Happiness research is a growing discipline in social science that is taken more seriously in the academy and increasingly among policymakers as well. AEI President Arthur Brooks has done research on the subject, finding the happiest people are those who have earned their success. That does not always mean making a lot money, but rather achieving success of any kind through enterprise, perseverance, creativity, and so on. Others, such as authors of the famous Grant Study, have found that "happiness is love," including family, friendships, and social relationships. This is only a small sampling of the literature. Why are these findings of relevance to policymakers? As Ronald Inglehart and Hans-Dieter Klingemann have written:
"A society's level of subjective well-being....is intimately related to the legitimacy of the socio-economic political system...if subjective well-being of an entire society falls sharply below its normal baseline, it can destabilize the entire political order."
If Inglehart and Klinemann are correct, China watchers and policy analysts need to start thinking differently about the legitimacy of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). There is something close to a consensus among Western observers of China that the CCP's legitimacy rests on two pillars. The first is performance -- sustained economic growth that translates into better living standards for all Chinese people. The second is a distinct kind of nationalism -- the CCP convinces the Chinese people that it and it alone can right the many wrongs of the past and restore China to its proper place of greatness.
The latter pillar actually makes more obvious sense than the former. The idea that legitimacy is based on growth in material well-being implicitly assumes that man can be reduced to homo economicus-that is, that man is interested in the material alone. The latter pillar, on the other hand, seems to be grounded in a better understanding of human nature. That is, man is driven by honor, pride, and anger as well as other emotions or virtues.
The findings of two social scientists, Jiayuan Li and John W. Raine, when combined with the conclusions of Inglehart et. al. about happiness and legitimacy has consequences for how we and Chinese leaders should think about the CCP's longevity.
By any measure, China has experienced tremendous economic growth since 1978. Living standards have improved markedly as has China's performance across a wide range of social indicators -- poverty reduction, school enrollment rates, life expectancy. And yet, Li and Raine's research shows a negative correlation between happiness and economic growth in China. Chinese are less happy than northwest Europeans, Mexicans, Thais and other Southeast Asians.
Li and Raine also found that China's happiness has declined over time. Li and Raine fully acknowledge the limits of their research. For example, one measurement they use is the number of grievance protests in Beijing. More Chinese petitioning of Beijing could indeed be a sign of increased unhappiness, it could also be a sign of increased happiness in that the Chinese people feel more like citizens than subjects and have some way to try and secure justice. And collecting statistics and conducting surveys in China is notoriously difficult.
Even so, their findings do not overly surprise me. Take the two findings about happiness mentioned above, earned success, and social networks. To really earn success one needs a strong sense that the playing field is level and fair. Given the levels of corruption in China and the special privileges afforded to the well-connected, it is doubtful that Chinese feel that they can truly earn success without somehow cheating or gaming the system. There is a serious loss of dignity -- a profound human desire -- in living in a society where people feel compelled to cheat to get ahead or that no justice exists when others cheat.
Then there is the issue of social and family relationships. Through the one-child policy, the Chinese government is destroying the traditional Chinese family. A generation of Chinese is growing up without siblings, cousins, uncles, and aunts. Given the importance in Chinese history of the extended family for social insurance and security as well as for the proper ordering of one's place in society, its destruction has broad repercussions for societal happiness. Add to that a general trust deficit in China and the findings of social scientists focused on happiness ring true.
Many thought the CCP's days were numbered after the fall of the Soviet Union. Given the patterns of democratization in East Asia, most China watchers and policymakers thought that more wealth would bring greater demands for political participation and democracy. Policymakers needed an explanation for why the CCP continues to monopolize power in China, despite the fall of other Marxist-Leninist regimes and more wealth. But now it may be time to develop other indicators to measure the regime's resilience -- societal happiness is a good place to start.
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Over the past six months, China and the United States have experienced political transitions that allow the leaders of both countries to focus on bilateral relations free from the pressures of domestic political campaigns. With political maneuvering among China's elites for spots on the Standing Committee of the Politburo finally over, the country's leaders can return to the business of governing the world's largest population. In the United States, President Obama's reelection has been accompanied by the appointment of a new team of foreign policy managers. But rather than freeing up Washington and Beijing to cooperate more fulsomely, the domestic political frictions produced by the bilateral relationship are, like the structural tensions between the established power and its rising challenger, intensifying.
On the one hand, changes in President Obama's second-term cabinet mean that U.S.-China relations are being handled by a more dovish set of managers than those who drove the first-term "rebalance" towards Asia. Ironically, this kind of shift traditionally has led to more discord in U.S.-China relations than when American leaders were clear and consistent in their policies toward China -- hence Mao Zedong's famous assertion to President Nixon that "I like rightists" and the stability of U.S.-China relations over the course of the George W. Bush administration.
For instance, Secretary of State John Kerry indicated in his Senate confirmation hearing that he was not convinced of the need for the "increased military ramp-up" in Asia. Chinese observers reportedly believed that this signaled a diminishment of the U.S. commitment to the "pivot," which in their view ended when Hillary Clinton left Foggy Bottom. Kerry took his first foreign trip to the Middle East and seems to be spending most of his time trying to put in place a more credible strategy on Syria to replace the malign neglect that has characterized administration policy to date. Meanwhile, China is stepping up military coercion of neighbors who are U.S. friends and allies, most recently India.
Meanwhile, Leon Panetta, who had warned apocalyptically of the impact of sequester-related defense cuts on military readiness, has been replaced as secretary of defense by Chuck Hagel, who has maintained that the armed forces can absorb cuts of this magnitude. His comments have raised doubts about whether the United States will be able to resource its military rebalance from the Middle East to the Indo-Pacific. Additionally, National Security Advisor Tom Donilon is widely perceived to be more concerned with the politics of American foreign policy -- namely watching the president's back at home -- than with any grand strategic design abroad.
More broadly, however, American hopes that "engagement" of China through trade and membership in international institutions would turn it into a status quo power have faded. A new consensus has emerged among experts, officials, and many business executives that this is a fundamentally competitive relationship, encompassing everything from mercantilist Chinese trade practices to daily cyberattacks to China's buildup of offensive military power designed to target unique American vulnerabilities. Expectations that China would liberalize politically as a natural outgrowth of its economic success have given way to an understanding that China today is in many ways more politically repressive than it was in the 1980s -- even if Chinese people enjoy greater economic freedom than before.
In China, political maneuvering in the run-up to the once-in-a-decade leadership transition led leading candidates for politburo seats to cultivate ties to ranking officials of the People's Liberation Army, the domestic security services, and the giant state-owned enterprises that still dominate much of the Chinese economy. As a result, these illiberal forces have arguably grown in power and influence even as China has become more prosperous and its internal politics more competitive.
At the same time, no Chinese leader since Deng Xiaoping has enjoyed a highly personalized form of authority. China since the 1990s has been run by an oligopoly of men on the Standing Committee of the Politburo who exercise rule-by-committee and undertake their own Game of Thrones-style factional intrigues -- as demonstrated vividly by the downfall of then-Chongqing party boss Bo Xilai in his messianic quest to join that elite circle. As the authority of individual Chinese leaders has eroded, the domestic Chinese constituencies that either desire or help create greater friction in U.S.-China relations -- those who stand to gain politically by appealing to nationalist passions or likely to access to more state resources by painting the United States as an enemy -- have grown in influence and authority.
As a result, structural forces pitting the dominant United States against its rising peer competitor are in some ways being intensified by domestic pressures in both Washington and Beijing to take a harder bilateral line. These structural forces are compounded by the region's geography, in which China's territorial claims bump up directly against allies the United States is pledged to defend. This raises the risk of military confrontation.
There are, however, powerful countervailing factors that mitigate the likelihood of all-out conflict. These include the deep interdependence of the American and Chinese economies. Given its export dependency, shallow financial markets, and questionable domestic resiliency, any conflict would likely bankrupt China first.
Indeed, we have seen in China's own history how external conflicts have often led to internal rebellion and even revolution -- a prospect its rulers fear more than any other. Any actual decision by China's leaders to engage in direct military conflict with the United States would be very likely to lead to the downfall of the Communist regime that has governed the country since 1949. This link between the regime's external and internal insecurities is an Achilles' heel that gives the United States and other democracies facing military pressure from China -- Japan over the Senkakus, India over parts of Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh -- a potentially decisive strategic advantage.
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While America's attention has been drawn to last week's terrorist attack upon Boston, events in North Korea continue to be cause for concern. The revelation last month that North Korea has taken "initial steps" to deploy a mobile intercontinental ballistic missile, the KN-08, and the disclosure earlier this month that at least part of the U.S. intelligence community believes "with moderate confidence" (in intel-speak) that it possesses the ability to deploy a nuclear warhead atop the missile highlight the threat that Pyongyang poses to the United States.
It should come as no surprise that North Korea possesses, or will soon possess, the ability to strike the United States with a nuclear-armed ballistic missile. After all, U.S. government commissions, U.S. and foreign intelligence agencies, and defense analysts have been warning of this eventuality for more than a decade. Pyongyang has been working on nuclear warheads for two decades and has conducted three nuclear tests. Both Israel and South Africa, by contrast, developed nuclear warheads for their missiles without conducting any nuclear tests. Moreover, as Peter Pry noted last week, the United States has possessed for more than fifty years nuclear missile warheads smaller and lighter than the satellite that North Korea lofted in December.
