment, but allow us to suggest an alternative formulation.

Ultimately, the United States’ geopolitical role in the new East will have to be based on a careful calculation of our interests, a recognition that, paradoxically, our power and influence in the region may best be served by engagement at a distance.

China’s appetite for regional and global influence far exceeds its current and projected capabilities. A true realist might suggest giving China enough rope to make its own noose.

China and Obama’s Second Term

Big Bets and Black Swans: Foreign Policy Challenges for President Obama’s Second Term
Brookings Institution

January, 2013
94 pp.

On the eve of Barack Obama’s second inauguration, The Brookings Institution has compiled a briefing book from a collection of memoranda to the president outlining where and how they feel POTUS should spend his foreign policy time over the next four years. Significantly, five of the fifteen foreign policy challenges the experts identify are related to China.

Most notably, Kenneth Lieberthal suggests in “Bringing Beijing Back In” that it is time to shift away from “The Pivot” and put all effort into engaging Xi Jinping, whom he characterizes as “more open and politically agile than was Hu Jintao.” If nothing else, Lieberthal offers an agenda that will put the initiative in the bilateral relationship back into U.S. hands.

The briefing book is worth a read, if for no other reason than to use it as a baseline against which to evaluate the Administration’s progress in the region. You may argue with the tactics or the approaches, but the Brookings team have done a solid job at identifying the issues. Interestingly – but I would imaging by pure coincidence – The Economist this week makes recommendations not too far removed from those of the Brookings team.

On the Rack: China Brief

English: Gordon G. Chang 中文: 章家敦

English: Gordon G. Chang 中文: 章家敦 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

China Brief
The Jamestown Foundation

Of all of the free publications circulating about China, the Jamestown Foundation’s China Brief has frustrated me the most – but in a good way.

Let me explain.

When I first started reading China Brief, I was struck by the number of authors who were unrepentant Panda Punchers, people like Gordon Chang (pictured) who seemed more interested in foisting a negative perspective on the PRC than on adding insight to the debate.

There is still some of that, as Chang remains a contributor and Willy Lam is a columnist. Under the editorship of Peter Mattis, who comes out of the National Bureau of Asian Research and the U.S. Government, the publication has become less shrill but much more insightful.

The tone is serious but not so academic that it is off-putting. The style strikes a balance between the insider insight of The Economist and the deep-diving thoughtfulness of professional and academic journals. In short, it belongs in the inbox of any regular reader of The Peking Review.

I have to confess that the fortnightly arrival of China Brief means that I don’t always get to read through the whole publication, but I feel intellectually naked if I don’t at least scan its pages.

The China Brief is a free download.

Dead Dinosaurs and Asian Geopolitics

“Oil and Gas for Asia: Geopolitical Implications of Asia’s Rising Demand
Philip Andrews-Speed, Mikkal E. Herberg, et. al.
The National Bureau of Asian Research
September 2012

Though it seems obvious now, the first inkling I had that Asia’s future – and the world’s – would be determined largely by the region’s thirst for fossil fuels was when I read Thomas P.M. Barnett’s excellent The Pentagon’s New Map in 2004. Barnett noted that one of the four major forces that would shape the world of the future was the growing demand for energy coming out of Asia, and how that positioning Asia in potential conflict with both the U.S. and the E.U. as competitors for those resources.

In Oil and Gas for Asia, the NBR offers six essays that dive into the details of how that demand in Asia is intensifying. Naturally the authors cover the matter of the region’s role in (or effect on) global energy security and the entire issue of China’s relationship with Iran, two areas that have come to global attention.

Intriguingly, they also examine the effect that Japan is having on the global market of LNG after the Fukushima melt-downs all but put Japan out of the nuclear energy business, and the question of whether investments by national oil companies (think China National Offshore Oil Corporation, Sinopec, and PetroChina) actually enhance energy security at home. They then wrap up the analysis with policy recommendations for U.S. leaders.

There is a lot written about China and energy, much of it driven by petrodollars in an effort to create a policy environment in the U.S. that is favorable to greater development of oil resources within the Western hemisphere. China is an effective boogeyman to drive the development of deep-water drilling, hydrofracking, and tar sands. This study, however, is notable in its focus not on specific policy goals but in describing how the world’s most populous region is changing the rules for all of us.

