“Destined for war? China, America and the Thucydides trap”

“As China’s self-regard has swollen, along with its newfound power, Japan has returned to the center of the Chinese gaze in the form of a bull’s-eye,”

Copyright The Financial Times March 30, 2017

As Trump and Xi prepare to meet, Gideon Rachman looks at the tests ahead for the world’s most important bilateral relationship
An excerpt follows. To read the entire piece, please click here.
“A big difference, however, may be that Xi’s vision of the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” seems much more fully formed than that of the new US president. As the journalist and academic Howard French tells it in Everything Under the Heavens, China’s leader is essentially seeking to return his country to the position it has traditionally exercised in Asia — as the dominant regional power, to which other countries must defer or pay tribute. “For the better part of two millennia, the norm for China, from its own perspective, was a natural dominion over everything under heaven,” writes French. In practice, this meant “a vast and familiar swath of geography that consisted of nearby Central Asia, Southeast Asia and East Asia”. This traditional Chinese aspiration had to be shelved for almost two centuries. From the mid-19th century, China was humbled by powerful outsiders — first European imperialists and then Japanese invaders. After the Communist victory in 1949, the country went through a period of economic and cultural isolation and relative poverty. By the late 1970s, when China reversed course and embraced capitalism and foreign investment, it had fallen far behind the “tiger economies” of east Asia. In its catch-up phase, China pursued friendly relations with its capitalist neighbours — including Japan, its old wartime foe. These Asian neighbours were important sources of expertise and foreign investment for a country that was desperate to make up for lost time. But French, like many observers, sees a change of mood and tone in China’s relationship with the outside world since Xi came to power in 2012. The primary target of Chinese muscle-flexing and ambition is not, in fact, the US — but Japan. “As China’s self-regard has swollen, along with its newfound power, Japan has returned to the center of the Chinese gaze in the form of a bull’s-eye,” writes French. Much Chinese resentment of Japan is focused on the Japanese invasion and occupation of the 1930s. But, as French makes clear, the roots of the resentment stretch deep into the 19th century. In one of the most compelling sections of this fluent and interesting book, French shows the importance of Japan’s annexation of the Ryukyu Islands in 1879. These islands retain their significance today, as they include Okinawa — the site of the largest US military base in east Asia. The current focus of territorial disputes between Japan and China is the much smaller set of islands known as the Senkakus to the Japanese and the Diaoyu to the Chinese. But reading French’s book, one cannot but wonder whether Chinese ambitions will also eventually encompass Okinawa.”

Howard W. French’s Everything Under the Heavens, reviewed: The last empire

For Canada, managing relations with an expansionist and impatient China will not be easy. French’s closing words seem particularly apt for us. He notes, reasonably enough, that China has much to contribute and deserves to be treated as an equal. That’s not a problem. It’s the next part of French’s formula that Ottawa so often either avoids or gets wrong. It is also important, he says, to approach China with “understated but resolute firmness.”

Howard W. French’s Everything Under the Heavens, reviewed: The last empire

  • Title Everything Under the Heavens: How the Past Helps Shapes China’s Push for Global Power
  • Author Howard W. French
  • Genre Non-Fiction
  • Publisher Knopf
  • Pages 330
  • Price $36.95

Donald Trump isn’t the only global leader with wall-building ambitions. China’s President, Xi Jinping, recently called on his officials to encircle restive Xinjiang province, home to China’s Muslim Uyghur population, with a “Great Wall of steel.”

Trump’s Great Wall can be dismissed as an opportunistic policy gambit, but Xi’s wall-building impulse has deeper roots. The default symbol for the United States is the Statue of Liberty, which famously welcomes the huddled masses. China’s most notable structure, the Great Wall, was built to keep the masses out, particularly those with dynastic ambitions.

For China’s mandarins, trouble typically arrives in the form of the twin calamities captured in the gloomy couplet, “Nei luan, wai huan”: chaos at home and invasion from abroad.

Avoiding these linked perils remains a priority for Xi, a preoccupation that shapes his foreign and domestic policy. Xi presides over the world’s last surviving empire, a country that has devoured ethnic rivals such as the Uyghurs and Tibetans whole, and that treats neighbouring states as vassals to be kept in line. All non-Han “Others” are expected to understand and appreciate the concept of tian xia, or “everything under heaven,” the rather ambitious zone of influence that China has traditionally attributed to itself.