Skeptics will argue that North Korea has yet to demonstrate it has the ability to deploy nuclear warheads atop its ballistic missiles. Fair enough. But policy makers should not have to wait for Pyongyang to test a nuclear-armed ICBM to respond -- particularly when countermeasures are likely to take years to come to fruition.
The very real threat posed by North Korea has thrown into sharp relief the Obama administration's zig-zagging on missile defense. After coming to office, Obama's team scrapped the Bush administration's missile defense plan, putting in place the Phased Adaptive Approach that promised to deliver more effective missile defense based upon yet-to-be developed interceptors such as the Standard Missile 3 IIB.
Some analysts suspected at the time that the Obama administration was engaging in a game of bait-and-switch, junking a missile defense system based upon proven technologies in favor of a supposedly better one down the line that it would then fail to fund. It thus came as something less than a surprise when, in a move largely missed by the major news outlets, last month Secretary of Defense Hagel announced the cancellation of the final phase of the missile defense plan while promising to beef up the Bush-era missile defense site at Fort Greely, Alaska. These interceptors will not be deployed until 2017, however.
Enhancing U.S. missile defenses in response to North Korea's nuclear missile program would appear to be warranted, but it alone is likely to prove insufficient. The United States should consider enhancing its ability to strike North Korea, including its leadership and its ballistic missile launch infrastructure. As former Secretary of Defense William Perry and current Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter wrote on June 22, 2006:
"Should the United States allow a country openly hostile to it and armed with nuclear weapons to perfect an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of delivering nuclear weapons to U.S. soil? We believe not."
Perry and Carter went on to argue in favor of a pre-emptive strike on a North Korean test missile on the launch pad. It would be worth asking Carter whether he continues to hold this view.
Finally, the United States should explore ways to enhance its extended nuclear deterrent of its allies, particularly South Korea and Japan. The Obama administration's 2010 Nuclear Posture Review scrapped the nuclear variant of the Tomahawk missile, which Tokyo looked to as the embodiment of the U.S. nuclear guarantee, and yet is years away from fielding the variant of the F-35 strike aircraft that will be capable of carrying nuclear weapons. Reassuring U.S. allies in the face of North Korean nuclear threats is likely to be both vital to stability in the region and an increasingly challenging task.
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North Korea's recent saber-rattling raises troubling new questions about the bipartisan failure of American policy to limit Pyongyang's armed recklessness and to manage its growing threat to the United States and our allies. Over the past few years, North Korea has walked across previous "red lines" -- attacking South Korean territory and sinking a South Korean naval vessel, abrogating the armed truce that has governed the peninsula for six decades, directly threatening the United States and our allies with attack, repeatedly testing nuclear weapons, and testing an inter-continental ballistic missile capable of hitting U.S. territory -- all with impunity. Is it time for Washington and its allies to implement a more robust containment policy to counter the erosion of Northeast Asian security caused by Pyongyang's dangerous provocations?
To sketch out such a policy is not to endorse it, for it entails considerable risks. But the risks attending the current status quo appear to be growing and unsustainable. Indeed, on current trends, America and its allies may be on a collision course with North Korea unless we consider a new approach that deprives Pyongyang of the strategic initiative that is keeping the Asia-Pacific democracies off-balance. Such an approach would be most effective if coordinated between Washington, Seoul, and Tokyo with support from other regional powers. It might also help change China's calculations about whether and to what extent to support an "ally" that has become an acute strategic liability.
An aggressive containment strategy would tighten existing financial sanctions on North Korea by penalizing any third-country bank or firm doing business with it. In particular, Chinese entities would be faced with a choice: Do business with the United States, Japan, and South Korea, or with North Korea -- but not both.
On the military side, an intensified containment strategy would interdict all ship-borne traffic heading to North Korea in international waters to inspect it for contraband, including WMD components. Rather than passively observing and measuring the success of North Korean missile launches, a containment strategy with juice would have the United States and Japan jointly shoot down those missiles, depriving Pyongyang of the propaganda victories it claims following each test. In cyberspace, the United States and its allies could pursue a tit-for-tat approach to North Korean provocations, turning out the lights in Pyongyang when its leaders threaten us and our allies.
Using its soft power of attraction rather than relying purely on the hard power of its sophisticated military capabilities, South Korea could offer to open its borders to any North Korean able to escape their gulag of a country by land or sea, in a sort of "tear-down-this wall" policy that would complicate North Korea's ability to police its borders -- and undercut the legitimacy of the Pyongyang regime by demonstrating to the world how many of its citizens are desperate to leave it behind.
In his 1999 Landon Lecture at Kansas State University, Senator John McCain urged the United States to stop playing "prevent defense" when it came to North Korea, moving instead to a policy of "rogue-state rollback" that targeted the legitimacy and power of the regime itself. The question for leaders in Washington, Seoul, and Tokyo is whether they are ready to move to a more active policy that chips away at the foundations of a Pyongyang regime that directly threatens their people and their interests -- not only in Asia but also in the Middle East, where Iran's budding nuclear weapons program benefits from North Korean assistance. For China's new leaders, the question is whether the albatross of North Korea now so threatens stability in Northeast Asia that cutting it off is actually less risky than continuing to underwrite it.
The Obama administration's policy of "strategic patience" may soon need to give way to a policy of "strategic initiative" that prevents the people of the United States and our closest Asian allies from being held hostage to the whims of the tyrant in Pyongyang.
An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that North Korea had in recent years sunk a South Korean submarine. In fact, the North sank a corvette belonging to the South and not a submarine.
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The media is transfixed on North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's threat to escalate tensions on the Korean peninsula. Kim has already declared that the North is on a full war footing, put his rocket forces on "full alert," and promised to nuke Washington and destroy the South. Predictably, a host of North Korea pundits are getting air and print time urging the administration to "engage" Pyongyang to prevent a rush to war on the peninsula (Former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson is ubiquitous, but fortunately we have been spared the geostrategic musings of NBA body art nightmare Dennis Rodman, the most recent high profile visitor to Pyongyang).
Young Kim and his National Defense Commission obviously want all attention on the escalation ladder they are now producing, directing, and starring in. However, it is the other escalation ladder that is far more important to them and threatening to us: the North's two decade nuclear and ballistic missile weapons development programs. Reports now suggest that Pyongyang's recent nuclear test was a well-concealed explosion of a uranium device. The test was probably successful and therefore positions the North to begin producing nuclear weapons in the near future by spinning centrifuges underground where detection and elimination will be a far more difficult task for the United States. With a deliverable nuclear weapons capability -- likely aimed at Japan and Guam first -- Pyongyang will seek to force sanctions relief and "peaceful coexistence" with the United States as a "fellow nuclear weapons state." When the North is ready to increase the protection price for not driving a pick-up truck through our store window, they will threaten to export their technology to the Middle East or engage in smaller scale provocations under cover of a nuclear deterrent, i.e., threaten to drive an even bigger pick-up truck through our store window.
All of this reflects a recurring pattern over the past 15 years. This time, however, the rhetoric is more shrill and unnerving. Most commentary has attributed this to young Kim's need to establish credibility with his generals -- at least one of whom he has already blown up (literally) as a message to the others. But if you think about the other escalation ladder, it would seem there is a more important audience -- China. Beijing surprised the North by supporting chapter seven Security Council sanctions last month in the wake of the North's missile test -- and then surprised the experts by actually implementing those sanctions with inspections at its ports. China is the one country that could bring down the North, but Pyongyang understands how to terrify Chinese leaders like a small wasp buzzing around the nose of a giant. It appears that the North's newest bellicosity may have worked. The U.N. Security Council committees responsible for implementing sanctions were humming along for the first few weeks after the members of the council unanimously adopted the tough new resolution. Then, Beijing suddenly put the brakes on last week.
Since they have learned how badly it can play for the party in power politically, the Obama administration has generally preferred not to put North Korea on the front burner. But the administration was right to brandish force, not only as a reassuring deterrent to our allies but also as a signal to Beijing that we will not be knocked off track by North Korean bluster. Of course, that signal would be more credible if the administration had not engineered a sequestration strategy that cuts our Navy and Air Force, but that is the topic for another post.
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Another BRICS summit brings another round of angst in the West over the new world the rising powers seek to build without us. The combined weight of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa is indeed breathtaking. Each is subcontinental in scope; together they represent nearly every region; their combined GDPs may surpass those of the G7 within two decades; as a group they have contributed more to global growth over the past five years than the West; and between them they boast nearly half the world's population.
Moreover, the BRICS possess complementary advantages: China is a manufacturing superpower; India is the world's largest democracy, with a deeper well of human capital than any other; Russia is a potential "energy superpower," according to the U.S. National Intelligence Council; Brazil dominates a region lacking any great power competitor; and South Africa represents a continent that has grown faster than Asia over the past decade. An alliance among these behemoths could indeed change history in ways that diminish the West.
Except that nearly all of the BRICS covet a special relationship with the United States, have development aspirations that can only be achieved with Western technology and investment, have security concerns they do not want to put at risk through confrontation with Washington, and quietly understand that strategic and economic rivalries within their grouping may be more salient than the ties that bind them together.
There will be several ghosts in the room at the BRICS summit: America, which India, China, and Russia have identified as more important to their interests than other rising powers; Indonesia, whose demographic and economic weight gives it a stronger claim to membership than South Africa; and Mexico, whose dynamic economy is more integrated with the world than Brazil's and wonders who appointed a Portuguese-speaking nation to represent Latin America.
Ironically, it may be the cleavages within the BRICS club that more accurately hint at the future of the global order: tensions between China and Brazil on trade, between China and India on security, and between China and Russia on status. These issues highlight the continuing difficulty Beijing will have in staking its claim to global leadership. Such leadership requires followers, and every BRIC country is reluctant to become one.
