Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The recent row over China/US relations

As George Bush once said, the relationship between US and China is complicated. In many ways, I think China is one of the few policy areas that Bush got almost everything right. He started presidency with much anti-China rhetoric, but left the office as one of the most pro-China president in US history. It is my personal view that having a positive, engaging and pragmatic relationship with China is the most beneficial path that any US administration can take. Some people in the China-blue group (like Bill Gertz, John Bolton and Donald Rumsfeld) favoured antagonizing China through more support with Taiwan, labeling China as a threat/competitor and creating an encirclement of China through alliance with Australia, Japan and India. Bush started off in that corner, but he slowly moved to great engagement with China while maintaining strong relationships with regional allies like Australia and Japan. I think he basically did a really good of adapting to the rise of China, the increased role of China as America's creditor and the interconnected economic relationship between the two countries. He started started the strategic dialog with China, which I think really helped the bilateral relationship. I think he was absolutely right in going to the Beijing Olympics when the pressure was on him not to. By the end of his presidency, he had built a really good working relationship with China and a good understanding of the country. He was able to work with China on critical political and economical issues, even though the two sides had vastly different views. I think China really appreciated that.

The Obama administration was definitely very China friendly in the first year. A major reason is America's need for China to continue to buy US treasury bond in the midst of the economic meltdown in America. A lot of people got nervous or angry by the fact that Obama/Hilary put human rights on the back burners, but I think that is overplayed. I always think that it's far more effective to encourage China and explain the importance of human rights privately rather than embarrassing the Politburo in public. I do think that Obama gave in too much to China in some of the early negotiations like his visit to China, because it emboldened China to ask for more and give in less to US in future negotiations. In many ways, this is the expected path. Washington insiders cannot expect America to negotiate from a position of absolute strength like during Clinton years, because China is just so much stronger now economically and politically. I don't really want to put military in there, because China's recent success comes from its status as the world's leading creditor nation. As history as shown, power flows to where money is and that is playing out again in China today. Now that Washington has elevated China to be the other super power of the world in the past world, it would be hard to push back Chinese ambitions. We have a problem now where the Chinese leadership also has to satisfy and listen to the growing middle class that is more nationalistic and confident than ever. So, as Washington is pressing Obama to get more out of China, the Chinese population is also pressuring the Politburo to not give up any of its new found power. With this kind of power struggle between the two countries, it's not surprising that we have run into the current row.

Now, to turn on our attention to the point of contentions of the recent weeks: Taiwan, Tibet, Google and Iran. If we start with Iran, we all know what the issue is here. China has a lot of money invested in the country and relies on Iran for future energy supply. You know we can say a lot about the type of regime in the country, but US is also dealing with a lot of unsavory characters in the Middle East. The question is whether or not it makes sense for China to support tougher sanctions in Iran. I actually think it does, but there is obviously a limit that China can go without risking all of its major contracts in Iran. The reason to support tougher sanctions on Iran are many. Even though Iran may not be as actively developing nuclear weapon or as further along in its development as the Israelis think, it does openly taunt the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. The danger to China is that more countries will seek for nuclear weapon and countries like Japan and South Korea will also develop it. I don't think China is willing to accept that kind of strategical change. The more immediate threat comes from Israel. Now, the Israeli gov't seemed to have given the Obama administration a deadline in harsh sanctions against Iran before it launches strikes against Iran's nuclear targets. If that happens, Iran could cause all sort of problems in the Middle East if it manages to carry out its threat of shutting down oil/gas supplies in that region. Surging energy prices and instability in Middle Easts are definitely things that China would be afraid of. I'm really not sure how this will turn out. I can see that Israel will continue to ask for more from US and US will continue to ask for more support from China/Russia. At the end, I really don't think US will get what it wants from China.

