Category Archives: Chinese foreign policy

“A New Map in Chinese Passports Stirs Anger Across the Region”

China’s quest to make all of her neighbors angry is starting to get make some serious progress (via Mark MacDonald):

China’s new passports — embossed with a map showing disputed territories as belonging solely to the mainland — are causing quite the diplomatic furor in Asia.

India, Vietnam, Taiwan and the Philippines have all objected to the new map, which puts a number of island chains and border areas under Beijing’s sovereignty.

Hua Chunying, a spokeswoman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said in a statement that Beijing was “not targeting a specific country” with the revised passport map, noting that “China is willing to communicate with the relevant countries.”

Shi Yinhong, a professor of international affairs at Renmin University, said in The Financial Times that the new map could “demonstrate our national sovereignty but it could also make things more problematic and there is already more than enough trouble” over territorial disputes.

“We are not prepared to accept it,” said Salman Khurshid, the Indian foreign minister. “We, therefore, ensure that our flags of disagreement are put out immediately when something happens. We can do it in an agreeable way or you can do it in a disagreeable way.”

India, meanwhile, has come up with its own map, which it is stamping into the passports of Chinese citizens seeking Indian visas.

Xinhua, the official Chinese news agency, said that Vietnamese border officials — not wanting to appear to validate the new Chinese map — were refusing to stamp visas into the passports of Chinese visitors.

Instead, Vietnam was issuing visas on separate pieces of paper that are inserted into the passports.

Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario sent a verbal note to China’s embassy in Manila saying that “the Philippines strongly protests the inclusion of the nine-dash line in the e-passport as such image covers an area clearly part of the Philippines’ territory and maritime domain.”

The Chinese passport map includes the popular Taiwanese tourist sites of Sun Moon Lake and Cingshui Cliffs. That did not sit well with President Ma Ying-jeou, who said in a statement that Beijing should not “unilaterally damage the status quo of the hard-fought stability across the Taiwan Strait.”

Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council said: “China has ignored the truth and sparked disputes by including pictures of our territory and landscape in its new Chinese passports. It should put aside disputes and face up to reality.”

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Filed under Chinese foreign policy, India, South China Sea, Taiwan, Vietnam

“The Dangerous Math of Chinese Island Disputes”

M. Taylor Fravel with a reasonably controversial claim that China may actually be willing to use force to consolidate its claim to the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands:

Since 1949, China has been involved in 23 territorial disputes with its neighbors on land and at sea. Seventeen of them have been settled, usually through compromise agreements. Nevertheless, China has used force, often more than once, in six of these disputes. And it’s these cases that most closely parallel the Senkaku impasse.

To start, China has usually only used force in territorial disputes with its most militarily capable neighbors. These include wars or major clashes with India, Russia and Vietnam (several times), as well as crises involving Taiwan. These states have had the greatest ability to check China’s territorial ambitions. In disputes with weaker states, such as Mongolia or Nepal, Beijing has eschewed force because it could negotiate from a position of strength. Japan is now China’s most powerful maritime neighbor, with a modern navy and a large coast guard.

China has also used force most frequently in disputes over offshore islands such as the Senkakus. Along its land border, China has used force only in about one-fifth of 16 disputes. By contrast, China has used force in half of its four island disputes. Islands are seen as possessing much more strategic, military and economic value because they influence sea-lane security and may hold vast stocks of hydrocarbons and fish.

In addition, China has mostly used force to strengthen its position in disputes where it has occupied little or none of the land that it claims. In 1988, for example, China clashed with Vietnam as it occupied six coral reefs that are part of the Spratly Islands. China had claimed sovereignty over the Spratlys for decades—but had not controlled any part of them before this occupation.

The final destabilizing factor in the Senkaku standoff is that both sides are simultaneously engaged in other island disputes. South Korean President Lee Myung-bak recently broke with tradition and became the first Seoul leader to visit the disputed Dokdo (Takeshima) Islands, which are occupied by the Koreans but also claimed by Japan. Meanwhile, China has been dueling with Vietnam and the Philippines in the South China Sea. Tokyo and Beijing may both conclude that whoever prevails in the Senkakus will have a better chance at prevailing in these other disputes.