As my GMF colleague Dan Kliman puts it: "Talk of a new international order anchored by the BRICS is just that - talk. The two largest emerging powers in BRICS - Brazil and India - desire modifications to the current order; they do not seek to scrap it. Without geopolitical or ideological mortar, the BRICS summit remains less than the sum of its parts."
The BRICS countries may posture, but their strategic interests by and large lie in working more closely with the West rather than forming an alternative block that seeks to overthrow the existing world order. Indeed, the largest of the BRICS tried just such a strategy in another era -- and failed. India's experiment with non-alignment during the Cold War was a recipe for keeping Indians poor and shutting their country out of premier global clubs like the U.N. Security Council. We know how Moscow's quest to mount a Soviet ideological and material challenge to the West ended. And China long ago abandoned its Maoist zeal for world revolution. The country's biggest trading partners today are the European Union and the United States, and its leaders understand that the nature of China's relationship with the United States will be the main external determinant of China's ability to become a truly global power.
Power is diffusing across the international system, and the BRICS grouping is a reflection of that. But we should not let the occasional rising-powers summit lead us to lose sight of the main reality of a more multipolar world -- that in the race for influence in the 21st century, the United States remains in pole position.
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The New York Times headline from National Security Adviser Tom Donilon's speech yesterday on Obama's Asia strategy was uncompromising: "U.S. Demands Chinese Block Cyberattacks." And it is true, in the sense that Donilon's speech did include some tough language on cybersecurity:
"Another such issue is cyber-security, which has become a growing challenge to our economic relationship as well. Economies as large as the United States and China have a tremendous shared stake in ensuring that the Internet remains open, interoperable, secure, reliable, and stable. Both countries face risks when it comes to protecting personal data and communications, financial transactions, critical infrastructure, or the intellectual property and trade secrets that are so vital to innovation and economic growth.
It is in this last category that our concerns have moved to the forefront of our agenda. I am not talking about ordinary cybercrime or hacking. And, this is not solely a national security concern or a concern of the U.S. government. Increasingly, U.S. businesses are speaking out about their serious concerns about sophisticated, targeted theft of confidential business information and proprietary technologies through cyber intrusions emanating from China on an unprecedented scale. The international community cannot afford to tolerate such activity from any country. As the President said in the State of the Union, we will take action to protect our economy against cyber-threats.
From the President on down, this has become a key point of concern and discussion with China at all levels of our governments. And it will continue to be. The United States will do all it must to protect our national networks, critical infrastructure, and our valuable public and private sector property. But, specifically with respect to the issue of cyber-enabled theft, we seek three things from the Chinese side. First, we need a recognition of the urgency and scope of this problem and the risk it poses-to international trade, to the reputation of Chinese industry and to our overall relations. Second, Beijing should take serious steps to investigate and put a stop to these activities. Finally, we need China to engage with us in a constructive direct dialogue to establish acceptable norms of behavior in cyberspace."
But a demand implies "or else." What is the "or else"? Donilon understandably did not spell it out in any detail beyond "we will take action to protect our economy against cyber-threats." In backgrounding the speech, the White House told the NYT that Donilon did not get more detailed because they wanted to motivate China to act without engaging in "finger-pointing."
Finger-pointing, however, was precisely what Donilon was doing in the speech, and rightly so. Finger-pointing goes by another name, "naming and shaming," and it is an accepted early stage of diplomacy when dealing with core national interest conflicts. China has an understandable national interest in stealing as much as they can from the United States and the United States has an understandable national interest in preventing this. Those interests are in conflict, and one way to resolve it peacefully is to raise the costs to the Chinese of engaging in this behavior so they will end up in a different place in their own internal cost-benefit calculation. A peaceful way of raising those costs is to name and shame the Chinese for their activities.
However, naming and shaming only goes so far and, in this case, the Chinese preemptive response has been predictable: We deny we are doing this but tu quoque, you are engaged in cyber-espionage, Mr. Obama, and so we are not ashamed.
That means that naming and shaming alone is unlikely to resolve the underlying conflict. The Obama administration may soon face a tougher choice: continue to live with the waves of cyber-attacks from the Chinese or escalate to some form of retaliation beyond naming and shaming in the hopes of raising the costs to the Chinese beyond what they are willing to pay. Donilon's speech gave little insight into what the administration would do when confronted with that choice.
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Wayward ex-NBA star Dennis Rodman may think North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is a friend for life, but apparently Beijing does not. It looks like the U.N. Security Council will unanimously pass a resolution on Thursday that will impose Chapter Seven/Article 41 sanctions (measures short of armed force) on North Korea in response to Pyongyang's last nuclear test. I must confess that I did not expect this, but apparently even Beijing has a limit to its tolerance of North Korean provocations.
Chinese MFA officials say that the North Koreans crossed the line this time by testing their last nuke after "unprecedented" pressure from Beijing not to embarrass Xi Jinping on the eve of his assumption of power at the National People's Congress. Senior Chinese officials are telling their South Korean counterparts that Xi Jinping has ordered an overall review of North Korea policy, and even Japanese officials are pleasantly surprised that Pyongyang has provided an excuse for strategic cooperation between Tokyo and Beijing in the midst of a tense Sino-Japanese stand-off over the Senkaku Islands.
This could fizzle, of course. China undertook a similar policy "review" after the North's 2009 test, but within a year it was doubling trade with Pyongyang and ignoring the North's attack on the South Korean corvette Cheonan. The North is also adept at distracting the Chinese with alternating threats and promises of new diplomatic engagement. Pyongyang has already threatened to "nullify" the armistice that ended fighting in the Korean War if the UNSC passes a sanctions resolution -- the kind of sabre rattling that has made Chinese knees knock together in the past. There are also expectations in the region that Pyongyang will offer to negotiate a peace agreement, which could induce huge sighs of relief in Beijing.
The point is not to wait and see, however. Implementation by Beijing has always been the Achilles heel of past UNSC resolutions on North Korea. Rather than pat itself on the back and use the international community's outrage as leverage to get the North back to the table (a mistake made after the 2006 and 2009 sanctions), the Obama administration should keep at China to implement the new sanctions in terms of specific actions to interdict North Korean proliferation activities and close illicit bank accounts and North Korean trading company offices in China (of which there are still visible examples).
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The Internet is now a battlefield. China is not only militarizing cyberspace -- it is also deploying its cyberwarriors against the United States and other countries to conduct corporate espionage, hack think tanks, and engage in retaliatory harassment of news organizations.
These attacks are another dimension of the ongoing strategic competition between the United States and China -- a competition playing out in the waters of the East and South China seas, in Iran and Syria, across the Taiwan Strait, and in outer space. With a number of recent high-profile attacks in cyberspace traced to the Chinese government, the cybercompetition seems particularly pressing. It is time for Washington to develop a clear, concerted strategy to deter cyberwar, theft of intellectual property, espionage, and digital harassment. Simply put, the United States must make China pay for conducting these activities, in addition to defending cybernetworks and critical infrastructure such as power stations and cell towers. The U.S. government needs to go on the offensive and enact a set of diplomatic, security, and legal measures designed to impose serious costs on China for its flagrant violations of the law and to deter a conflict in the cybersphere.
Fashioning an adequate response to this challenge requires understanding that China places clear value on the cyber military capability. During the wars of the last two decades, China was terrified by the U.S. military's joint, highly networked capabilities. The People's Liberation Army (PLA) began paying attention to the role of command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (C4ISR) assets in the conduct of war. But the PLA also concluded that the seeds of weakness were planted within this new way of war that allowed the United States to find, fix, and kill targets quickly and precisely -- an overdependence on information networks.
Consider what might happen in a broader U.S.-China conflict. The PLA could conduct major efforts to disable critical U.S. military information systems (it already demonstrates these capabilities for purposes of deterrence). Even more ominously, PLA cyberwarriors could turn their attention to strategic attacks on critical infrastructure in America. This may be a highly risky option, but the PLA may view cyber-escalation as justified if, for example, the United States struck military targets on Chinese soil.
China is, of course, using attacks in cyberspace to achieve other strategic goals as well, from stealing trade secrets to advance its wish for a more innovative economy to harassing organizations and individuals who criticize its officials or policies.
Barack Obama's administration has begun to fight back. On Feb. 20, the White House announced enhanced efforts to fight the theft of American trade secrets through several initiatives: building a program of cooperative diplomacy with like-minded nations to press leaders of "countries of concern," enhancing domestic investigation and prosecution of theft, promoting intelligence sharing, and improving current legislation that would enable these initiatives. These largely defensive measures are important but should be paired with more initiatives that start to play offense.
This article was crossposted on foreignpolicy.com. Read the rest of the article here.
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Mike Green's interesting post on the visit of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe illustrates an important but oft-ignored principle of foreign policy: It takes two to tango. Too often, analysts focus on just one of the players, usually the president, and score the resulting foreign policy for good or ill based solely on that perspective. But as U.S.-Japan relations dramatize, the same president can have greater or lesser success pursuing much the same lines of policy with the same country depending on who is the counterpart. The Bush administration had fraught relations with France and Germany under Chirac and Schroeder respectively and most of the mainstream U.S. media laid the blame at President George W. Bush's feet. Yet the same Bush had excellent and cooperative relations with France and Germany under Sarkozy and Merkel. Likewise, Bush had excellent relations with Japan under Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and for a while looked set to reprise that with Abe. Relations with Japan have suffered during Obama's tenure, but this is as much due to the problems inside Japan as to specific failings of the Obama administration.