As for Google, I think this is more about China's general cyber espionage effort against US governments and corporations rather than just Google. Let's face it, these "attacks" against Google were attempts to get emails of human right activists rather than bringing down Google's servers. It is not like we don't know that China's human rights record is rather poor. Rather than complaining to the Chinese gov't and the media, the US government should run a similar cyber effort against China. And I think they are doing that, because China also claims to face a lot of cyber attacks. So in the end, I really don't have a lot of sympathies for the US government or Google. Google is making a lot of noises about leaving China, but it is still operating in China with the self imposed censor turned on (despite its public claims otherwise). Like all other big corporations, it's number 1 goal is to make more money. If it thinks that the cost of business outweighs the benefits, then it will leave the country. Clearly, the other 30 target firms are not going anywhere. The US government is in a position to fight fire with fire. If US wants to remain the IT leader of the world, then it should be able to create security and infiltrate other networks better than any other countries in the world. I think this issue will die down as soon as Google finds a solution with the Chinese gov't. I really don't think it will leave the country, because it does not want to totally abandon the search engine and especially the cell phone market for the future.

As a result of not receiving Chinese support on some issues, I think the recent moves are calculated actions by the Obama administration saying that we are not going to play "nice guy" with you anymore. Taiwan and Tibet are certainly the two things that agitate China more than anything else. To much of the Western world, Taiwan is just an Asian nation with a democratic gov't threatened by China and Tibet is a land occupied by the brutal repression of China. Of course, the sympathetic image of Tibet is played up by the non-threatening zen-like image of Dalai Lama. The image of Dalai Lama as this international loved religious leader has basically elevated Tibet freedom ahead of many other larger and more repressed groups. One would really have to study Chinese history to see why the Chinese gov't and its people have such a dislike to Taiwan Independence and Dalai Lama.

To the Chinese people, the 100 years from 1840 to 1949 was its century of humiliation where it had to give up part of its sovereignty and surrender its land to foreigners. It is important to take back all that it was forced to give up during that period. When China was negotiating with UK for the return of Hong Kong, Deng Xiaoping actually told Margaret Thatcher that "China is not Argentina" and that China would take Hong Kong back by force if necessary. So to Chinese people, Taiwan is a reminder that China was forced to give up land to foreign occupiers during that century. To Chinese people, Tibet was a backward, feudal region that was briefly taken away early this century and was liberated of those oppressive Lamas and foreigners in 1950s. Of course, there are strategic element to it. The navy does not think that it can truly operate beyond the first chain until the hostile ROCN is no longer at its door step. The army believes that it needs Tibet as a buffer zone and natural barrier that protects the nation from the Indians. There are obviously more to it. Most Chinese people believe that Han people everywhere are really Chinese and should rejoin China. They find the Dalai Lama request for true autonomy (This Forbes Article contains the key facts) to be more appalling for the following reasons:
  • The land requested by Dalai Lama is not just the current Tibet autonomous region, but also includes large parts of surrounding provinces.
  • These lands are requested despite the fact that Han population have long been the majority in some of those areas.
  • The so called autonomy actually sounds more like sovereignty, because Chinese troops is no longer allowed on the land. There is no way that PLA can accept this due to the strategic implications against India.
  • Dalai Lama requested China to stop transferring Han population to Tibet, but that has never actually happened. How can the 3 million Tibetans remain in majority if PRC actually tried to relocate Han people there?
  • Dalai Lama, the former feudal ruler of Tibet with many slaves, is insincere when it comes to democracy for Tibetans.