Living up to this imposing mandate means that China is forever managing others, walling them in or fending them off, hoping to pacify them with the offer of membership in a China-dominated order.

In his new book, appropriately titled Everything Under the Heavens: How the Past Shapes China’s Push for Global Power, former New York Times journalist Howard W. French makes it clear China’s sense of national superiority is of more than historical significance. While China’s power has waxed and waned, its sense of being the Middle Kingdom has remained constant. So, too, has its inclination to manage those who lie outside the centre. Living up to its awesome self-image has required China to dispatch fleets and armies, and to develop a highly sophisticated diplomatic stagecraft of flattery and intimidation. For centuries, exercising this mandate of heaven has meant relentless efforts to manage and cajole, to pacify and control.

Nothing is quite what it seems. The generous offer of inclusion in a Chinese world masks a condescending disregard for partially sinicized neighbours, such as the Vietnamese and Tibetans, and contempt for the barbarians beyond. The offer of a peaceful place in a Chinese world is inevitably backed up by the sword.

French’s account, not surprisingly, runs counter to the official Chinese narrative. Admiral Zheng He, a Muslim eunuch who led a Chinese armada to Southeast Asia, Sri Lanka and the east coast of Africa, is lauded in China as an unconventional explorer. Unlike his Western counterparts, whose voyages were marked by greed, violence and conquest, Zheng, the story goes, was an ambassador of Chinese benevolence. The reality, as French reminds us, is that Zheng’s massive ships were actually troop carriers, whose menacing arrival conveyed a distinctly different message about the nature of the Chinese deal on offer.

Modern China continues to proclaim this theme of benevolent internationalism, something French challenges with numerous examples. The most chilling is his account of the Chinese navy’s 1988 massacre of flag-waving Vietnamese troops on the disputed Johnson Reef in the South China Sea. The Vietnamese protest is captured on a grainy YouTube video that is suddenly interrupted by Chinese naval gunfire. When the smoke clears, the Vietnamese are, shockingly, gone. It’s worth noting this happened just a year before the Chinese military perpetrated another massacre, this time of student protesters in Tiananmen Square. Nei luan, wai huan.

China is clearly in the midst of a new period of exuberance and expansion, and, as French makes clear, this inevitably involves friction with the two powers, Japan and the United States, that have come to dominate its neighbourhood over the past 200 years.

In recent decades, Japan, seduced by the lure of the China market and by the friendly pragmatism of previous (and needier) Chinese leaders, played down territorial disputes as it helped to rebuild China. The tables have since turned. All things Japanese are now demonized by China, which evokes past Japanese aggression as it steadily encroaches on the rocky outcroppings that mark the beginning of the Japanese archipelago.

Even more worrisome is China’s growing rivalry with its most formidable adversary, the United States. China is rapidly acquiring the weapons and technology to make it highly risky for the U.S. Navy to operate in the western Pacific, an ambition furthered by China’s construction of military airstrips on artificial islands in the South China Sea. French ominously quotes another Chinese aphorism: “When two emperors appear simultaneously, one must be destroyed.”

French suggests the current period of Chinese expansionism is particularly dangerous not just because it involves a clash between two nuclear-armed powers, but also because China’s leaders are in a race against time. The window on their ambitions for regional and broader domination is closing. China’s slowing economy means less money for military modernization. Worse for China is the fact its population will likely peak by 2025, while the United States will continue to enjoy a steadily increasing population, and resulting economic growth, for a long time to come. Much of this U.S. population growth will be powered by immigration. Trump may wish to rethink his wall.

All of this matters for Canadians. Any armed clash between the United States, our closest ally, and China would be devastating. Even if conflict is avoided, we can expect China’s larger ambitions and anxieties will influence the way it manages relations with Canada. The carrots and sticks are familiar.