Now, with Abe back in power, Green makes a compelling case that there is an opportunity for the Obama Administration to regain lost ground. Abe's "Japan is Back" speech was an ironic double-joke that was not lost on insiders. First, it was an obvious homage to Green's own "Japan is Back" article in Foreign Affairs, which analyzed Abe's foreign policy the last time Abe was in power. Second, it was a gesture to the oft-repeated boast by Obama administration officials that the United States was "back in Asia." Of course, Abe and his team knew what team Obama has been reluctant to admit: The United States never left Asia, and Obama inherited a strong Asia strategy with bipartisan support and significant momentum behind it and and upon which, after some stumbles, they have managed to build with new initiatives.
But perhaps Abe and his team are worried by what they might consider drift in Obama's Asia strategy. The much-ballyhooed Asia pivot has been looking more and more like an Asian pirouette of late. Secretary of State John Kerry has bent over backwards to underscore the differences between him and his predecessor, and the easiest contrast to draw thus far has been his prioritization of Europe and the Middle East over Asia. The top Asia hands have left government, and the departure of Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell in particular deprives the administration of someone whose stature in the region could compensate for the unintended side-effects of a perception that Kerry is preoccupied with other regions. Campbell spoke to my program at Duke last week and argued persuasively that the Obama administration should redouble its efforts in Asia in the second term and somewhat less persuasively that they will.
In Abe, the Obama Administration has a promising Asian partner. Will they hear the music and dance?
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In 2007, I published a review essay in Foreign Affairs explaining how then-Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was compensating for Japan's relative economic decline by reducing anachronistic constraints on the Japanese self-defense forces and aligning more closely with other maritime democracies, beginning with the U.S.-Japan alliance. Unfortunately for Japan -- and the shelf life of my piece -- Abe abruptly resigned a few months later after a sudden wave of missteps, political bad luck, and failing health. Over the next five years Japan suffered through multiple leadership transitions, with two Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) prime ministers and three Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) prime ministers all stumbling at the starting line because they were unable to make any headway with Japan's stagnant economy. Abe, meanwhile, kept a low profile.
But as China upped the pressure on Japan over the contested Senkaku Islands, the LDP turned to the hawkish former prime minister last year to help them retake the government and restore Japan's self-confidence. Learning from his past errors, Abe has focused his early months on jump-starting the economy through "Abenomics" -- a combination of quantitative easing, stimulus spending, and promises of structural reform to increase productivity. Thus far it has worked: The markets and business confidence are up and Abe is the first prime minister in memory to see his personal support rate actually rise in office (now at 75% in some polls). In an energetic speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington on Friday, he declared to the audience that "Japan is back."
Abe's return seemed initially to confuse the Obama administration. His values-based, balance of power approach resonated much more with George W. Bush's second inaugural than the minimalist and risk-averse foreign policy vision President Obama has put forth for his second term. The administration also appeared spooked by Abe's intemperate campaign comments about the need to revisit Japan's previous official apologies to China and Korea. Numerous stories emerged before his visit to Washington citing unnamed senior U.S. officials promising to publicly shame Japan if the Abe administration went too far with historical revisionism. The pattern looked eerily reminiscent of what happened between the Obama administration and Bibi Netanyahu in the first term. For its part, the Japanese side was equally uncertain about seeming wobbliness in U.S. declaratory policy on the Senkaku issue since Hillary Clinton's departure and by John Kerry's promise in his confirmation hearings to "grow the rebalance towards Beijing" (it did not help that Chinese official editorials praised Kerry for having the wisdom not to "meddle" in Far Eastern affairs the way his predecessor had).
In the end, though, the Abe-Obama summit on Feb. 22 was a success for both sides. Since coming to office, Abe has moderated his stance on history issues and was firm but gracious towards China and especially South Korea in his CSIS speech. In the Oval Office press availability, President Obama reaffirmed that Japan is the "central foundation" of U.S. security policy toward the Pacific (though he sounded like he was searching for a teleprompter when he said it). The two leaders echoed each other on the need for a UN Security Council Chapter 7 resolution to deal with North Korea's recent nuclear test and there was little outward sign of frustration over the usual irritants on Okinawa base realignment. Even on the trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), where expectations were low, there was much more substance than met the eye. In a skillfully worded joint statement on Japan's possible participation in TPP, the U.S. side reaffirmed its position that all sectors had to be on the table and Abe restated the LDP campaign pledge that Japan would not commit to opening all sectors. That little piece of kabuki now allows Abe to state that he will seek to protect the rice market in negotiations and the administration to claim that all sectors will indeed be subject to negotiation. The Japanese delegation had a quiet spring in their step after the summit and were keen to move on TPP in a matter of weeks, slowing down mainly to accommodate the administration's need to line up support on its side (though Abe will have his own challenges within the LDP, to be sure). While the U.S. press was generally confused by the language on TPP, Congressional opponents of free trade knew what the joint statement meant right away, expressing their alarm within hours of the bilateral summit.
Abe has a lot to deliver still, and he knows it. "Abenomics" will run out of steam without real deregulation and reform (hence the Japanese business community and bureaucracy's enthusiasm for TPP as an action-forcing agreement). He also has to win the Upper House election scheduled for July, since failure to control both houses of the Diet has done in every prime minister since Koizumi. But Abe has begun to build up a head of steam. I have sat across the table from the last six Japanese prime ministers, and I always watch the faces of the political aides and senior bureaucrats behind them. I haven't seen such confident expressions since Koizumi was in the job.
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The international community's cynical and feckless response to North Korean nuclear testing evokes nothing more than Claude Rein's character in "Casablanca," who puts on an act for his Nazi overlords after the murder of their commander by ordering the Vichy police officers to "round up the usual suspects." With Pyongyang's most recent and dangerous test on Feb. 12, can we afford to just pretend we are serious yet again?
On the one hand, there is an obvious recognition that this time the response must be tougher. It will take time to conduct the forensics, but seismic readings suggest that the test may approach the 12 kiloton yield of the blast that destroyed Hiroshima (the last two tests were only a fraction of that size). More troubling, the North Koreans can claim -- with some honesty -- that they have been perfecting weaponization and miniaturization. And more troubling still, this test may have been conducted using uranium-based weapons. If so, then North Korea is poised to crank out multiple warheads underground (since uranium enrichment does not require the same cooling methods) where they cannot be detected. Those who say North Korea cannot actually use nuclear weapons without committing suicide forget that a large arsenal gives Pyongyang greater latitude for coercion over Japan and South Korea by just threatening to use or transfer those weapons. This is a dangerous threshold. So maybe the Security Council's immediate statement that it will take action against North Korea and the Chinese Foreign Ministry's "resolute" condemnation of the test mean there will be real sanctions this time.
On the other hand, the Chinese MFA statement is essentially the same one they issued last time North Korea conducted a nuclear test and Chinese officials have been explaining to journalists that they will only "fine tune" sanctions to show displeasure without upsetting the "balance" in their relationship with Pyongyang and Washington. Susan Rice is also reported to have said that the Security Council will "go through the usual drill," hopefully a misquotation because it is so obviously evocative of Claude Reins in "Casablanca."
Fortunately, Congress is preparing legislation to put pressure on the administration to do more this time. The North Korea Nonproliferation and Accountability Act of 2013 would not force the administration to do anything other than report back to Congress, but it will help those in the administration who argue that an entirely new level of sanctions are now needed. That package should include Chapter 7 (binding) Security Council sanctions, but also unilateral and coalition steps by the United States and partners to inspect all North Korean shipping and air traffic that enters their territory and to freeze all international banking transactions with North Korean entities through Section 311 of the Patriot Act. Those arguing against such measures have points they would rather not say in public: that enforcement of deeper sanctions creates tension with China we cannot afford now; that we would only have to lift new sanctions in order to get back to the table with Pyongyang (the way we returned North Korean funds frozen under the Patriot Act in 2005 in order to get the North Koreans back to the table in 2007); and, finally, that we have too many problems in foreign policy now with Syria and Iran to put pesky misbehaving North Korea on the front burner. All three points are shamefully wrong, which is why they will not hold up under the light of Congressional scrutiny: First, we will simply not get action from China without raising Beijing's level of discomfort by proving our readiness to take steps with our allies; second, we should never trade defensive measures against North Korean threats for the right to talk to North Korean diplomats (dialogue is fine, as long as it is not paid for); and, finally, the North Korean nuclear problem will be much harder later than it is now. Let's hope that Congress keeps the spotlight on this problem, because real pressure on North Korea has to start somewhere.
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When asked, "would you be willing to meet separately, without precondition, during the first year of your administration, in Washington or anywhere else, with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea, in order to bridge the gap that divides our countries?" then-candidate for President Barack Obama replied, "I would."
That answer is little noted, nor long remembered. Yet the challenges posed by North Korea and Iran's nuclear programs have only grown. Since President Obama took office, North Korea has conducted two more nuclear tests, the latest on the eve of the State of the Union speech, after having admitted a long-suspected clandestine uranium enrichment program in 2010. Meanwhile, Iran has more than quintupled its stocks of enriched uranium, more than doubled its enrichment capacity, and enriched to levels much closer to weapons grade. Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei recently rejected direct talks with the United States, again slapping the hand the President offered in his first inaugural speech.