Therefore, the divergence of opinion on the military sale to Taiwan stems from how the West and China sees Taiwan. Most Westerners believe that Taiwan is a separate sovereign entity that should only rejoin China if it wishes to do so. Therefore, Americans see these military sales as fulfilling the Taiwan Relation Act by providing Taiwan with additional defensive deterrent. The weapons themselves are very advanced, but they are defensive in nature and are not going to change the military balance across the straits. The best hope for Taiwan is still to make peace with China and maintaining strong relationship with America. So, what is the problem? Well, most Chinese people believe that Taiwan is an inalienable part of China that no other country should interfere with. Therefore, any sales to Taiwan is looked as containing Chinese power, violating its sovereignty and interfering with its internal affairs. While this might have been acceptable in the past, the increasingly confident Chinese public are no longer willing to keep quiet to such snobs. The meeting with Dalai Lama stokes anger in China for similar reasons. The Politburo has to make a lot of noise and take what appears to be strong actions to satisfy the public. In the past, we have often heard cases where the government publicly criticizes another head of state meeting Dalai Lama, but then telling them privately that things will be business as usual. I tend to think that will happen again here. They will make a lot of noise and suspend military contacts, but those things will be re-established sometimes next year. I don't think the Obama administration needs to meet Dalai Lama again or sell weapons to Taiwan again for a few years, so things should smooth out by later this year. At the end of the day, it is in China's interest to have strong working relationship and military exchanges with America. The PRC leadership is too pragmatic to let this drag on. On the other hand, I think the sanctions against US companies could happen. Since US has been sanctioning Chinese companies for years for doing business with Iran, I think punishing American companies for helping Taiwan is pretty logical. They really don't do much business with Lockheed and Raytheon, so any kind of sanctions against them would be quite symbolic. They do a lot of business with Boeing, but Boeing is selling very minimal to Taiwan. The trickiest case here is Sikorsky and its parent company UTC. They do a ton of business with UTC. In fact, PLA even operates some blackhawk helicopters, some unmanned version of S-300C and PWC engines on some helicopters/air planes. Can they really sanction a company that they sort of depends on for some secondary defense project? Especially now that Eurocopter announced recently that they are also selling to Taiwan. Can China sanction Eurocopter when it is partners with Eurocopter on so many projects? We will see. I tend to think that any sanctions against US/EU companies over weapons sale to Taiwan at the moment would not be more symbolic than anything else. Maybe they will warn these companies that any future sales would be met with harsher sanctions.

In general, I think we have entered a phase where the Politburo has to be more vocal against US government and companies for support toward Taiwan and Tibet, because the public and the military demand it. Politburo can no longer accept explanations like "the previous administration did it" or "these weapons are only defensive" or "we have to do it for political reasons" and remain quiet, because it has to satisfy the local population and the military too. At the moment, the retaliatory actions will remain mostly air like in previous occasions, but they will be a lot stronger in the future if US decides to sell an offensive platform like F-16 to Taiwan. Basically, the balance of power between the two nations is shifting and the Chinese responses against perceived US snubs are only going to get stronger.

31 comments:

Ove said...

I know that there is no easy solutions to complicated problems - but the cold-war mentality seem to exist with the old men on both sides - and the response are as always - escalation - escalation.

The only one that profit from that kind of escalation are the war-mongers - and the military-intelligence-industrial-complex.

Maybe there is another way.

infocyde said...

Oh yeah, China is a communist dictatorship that executed thousands of politcal opponents last year.

China also steals/reverse engineers billions worth of intellectual property from American and other countries's companies without paying any sort of royalties for it.

We don't owe China a living at the cost of our super power status and our middle class. The prevailing view in the West is that if China becomes rich, they will eventually become a democracy. I'm not sold on that.

I think we should have used our trade leverage with China to promote democracy, not write the Chinese government a free check to build up and modernize their military. At this point I think the mistake has been made and to some degree is irriversable.

But Americans can start looking out for their own national interest and quit letting China walk all over them tradewise.

exodus666 said...

Feng, what do you mean by this?

"To the Chinese people, the 100 years from 1840 to 1949 was its century of humiliation where it had to give up part of its sovereignty and surrender its land to foreigners. It is important to take back all that it was forced to give up during that period."

err..would this include Mongolia and some parts of Siberia too in your opinion?

2010 said...

The content of the proposed sale to ROC:

* 114 Patriot missiles ($2.81bn)
* 60 Black Hawk helicopters ($3.1bn)
* Communication equipment ($340m)
* 2 Osprey mine-hunting ships ($105m)
* 12 Harpoon missiles ($37m)

-----------

It is almost entirely for defensive capability. Don't understand what Beijing is bitching about.

"Taiwan says to buy miltary helicopters from Europe"

Is China going to boycott EU over the EADS EC225 SAR helicopter sale now?

http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTOE61402920100205?type=marketsNews

2010 said...

Is China an emerging power?

No doubt about it.

Will China supercede the US, Japan or Russia by being the next military, economic or diplomatic bully?

i sincerely hope not.

Feng said...

A couple of things. China's growth toward the economical superpower that it is right now is due to its own economical policies and certain advantages it has with labour cost and such. It really didn't get there by owing to US/West. If the Western countries are worried about IP issues, then just don't operate in China. It's that simple. But they are obviously doing well there still and making a lot of money. China is simply using the same strategy to top that countries like Japan, South Korea and Singapore used.