History is not destiny. China has not used force in a territorial dispute for more than 20 years. Escalation over the Senkakus may be avoided. Nevertheless, the current situation is fraught with danger. Should a fatal incident occur involving government ships from either country, a real crisis may begin whose end cannot be foretold.

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The Diaoyu Powderkeg: Primed and Ready

A sampling of the coverage from the last two days about the Diaoyu Island protests, in which the Chinese fenqing are at once unleashed and corralled by the Party. First, from Peking Duck, where Richard calls the dispute a tinder box:

This so reminds me of the simmering hatred of Japan that surged to the top back in 2005 with all the controversy over the Yasukuni shrine. There, too, the police facilitated the protestors, some officers handing them eggs to throw. They take a more active role in curtailing the demonstrations after protestors become too violent, hurling rocks at the embassy. We always knew the Diaoyu islands were a tinder box; now it’s exploded.

It will end when the government thinks there’s been enough and then starts to crack down, just like in 2005. Protesting against perceived injustices is something I encourage. Allowing emotions to take over and becoming enveloped in pure white-hot rage is dangerous. In this zombie-like state people can be manipulated to do the government’s dirty work. It does not reflect well on China when Japanese businesses and citizens are attacked. It does not reflect well on China to be seen as hysterics with no iota of self control.

From Reuters, a description of some of the actions some officials are taking to curb the protests:

In the biggest flare-up on Sunday, police fired about 20 rounds of tear gas and used water cannon and pepper spray to repel thousands occupying a street in the southern city of Shenzhen, near Hong Kong.

Protesters attacked a Japanese department store, grabbed police shields and knocked off their helmets. One protester was seen with blood on his face. At least one policeman was hit with a flowerpot.

Demonstrators have looted shops and attacked Japanese cars and restaurants in at least five Chinese cities. Protesters also broke into a dozen Japanese-run factories in eastern Qingdao on Saturday, according to the Japanese broadcaster NHK.

It added that the protests had spread to at least 72 cities.

A six-deep cordon of anti-riot police guarded the Japanese embassy in Beijing as demonstrators resumed their protest on Sunday, screaming slogans and insults as they passed by and throwing plastic bottles full of water.

“If Japan does not back down we must go to war. The Chinese people are not afraid,” said 19-year-old-student Shao Jingru.

Dissident artist Ai Weiwei, who walked by Sunday’s protest in Beijing, told Reuters he believed the demonstrations were sanctioned by the government and the police.

“Chinese citizens need to thank the Japanese government because for the first time, they can mount a large protest on their own land,” Ai said. “In China, there are no protests organized by the people.”

On the other hand, ChinaGeeks describes some of the ways in which the government has facilitated these protests, beyond the obvious factors like using decades of indoctrination in schools and the media to rile up anti-Japanese sentiment:

Browsing it, your first inclination may be to marvel at the particularly insane bits, like the hotel advertising that Japanese guests are no longer welcome or the Audi dealership with banners outside that literally advocate mass genocide (is this a new Audi sales campaign?). But for anyone who has been to a protest in China before, your second inclination is going to be to say this: where are all the fucking cops?

But anyone who has followed domestic protests in China for even a short period of time should be clear on the fact that if it wants to, the government has the means to totally shut these protests down. They may have sent in the tanks back in ’89, but these days there are legions of trained riot police, People’s Armed Police, and other anti-protest forces. Every major city has them. If you think that China doesn’t have the law enforcement capability to totally shut down these riots, you’re delusional. If these were anti-government protests, not only would they not have carried on this long, but half the people in those photos would be in jail by now. Before the Jasmine protests (for example) police nationwide were literally arresting people just for considering going to the protests, not to mention people police thought might go.