Making Peace with China on Clean Energy

Sustaining U.S.-China Cooperation in Clean Energy
Merritt T. Cooke

Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars
Kissinger Institute on China and the United States

China’s efforts to develop a clean energy industry have captured headlines and political attention in the United States, creating an impression that somehow China is far ahead of the U.S. in the creation of a post-carbon energy economy.  There is some validity to that concern, but at the same time China is finding that many of its policies to drive the growth its solar and wind industries are hitting some severe bumps. Overcapacity and price wars have led to hard times among equipment manufacturers in China, and the country is starting to face the challenges of dependency on energy sources that are at the mercy of the weather and the elements.

As the U.S. government’s efforts to support selected alternative energy manufacturers, it appears that both countries are finding the way forward to be more complex than just throwing money at the problem. As such, the timing is perfect for a book like Mr. Cooke’s. Finding the way difficult to navigate separately, perhaps the time is right to start working together.

Cooke gives us the beginnings of a pathway to working together. This is not a time to be giddy or unrealistic – China has proven its readiness to purloin innovations that belong to others, and each country knows that by working together they are also working with a future rival. Merritt seems to understand these issues, and by keeping his work focused on the enterprise rather than national policy level, offers practical advice for going forward.

Decoding the Mo Yan Fuss

Chinatown, San Francisco
Watching the Ship Traffic
2108 hrs.

The war of words that has erupted over Mo Yan‘s receipt of the Nobel Prize for Literature has been earnest and vituperative, and a fair amount of the critique has been framed so eloquently (like this excellent essay in the Kenyon Review by Anna Sun) that the casual reader might suspect that the Nobel committee suffered from its linguistic remove. Yet after reading Brendan O’Kane’s rather more balanced take on the controversy, the suspicion grows something more than literary opprobrium hides behind some of the more passionate writing on both sides.

Having failed to determine the question either way based on the arguments offered, I strolled from my hotel to the City Lights bookstore in North Beach and picked up a paperback of Mo’s Republic of Wine. After I get through Chan Koonchung’s The Fat Years, I’ll pick up Mo and let you know my take.

 

On the Rack: Strategic Studies Quarterly

Demilitarized Zone, North Korea

Demilitarized Zone, North Korea (Photo credit: yeowatzup)

Strategic Studies Quarterly
Winter 2012

The SSQ for Winter 2012 is out and on the racks. There is nothing specific about China in this edition, but a couple of articles might capture the imagination of China hands.

USAF Colonel Vincent Alcazar offers some thinking about how to counter “anti-access/area denial” strategies pursued by potential adversaries, including China, Iran, North Korea, and Russia. Interesting to note that Russia is back on the boogey-man board.

RAND’s Bruce Bennett offers some ideas on deterring North Korea from using WMD. What is fascinating about the article is its underlying assumption: deterrence depends on the actions of the U.S. and the Republic of Korea. The hint is clear: US planners no longer feel they can count on China’s help in addressing the Korean nuclear threat.

As always, a half dozen excellent reads. It is telling, though, that most of the contributors in this Air Force publication are not serving or former USAF officers. One wonders if there is a brain drain sapping the formerly deep intellectual pool of America’s air service.

 

China and the Sanctions Game

China’s Unilateral Sanctions
James Reilly
The Washington Quarterly
Fall 2012

While China has been a longtime critic of economic sanctions as a tool of statecraft, James Reilly at the University of Sydney thinks that in light of its own changing approach to international politics, Beijing perhaps protests overmuch. Now that China has built substantial economic wealth, it has begun using that wealth to influence or coerce other nations.

Reilly brings to light a new strain of thinking in China’s foreign policy establishment that eschews the “non-interference” and multilateralist doctrines of international relations. Given that many of these treasured guidelines are of considerable vintage (dating back to Zhou Enlai at the Bandung Conference in 1955), the new approaches have not been adopted quickly.

At the same time, the author provides a glimpse at a uniquely Chinese way of playing the sanctions game, often imposing the sanctions without declaring the. He also evaluates the effectiveness of unilateral sanctions imposed from Beijing, and while finding results to be wanting, he notes that China appears to be getting better at playing.