For the century of humiliation, I'm referring to Hong Kong, Western aggressions in China, unfair treaties and such. They still had special foreigner zones in Shanghai during WWII.

2010, as I explained, the issue is not with what's sold, but rather that it's sold to Taiwan. China can sell Iran purely defensive weapons, but it would still get sanctioned by US for doing so.

2010 said...

Nonsense. If you would equate USA selling defensive weapons to Taiwan to China selling weapons to Iran, you might need to declare Taiwan a sovereign state first, Feng.

Does not matter if the arm sale is for includes defensive or offensive capability? Let's first double check China's shopping lists before its economy and industry picked up speed, shall we?

WWII is more than 65 years ago, by the way. Learn from it and move forward. Europe has. Asia by and large has. Only China has not. Why? China wasn't the only state that suffered atrocities during and after the World War, wasn't it? Arguably a lot of China's historical wounds were caused by its own political or military blunders. (E.g. Cultural Revolution: nearly rewound the country's progress by two decades.)

2010 said...

Blocking defensive arm sale;
protesting Dalai Lama's visit;
maintaining unfair trade advantage;
censorship at home n' cyber-warfare abroad;
thinking national wealth = international power.

It's endangered of becoming an inferiority complex issue. Tell me how those abroad couldn't worry.

exodus666 said...

Feng,

"unfair treaties and such"

Right, and does this include unfair
treaties with Mongolia and Russia?

ming said...

"Nonsense. If you would equate USA selling defensive weapons to Taiwan to China selling weapons to Iran, you might need to declare Taiwan a sovereign state first, Feng.


WWII is more than 65 years ago, by the way. Learn from it and move forward."

first, thats another sticking point isnt it, taiwan is not a sovereign state(officially to the us) yet the us continues to arm it despite acknowledging there being only one china ie: vermont wants to succeed china says vermont is a part of usa then proceeds to sell vermont advanced anti-air and other weapons. and china being a major creditor to the USA is just icing on the cake then isnt it.

two, there are still a great many issues reminding from WW2 taiwan being a major one amongst them, not to mention japan is still so unapologetic, in Germany the swastika is banned, in japan the prime minister visits shines dedicated to war criminals

NK said...

@Ming

Vermont and the rest of the American states are legally bound by a rectified constitution; not so between PRC and ROC. Frankly, no one knows how exactly to legally define the relation between the two; that's the sticky point over the past decades.

China wasn't the only country ran over by Japanese aggression during WW2, yet the historical grunge is particularly acute even to this date. Same with colonization which was also commonplace in the past and again China still sees it as an intolerable shame that sadly still shapes much of today's PRC foreign policies. Much of Asia are weary to see China marching into 21st Century rich but still sporting such "still being victimized" mentality which carries certain risk of turning into true aggression. E.g. post-WW1 Germany.

Feng said...

yes, they also signed unfair treaties with the Russians. There are still Chinese folks who think Mongolia should be part of China. For the record, I'm not one of them.

As for 2010, I'm really not sure what you are trying to proof here?
I don't really know why you are bringing in the bad years after WWII. A lot of people died in those period needlessly and that includes my own family members. And China is certainly not the only country in the world that had tough times after the war. But that really doesn't accuse foreign aggressions prior to 1949. Similarly, America is fighting some senseless wars right now that is hurting it in everyway, but that doesn't excuse what happened in Pearl Harbour or 9/11.

As for the rest, it can certainly protest weapons sale to an adversary if it feels like it (a lot of countries do this), it can certainly protest a visit if it feels like it; what it does to create trade advantage is not anything that Japan, South Korea and other Asians countries haven't tried; nobody says their human rights record is good;

most importantly, power does go where money is. Everyone should know this.

2010 said...

The hope is that by 2065 the lessons, NOT the grudges, from 9/11/2001 would remembered.

"Power does go where money is."

That's the root of the wider problems, isn't it? (That rich country/company/individual think we can do whatever we like to others.) If China is to learn from its past OR to prepare itself for worldwide leadership, China too better learn that wealth does not directly translate to power.

