I think Matt misses the truly insidious follow through of this:
I’ve been struck over the past three or four years by how many different Chinese people have expressed to me the view that the purpose of U.S. military engagement in Afghanistan is to establish a long-term presence there in order to encircle the PRC. This would not, as a policy objective, make much sense, but I think it does illustrate the important fact that Chinese people have a China-centric view of the world.
If you want to see how foreign policy commitments metastasize, think this through: If the Chinese believe that the United States is in Afghanistan in order to encircle China (and to be sure, I don’t think this), then a US withdrawal from Afghanistan becomes a “win” for China, even if Chinese beliefs were without foundation. If the Chinese believe that the American encirclement project has failed, then they might be inclined to take more aggressive steps in some other part of the world that touches on “genuine” US national security interests.
And thus, we need to stay in Afghanistan in order to make the Chinese believe that we’re committed to the encirclement project, even if we’re not interested in the encirclement project. It’s right there in the Schelling, and Kissinger would totally understand.
I have thoughts on arms control and aircraft carriers:
China, India and Japan do not appear to be on the verge of breaking the bank in an effort to match each other’s construction. Still, from a vantage point of 10 or 20 years out, it might make sense for the Asian powers to think in terms of regulating their naval competition. India, China and Japan can all accomplish their national goals with a limited number of carriers. At some point, additional construction would simply spur the competitors to overbuild. A well-designed treaty on naval arms limitations would recognize economic and power imbalances between the three, take into account strategic realities and try to hold competition to within certain parameters. The motivating logic behind such a limitation runs as follows: India, China and Japan would each be as secure with four carriers as they would with eight, so long as they are assured that the others will not build eight themselves.
Over twitter, Dan Trombly suggests that the real arms race is for undersea assets. That’s an interesting claim, but whether or not it’s true there still might be good cause to limit carrier construction. Arms races happen because of military insecurity, but also because of prestige imbalance; even if China, India, and Japan want CVs primarily for prestige reasons, they still might be inclined to overbuild in order to match each other. My specific thoughts on submarine limitation are here.
In my latest WPR column, I discuss the old Red Dawn, the new Red Dawn, and the reluctance of the current crop of GOP presidential aspirants to focus on the security aspect of US relations with China:
For the most part, candidates for the GOP presidential nomination have avoided inflammatory rhetoric about the military threat represented by China. While former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has warned of the dangers of an electro-magnetic pulse (EMP) attack against the United States, China specifically does not figure prominently in his rhetoric. Rep. Michelle Bachman’s critique of China is limited mostly to the economic realm,saying recently, “With all the money that we owe China, I think you might correctly say, Hu’s your daddy.” One of the selling points for John Huntsman’s candidacy is the business opportunities generated by his recent ambassadorship to China. Similarly, Mitt Romneyhas emphasized China’s role as both an economic competitor and economic partner, more than as a military threat. Tim Pawlenty has argued that the United States should try to achieve China-like rates of GDP growth. Of the notable Republican candidates, only Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania has sounded a note of warning about China’s military ambitions, faulting President Barack Obama for “acquiescence to China’s saber-rattling in the South China Sea.”
You don’t say.
“Some nations have strategic oil reserves. Some keep grain reserves. China has both, and something others have somehow overlooked: a national pork reserve.”
China is releasing a portion of its pork reserves. I’m sure this has some vague impact on global economic security, and I’m peeved at the Obama Administration for failing to anticipate the need for such a reserve of our own.