Trade is one potential motivator. Even though it flows in China’s favour, its partners, Canada included, are all-too-easily persuaded that permission to do business is a benefit conferred only on those who agree to play by China’s rules. And access to China’s leaders is so carefully meted out and stage-managed that it becomes an objective in itself. Leaders refuse to kowtow at their peril. Recall that former prime minister Stephen Harper was widely castigated for declining to attend the Beijing Olympics in 2008, which took place only months after ugly scenes of unrest and repression in Tibet.

For Canada, managing relations with an expansionist and impatient China will not be easy. French’s closing words seem particularly apt for us. He notes, reasonably enough, that China has much to contribute and deserves to be treated as an equal. That’s not a problem. It’s the next part of French’s formula that Ottawa so often either avoids or gets wrong. It is also important, he says, to approach China with “understated but resolute firmness.”

That’s another way of saying that, like China, we need to align our international strategy with a hard-nosed reading of national interest. Let’s hope Ottawa’s mandarins are paying attention.

David Mulroney is the author of Middle Power, Middle Kingdom: What Canadians Need to Know about China in the 21st Century, and is president of the University of St. Michael’s College. He was Canada’s ambassador to China from 2009 to 2012.

Abe’s Avoidance of the Past

Copyright The New York Times

Abe’s Avoidance of the Past

By HOWARD W. FRENCHAUG. 18, 2015

Photo

Credit

Eugene Hoshiko/Associated Press

TOKYO — For months, speculation built in East Asia in the lead-up to the 70th anniversary of Japan’s surrender, which ended World War II.

Would the new, conservative prime minister, Shinzo Abe, who wants Japan to play a more assertive role on the world stage, address questions of wartime responsibility and guilt in a different way than his predecessors had?

In the end, Mr. Abe said little on Friday that was new. He prevaricated on the causes of the war and on the exact nature of the worst of Japan’s atrocities — from the forced recruitment of thousands of so-called comfort women, or sex slaves, from Korea and China, to the devastating military tactics employed to subjugate the country’s neighbors. Rather than apologize in personal terms, Mr. Abe was content to cite the apologies of his predecessors, before stating that it was unreasonable either for today’s young, or for future generations of Japanese, to have to feel guilty about events that took place long before their birth.

It’s no surprise that Mr. Abe’s speech elicited strong and immediate criticism from China and South Korea. What is more interesting were the rebukes he drew from important segments of Japanese society. At a peace ceremony on Saturday, with Mr. Abe in attendance, the 81-year-old emperor, Akihito — whose father, Hirohito, prosecuted Japan’s conquest of Asia beginning in the 1930s — broke new ground for himself by expressing “profound remorse” over the war. Tomiichi Murayama, the 91-year-old former prime minister, was more direct in his criticism of Mr. Abe: “Fine phrases were written, but the statement does not say what the apology is for and what to do from now on.”

It was Mr. Murayama who in 1995 — on the 50th anniversary of the war’s end — offered Japan’s strongest official apology, when he spoke of the “tremendous damage and suffering to the people of many countries, particularly those in Asia,” caused by Japanese colonialism and aggression, and personally expressed his “feelings of deep remorse and heartfelt apology.”

During its peak economic boom years, in the 1980s, Japan was also the world’s largest provider of development assistance, and concentrated most of its grants and loans on Asia. Japan played a particularly instrumental role in midwifing China’s economic surge, providing billions of dollars in investment, critical new technologies, and even political support to its communist neighbor, for example, after the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989.

Time and again, however, good-will initiatives like this have foundered on the basis of equivocal language, and on the provocative actions of Japanese leaders themselves, often taken to mollify conservative constituents. The most notorious of these actions have been their repeated visits to Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine, a Shinto monument to the country’s modern war dead, including numerous officers who were tried after Japan’s defeat as so-called Class-A war criminals.

Mr. Abe occupies a singular and complex place in this narrative. The maternal grandfather he often reminisces about fondly, Nobusuke Kishi, oversaw industrial development in Japanese-occupied Manchuria in the 1930s, during a time of rampant sex slavery, prostitution and narcotics dealing. A far-right politician with fascist leanings, Kishi was later minister of munitions in the war cabinet of Hideki Tojo, and was imprisoned on suspicion of war crimes, although never tried, helping position him to later become an important, early postwar prime minister. Mr. Abe himself pursued rapprochement with China during his brief, first tour as prime minister, a decade ago, after a period of heightened tensions between the two countries under his boss and predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi, over his visits to Yasukuni.