Moreover, David Sanger reported in the New York Times that the two threats may be converging: "The Iranians are also pursuing uranium enrichment, and one senior American official said two weeks ago that 'it's very possible that the North Koreans are testing for two countries.'" Should this extraordinary statement prove to be more than speculation, it would be a serious escalation of the proliferation threat.
What then did the president say about these matters in last night's State of the Union Speech? Not much:
"The regime in North Korea must know that they will only achieve security and prosperity by meeting their international obligations. Provocations of the sort we saw last night will only isolate them further, as we stand by our allies, strengthen our own missile defense, and lead the world in taking firm action in response to these threats."
"Likewise, the leaders of Iran must recognize that now is the time for a diplomatic solution, because a coalition stands united in demanding that they meet their obligations, and we will do what is necessary to prevent them from getting a nuclear weapon."
What the president did not say is that efforts to isolate North Korea are failing. The North's trade with China has more than tripled in recent years, and Chinese investment is mushrooming. So long as Beijing remains intent on shielding its ally from the consequences of nuclear brinksmanship, efforts to isolate Pyongyang will fail.
Similarly, while Iran has suffered tough and growing economic sanctions, they have not slowed Tehran's nuclear program, which is expanding and accelerating.
In the face of these threats, especially Pyongyang's latest provocation, the president apparently chose not to outline details of his reported plans for deeper cuts to the American nuclear arsenal. The apparent paradox would have been too great.
Indeed, the State of the Union Speech focused on domestic policy, with national security issues raised in the last quarter of the speech. While high unemployment and sluggish economic growth understandably remain the principle concerns of most Americans, the Administration can no longer apply "strategic patience" to the threats from Iran and North Korea. Patience is becoming neglect and neglecting them will only make them worse.
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North Korea is yanking the world's chain yet again, sending all relevant parties hither and yon. As we contemplate what to do and the Kim clan perfects its ability to deliver its growing nuclear arsenal to targets in South Korea, Japan and the United States, we could do worse than turn to a rising star of Korea analysis: Sung-Yoon Lee of Tufts University. Dr. Lee provides a much-needed dose of reality about what exactly we are dealing with. The basics are not a bad place to start in thinking or rethinking how to deal with the criminal-nuclear enterprise that we call North Korea. Here is an edited version of what he said at a conference in Seoul last week (my commentary is in italics and the final thoughts are my own).
1. North Korea is "uniquely unique." It is the world's sole communist hereditary dynasty, the world's only literate-industrialized-urbanized peacetime economy to have suffered a famine, the world's most cultish totalitarian system, and the world's most secretive, isolated country -- albeit one with the world's largest military in terms of manpower and defense spending proportional to its population and national income. The result is an exceptional state, perhaps the world's most influential regional power commensurate with its territorial and population size and economic and political power.
That is, North Korea has managed some seemingly impossible feats. It has remained a cultish communist dictatorship even though all its like-minded brethren have been relegated to the ash heap of history. It has managed to produce a spate of famines despite the fact that its population is urbanized and literate. And through its combination of supremely disproportionate spending on military forces, its nuclear program, and its unique ability to outfox, out-negotiate, and outplay the world's industrialized powers, it has become a regional nuclear power with disproportionate influence in Northeast Asia despite its poverty and privation.
2. The other Korea, the one south of the 38th parallel, is a global leader in trade, shipping, automobiles, and electronics. It is also a free democratic polity. And on December 19, South Korea elected Park Geun-hye as president. Park is the first elected female leader in Korea and also in Confucian civilization, which consists of China, Japan, the two Koreas, Taiwan, Singapore, and Vietnam and makes up nearly a quarter of the world's population. The contrast between the two Koreas could not be starker -- beyond the obvious, you have a cultish male hereditary dictatorship in the North, and a freely elected female leader in the South.
Development experts and theorists of democratization take note. South Korea has the same culture, historical legacies, and so on as its neighbor to the North. And yet it is an advanced industrial economy and a thriving democracy that has just, despite its Confucian culture, elected a woman as president. It has managed to reach this high point of prosperity and human dignity because of -- to reduce a complex set of phenomena to its minimal essence -- different institutions than those in the North: democratic and capitalist ones. (I realize that I may be violating some tenet of doctrinaire realism with this observation. For the less doctrinaire, the contrast between the two Koreas is a useful reminder of why we try and favor and even push for democratic capitalism). Given the stark contrast between the two countries one can safely draw at least one conclusion: There is nothing inherent in culture or history that ipso facto should keep a country poor and enslaved.
3. The Park Geun-hye administration and the Obama administration should ... not deprive themselves of the credible, non-military deterrent that would weaken or debilitate the Kim regime. They should attack the North Korean regime's two most glaring systemic contradictions: 1. Over-reliance on its shadowy palace economy instead of making licit goods that are competitive on the world market or opening up to foreign investment and trade worthy of the name. Pyongyang's palace economy is particularly vulnerable to tools designed to counter international money laundering. 2. [T]he unfeasibility of controlling the population over the long-term through its vast network of prison camps, fear, and thought police; that is, its egregious human rights violations.
The North Korean state is essentially two things: 1) a large money-laundering concern; 2) the world's largest prison and slave labor camp. Now, however, it is a large money-laundering concern and prison camp that has additionally extorted its way to nuclear weapons. Any U.S. policy should begin and end with the knowledge of what North Korea really is. It is not a state engaged in the normal give-and-take of diplomacy, seeking "security assurances" in return for "denuclearization" or some other such deal conjured up by diplomats whose experience is in dealing with real countries who negotiate in good faith. Rather, North Korea has had a pretty good run with its current approach of extortion, criminality and the deprivation of its own people.
4. The Obama administration is in a position to take the lead on squeezing Pyongyang's palace economy. It should designate the entire North Korean government a Primary Money Laundering Concern, which is a legal term for entities that fail to implement adequate safeguards against money laundering. It should also enforce Executive Orders 13382 (signed June 2005) and 13551 (signed August 2010), which call for the freezing of suspect North Korean entities' assets and those of third-country entities suspected of helping North Korea's WMD proliferation (and criminal) activities. Furthermore, the incoming Park Geun-hye administration is in a position to take the lead in implementing a sustained human rights campaign against Pyongyang. It should vastly increase funding for information transmission efforts into North Korea, encourage North Korean defection and reinforce resettlement programs, and raise global awareness on the Kim regime's egregious human rights violations so that people living in democratic societies around the globe come to think less of the Kim regime as an oddity or an abstraction and more as a threat to humanity.
North Korea's nature underscores its vulnerabilities. It cannot survive without laundering money for its dangerous and illicit activities. It should not be treated as a normal country when most of its people are enslaved. The countries threatened by Pyongyang have in their toolkit the ability to treat the entire state apparatus as a criminal enterprise and can block it and anyone (including many Chinese banks and enterprises) doing business with it from engaging in transactions within the international financial and commercial system. Rather than pretending that they are negotiating with just another regime, the United States and South Korea should instead unleash a campaign to highlight just how abnormal and illegitimate the Kim family is. Here is a simple formula that policymakers can use in setting our approach to North Korea: North Korean existence=criminal activity + human enslavement + nuclear exhortation. There may be little to nothing the world can do now about the fact that it has allowed the North to become a nuclear weapons state. But it can and should treat it like one big criminal/slave state.
Some Concluding Thoughts: South Korea and Japan, for reasons that should be obvious (North Korea, China, an unsteady and retrenching American presence), have elected right-of-center hawkish governments. They are uniquely open to dealing with reality, not a common occurrence in international politics. Reality in this case means taking all necessary deterrent measures against a nuclear state (Tokyo and Seoul appear poised to actually call North Korea a nuclear-weapons state, which -- for those unfortunate to have witnessed to the unfolding tragedy of North Korea policy -- is a big deal). Rather than engage in diplomatic conferences that result in more North Korean extortion, more North Korean nuclear weapons, and more illusions that through combined U.S. and Chinese exertions North Korea can actually be persuaded (against all evidence) that the illegal possession of nuclear weapons actually has a price, we would be wise to consider Dr. Lee's basic idea. Let's deal with North Korea as Dr. Lee describes it -- a criminal enterprise whose crimes can and must be stopped.
There is another looming problem. A second term in a presidency seems to provide a unique temptation to American secretaries of state across administrations to go for the brass ring-a Nobel Peace Prize for "solving" the North Korean problem. In this case, at least from Pyongyang's perspective, there is nothing to be solved. North Korea has pretty much what it wants. But now that Seoul and Tokyo (hopefully Washington too?) are ready to call North Korea a nuclear power, there may be one thing to discuss with Mr. Kim: What would happen if he dared use those weapons?
Perhaps to guard against the "North Korea Nobel Peace Prize" temptation, a parallel prize can be created, awarded to those diplomats who avoid attempts to bargain away that which the North has never put on the table, and instead achieve the more modest task of bettering the lot of the North Korean people and putting an end to the many crimes of Kim Jong Un and his cronies.
Incredibly, territorial disputes between China and its neighbors over uninhabited islands threaten to become a flashpoint threatening peace in East Asia. While tensions have since cooled a bit, the Economist recently warned that "China and Japan are sliding towards war." Last August, large, angry, and violent protests broke out in dozens of Chinese cities against a decision by the Japanese government to buy several of the disputed islands (called Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China) from a Japanese private citizen. Again this month, China sortied aircraft and ships near the islands, and Japan scrambled fighters in response.