On perverse incentives in the Great Leap Forward:
Here is what Kung and Chen argue happened in China. In the hierarchy of the CCP, the three highest levels are politburo members, full members of the central committee, and alternate members of the central committee. The politburo is tiny – about 20 people. (This is, we might say, the highest level of the “winning coalition”). In Mao’s time, most of them were founding members of the CCP, had gone through the Long March, or had otherwise participated extensively in guerrilla activities before 1949. Generally speaking, it was thus very difficult for anyone who did not have these experiences to enter the politburo at the time. But it was possible to move from alternate membership to full membership in the Central Committee, a larger body of about 300 or so people (the exact size of the Central Committee has varied over time); and this move brought substantial material and status benefits – more offices, opportunities for patronage, etc. Yet in order to move from alternate to full membership, one had to give sufficient indications of commitment and reliability. In this case, Mao indicated that rewards would come to those who signalled credible radicalism, and credible radicalism could only be signalled by excessive grain procurement, leading to famine.
Haven’t had a chance to read the original article, but looks very interesting.
It appears that former Washington governor Gary Locke will be the new US ambassador to China. This makes so much more sense than Jon Huntsman. See also Thomas Barnett on 10 reasons the US is eager to demonize China.
JW Mason makes the point that rising Chinese wages are bad for Western capital heavily invested in China. I would extend this a bit by noting that the heavy Western investment in China should generate some interesting politics in the United States. However much neoconservatives and related militarists may be salivating over the threat of Chinese military growth, a substantial portion of what normally constitutes the US right would suffer greatly from any kind of military conflict with China. China presents a significantly different problem set for a right wing coalition than did the Soviet Union. The US had a very minimal economic relationship with the USSR, and Soviet ideology was seen as posing a threat to US global economic interests. This made a (bipartisan) alliance between militarists and US commercial interests both plausible and productive.
In the case of China there are certainly some grounds for commercial competition, but by and large they aren’t ideological. As long as the militarists are confined to doing nothing more than growling at China, things could work out. However, if the situation deteriorates to the extent that US investments within China (and by this I mean not simply FDI, but a wider range of economic relationships involving US capital and actors with the PRC) are endangered, a fracas could emerge within the GOP.
My latest at WPR discusses the potential and the pitfalls of a grand Asian anti-China entente:
Moreover, the United States may find its position as the cartilage of a Japan-India-U.S. relationship uncomfortable. Both India and Japan have intrinsic, direct disputes with China, while U.S. concerns — apart from Taiwan and North Korea — are largely strategic. During the Cold War, the United States could generally rely on its alliance partners to stay out of direct conflicts with the Soviet Union. Because of the intrinsic conflicts between China, India and Japan, and because the bilateral power imbalance between China and either India or Japan will be smaller than that between the Soviet Union and Washington’s Cold War allies, the U.S. risks being drawn into conflicts started by one of its partners.
In short, a developing security relationship between the United States, India, and Japan holds great promise as an effort to balance and contain China. The dynamics of such an alliance will play out much differently than Cold War style containment, however. Whereas the U.S. played a leading role in NATO and the other regional organs of containment in the Cold War, its place in an India-Japan axis will at best be first among equals. Perhaps more importantly, the axis might serve to draw the United States into a conflict with China that it most desperately wants to avoid.
The potential for problems in the India-US relationship is something that I’ve discussed in the past. This post brought the issue back to my mind; McCain seemed to be putting a lot of weight on the notion that India will be a compliant partner, without necessarily thinking through the question of Indian intentions. I suspect that many of the most vociferous proponents of a closer relationship with Indian may be disappointed when they find out that India has its own attitudes, preferences, and especially ideas about the construction of the international order.
My latest column at WPR involves Wikileaks and North Korea:
Of course, the collapse of North Korea would require intense negotiations between all of the major regional actors, including Japan, Russia, China, South Korea, and the United States. Such negotiations would produce a situation just as complicated as the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute. However, we can envision the basic outlines of an agreement, while taking note that envisioning and achieving aren’t the same thing. U.S. forces would not be necessary in post-reunification Korea, or at least not near the Chinese border. The dismantling of any intact North Korean nuclear weapons, as well as North Korean nuclear facilities, would probably be a key concern for both Japanese and Chinese policymakers. Any agreement would have to provide for the securing of Korea’s border with China, and develop a framework for managing China’s economic interests in the former North Korea.