Can you imagine Tibetans protesting in 40+ cities without massive police intervention, gunfire, and months of crackdowns and disappearances after? Because that happened in 2008, and the region is still under lockdown today. Obviously this isn’t going to happen to Han protesters who are mad about Japan, though.

SinoStand has a first-hand description of one of the protests:

In the middle of the street there was a partition with police directing people to parade around it in long circles. People had huge Chinese flags and banners saying things like “Fuck little Japan.” What I was most surprised by were the number of Chairman Mao posters floating around. I asked a few people about this and the consensus was “Mao would never let Japan get away with this.”

As the crowds paraded around, they sang patriotic songs, chanted “Little Japan, fuck your mother,” “Chairman Mao 10,000 years,” “China 10,000 years” and most significantly “Communist Party 10,000 years.” (“10,000 years” basically means “Long live…”)

This mass outpouring obviously had official sanction. The police’s presence was to direct the protests rather than try to hamper them in any way.

Later things started to get a bit more intense. While the crowds circled around they were allowed to stop briefly in front of the Japanese embassy itself. It was guarded by hundreds of riot police with helmets and shields. At first protestors threw water bottles and eggs at the embassy, which police made no attempt to stop. But gradually rocks and (I assume Japanese) cell phones started to be thrown. Many of them hit the Chinese police, who were covering themselves with shields.

And finally, a good one from Rectified.Name:

Today was one of those perfect Beijing fall days, sunny, reasonably clear air and just the right temperature for a day-long hike of the Great Wall at Jinshanling… or for burning and pillaging your local Chinese-owned and operated Japanese restaurant. Whatever.

In fact, combining the best of both fun activities, three separate groups of young Chinese marched along the wall today waving flags demanding the protection of the Diaoyu Islands from the dastardly Japanese. One group was in yellow and waved a yellow flag. Another was in red and held a red flag. A third group split the difference and went with an all-orange look that confused a few Dutch hikers into thinking a football match was about to break out at the next guard tower.

On their way up, each group stopped to pay homage to a statue of Ming general Qi Jiguang. General Qi is something of a patron saint around Jinshanling. He’s credited with organizing the construction of this section of the wall in the mid-16th century. But before that, Qi Jiguang was best known for his battles against Japanese ‘pirates’ along China’s coast, and so is now the patron saint of seriously deluded Chinese nationalists out for blood over a chain of rocks inhabited by a herd of confused goats and an endangered species of mole. Seriously.

Frankly, every time I hear the phrase “history says…” I want to try and remove my own corneas with a shrimp fork. History “says” a lot of things. For example, China has never ever invaded another country. The PLA did not invade Tibet in 1951 because Tibet has been part of China since at least the time of the Yuan which was not a Mongolian Empire but a Chinese Dynasty. And China didn’t try to invade Japan in 1274 and 1281 because that was Kublai Khan who was, you know, a Mongol and not Chinese.

History is especially tricky when you take relatively recent concepts and constructions like the nation state and national sovereignty and apply them retroactively.

Of more contemporary concern though is the way the CCP, through the educational system and the official media, has made defending China’s ‘national sovereignty’ and ‘territorial integrity’ such an important and highly visible pillar of their legitimacy. That leaves precious little room for negotiation or compromise in situations like the current stand-off with Japan.

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“Mural draws fire from China”

Watch and marvel as the mayor of Corvallis displays more courage in defense of freedom of expression than plenty of national-level executives from around the world:

Citing “strong resentment from the local Chinese community,” the Chinese government has asked the city of Corvallis to force a Taiwanese-American businessman to remove a mural advocating independence for Taiwan and Tibet from his downtown building.

But city leaders say the mural violates no laws and its political message is protected under the U.S. Constitution.

In vivid colors, the painting depicts riot police beating Tibetan demonstrators, Buddhist monks setting themselves on fire to protest Chinese rule and images of Taiwan as a bulwark of freedom.

In a letter dated Aug. 8, the Chinese Consulate General in San Francisco formally complained to Corvallis Mayor Julie Manning about the mural’s content and asked for her help in having it removed.