Is Anybody Following as We Pivot?

“Is America Listening to its East Asian Allies?”
David Kang
PacNet, Number 64
Pacific Forum CSIS
October 18, 2012

In a review of Hugh White’s new book The China Choice, David C. Kang of USC suggests that the U.S. attempt to form a loose coalition of nations to counter China’s growing assertiveness may be entirely wrongheaded. Kang notes that the reason erstwhile US allies are not jumping in to line up behind Washington is that they can less afford to irritate Beijing than they can to irritate Washington.

Both Kang and White make cogent points, and their comments add to a growing corpus of commentary questioning the Obama Asia pivot. What is unclear from the review is a more vital question: is the US effort to create a soft containment field around China doomed to fail? Or are Mr. Obama, Mrs. Clinton, and their teams are simply going about it the wrong way? Are we correct in drawing a thick black line around China in its current borders, implying a Cold War-esque forward-based containment effort? Or should we be thinking more of a realistic approach that accounts for our national will and resources, perhaps stepping back to a line that runs Alaska-Hawaii-Guam-Samoa-Australia?

These are hard, unpleasant questions, not least for the people of Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and the Philippines, all of whom take for granted the iron umbrella provided by the United States. But this is the direction toward which Kang and White are, more subtly than I, driving us.

The Word on China and the EU

“Results, Regrets, and Reinvention: Premier Wen’s last China-EU Summit
Chen Zhimin
ESPO Policy Brief 6
October 2012

As a part of his valedictory activities in his last year in office, Wen Jiabao conducted two summits with the EU, in February and then in September. As befits the departure of a person like Wen from the world of diplomacy, Chen Zhimin of Fudan University begins with a hopeful note suggesting that relationships are still moving forward.

Nonetheless, Chen does not shy from the dark spots on the body of the China-EU relationship. China remains frustrated that it cannot buy European armaments, that it cannot trade with Europe with the status of a market economy. But these are minor compared to Chinese frustration that despite Chinese help with Europe’s economic crisis, European governments continue to curb Chinese imports. Chen ends his paper with a veiled threat – China’s new leaders may not be so nice about all of this.

I read through the paper hoping that Professor Chen was one of that small cohort of China-based Chinese academics who had discovered a way to speak truth to power. Sadly, there is no such independent voice here. The paper was interesting in that it was an essential restatement of the official line, but Chen goes no further. Sadly, the author fingers himself as a cat’s paw of the central government. We may not expect particular insights from Professor Chen, but we will get a reliable rewrite of the official line.

Beijing’s Response to the TPP

“China’s Free Trade Agreement Strategies”
Guoyou Song and Wen Jin Yuan
The Washington Quarterly
Fall 2012

Song and Yuan from the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) suggest that China sees the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade famework being driven by the United States as an implicit threat to its foreign policy goals. The authors argue that the TPP is seen by Beijing as a soft-power aspect of the US “pivot to Asia,” and that the agreement would undermine Asian economic integration.

While China wants to respond with a free-trade agreement (FTA) series of initiatives on their own, the authors argue that domestic politics will make that impossible. Unlike their counterparts in the developed world, domestic Chinese enterprises, SOEs, and other commercial interests see FTAs as a net negative. Too much of Chinese industry still relies on protection at home for competitive advantage, and FTAs would undermine the “safe base” aspect of SOE global growth strategies.

The end result is that the U.S. is quietly creating the framework for Asia’s economic future, and it puts the U.S. smack at the center of that future. Chinese companies, for their part, will be left to fight for new regional markets rather more hobbled.

China’s Negative Eurotude

“When Sisyphus met Icarus: EU-China Economic Relations during the Eurozone Crisis”
Fredrik Erixon

German Marshall Fund of the United States
May 2, 2012

Just as the Eurozone crisis is reaching its peak, the China-Europe relationship is as plagued with problems as that between China and the U.S. While Brussels deserves some blame, author Fredrik Erixon suggests that it is China’s behavior that has soured relations.

China has, apparently, been playing its characteristic game of divide and conquer with Europe, and has put progress on the Sino-EU relationship on hold until after the coming leadership change in Beijing. Erixon argues that both are mistakes, threaten the viability of the EU, and as a result will hurt China in the long run.