An Asian Power Web Emerges

ASIAWhen President Obama met his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping in California last week, it is doubtful that either leader focused on the growing ties among countries like Singapore, India, South Korea and Vietnam. Perhaps they should have. The Burgeoning security cooperation among such nations represents untold story of a region on move. Asia has undergone decades of economic deepening, and complemented by years of diplomatic integration. Now, countries across region are building on this foundation, engaging in unprecedented forms of military cooperation. In many cases these deepening ties include neither the United States nor China, and they are supplementing traditional U.S.-led “hub and spoke” system of alliances that has marked regional security for decades. This emerging power web will have deep implications across the Indo-Pacific region. It should also affect American strategy, because, played correctly, the United States is poised to be leading beneficiary of growing network of relationships. The network is marked by a proliferation of government-to-government security agreements, including recent pacts inked between Singapore and Vietnam, Japan and Australia, India and South Korea. Variable in scope, these accords promote ability of Asian nations to train and operate together, conduct joint research and development, service each other’s ships and aircraft. To be sure, these are not mutual defense treaties, but they point to ever-closer military cooperation among key countries in the region. Similarly, there is an upsurge in the joint military training. Japan and India conducted their first bilateral maritime exercise in 2012, the same year that saw joint field exercises between India and Singapore, Australia and South Korea, Japan and Singapore. The intra-Asian arms trade is also heating up like never before, and even a country like Japan, which has long placed stringent restrictions on export of weapons, is taking steps toward supplying Asian nations. While many of these relationships are developing outside the ambit of China or United States, Washington-Beijing dynamic remains a primary driver of them. Asian countries are diversifying their security ties in order to hedge against the possibility China’s rise will turn threatening and American presence in the region will decline. What all this means for the regional stability remains undetermined. An increasing inter-connectivity in Asia could act as a restraint, making countries more reluctant to engage in provocations as they calculate the costs to their flourishing ties. But a more militarized region could also devolve into rival blocs characterized by arms races and heightened insecurity. Stronger security relationships in Asia could heighten regional competition, particularly if are divisive, perceived as aimed at China, which is predisposed to see regional security enhancements as containment (…..)


How Chinese Strategists Think

CHINAToshi Yoshihara joins me (or I join him) over at the Investor’s Business Daily to refocus attention on human dimension of U.S.-China strategic competition. Followers of these pages pixels know that Toshi and I are true believers in the idea competition is a human enterprise. As Colonel John Boyd liked to say, people, ideas, and hardware, in that order, are determinants of competitive endeavors like power politics. People, not stuff, fight. That’s not to say hardware is un-important. Not for nothing did author Hilaire Belloc ascribe British imperial dominance over subject peoples to the fact that “we have got the Maxim gun, and they have not.” Too great a material advantage, then, can translate into an insurmountable competitive advantage. This mismatch holds true beyond colonial wars against outgunned antagonists. World War I proved that there were limits to men’s capacity to stand against fire, even when peer army faced peer army. But human ingenuity is crucial even in the material dimension, isn’t it? It’s the common denominator among all of John Boyd’s elements of competition. People with ample resources concoct gee-whiz engines of war. People not blessed with abundance can work around material shortcomings, devising asymmetric tactics, weaponry to get more bang out of scarce materiel. Look no further than the improvised explosive device, a homemade landmine has given high-tech militaries fits in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. Only expensive countermeasures have kept IED menace at bay, imperfectly so at that. Which is roundabout way of getting back to China. As red-blooded ‘Mercans, my wingman and I have little sympathy with Beijing’s goals. As professors we’ve come to admire how assiduously our Chinese counterparts do their homework. They look to history, and to the greats of strategic theory, to guide their thinking and illuminate their strategic discourses. Mahan is a fixture in debates over sea power, however improbable that might seem. Corbett puts in the odd appearance. And, unsurprisingly, Sun Tzu and Mao are regulars. In a sense Chinese scholars are running a Far Eastern campus of our Strategy and Policy Department. We read theory with our students, use strategic precepts to evaluate history, and see where the analysis takes us. Strategists in China read theory, apply it to history, as in the Rise of the Great Powers books and TV series, and see where the process takes them. In short, these are strategic competitors worth taking seriously. And their playbook is strikingly similar to ours. Western commentators err badly if they reduce the U.S.-China competition to GDP figures, numbers of ships, warplanes, other widgets, or other quantitative measures. Colonel Boyd would disapprove, rightly so. (source: James R. Holmes – The Diplomat – 19/06/2013)  