Moreover, this is not China's only maritime territorial dispute. In the South China Sea, China, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam pursue conflicting claims among the uninhabited shoals, islets, and atolls comprising Scarborough Shoal and the Paracel and Spratly Islands (including Mishief Reef). This is not a bloodless issue. In 1988, more than 70 Vietnamese sailors died in a naval clash with China near Johnson South Reef. Since then, China and the ASEAN states issued a 2002 joint declaration pledging not to use force to resolve their disputes and to avoid actions that would escalate them. However, no progress has been made toward settling the underlying disagreements, and the declaration was violated almost immediately.
Because of the United States's bilateral defense treaties with Japan and the Philippines, we could be drawn into a conflict we do not seek. Moreover, we have an enormous stake in continued economic growth and prosperity in East Asia, which depends on peace.
What is behind the strong passions surrounding groups of uninhibited rocks whose total land mass is less than five square miles? Fishing rights are at stake -- and a cod war is not unprecedented -- but it would hardly seem worth the risk between states whose annual trade stands at three quarters of a trillion dollars.
Oil and gas wealth is a stronger motivation. No one yet knows the extent of the resources buried beneath the East and South China Seas (in part because their ownership remains in dispute), but if Europe's North Sea serves as a fair precedent, they could be worth trillions of dollars.
Finally, nationalism compounds the problem. Unlike Europe, in East Asia, the wounds of World War II remain unhealed. Diplomatic rows or even riots are periodically caused by disputes over history text books or visits by politicians to shrines for dead military leaders. Hence, the explosive anger last autumn causing protestors to attack Japanese cars and sushi restaurants, although they were owned by fellow Chinese citizens.
How to head off a potentially catastrophic confrontation? Five ideas will help.
First, all states must recognize that no single state can impose a solution, and every state exercises effective veto over exploitation of energy resources. A deep water oil rig can cost up to $600 million, yet can be sunk by a $20 million patrol boat. No commercial oil company, investor, or insurer would risk such a costly and vulnerable piece of equipment in a contested region where hostilities might erupt. Thus, East Asian nations effectively have a choice between continuing to wrangle over natural resources with no production, or reaching an agreement to divide the resources and jointly benefit from them.
Second, all states in the region would do well to bear in mind that despite occasional nationalistic rhetoric, this is an economic question. These barren islands are not like the West Bank or the Balkans, where centuries of human history and intermingled populations complicate the division of land. No country's national heritage is at stake in this question -- only economic benefits that cannot be exploited in the absence of an agreement. Therefore, all governments would do well to tone down their rhetoric about national rights and core interests in discussing the disputed maritime territories. Inflaming nationalist tendencies among citizens will make solving the problem more difficult, not less so.
Third, the disputants should accept that these matters cannot be settled solely by legal arguments or in court. Claims and counterclaims, along with contradictory old maps and sea charts, abound. Asserting that one interpretation of proper title to a territory is "indisputable" is pointless when other nations claim an equally "indisputable" title. Disagreements among nation states -- except in narrowly defined areas in which they offer prior agreement to accept external dispute resolution, e.g. the World Trade Organization -- are political matters and must be resolved by diplomacy and agreement, though perhaps aided by legal tools.
Fourth, in contemplating ways to resolve this matter, the states involved should look to earlier precedents. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Denmark, Germany, and the Netherlands used a combination of a ruling by the International Court of Justice and subsequent negotiations to resolve conflicting claims to North Sea continental shelf resources. The parties entered the negotiations realizing that no single state could claim the lion's share of the benefits, and that resolving the matter to allow oil exploration to move ahead was in all parties' interests.
Harvard Professor Richard N. Cooper, observes that the neutral zone shared by Kuwait and Saudi Arabia may also serve as a precedent for resolving the East Asia maritime territorial disputes. Without resolving their disputed border, the two countries agreed to share the wealth from oil produced in the zone, which was created in 1922. Today, over 650,000 barrels per day are pumped from the region to both countries' great benefit.
Fifth, the countries of East Asia should begin to heal the wounds of World War II. For example, China, Japan, South Korea, Russia, and the United States could agree on principles to guide their interaction, including, among other things, peaceful resolution of territorial disputes and joint development and management of regional resources (such as fisheries), and follow up with separate annual meetings of foreign, economic, and defense ministers to implement them.
Military conflict over the maritime territorial disputes in the East and South China Seas would be a senseless waste. China may see a tactical advantage in waiting to address these issues as its economic and military power grows, but allowing the disputes to fester risks the outbreak of war and squanders the opportunity to develop potentially rich natural resources. It also prevents nations in the region from working effectively together to solve other pressing problems. The bright prospects for peace and prosperity in East Asia should not be allowed to founder on Mischief Reef.
As Christmas approaches next week, it seems that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) doesn't have the holiday spirit. That is at least the impression one gets when reading the recent CCP directive targeting the allegedly seditious teaching of Christianity in Chinese universities, by "foreigners" no less. Ominously, the document worries that
"With China's rapid economic and social development and the steady growth of China's comprehensive national strength, the U.S.-led Western countries are ceaselessly increasing the intensity of their containment of China. Foreign hostile forces have put even greater emphasis using religion to infiltrate China to carry out their political plot to westernize and divide China. Foreign forces regard institutes of higher education as key targets for using religion, Christianity in particular, for infiltration."
Instead it calls for, among other things, making "education in Marxist atheism the foundational work in resisting infiltration and preventing campus evangelism."
This document alone embodies almost all of the oppugnant points in the Middle Kingdom's fraught relationship with the modern international system: paranoia about a Western plot to "contain" China, an obsession with "China's comprehensive national strength," sinister warnings against "foreign hostile forces" deviously employing religion to "divide China," and calls for renewing revolutionary zeal through that hoary old chestnut of Marxist atheism.
Issued last year, the document was procured by the redoubtable Bob Fu and his organization ChinaAid (see a profile of Bob here in the Bush Institute's Freedom Collection). To be sure, China's ongoing modernization remains one of the most consequential global events of the last several decades, with multiple transformations occurring in economics, urbanization, communications, and China's engagement with international institutions. But when it comes to religion, the CCP still appears to be captivated by 1960s-era agitprop and unreconstructed Maoist dogma.
This CCP paranoia is not only overwrought, it is also misplaced. As Walter Russell Mead points out in his comment on the directive, "the biggest sources of Christian proselytization on campus aren't foreign teachers or students; they're the Chinese themselves. With up to 100 million belonging to house churches, and with Christianity increasingly becoming an urban and even intellectual presence in China, this is hardly surprising." In other words, the real story on religion in China is not the alleged presence of a small number of Western missionaries doing evangelistic work on campuses; It is the size, strength, and vibrancy of indigenous Christianity among the Chinese themselves.
The news of this directive comes in the midst of government crackdown on some bizarre apocalyptic teachings, as FP's Alicia Wittmeyer notes here. On one level, the CCP's fears about religion and instability are understandable, given traumatic religiously-tinged events in Chinese history such as the Taiping Rebellion, or the fringe teachings of apocalyptic cults building "survival pods." But it is the paranoid, undiscerning efforts to squelch and control religion itself, exemplified by the recent directive that, ironically, create conditions in which fringe groups are more likely to proliferate. One of the underappreciated results of religious freedom is how it enables religious groups to compete for adherents, hold each other accountable, and peacefully debate teachings that deviate from historic orthodoxies.
Furthermore, the CCP's fears about foreign missionaries may overlook some of the salutary effects of the mission enterprise -- effects that ironically resonate with Beijing's own concerns about modernization and development. In one of the most interesting and consequential political science articles published in the past year, my former University of Texas-Austin colleague Bob Woodberry (now at the National University of Singapore) produced a groundbreaking study in the American Political Science Review on the historic relationship between Protestant missionaries and advances in literacy, printing, education, civil society, and amelioration of colonial abuses in nations where missionaries were active. The missionary enterprise has perhaps been more consequential than the regnant stereotypes would suggest.
As for China's Christians, they will survive this latest crackdown, as they have endured much worse repression over the past 60 years. After all, as they remember this Christmas season, they place their eternal hopes in the Jesus Christ whose birth, life, and death were defined by persecution. In contrast, the feverish ruminations of a decrepit state ideology are but a passing shadow.
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2012 will end with Japan and Korea both choosing new governments as the leadership on Asia policy changes at the State Department. All three transitions could have an impact on the president's vaunted pivot to Asia.
In Japan the conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe just walloped the ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) at the polls. On the one hand, this is nothing new. The last three Japanese elections (2005, 2009 and 2012) ended with lopsided victories as the frustrated Japanese electorate searched for leadership to get them out of their current doldrums. With the election of Shinzo Abe, however, the Western media and the left have hit general quarters. Time Magazine predicts dangerous new friction in Northeast Asia; the folks at Foreign Policy have featured analysis warning Japan could go nuclear; and within some quarters of the administration there is nervous chatter about whether Tokyo might provoke China too much.
Abe is a nationalist, to be sure, and he has said less than helpful things this election cycle about elevating attention to Japan's territorial dispute with Korea and revisiting a 1993 apology for treatment of the euphemistically-called "comfort women" who were sent to the rear areas of Japanese combat units during the war. On the whole, however, Abe is a good nationalist -- which is to say that he wants to project a Japan that is far more resolute than the flip-flopping of the past three years under the DPJ. At a time when Beijing thinks it is winning in its campaign to coerce maritime states on territorial issues, Abe has promised to increase spending on the Japanese navy and coast guard, to relax constraints on defense cooperation with the United States, and to strengthen security ties with the Philippines, Australia, India and others in Beijing's crosshairs. The United States should embrace this agenda. The problem is that any continuation of the nationalist rhetoric of the election campaign would drive a wedge between Japan and Korea, putting the United States and Japan in a weaker position to deal with a dangerous North Korea and an overbearing China. The administration should quietly explain the problem to the incoming team in Tokyo in exactly those strategic and national interest terms. In his last go as Prime Minister, Abe moved from nationalist to pragmatic statesman, improving ties with both China and Korea. As it became clear that LDP would win a landslide this time, he also began tempering his comments and stressing that he would rebuild the U.S.-Japan alliance and place importance on relations with China and Korea. His top advisors say privately not to worry. National security is all about worrying, though, so the administration will need the skill to construct a trusted private dialogue on the sensitive issues with Tokyo, backed by robust public support for Japan's security.