In 2013, on the first anniversary of his second stint as prime minister, however, Mr. Abe inflamed relations with China and Korea by visiting Yasukuni himself. Since then, in the face of stiffening domestic opposition, Mr. Abe has inflamed mistrust by revising laws to allow Japan to sidestep restrictions in its pacifist Constitution and to take on more responsibility for its own defense and enhance military collaboration with its allies, especially the United States.

Why have deep divisions lingered so much longer in East Asia than they did in Europe — where Germany was much more willing to accept its responsibility for the war, and its neighbors therefore far more willing to get on with things?

Part of it, no doubt, is because of calculations by Beijing that having a historical antagonist readily at hand is politically useful, especially as the country’s ideological mainstays of Maoism and Marxism-Leninism have lost their relevance. This has left the Chinese Communist Party with only two pillars upon which to stake its legitimacy, strident nationalism and dwindling economic growth.

According to William A. Callahan, a China scholar at the University of Manchester, in 2012 fully 60 percent of the movies and TV programs produced by the leading production company, Hengdian World Studios, involved anti-Japanese plots. In that year alone, he estimated that 700 million Japanese were shown being killed in these programs, or more than five times the actual population of Japan.

To read the whole article, please click here.

What’s behind Beijing’s drive to control the South China Sea? (Guardian Long

Copyright The Guardian

A satellite image of Chinese land reclamation on Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands.
 A satellite image of Chinese land reclamation on Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands. Photograph: DigitalGlobe/Getty Images

On 26 May, CNN broadcast an unusual clip of a US navy intelligence flight over the South China Sea. The P-8A Poseidon surveillance plane – one of the newest weapons in the Pentagon’s arsenal – had taken off, with a CNN reporter on board, from Clark airbase in the Philippines, once part of America’s largest overseas base complex during the cold war. After about 45 minutes, the plane reached its first target – which had, until recently, been an obscure, almost entirely submerged feature in the Spratly Island group.

Fifteen thousand feet below, dozens of Chinese ships tossed at anchor. Their crews had been working day and night for weeks, dredging sand and rock from the ocean floor to fill in a stunning blue lagoon – turning a 3.7-mile-long reef that had only partially revealed itself to the daylight at low tide into a sizable man-made island nearly 1,000 miles away from the Chinese mainland.

At the approach of the American aircraft, a Chinese radio operator can be heard addressing the pilot: “This is the Chinese navy. This is the Chinese navy … Please leave immediately to avoid misunderstanding.” When the plane, which was busily photographing the land-reclamation effort, failed to heed these instructions, the operator grew exasperated, and the recording ends as abruptly as it had begun, with him shouting the words: “You go!”

 China’s land grab in the South China Sea

For many people who viewed this clip, it might have almost passed for entertainment, but the plane continued on to a place called Fiery Cross, whose history and recent development point to how deadly serious the struggle over the South China Sea has become. Fiery Cross came under Chinese control in 1988, following a confrontation with Vietnam at a nearby site, Johnson Reef, where Chinese troops opened fire from a ship on a contingent of Vietnamese soldiers who stood in knee-deep seas after having planted their country’s flag in the coral. A YouTube video of the incident shows dozens of Vietnamese being cut down in the water under a hail of machine-gun fire.

To read the entire piece, please follow this link.

 

Book Review: ‘By All Means Necessary,’ by Elizabeth C. Economy and Michael Levi

Copyright Wall Street Journal

In Mongolia, fear of becoming dependent on Beijing led leaders to build national railroads using a different gauge from China’s. See WSJ original here.

 

By

HOWARD W. FRENCH
Feb. 20, 2014 7:24 p.m. ET
In January 2008, an Omaha-based commodity trader placed a $100-a-barrel bid for Oklahoma crude. “This is the big one,” he declared of his transaction, which pushed the price of oil to an all-time high. Commodity analysts had a seemingly satisfying explanation for the historic surge: With its double-digit economic growth rates, China was pushing the world toward a state of resource scarcity and ever higher prices.