US and China Explore New Relationship

An AcrobatIt will be some time before the full consequences of the California summit meeting between US President Barack Obama and China’s new leader, Xi Jinping, are revealed. Nixon-Mao it was not. Nevertheless, the well-timed + much-needed unscripted discussion focused on fundamental questions about the US-China relationship which has reached a new level of tension because of mutual distrust and suspicion. Xi rightly observed during a preparatory meeting with senior US officials that the US-China relationship, arguably most important bilateral relationship in the world, is at a “critical juncture.” But based on the 8 hours of meetings, “new model of relations” which both leaders pledged to create remains a largely aspirational goal. On the explosive issue of the cybersecurity, especially the cybertheft of US intellectual property, summit’s achievement was to stress to Xi the priority of the issue, and as outgoing US National Security Advisor Tom Donilon told reporters, place it “at center of the relationship.” In what may prove most notable outcome of the meeting, Washington and Beijing appeared to move closer on North Korea, agreeing neither would accept a nuclear North Korea. Beijing is chief provider of energy and food to the North. Prior to Pyongyang’s third nuclear test in February, China has appeared to place stability on the Korean Peninsula above the nuclear issue. The Obama-Xi summit may have established a basis for closer coordination in managing nuclear problem and perhaps the eventual reunification of Korea as well. If so, such cooperation may help melt underlying mutual distrust that permeates the relationship. For Beijing, there is fear that the US posture in Asia is designed to “contain” a rising China; for the US, a fear that China seeks to deny the US a preponderant role in the Pacific, there is little evidence that the summit has put the relationship on a more positive path. Since 1972, eight presidents, from Richard Nixon to Obama, have pursued a remarkably consistent policy toward China, cooperating where possible and in seeking to manage differences. But the relationship may be at tipping point: current bilateral relationship as presently constituted is no longer sustainable. Over the course of this decade it will almost certainly either tilt toward being more cooperative or more competitive, toward more collaborative efforts to address global problems and manage regional security in the Pacific or toward a confrontation. The direction it drifts toward will go a long way to determining the future shape of the global system. Can new equilibrium in US-China relations, what Xi calls “a new type of relationship between major countries in 21st century,” be attained? Shirtsleeves, schmoozing and long walks can help create familiarity between leaders could prove helpful in a crisis. Better communication at the top can minimize misunderstandings. But at the end of the day, it is interests and to some extent values, not personalities, that shape a relationship. The world’s two largest economies, the world’s largest creditor and its largest debtor, the two largest energy consumers and Pacific powers, are deeply intertwined. Yet the tensions over cybersecurity, trade, currency manipulation, China’s behavior toward territorial disputes in East Asia, not least, differences in values between a democracy and an authoritarian one-party state have steadily deepened mutual distrust and suspicion (…..)


China’s Great Uprooting: Moving 250 Million Into Cities

China’s Urban Billion(…..) The Country’s new prime minister, Li Keqiang, indicated at his inaugural news conference in March urbanization was one of his top priorities. He also cautioned, however, that it would require a series of an accompanying legal changes “to overcome various problems in course of urbanization.” Some of these problems could include chronic urban unemployment if jobs are not available, more protests from skeptical farmers unwilling to move. Instead of creating wealth, the urbanization could result in a permanent underclass in big Chinese cities and destruction of rural culture and religion. Government has been pledging a comprehensive urbanization plan for more than two years now. It was originally to have been presented at the National People’s Congress in March, but various concerns delayed that, according to people close to government. Some of them include the challenge of financing the effort, of coordinating among the various ministries and of balancing the rights of farmers, whose land has increasingly been taken for urban projects. These worries delayed a high-level conference to formalize the plan this month. The plan has now been delayed until the fall, government advisers say. Central leaders are said to be concerned spending will lead to inflation and bad debt. Such concerns may have been behind the call in a recent government report for farmers’ property rights to be protected. Released in March, report said China must “guarantee farmers’ property rights and interests.” Land would remain owned by the state, though, so farmers would not have ownership rights even under new blueprint. On ground, however, the new wave of urbanization is well under way. Almost every province has large-scale programs to move farmers into housing towers, and with farmers’ plots then given to corporations or municipalities to manage. Efforts have been made to improve the attractiveness of urban life, but the farmers caught up in the programs typically have no choice but to leave their land. The broad trend began decades ago. In the early 1980s, about 80% of Chinese lived in the countryside versus 47% today, plus an additional 17% that works in cities but is classified as rural. The idea is to speed up this process and achieve an urbanized China much faster than would occur organically. The Skeptics say the government’s headlong rush to urbanize is driven by a vision of modernity that has failed elsewhere. In Brazil and Mexico, urbanization was also seen as a way to bolster economic growth. But among the results were expansion of slums and of a stubborn unemployed underclass, according to experts. “There’s this feeling we have to modernize, we have to urbanize and this is our national-development strategy,” said Gao Yu, China country director for Landesa Rural Development Institute, based in Seattle. Referring to the disastrous Maoist campaign to industrialize overnight, he added, “It’s almost like another Great Leap Forward”. Primary motivation for the urbanization push is to change China’s economic structure, with growth based on domestic demand for products instead of relying so on export. In theory, new urbanites mean vast new opportunities for construction companies, public transportation, utilities, appliance makers, break from cycle of farmers consuming only what they produce. “If half of China’s population starts consuming, growth is inevitable,” said Li Xiangyang, vice director of Institute of World Economics + Politics, part of a government research institute. “They are living in rural areas where they do not consume” (…..)