“There is only one China in the world,” the letter reads in part, “and both Tibet and Taiwan are parts of China.”

In a response dated Aug. 20, Manning expressed regret that the mural had caused concern but noted that local government has no authority to regulate art.

“As you are aware,” Manning’s letter reads, ‘the First Amendment of the United States’ Constitution guarantees freedom of speech in this country, and this includes freedom of artistic expression.”

Two Chinese officials, Vice Consul Zhang Hao and Deputy Consul General Song Ruan, flew to Oregon this week to make their case in person. The two men met Tuesday in Corvallis with Manning and City Manager Jim Patterson.

“They expressed their concern and the concern of the Chinese government about the mural on Mr. Lin’s building,” Patterson said. “They viewed the message as political propaganda.”

Patterson said he and Manning agreed to convey those concerns to Lin but made it clear to the consular officials that the city could not and would not order the painting’s removal.

“We also had a conversation with them about the U.S. Constitution,” Patterson added.

President Obama avoided the Dalai Lama the first time he visited Washington during the Obama administration, and gave him a low-key meet the second time. Mayor Manning politely listened to Chinese complaints, then explained the US Constitution and sent the Chinese consuls packing. Wow.

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Filed under art, censorship, Chinese foreign policy

“Up to 10,000 Myanmar refugees seek refuge in China”

Reuters reports that refugees from the fighting in northern Myanmar are spilling into Yunnan:

Up to 10,000 refugees have fled to an area in southwestern Yunnan province, driven by fighting between Myanmar’s military and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), one of the country’s most powerful rebel groups, five aid groups told Reuters. Many of the refugeees are women, children and elderly people.

Fighting erupted after a 17-year-old ceasefire broke down last June, sending ethnic Kachins fleeing to the border area.

Although the intensity of the fighting has eased, aid groups fear that more people will flee and exacerbate dire conditions. The Chinese government tolerates the camps, but does not officially recognise their existence.

The risk of fighting spreading across the highly militarised border region and of the arrival of new waves of refugees are particular worries for China’s stability-obsessed rulers.

Although long wary of poor, unstable Myanmar, China has invested heavily in the country. It has brushed off Western sanctions to build infrastructure, hydropower dams and twin oil-and-gas pipelines to help feed southern China’s growing energy needs and avoid the Malacca Strait shipping bottleneck.

Yunnan provincial authorities have told the refugees to leave, but have not threatened force or sealed the border, aid groups said.

“It poses a dilemma for the Chinese; it could cause strained relations with the Burmese government if they are seen as being supportive of the Kachin Independence Army, KIA, and by extension the refugees,” Bertil Lintner, a Myanmar expert, said in emailed comments.

“On the other hand, they can’t be too hostile to the Kachins, and the Kachin refugees, either.”

“At the moment, what we know is that there is no such situation,” Li Hui, director of the Yunnan information office, told Reuters. “Everything is normal on the China-Myanmar border.”

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“Why Beijing Votes With Moscow”

Much has been made of the joint Russian-Chinese UN veto to protect Assad, and now Minxin Pei has given the clearest explanation yet for why China would make that vote despite the consequences for its relationship with the US, EU, and Arab League:

In fact, the most important factor in China’s decision had little to do with Beijing-Damascus ties, and everything to do with its diplomatic cooperation with Moscow.

Since it returned to the United Nations in 1971, China has been sparing in its use of the veto in the Security Council. It often chose to abstain in votes it did not support. Whenever it did use its veto — it has done so eight times — the issues were usually of importance to Chinese national interests.

In the eyes of the pragmatic Chinese, the Assad regime is not worth a veto. But the Russians, motivated by their economic and security interests in Syria, opposed the resolution, and China apparently decided it was better not to jeopardize relations with the Russians and risk losing Russian support when Beijing might need it in the future.

The Russia-China axis of obstruction at the Security Council has now become a critical variable in the council’s decision-making process. The two countries seem to have reached a strategic understanding: they will act defy the West together, so that neither might look isolated. China will defer to Russia on matters more critical to Moscow (such as Syria) while Russia will do the same on issues China cares about (such as Zimbabwe or Burma).