Korea goes to the polls on Wednesday. Right now the conservative candidate, Park Geun-hye, has a lead in most polls, but just inside the margin of error. Her opponent, Moon Jae-in, appears to have slight momentum on his side (Korean law limits polling in the final days of the election). Both are trying to appeal to the center without abandoning their bases. Park is the former daughter of strongman Park Chung Hee, while Moon was chief-of-staff and heir apparent to the former president, Roh Moo-hyun. Park's supporters are generally tougher on North Korea, more pro-U.S., and older. Moon's supporters are generally softer on North Korea and younger, but not gripped by the same anti-Americanism that helped Roh get elected in 2002. The younger voters' conversion is typified by Psy, the Gangnam-style rap artist who recently apologized for his crude anti-American songs from a decade ago. Moon himself is a pragmatist who appears to have learned the political and security consequences of the Roh administration's initial anti-Americanism. The problem is that Moon has surrounded himself with hardcore leftists who still believe that the right approach to North Korea is to buy their confidence with economic aid, even after (or they would argue especially after) Pyongyang has tested long-range missiles and possibly begun preparations for a third nuclear test. Needless to say, that policy would create considerable dissonance with Washington. Even Park, whose pro-alliance credentials are solid, has hinted that she will not be quite as tough with either Pyongyang or Beijing as the incumbent, Lee Myung-bak, has been.
Just as Japan and Korea enter these transitions, the Obama administration is losing its best stewards of Asia policy -- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her assistant secretary for East Asia (and, truth in advertising, good friend to a number of us at Shadowgov), Kurt Campbell. There are other solid Asia hands in the administration, to be sure, but State has been particularly instrumental in managing U.S. alliances in the region. It is not hard to imagine an incoming team at State deciding that the highest priority in the second term must be modifying the harder edges of the pivot and quietly reassuring Beijing that the U.S. does not fully support Japan's new trajectory -- or worse, publicly walking away from a declaratory policy on the contested Senkaku Islands that suggests the U.S. is completely neutral (for three administration's the policy has been neutrality on the territorial claims, but clear signals that the United States would not be neutral if there were any military coercion by China). There are hints that some in the administration have already been shifting their public statements in this direction. Similarly, Korea-U.S. relations have prospered in the last four years, not because the Obama administration came in with any particular strategy for strengthening relations with Seoul, but because the President was personally captivated by President Lee Myung-bak's commitment to globalizing Korea's role and restoring trust in alliance relations with Washington. It is one thing to react to a dynamic ally, but quite another to put in the hard work of strengthening alliance ties when there are disagreements over North Korea policy or uncertainties in Seoul about how to deal with China in future.
The good news is that any new team will have to face confirmation hearings. In private calls and hearings, the Senate should be sure to take some time off from Iran, Syria and Afghanistan to verify the nominees' fundamental thinking about our alliances in Asia. These alliances do not run on auto-pilot, nor are they always easy. But as Lord Carrington once said about us as allies in the face of European criticism in the 1980s, "Yes ... yes ... all your complaints are true, but they are the only Americans we have."
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The original Saturday Night Live cast used to have a skit where Sigmund Freud's daughter Anna saw sexual overtones in everything around her. Finally an exasperated Freud would explain to her, "sometimes a banana is just a banana...Anna."
The punditocracy's response to North Korea's launch of the Unha rocket on December 11 shows similar and predictable over-interpretation of Pyongyang's motives. The "Great General" Kim Jong-un is said to be using the launch to consolidate his control over the Korean People's Army. Other explanations focus on North Korean efforts to influence the South Korean or even Japanese elections, which are to be held over the next few weeks. Or is it a signal to the Obama administration as it begins a second term?
No doubt missile tests please the KPA generals and make for good propaganda in a nation of undernourished and terrified people, but that is the same reason given for all of the previous missile and nuclear tests by the North. This is, after all, a Stalinist state driven by an "Army First" policy and a perpetual state of war with the United Nations and the Republic of Korea. Explanations that the North is trying to shape the South Korean or Japanese elections also hang awkwardly in the air, since the missile test cannot possibly help the softer-line progressive candidate Moon Jae-in to overcome his conservative rival Park Geun-Hye -- let alone the hapless Democratic Party of Japan which is about to be trounced at the polls by the conservative Liberal Democratic Party led by North Kora's worst nightmare, former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Psychoanalyzing North Korea's deviant behavior is convenient in one sense, however:. it allows the State Department and White House spokesmen to to dismiss the growing threat from Pyongyang as the rantings of a teenage miscreant only doing harm to itself. If North Korea is only isolating itself from the international community, as we are told after each provocation, then there is no need to take action. One analytical explanation making the rounds describes a "cycle" in which North Korea provokes with a nuclear or missile test but inevitably returns to talks. Phew !!
The problem is that the consequences of North Korean weapons testing are not cyclical -- they are linear. Each missile and nuclear test, even a failed test, represents a new milestone in Pyongyang's well-advertised march towards marrying nuclear warheads to ballistic missiles. This most recent test appears to have ended in the successful separation of multiple stage Rockets. Recently, a senior KPA general was reported to have told military officers at a speech in Pyongyang that the nation has already achieved the ability to mount small warheads on medium range missiles. Bravado or not, that is clearly the North's goal and it grows closer with this most recent test.
The administration's response should not be based on interpreting the North Korean Unha missile launch as anything other than what it was -- a deliberate weapons development program aimed at forcing concessions on the United States and our allies through coercion. That threat requires significant countermeasures both within the UN Security Council and among US allies.
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The National Intelligence Council's (NIC) just-released Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds report identifies key meta-trends that will shape the future international system, including the explosion of the global middle class, the diffusion of power away from the West, and the rising likelihood of inter-state conflict. In no other region will these trends play a more decisive role than in Asia, where the NIC predicts China to emerge as the world's largest economy, India to become the biggest driver of middle-class growth on Earth, and conflict scenarios between a number of rising and established powers likely to put regional peace at risk. In no other region will the future of U.S. leadership in the international system be more decisively tested than in an Asia featuring rising giants like India and Indonesia, a fully emerged peer competitor in China, and the dramatic tilt in the international economy's center of gravity from the Atlantic to the Indo-Pacific.
What kind of role Asia will play in the world, and how it will relate to the United States and other Western powers, in turn will be determined by what form of regional order is operative in 2030. My last post described four broad pathways Asia could take over the next two decades. This one sketches out a more granular set of scenarios for Asia's future, identifying seven distinct possibilities that could emerge by 2030. That there are these many pathways demonstrates how unsettled regional power dynamics are -- and how much uncertainty remains around China's trajectory, U.S. staying power, Japan's strategic re-emergence, and the nature of Asian regionalism.
Headline scenarios for Asia in 2030 include:
More specifically, three forms of multipolarity in Asia seem possible: (1) a cooperative-competitive multipolar order in which the United States is the strongest power; (2) a fundamentally competitive multipolar order in which China is the strongest power; or (3) a liberal Concert of Asia in which multiple strong states organize themselves around cooperation rather than competition.
Alternatively, three forms of bipolarity seem possible: (1) an Asia split into two competitive blocs led by the United States and China; (2) a region featuring a withdrawn United States pitting a grouping led by China against a contending one led by Asia's other great and regional powers; and (3) a Sino-American condominium in which a cooperative bipolarity orders the region.
Finally, one form of unipolarity is possible (and only one): a form of Chinese primacy that reduces other states to lesser status and effectively excludes the United States from playing a leading regional role.
From the vantage point of 2012, the most likely Asian strategic futures for 2030 appear to be, in descending order: (1) multipolarity with a U.S. lead, (2) U.S.-China Cold War, (3) multipolarity with a Chinese lead, (4) Asia-China Cold War, (5) concert of Asia, (6) Sino-American condominium, and (7) new Middle Kingdom.
The key variable will be what role the United States chooses to play in Asia with respect to continued military presence and diplomatic/economic leadership (which themselves will derive in part from the ability of the United States to revitalize its domestic power resources); defense of its allies and deepening of strategic partnership with India; and the nature of its relationship with China. Other decisive variables will be the scope and pace of internal political change within China; the speed of India's economic and military rise; and the future of Japan and the U.S.-Japan alliance.
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Today the U.S. National Intelligence Council releases its Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds report, authored by the NIC's resident thought leader and global futurist par excellence, Mat Burrows. Several of us in the Shadow Government stable contributed to the report in various ways over the past few years of its development .
Because Asia is the cockpit for so many macro drivers of the international system over the coming decades, it's worth considering the outsized role Asia's evolution will play in shaping the future world described in GT2030 -- and how that evolution in turn will impact key variables like the resilience of American power and the future of democracy.
At the macro level, four broad pathways for Asian order are possible through 2030. Which order prevails will have determinative effects on the kind of international system our children inherit.