In the context of any discussion about negotiations, the release of the cables brings up some relevant issues of diplomatic secrecy. As Pei suggests, not thinking about a North Korean collapse would be the height of irresponsibility for policymakers in the United States, South Korea, Japan, and China. Since the final status of North Korea affects the interests of all four powers, policy coordination will be necessary. However, none of the states involved can publicly discuss contingency plans for a North Korean collapse. Evidence that South Korea and the United States were actively colluding in planning for the aftermath of such a contingency would probably quash any hopes for the Six-Party Talks. Open Japanese participation in such talks could inflame opinion in both Koreas and in Japan. Perhaps most important, evidence that China had broached the topic of a North Korean collapse with the United States and South Korea might serve to make Pyongyang even more paranoid and reckless.
As has been noted in several places, this is one hell of an interesting cable. The upshot is that South Korean officials seem to believe that North Korea will collapse in a fairly short interval after the death of Kim Jong Il, and that a few Chinese policymakers have suggested that China is prepared to acquiesce on a reunified Korea governed by Seoul.
Drezner throws the cold water:
I don’t doubt that Chinese officials said everything reported in the documents. I do doubt that those statements mean that China is willing to walk away from North Korea. It means that Chinese diplomats are… er…. diplomatic. They will tell U.S. and South Korean officials some of what they want to hear. I’m sure that they will say somewhat different things to their North Korean counterparts.
Indeed, although that’s not quite the right framing for the Chinese comments. Diplo-speak is about more than simply telling the other side what it wants to hear; there’s an element of that, but diplomats also try to refrain from saying stuff that could be dangerous for national interests. Chinese diplomats aren’t just going to tell Seoul that Beijing is groovy with reunification to be polite, because that removes leverage and may create an incentive for South Korea to get reckless. Indeed, suggesting that Beijing would accept reunification on South Korean terms is really kind of dangerous, whether or not it reflects official state policy. At the very least it confirms that there are divisions in China regarding the proper policy towards Korean reunification, which could in itself be a dangerous message to send to Seoul.
That said, Drezner is correct that any Chinese queasiness about North Korea hasn’t yet made it into visible public policy. Nevertheless, that even some Chinese diplomats are willing to even hint that the existence of North Korea might be a negotiable issue is very interesting.
See also E. on the downsides of assuming that North Korea will collapse. More on that later.
…this seems to imply that China is thinking seriously about leaving North Korea in the cold.
This is mildly alarming:
North and South Korea exchanged artillery fire on Tuesday after dozens of shells fired from the North struck a South Korean island near the countries’ disputed maritime border, South Korean military officials said. Two South Korean soldiers were killed, 15 were wounded and three civilians were injured, said Kiyheon Kwon, an official at the Defense Ministry. The military went to “crisis status,” and fighter planes were put on alert but did not take off. South Korean artillery units returned fire after the North’s shells struck South Korea’s Yeonpyeong Island at 2:34 p.m., said Mr. Kwon, adding that the North also fired numerous rounds into the Yellow Sea. News reports said dozens of houses were on fire, and TV footage showed large plumes of black smoke spiraling from the island.
In and of itself, this would be unfortunate but not particularly indicative of a major increase in tensions or a shift in North Korean policy. Combined with the Cheonan incident, the revelation of the nuke facility, and a number of other small incidents, it’s somewhat disconcerting. My best guess is this: North Korea is taking behavioral cues from the increasingly tense security relationship between China on the one side and the US and Japan on the other side. The North Koreans may believe that these tensions open up a wider space for action because they reduce the chances of collaboration between China and the US. Pyongyang may also believe that Beijing tacitly approves the series of escalations. I have no idea regarding Beijing’s actual attitude; China normally regard North Korea as an embarrassment, but in this case they may appreciate that the DPRK has some utility.
But that’s just guesswork. Thoughts?
…see also Spencer, Sigger, and Stratfor.