2010 said...

It too is to be noted that roughly 1 out of every 3 people WORLDWIDE is the descendant of those personally and directly affected by the Second World War.

NK said...

Study wars not that we would prevail when engaged in a war; study wars so that we might prevent one altogether.

That's the paraphrase of a piece of Chinese wisdom. Obviously, we have learned much - yet much still is to be learned - from the last world war.

hbogyt said...

@Infocyde

China executing thousands is your own imagination.

America also stole technology from Europe during its rise. China should see no problems with the act also.

It is also the prevailing view in China among the public and the leaderships that they will become democratic in due course as they get richer.

Stop the pretence that you want to promote true democracy and the interests of Chinese people. Chinese care more about Chinese than you.

As the facts stand, USA is walking all over China as of today.


@2010

The problem is USA shouldn't be selling weapons to Taiwan to begin with. At least have some manners by reading the article in its entirity before posting facile comments.

You know too little about Chinese history to say what caused more harm than others. The cultural revolution was but a minor hicup compared to other traumas inflicted by foreign nations.


China maintains no "unfair" trade advantage. It has only made some inroads in markets of low-end products in return for total western dominance of its own markets of high-end products. There is no free luch in this world, you can't expect to have everything. In addition, Your "unfair" is only a point of view. Then what is a "fair" advantage to Americans? Perhaps to those people saying "unfair", the only fair advantage is their advantage.


The truth is that the US is the most active player in the cyber battlefield. Circumstances point to this. It has the ability most. It has used cyber attacks in the past. It has always been pioneering in war methodology. It's hard for me to imagine China is actually leading in this field.


@NK

It doesn't have to be bound by constitution to preclude arms sales. You can amend the criteria as you see fit and so can we.

exodus666 said...

Feng.

"yes, they also signed unfair treaties with the Russians."

OK, do you think this will ever be solved or just forgotten?

BTW, China and Russia solved all border disputes back in 2008. (Russia handed over some tiny island)

Both sides now have peaceful border.

ming said...

@NK

yes, but if there is one thing thats generally agreed by both sides is that there is one, just one china and this china includes taiwan, thus legally in both areas taiwan is by law part of china just like by law vermont is part of usa

they did indeed destroy many other places in asia as well, but the koreas and every others they attacked in asia dont like em still either and china being such a power in the past was then so weak in the 1800-1900s this is a national shame but it could have been forgiven but again the Japanese simply have not shown that they are sincere in they apologies. the day that taiwan is solved and japan apologies by stop going to shrines for mass murders, raise a memorial, and stop white washing the text books is the day that WW2 is truly the past for the PRC. after all they go on and on about the people(250k?) killed in the atomic bombing but they say little of the people they murdered (15 million? in china alone)

NK said...

"China PLA Officers Urge Economic Punch Against U.S."

BEIJING (Reuters) - Senior Chinese military officers have proposed that their country boost defense spending, adjust PLA deployments, and possibly sell some U.S. bonds to punish Washington for its latest round of arms sales to Taiwan."

In light of the latest round of food fight, is PLA turning malignant? Will PLA become the 21st century equivalent of the pre-WW2 IJA?

http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE6183KG20100209

NK said...

"Chinese Support for Cold War With US Growing"

Prepare [the world] for Cold War Round Two. Gross exaggeration by the West? i hope so.

http://www.informationdissemination.net/2010/02/chinese-support-for-cold-war-with-us.html

2010 said...

Cultural Revolution is anything BUT a small hiccup:

Practically every world power was reduced to bits after WW2; gradual rebuilds start worldwide with various degree of success. China was unique in that ideological differences gradually ripped apart social fiber/cohesion and Cultural Revolution marked the unfortunate climax of such internal unrest. To make the very long story short: other countries moveed forward while China backward during the 'lost decade' (1966-1976). The net result was a nearly two decade worth of cultural and technological differential.

@Hbogyt: Hope you realize that history, Chinese and otherwise, is an open book for EVERYONE willing to read into and learn from. Recreating your own version of the world/national history doesn't help. Cheer.

-------------------

What's my point? Few and simple. With the phenomenal progress they have shown the world over the past decade, if China does not wish to end up becoming one of the historical aggressors that they once, and still, loath - they better start to reconsider their steps.