Soft Power? China Has Plenty

A Wise Gardener in AfricaChina has little attractive power, in the West. But not everyone is watching China through a Western eyes. China is a failure when it comes to soft power or so we’re told. Giant in hard-power leagues of money and military strength, China is often portrayed as a minnow swimming against the global tide of ideas and perceptions. Unloved and misunderstood, the country can only get things done through the use of carrots and sticks, not by capitalizing on the warm sentiments of others. The foreigners, in the end, pay heed to China only because have to, not because they want to. No-one has been more skeptical about Chinese soft power than Joseph Nye, man who first coined phrase 20 years ago. In particular, Nye has criticized Beijing’s efforts to acquire “soft power” through centralized schemes, like the spread of Confucius Institutes or establishment at end of last year of China Public Diplomacy Association. Despite “spending billions of dollars to increase its “soft power” … China has had a limited return on its investment,” he recently argued. This is because soft power mainly accrues when civil society actors, whom Chinese government tends to squash, make or do things with global appeal, according to Joseph Nye, not through top-down schemes which the foreigners are likely to interpret as propaganda. Nye rightly doubts whether all of China’s soft-power investments are paying off. However, we should not be too quick to write off China as an attractive force in the global affairs simply because Beijing has fired a few blanks. In fact, a Chinese soft power does exist. You just have to look for it in the right places (…..) Africa is not the only place from which China looks appealing. Its soft power also draws people in Latin America, Eastern Europe and parts of Asia, where popular impression of China might contrast favorably with the general perception of the West, or where Beijing might be seen as a welcome partner in tough financial times, as a trusted long-time ally. Western commentators tend to overlook this, noticing only China’s lack of soft power in North America, Western Europe and those parts of Asia that fear or dislike China. In these places, bad news about China, everything from its smoggy air, to its venal politics, to its repression of dissidents, to its apparent strangeness, drowns out any soft-power messages that Beijing might be trying to send. But elsewhere the good news drowns out the bad. So Nye’s criticisms are half-right. In many states, China probably is wasting its time and resources when it tries to get people to watch CCTV, piles newsstands with English versions of the China Daily, or part-funds its Confucius Institutes. These initiatives are doomed to fail in certain contexts. But these same activities can work beautifully elsewhere. Even in the China-bashing West, China’s marketing messages are finding audience. U.S., for example, hosts more Confucius Institutes than any other country (70 at latest count). If they convince even a few Americans China is somehow likeable, respectable, trustworthy or admirable, then Beijing’s efforts won’t have gone entirely to waste.