Another factor that apparently tipped the scale in Beijing in favor of using the veto is the Chinese Communist Party’s ideological hostility to democratic transitions.

Ever since the Arab Spring brought down long-ruling dictatorships in the Middle East, the party’s propaganda machine has spared no effort in portraying the events in the region in the most negative light. Fearing a similar upheaval in China, the party has tightened its censorship and intensified persecution of dissidents. The overthrow of the Assad regime, especially should it happen as a result of Security Council action, would inspire the pro-democracy opposition — in Beijing and in Moscow.

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“Have Chinese Had Enough?”

Jonathan Holslag, a research fellow at the Brussels Institute of Contemporary China Studies, has written another piece that should be added to the growing pile of Year of the Dragon predictive pieces:

It’s this diplomatic claustrophobia that explains why Chinese leaders have been so eager to promote the idea of a harmonious world. What sounds like a fuzzy slogan, therefore, is actually seen by China as a diplomatic necessity.

And Beijing hasn’t been entirely unsuccessful in promoting these ideas. Asians, Africans, Americans, and Europeans have all echoed the need for closer relations. There has been the promise of trade, which China has carefully cultivated by stressing that an open economic order would bring about a beneficial division of labor. Cooperation through international organizations, which China eagerly joined, was supposed to help settle disputes.

Beijing believes that it has to stick to a bold industrial policy to keep its people at work, but struggling markets elsewhere are becoming fed up with what is perceived as unfair competition. Meanwhile, this Chinese brand of mercantilism breeds bubbles everywhere, placing the architects in Zhongnanhai under pressure from even more conservative comrades. The result is that China doesn’t feel confident at all, and in private, decision makers concede that some serious turbulence is in the offing.

But that isn’t necessarily how others perceive it. Neighbors are calling upon Washington to balance China’s growing military prowess. Countries that initially bought into free trade agreements with China complain that it is becoming too influential. Resistance is mounting, and it is this confluence of events that makes diplomacy tense.

“Look at Russia,” a student uttered during a heated debate at one university in Beijing, “When did Europe and America bully it? When it did not dare to clench a fist. Only with a strong leader, it got respected.”

That strongman in Moscow might have lost his prestige, but statements like these illustrate how China’s next generation of leaders is expected to play hardball in the international arena. With China’s economic future looking grim, those expectations could offer Party bosses like Xi Jinping a new opportunity to shore up their esteem with a much more troublesome brand of nationalism. And with thorny issues like Taiwan, the South China Sea, the disputed border with India, and various trade disputes moving again to the forefront, the Year of the Dragon could be a major turning point in China’s rise.

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“Beijing Foreign Policy Hurts China”

Minxin Pei has a good piece in The Diplomat about how Chinese foreign policy is determined by the domestic concerns of the Communist Party- and how this in turn can lead to worse outcomes for China as a whole:

China’s policy toward North Korea should be exhibit A of this conflict. Chinese national security interests dictate that China shouldn’t tolerate North Korea’s nuclear weapons program or aggressive behavior toward its neighbors. Yet, because the ruling CCP regards a reunified democratic Korea that is a close military ally of the United States as a greater threat to its regime security than a nuclear-armed hereditary dynasty (which is a threat to Chinese national security, but not the CCP regime’s security), Beijing has pursued a policy of keeping the Kim dynasty in power almost at any cost. The price China has paid in terms of diminished national security is exorbitant – an untrustworthy neighbor armed with nuclear weapons, heightened risks of regional war, real danger of being dragged into another conflict on the Korean peninsula, alienation of South Korea as a long-term strategic ally, Japan’s rearmament and antagonism toward China, and increase in American offensive capabilities in the region.