Christopher said...

Well, you cannot accuse China of being the only one with ill feelings towards the Japanese as of yet.
For instance, if you confuse a Korean and call them Chinese instead of Korean, they will just correct you, end of story, same with most ASEAN contries, and vice-versa.
Try to call any of them Japanese and you will most likely get your ass kicked.
I live in Guatemala, Central America, and even today, young Koreans, Vietnamese, etc. hate, I repeat, hate the Japanese. They live so far away and many were even born here.

Now another subject, China is scaling up the freedom ladder with gigantic steps, and we can also see the begginings of democracy in the local level.
Don't be a moron and say "But that is not Western democracy", cause things should be viewed in perspective.
In this case consider they had NONE, and their freedom indexes where close to zero.
Just as an example, let me remind you that Britain used to only allow 2% of it's population to vote, look at it now, it didn't happen in 10 years, it actually took around 200. So in that arena we can conclude that China is growing way faster.

Finally I will agree that if China gets the power of all the empires, from Egypt to US today, it should work differently and not be a bully. It should be pretty much as it was during the Han period, strong, large but not expansive and it didn't meddle in other regions, for the most part.

Christopher said...

Well, you cannot accuse China of being the only one with ill feelings towards the Japanese as of yet.
For instance, if you confuse a Korean and call them Chinese instead of Korean, they will just correct you, end of story, same with most ASEAN contries, and vice-versa.
Try to call any of them Japanese and you will most likely get your ass kicked.
I live in Guatemala, Central America, and even today, young Koreans, Vietnamese, etc. hate, I repeat, hate the Japanese. They live so far away and many were even born here.

Now another subject, China is scaling up the freedom ladder with gigantic steps, and we can also see the begginings of democracy in the local level.
Don't be a moron and say "But that is not Western democracy", cause things should be viewed in perspective.
In this case consider they had NONE, and their freedom indexes where close to zero.
Just as an example, let me remind you that Britain used to only allow 2% of it's population to vote, look at it now, it didn't happen in 10 years, it actually took around 200. So in that arena we can conclude that China is growing way faster.

Finally I will agree that if China gets the power of all the empires, from Egypt to US today, it should work differently and not be a bully. It should be pretty much as it was during the Han period, strong, large but not expansive and it didn't meddle in other regions, for the most part.

NK said...

PRC thrives on being uniquely communist AND capitalist. If it works for them, it works for us. Democracy certainly has its many pitfalls and isn't suitable for all. (Just look at the mass the US left trying to wholesale one-size-fits-all democracy during Cold War.)

Doubt that this is about democracy or communism, though. It's more about basing one's foreign policies on "now that i'm up, it's PAYBACK time" mentality. To me, that spells surefire troubles somewhere down the road. I would love to see China surpass the US in both wealth and might, but i don't look forward to seeing another pissed-off Godzilla (superpower gone wild) wreaking havoc as it grows.

NK said...

Not specifically at Japan.

For some reasons, a good proportion of PRC policymakers and constituents to this date are still quite noticeably mad at the West (over colonisation past), Japan (over WW2 atrocities), Russia and India (over border/trade/historical disputes).

That's just one grudge too many for an emerging world power/leader against current players, IMHO.

hbogyt said...

@2010

Don't teach me my history, I know my history.

China's progress has been marred by foreign invasion, colonisation, revolution, civil war , more revolution, WW2 and more civil war. You tell me that the Cultural Revolution has done more damage than those?

ming said...

@NK


"For some reasons, a good proportion of PRC policymakers and constituents to this date are still quite noticeably mad at the West"

and what reason has the west given for them to think other wise, every other day they hope for a collapse in china, every year there is a prediction of implosion, and throw in a yellow threat here and there, the west is certainly no friend why should china treat them like one?

annie said...

喜樂的心是健康良藥,憂傷的靈使骨枯乾。........................................

NK said...

@hbogyt

In short, yes.

@Ming

Competitors, not enemies.

NK said...

We are beating the same dead cow already. It has been a pleasure chatting with you folks; best of wishes to you all. Long live China and all the rest.

ming said...

@NK

yes competitors, same view CCP as well