Asia’s New Triangle

India + JapanChina’s aggressive assertion of its territorial claims causing general concern, it has taken to wooing one of its major rivals, India. While not spurning China’s move, India is striving to broaden its diplomatic and military support. After ignoring India and its security concerns, Beijing’s new political leaders decided to make India a foreign-policy priority with Chinese premier selecting India for his first foreign visit. Days after the Chinese incursion into Indian territory, Indian prime minister, though, traveled to another rival of China’s, Japan, and even extended his planned visit by a day. And as the Indian prime minister landed in Tokyo, the Chinese media attacked Japan for vitiating Indian minds against China. All this, in a matter of weeks! 20-day standoff between Chinese and Indian soldiers in the western sector of their disputed boundary in Ladakh has exacerbated distrust between the two nations. Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s visit to India in May was supposed to assuage Indian anxieties. But Beijing has failed to explain why Chinese soldiers took provocative action. During Li’s visit, India did not receive a satisfactory explanation, only a reassurance that the two sides should continue to talk about border problem. The Chinese premier did offer India a “handshake across the Himalayas,” underlining the need for world’s two most populous nations to become a new engine for the global economy. But there was no break through on key issues bedeviling Sino-Indian ties. Given serious nature of bilateral problems, the three pacts signed during Li’s visit were rather lame, aimed at boosting the export of buffalo meat and fishery products from India, and other trade in health products. Border disputes threaten the Sino-Indian bilateral relationship. But the Indian prime minister and Chinese premier could only ask their special representatives to examine the existing mechanisms and devise more measures to maintain peace along the border, hoping to reinvigorate boundary negotiations that are at a virtual standstill despite 15 rounds of talks. Bilateral trade is touching $70 billion mark with the two states aiming for $100 billion by 2015. But the Indian companies want better access to Chinese market, and New Delhi remains concerned about the ballooning trade deficit in China’s favor. India has concerns about the effects on lower riparian states of activities in the upper reaches of shared rivers and wants greater Chinese transparency on Beijing’s plans to develop water resources of the Brahmaputra River. Li’s visit did not result in a full river treaty, as many in India had hoped, Beijing agreed to share data on river flows. China remains non-committal on providing advance information on the construction of dams on rivers leading to India. Longer-term implications of the border crisis remain unclear, but new robustness in India’s dealings with China was evident during Li’s visit. India was vocal in demanding reciprocity and made it clear that peace on the border remains foundation of the relationship and that other aspects of relations will suffer if incidents like the Chinese incursion into Despang Valley continue (…..)


Getting to Know You

United States + ChinaThis week’s summit meeting between President Obama and President Xi Jinping of China is an important opportunity for leaders of world’s two largest economies to chart a smoother path and avoid the destructive conflicts that have historically afflicted relations between rising and established powers. Mr. Xi is still settling into his job as China’s political leader and is a relative newcomer on world stage compared to Mr. Obama, now in his second term. But he seems to well understand the stakes. He told one of Mr. Obama’s top aides last month that ties between the 2 countries stand at a “critical juncture” and it is time to explore “a new type of great power relationship.” The world is eager to hear just what he has in mind. The two presidents have agreed to an informal format for their talks in California on Friday and Saturday that affords far more time for serious discussion, at least six hours, than is usual for such encounters, which tend to be limited to a carefully scripted talking points. This makes sense because there is a great deal of ground to cover, not just broad political and economic issues but specific points of contention. One fundamental question of a great interest to Washington is how Mr. Xi intends to wield power. Tensions are inevitable between big economic and political competitors, and some in this country have been too eager to cast China as next great adversary. Still, Mr. Xi has displayed a disturbing nationalist inclination as well as a willingness to back the military in its increasingly dangerous attempts to assert primacy in the South China and East China Seas over Japan and others. With this mind, Mr. Obama’s task is to reassure Mr. Xi that his own efforts to refocus his foreign policy on Asia need not threaten Beijing. But he also needs to make clear China’s aggressive approach to maritime disputes is unacceptable. There is also the no less contentious and perhaps even more threatening matter of the cyberwarfare. Amid growing tensions over claims that the Chinese hackers are carrying out cyberattacks to steal American corporate and government secrets, 2 governments recently agreed to hold regular talks on setting cybersecurity standards. The meeting will be Obama’s chance to lay out the evidence behind these claims and to make the case why such intrusions, especially in the commercial sphere, are a serious threat to relations between the 2 countries. Enlisting Mr. Xi’s personal commitment to curb them would be a major step forward. Mr. Xi has signaled an interest in reforming China’s state-managed economy, which is expected to provoke an airing of complaints on both sides about restrictive trade policies. Mr. Obama should welcome the recent $4.7 billion offer by a Chinese company, Shuanghui International, to buy American pork producer, Smithfield Foods, as illustration of healthy free trade that benefits both countries. But he would be remiss if he did not also point out even as Chinese companies like Shuanghui expand overseas with relative ease, American and European companies face numerous obstacles in China. The agenda must also include North Korea. Beijing recently has played a constructive role in persuading North Korea to calm its threatening rhetoric and urging a resumption of talks over its nuclear program, but it has resisted joining United States and South Korea in figuring out how best to respond if North Korea implodes. The United States and China are each other’s greatest strategic challenges but they are invested in each other’s fate. This requires continuing efforts to confront common problems and to manage differences honestly and transparently, a task that can be eased by a successful meeting. (source: The Editorial Board – NYTimes – 05/06/2013)