From the perspective of the CCP, the United States, with its liberal democratic missionary spirit, isn’t simply a military superpower, but an existential political threat. Such threat perception has made mutual trust impossible and precluded many measures that would have enhanced Chinese national security (such as closer military-to-military relations and rules preventing incidents at sea or enhancing cyber-security). Most tellingly, today’s CCP seems to have a stronger distrust of the U.S. than the Soviet Communist Party. According to a former senior director for Asia on the U.S. National Security Council, Jeffrey Bader, the Soviet Union had a more developed and productive military-to-military relationship with the U.S. during the détente period of the Cold War than China does now.

Inevitably, the measures taken by the CCP to defend its regime security in the face of American power and influence lead to outcomes that undermine China’s national security, as Washington responds with a policy of strategic hedging and, most recently, a pivot toward East Asia. With the subsequent build-up of American forward deployment in the Western Pacific, strengthening of American security alliances in East Asia, and the establishment of new security relations with China’s traditional rivals such as India and Vietnam, one would have a hard time arguing that China’s national security has increased.

I suspect one could argue that democratic governments are also susceptible to these mistakes, and indeed that America itself is involved in several such unhealthy foreign policy relationships- but that’s a discussion for a different blog. It certainly is the case that the Beijing regimes fear of being completely wiped out is probably their greatest concern, something that Washington doesn’t have to worry about.

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“Ties to China Linger as Issue as Taiwanese Prepare to Vote”

The NYT has an article about Taiwan’s elections, which are now less than ten days away:

But when voters go to the polls on Jan. 14 — only the fifth time they have done so since Taiwan threw off single-party rule in 1996 — they will also be guided by their views on a separate, overwhelmingly important issue: whether this vibrantly democratic island of 23 million should speed, slow or halt its wary embrace of China.

Mr. Ma, 61, a Nationalist, has overseen a raft of agreements that have revolutionized the way ordinary Chinese and Taiwanese interact. There are now direct flights, postal services and new shipping routes between Taiwan and the mainland, and a landmark free trade agreement has slashed tariffs on hundreds of goods.

The agreements opened the gates to the deluge of Chinese tourists — 213,000 arrived in November, 30 percent more than in November 2010 — who buoyed the local economy with more than $3 billion in spending last year. Other firsts include a pair of giant pandas from China, an early reward for Mr. Ma’s Beijing-friendly gestures, and nearly 1,000 mainland students who now study at Taiwan universities.

The burst of contact has reawakened old sensitivities and raised new ones.

Business-minded Taiwanese know where the money is: the million or so Taiwanese now working and investing in China appear to be backing the Nationalists and Mr. Ma.

“We certainly don’t want to jeopardize the status quo,” said Liu Chia-hao, a spokesman at Taipei 101, an iconic green-glass tower that dominates the Taipei horizon. Mr. Liu said that mainland visitors packing the building’s observatory and high-end shops helped the $1.8 billion project break even three years early.

“We’d like this vibe to continue,” he said.

But warming ties have also stoked deeply rooted fears, fanned by Ms. Tsai and her party, that the island is becoming too cozy with the authoritarian behemoth next door.

“Let’s face it, China wants nothing more than to devour us, and the K.M.T. is giving us away,” Zhou Zhu-zhen, a retired nurse, said last month during a rally.

The front-runners dance gingerly around the issue of China. It emerges mostly in the form of debate on the so-called 1992 Consensus, a nebulous pact between Beijing and Nationalist Party leaders that allows both to recognize the principle of one China, bypassing uncomfortable details. Ms. Tsai, a former minister of the Mainland Affairs Council, which helps set cross-strait policy, says the arrangement is a fiction. She wants the voters to determine how Taiwan defines itself in future negotiations with China.

Although she has dialed down her party’s stridency on independence, Ms. Tsai warns that Nationalist policies are eroding Taiwan’s sovereignty. In an interview, she offered a simple example of distasteful compromise: “When Chinese visitors come, we have to put away our flags,” she said.

Mr. Ma waves off such complaints, saying that détente has strengthened the island’s global standing.