Elizabeth Economy and Michael Levi use this anecdote as the opening scene in “By All Means Necessary: How China’s Resource Quest Is Changing the World,” a mostly dry but wide-ranging and richly informed look at how the rapid growth of the world’s most-populous country is affecting the global economy. Yet the oil trader’s story is deployed merely to be knocked down, as the authors show how well markets have accommodated the new demand. For all the talk of Beijing locking up supplies, China’s share of the world’s oil, by historical standards, isn’t especially remarkable.

According to the authors, in other words, China’s supposedly pending economic takeover of the world’s resources is more hype than reality. Ms. Economy and Mr. Levi, both senior fellows at the Council on Foreign Relations, range from commodity to commodity and sector to sector to show that China’s economy and culture are being changed at least as much by the world as China is exerting transformative change upon it. As this process unfolds, they argue, many of the West’s worst fears about the rise of a state-capitalist juggernaut will dissipate.

Even before they get very far with China, the authors draw a useful analogy with another Asian giant: Japan. In the 1950s and ’60s, that country posted growth rates similar to China’s today. “Japanese oil imports accounted for a considerably larger part of the world market than Chinese imports do today,” they write. “Japan boosted its share of world steel production, the main source of demand for iron ore, from 6 percent in 1960 to 17 percent by 1973, nearly passing the United States, and spurring a demand for iron ore imports that greatly exceeded U.S. demand.” And yet, they add, “Australia did not become a Japanese mine,” as many at the time had darkly predicted.

By Elizabeth C. Economy and Michael Levi
(Oxford, 279 pages. $27.95)

Matters with China will follow much the same pattern, Ms. Economy and Mr. Levi suggest. Talk of the country taking over big natural-resource players in Africa and elsewhere is mostly unfounded; China won’t be governing countries like South Sudan merely because it has invested heavily there. For starters, there is little evidence that China seeks direct control over energy sources abroad. Far from developing captive sources, China’s big state oil companies, for example, sell most of their supplies on the open market. These companies, moreover, have been constrained by a variety of responses from producing countries. In big Western markets like the United States, Canada and Australia, a combination of regulations and political attitudes have often thwarted Chinese ambitions to take controlling stakes in strategic industries or companies.

In Central Asia, China has become a big player quickly, but it was late to a game still mostly played by Russian rules that govern the supply and transport of oil and gas. In neighboring Mongolia, a fear of becoming dependent on China has brought a wide range of measures, from tough rules on investment and immigration to the odd decision to build a railroad that uses a different gauge from that of its neighbor.

Arguably more important than all of this, the authors say, is the way China is often forced to bend to the reality of international markets. Once China surpassed Japan in steel production in the mid-2000s, for example, state planners pushed consolidation of the industry in order to maximize the country’s market power. So far, this approach hasn’t succeeded, as dozens of relatively small players in China continue to fight for survival, meaning that Japan, Korea and big European buyers play leading roles as market makers for long-term contracts.

The authors indirectly raise and leave largely unresolved perhaps the most crucial problem raised by their book. “China has, of course, not invaded other countries to exploit their natural resources,” they write. “Still, many have argued that the pattern of extracting resources abroad but shipping them home for processing is colonialism in another form.”

Colonialism is in the eyes of the beholder. As the authors note, Beijing relies more on “informal relationships and personal ties than working through formal institutions or legal practices. One consequence of this is that other authoritarian states in particular find the Chinese state-centered but personalistic approach reassuring.” Nowhere is this more visible than in Africa, where the disparity between China’s fast-growing wealth and power and its emerging clients is greatest. Without more openness and respect for local laws and civil society, it seems likely that Africans will begin to pose questions about what booming economic ties with China are costing them in terms of their independence and long-term development.

Some are already posing such questions. As Nigeria’s central-bank governor, Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, told the Financial Times in March 2013: “China takes from us primary goods and sells us manufactured ones. This was also the essence of colonialism. China is no longer a fellow underdeveloped economy. China is the second biggest economy in the world, an economic giant capable of the same forms of exploitation as the West. China is a major contributor to the de-industrialization of Africa and thus African underdevelopment.”

Mr. French teaches at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He is the author of the forthcoming “China’s Second Continent: How a Million Migrants Are Building a New Empire in Africa.”