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Filed under Chinese foreign policy, democracy, Taiwan

“China’s Diplomatic Folly”

Eurasia Review has quite a bit to say about the South China Sea conflict, and the failure of Chinese diplomacy. This isn’t the first time Chinese propaganda, originally meant for internal consumption, has painted their leadership into a corner- and then damaged their foreign policy outcomes:

When China’s Assistant Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin confidently asserted shortly before the East Asia Summit at Bali, Indonesia, that disputes in the South China Sea should be resolved between the ‘parties concerned’ bilaterally, little did he realise how isolated China had become over this issue. A series of blistering articles emanating from Beijing left no one in doubt that if push came to shove, China would use force to assert its rights in the South China Sea. The butt of Chinese ire seemed to be directed at the Philippines and Vietnam. For the Chinese the ‘fault’ of the Philippines lay in the fact that it had renamed the South China Sea as the West Philippines Sea, called on ASEAN to form a ‘united front’ and sent an official to claim sovereignty over a disputed islet. China threatened that the ‘punishment’ would be ‘strong’ enough to deter other countries from emulating the Philippines example and to ‘discourage’ other countries from ‘dreams to join the United States to contain China’.

Far from achieving its objectives based on threats, the Chinese found to their consternation that the East Asia Summit not only took up the issue of disputes in the South China Sea, despite their objections, but except for Myanmar and Cambodia every other country spoke up on the issue. The unease felt by the Chinese was palpable and it forced the Chinese PM Wen Jiabao to refer to the dispute in a multi-lateral forum. Wen asserted that China goes to great ‘pains’ to ensure that the shipping lanes are safe and free. It is learned that Wen did not reiterate the standard Chinese line that such disputes be settled ‘bilaterally’, although the official Xinhua report said that he ‘re-affirmed’ China’s position.

It is obvious that the Chinese wish to deal bilaterally with the countries of South and East Asia in order to prevent them from ‘ganging-up’ against China. Another worry that the Chinese have is that collectively ASEAN might bring the South China Sea dispute before the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea and that China may not be able to validate its stated position in accordance with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea [UNCLOS]. Such an eventuality would be a serious loss face for China.

That Chinese diplomacy has played right into hands of the US is increasingly being recognized. Chinese threats and bluster have antagonized almost all the nations of East and South East Asia. Alarm bells have been ringing in their respective capitals as to what the Chinese intentions are. Not willing to take any chances on Chinese belligerence, almost all have begun to strengthen their defence networks. Vietnam has increased its defence budget by 70 per cent this year and Indonesia announced a 35 per cent increase in its defence outlay for this year. The Republic of Korea [ROK] is building a large naval base on Jeju Island whose location indicates that it will cater for security in the East China Sea rather than against North Korea. The US has agreed to retrofit 145 Taiwanese F-16 fighters. Similarly, Malaysia and Singapore have increased their defense purchases by a whopping 700 per cent and 140 per cent respectively.

Even in the case of India, Chinese ham-handedness and belligerence have led to the addition of two new divisions for the Indian army to be deployed along the Sino-Indian border region. The US, Japan and India are to have a trilateral security dialogue by the end of this year followed by joint Indo-Japan naval exercises in 2012. The Chinese decision to staple visas on a piece of paper rather than on regular passports for residents of Jammu and Kashmir, now happily rescinded in some cases, was a needless provocation. So have been the propaganda blasts every time an Indian leader visits Arunachal Pradesh.

Beijing seems to have a really hard time balancing the steady IV drip of nationalist fury they need to keep the population on their side with the reality that other nations can hear their propaganda. Then leaders have to either be as belligerent as the latest Xinhua article, or be seen as selling out their country by the folks back home. The solution is to cut down the all-nationalism diet a bit, but what else holds China together?

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Filed under Chinese foreign policy, nationalism, South China Sea, Vietnam

“China looks across Asia”

Reuters has a new piece on Chinese foreign policy, and the changing picture they see:

None of China’s festering territorial disputes is near resolution. Its growing economic and military reach continues to stir worry in many parts of Asia. And despite vows of mutual goodwill, Beijing remains wary of U.S. intentions and alliances, including Obama’s push for a new regional free trade pact.

One theme is that the United States is bent on “encircling” China, an idea reflected in recent commentaries in state-run newspapers suggesting that U.S. pressure was behind Myanmar’s decision to suspend work on a controversial Chinese-funded dam.

China has seen the former Burma as a bulwark on it southwest border, and a conduit for trade and energy imports.

“(China) fears that some countries are pulling in major powers from the outside to counter-balance China, or that some neighbours are teaming up against China,” a team of researchers from a Chinese state think tank said in a recent study of Beijing’s regional dilemmas.

Even as Beijing leaders have sought to tamp down regional tensions, media commentaries and harder-line quarters have warned that China remains beset by potential strategic traps.

Last month, for example, the Chinese Ministry of Defence published on its website an essay warning that Japan and India were entering into the disputes over the South China Sea, where Beijing claims most of the potentially energy-rich ocean floor.

“The South China Sea presents far greater strategic needs for Japan than it does for China,” said the essay by Zhang Wenmu, a professor of strategic studies at the Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics, who is well-known for his hawkish views. “Only major strategic needs can produce structural strategic conflict.”

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“China’s Dictator Complex”

Here we have a great article from Minxin Pei at The Diplomat about the reality of Chinese foreign policy:

What does this dictator complex tell us about Chinese foreign policy?

The most obvious answer is that, instead of being non-ideological, Chinese foreign policy actually is quite ideological. As can be seen from recent events, even in situations where supporting dictatorships hurts Chinese interests, Beijing has chosen to side with these international outcasts. This ideological bias stems from the nature of China’s domestic political regime – a one-party state. The ruling Chinese Communist Party believes that its greatest ideological threat is posed by the liberal democracies in the West. Even as China benefits from the West-led international economic system, the Communist Party has never let down its guard against the democratic West.

A foreign policy corollary of this belief is that China needs allies – particularly of the authoritarian variety – in the developing world to counter the West. Dictators are easier to deal with, from Beijing’s point of view, simply because China knows very well how to do business with rulers unconstrained by the rule of law, civil society, and opposition parties. The fact that such dictators are ostracized by the international community is, then, no cause for concern. On the contrary, their isolation makes them all the more dependent on China.

The trouble with such thinking is that it isn’t true because coddling dictators hasn’t actually served Chinese interests.

Isolated dictators may be weak, but they are tough customers and troublemakers. North Korea is perhaps the best example. The Kim Jong-il regime, the most isolated in the world, has given his Chinese patrons enormous grief over his nuclear programme and aggression against South Korea. Gaddafi, while in power, repeatedly blocked the Chinese state-owned oil giant, CNPC, from purchasing oil assets in Libya. Gaddafi committed the ultimate sin against China by hosting the Taiwanese president, an ardent pro-independence advocate, in 2006. China may keep scores against its enemies, but apparently cuts its autocratic clients plenty of slack.

From a purely realpolitik perspective, Chinese fears of new democracies in developing countries are grossly exaggerated. Most new democracies are no stooges of the West. In fact, their foreign policy has been exceptionally pragmatic. Take Brazil and Indonesia, for example. Both are success stories in making the transition from dictatorship to democracy. Both have shown strong independence in their foreign policy. Both enjoy good relations with China.

At the same time, some of the autocratic regimes surrounding China will pose the most serious threats to Chinese security. Russia is one possibility. The authoritarian Vladimir Putin regime not only distrusts China, but has taken steps to harm China’s national and energy security. It has repeatedly failed to honour its pledge to increase its energy exports to China and has sold Vietnam advanced jetfighters and submarines that can be deployed against the Chinese military in a potential conflict in the South China Sea. Vietnam, another one-party dictatorship, is most likely to get into a fire fight with China over territorial disputes in the South China Sea. As for North Korea, its Beijing-fed ruling elites, whenever possible, barely conceal their hostility to their patrons and, during the now-defunct Six Party Talks, repeatedly betrayed and embarrassed Beijing with their double-dealing and duplicity.

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