A Lockean order
In the first scenario, continued American maritime preeminence and the U.S. alliance system sustain a security order in which China's "Prussianization," North Korea's nuclear mischief, and other potential security dilemmas in Asia are mitigated by the preponderance of power enjoyed by the United States and its allies, thereby deterring aggressive revisionism on the part of Beijing or Pyongyang and continuing to supply the public goods that underlie wider Asian prosperity. In such an order, Asian institutions could continue to sink roots, but on the basis of a trans-regional outlook in which the United States remains what then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates called a "resident power," with economic integration oriented around a Pacific rather than an exclusively Asian axis.
Great powers like Japan and India, secondary powers like South Korea and Australia, and the states of Southeast Asia could continue to engage economically and diplomatically with China, confident that their security ties with the United States constituted a hedge against falling under Beijing's sway. In turn, China's development would be shaped by the combination of engagement with the United States and its friends in Asia and Europe, and by the deterrent effect of America's forward military presence and alliance commitments. These raise the costs of Chinese adventurism, allowing Beijing to focus its resources on internal development and peaceful external engagement -- rather than on wielding its growing power to revise Asia's order through coercion.
A Hobbesian order
In the second scenario, a U.S. retreat into isolationism or accelerated material decline (induced by protectionism or failure to reverse America's alarming levels of national debt) would lead to the weakening of Washington's alliance commitments in East Asia and its willingness to remain the region's security guarantor. Such a regional order would be "ripe for rivalry," as forecast by realist scholars like Aaron Friedberg after the Cold War, when an American withdrawal from the region and raw balancing behavior in the midst of dynamic power shifts seemed likely to make Asia's future resemble Europe's war-prone past.
Such a balance-of-power order would feature self-help behavior by Asian states of the kind that has been mitigated to date by American defense commitments. Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Vietnam might develop and deploy nuclear weapons as the only means of securing their autonomy against the Chinese military giant in their midst. Chinese leaders, no longer constrained by America's Seventh Fleet and robust alliance network, might find themselves free to pursue their declared revisionist aims in the South and East China Seas. Lesser Asian states whose territorial claims conflict with China's would find they had less ability to leverage a retreating America's support in their favor.
A Kantian order
In the third scenario, Asia would evolve in Europe's direction -- not the pre-1945 Europe of great-power balancing and war, but today's European Union, in which demilitarized societies between which war is inconceivable enjoy the fruits of democratic peace through institutional cooperation. Such a pathway for regional order presumes that Asian regionalism develops in a pluralistic way that preserves the autonomy of lesser Asian states, rather than deriving from a nonconsensual extension of China's sphere of influence. It also presumes a dovetailing of Asian regime types in a democratic direction. After all, it was only the resumption of democratic control over previously militaristic European regimes following their defeat in war that made possible the institutional deepening that has defined the post-World War II European project.
Another necessary, and often unstated, condition for the development of Europe's Kantian order of perpetual peace has been the American security umbrella. It has created a security cocoon within which European governments can dedicate national resources to domestic welfare rather than military defense and maneuvering against potential adversaries. Ironically, then, the development of a pluralistic and peace-loving East Asian community along the lines of the European Union may require the continued role of the United States as the region's security guarantor. Such a role would naturally be more amenable to Washington's leading regional competitor, China, should that country pursue the political liberalization that would make an Asian democratic peace both possible and self-reinforcing.
A Sinocentric order
In the fourth scenario, an East Asian community of economic interdependence and pan-regional cooperation would develop not along lines of democratic pluralism but as an extension of an increasingly dominant China. Rather than the horizontal sovereignty between states that developed in post-Westphalian Europe through the institution of the balance of power, such a regional order would feature hierarchical relations of suzerainty and submission of the kind that characterized pre-modern East Asia when China's Middle Kingdom was strong and cohesive, and lesser neighboring states paid ritualized forms of tribute to it. A Sinocentric East Asia could emerge out of this historical past; it could also emerge through what neorealist international relations scholars like John Mearsheimer define as the imperative of great powers to enjoy regional hegemony. The Monroe Doctrine and its Roosevelt Corollary epitomized this process in the 19th and early 20th centuries with respect to the United States and Latin America.
A Chinese sphere of influence encompassing East Asia and Southeast Asia presumes that states like Japan and South Korea would bandwagon with, rather than balance against, Chinese power. This could follow from either a lack of external alliance options or out of a reemergent pan-Asian identity; in a scenario in which they were economically and geopolitically "Finlandized," these countries might have no choice. An Asian system in which China sat at the summit of a hierarchical regional order presumes that Asian institution-building develops along closed lines of Asian exclusivity, rather than through the open trans-Pacific regionalism that has been the dominant impulse behind Asian community-building since the early 1990s.
In my next post, I'll describe some more specific scenarios for Asian order in 2030, from an Asian Cold War to a New Middle Kingdom.
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By Julian Eagle Platón and Will Inboden
Does the United States benefit from having a strategic competitor? We share the common assessment that the U.S.-China relationship will be the most important geopolitical relationship this century. The complex competition between these two powers will play out not just in Asia but across the globe. Much commentary rightly focuses on the many ways a rising China may threaten U.S. interests.
But is this competition from China merely a threat, or also potentially an opportunity for the U.S.? We think it can be the latter.
Competition is good. We welcome competition in the marketplace. As one of the fundamentals of market capitalism, we have anti-trust laws to break up monopolies and allow competition to flourish. Competitive markets are more innovative and efficient than monopolistic markets, as competitors constantly strive for improvement and advantage.
These benefits translate to the political sphere. David Landes' The Wealth and Poverty of Nations accurately identifies competition as a critical factor in Europe's ascent to world leader for half of the last millennium. "Enterprise was free in Europe. Innovation worked and paid, and rulers and vested interests were limited in their ability to prevent or discourage innovation. Success bred imitation and emulation..." Even inventions created elsewhere in the world (e.g. gunpowder) reached their maximum potential via European rivalries.
Lack of competition can breed complacency and inefficiency, hence the constant soul-searching of U.S. foreign policy wonks following the Cold War and the demise of the Soviet Union as our chief rival. A competitor focuses and invigorates thinking, while providing a benchmark to measure progress. Chinese competition can spur America to address its weaknesses, driving the U.S. to reach new heights.
Here we are optimistic. America's capacity to compete remains strong; indeed the fundamentals of American power are undiminished. The U.S. enjoys a position of almost unparalleled geographic privilege. Natural resources are abundant, particularly arable land, new petroleum and natural gas reserves, and renewable resource capacity. America benefits from secure borders and negligible territorial disputes. And access to two oceans facilitates continued maritime supremacy. China faces a critical shortage of arable land, numerous territorial disputes, uneasy and resentful neighbors, and comparatively limited access to the sea.
The U.S. also possesses a demographic advantage, which can continue if the U.S. maintains and reforms our open immigration system, and arrests our recent decline in fertility rates. Future immigrants will add to the population, spur greater entrepreneurship, widen the tax base, and help soften the burden of the baby boomer retirement. China faces the triple demographic peril of a shrinking and aging population with a growing gender imbalance.
Even economically, American competitiveness remains strong. The recent recession and ongoing budget travails notwithstanding, the U.S. continues to be the dominant creative force in the world. U.S. firms are strongly competitive in world markets. The U.S. also retains a significant advantage in soft power, evidenced by the greater willingness of regional powers to work with the U.S. over China.
Historically, America has a record of responding well to competition, even amidst adversity. During the 1970s, American stagnation and decline was exemplified by an ignominious retreat from Vietnam, Watergate, the oil embargo, stagflation, the Iranian hostage crisis, and an apparently ascendant Soviet Union. Similarly, Japanese economic competition in the 1980s, during another downturn in the American economy, had many prognosticators warning of looming Japanese supremacy. Japan's economy was surging and Japanese investors - steered by the powerful Ministry of International Trade and Industry - purchased scores of American assets. Ezra Vogel's 1980 book Japan As Number One crystalized this thinking.
In both cases, the magnitude of the competition was not nearly as threatening as the predictions. And in both cases the U.S. responded positively to the challenge. The Reagan economic expansion and military build-up in the 1980s helped end the Cold War, and the increased productivity and economic growth of the 1990s enabled the U.S. to meet Japan's economic challenge.
Does Chinese competition rise to the level of the Cold War contest of the superpowers? Certainly not yet, and hopefully never. Skeptics highlight China's relative weakness in comparison to the U.S., particularly in military power. Moreover, Chinese territorial ambitions in the East and South China Seas do not yet equate to Soviet domination behind the Iron Curtain and designs beyond.
China also fails to present a competing worldview in the manner of Soviet communism. Authoritarian capitalism has many hindrances and has not demonstrated an enduring appeal, as bribing populations to support authoritarian leaders can only stave off demands for self-determination in boom times. When the economy begins to lose steam, the cracks in such a scheme can be fatal. Deep flaws are already apparent in China's vaunted economic growth, in the form of environmental degradation, a speculative real estate bubble, and soaring local debt.
Continued sober and accurate analyses of rival capabilities are essential to avoid exaggerated threats and wasted resources. Imagined threats are rightfully discarded, but it is imperative to respond to actual competition. Another risk comes from tunnel vision focused exclusively on the chief rival. This necessitates an awareness of potential competition from unlikely sources, and the flexibility to respond appropriately.
It is evident, however, that the Chinese leadership views the U.S. as a threat, and that China's remarkable growth positions it as the chief competitor to the U.S. So, how can we make the most of this going forward, to ensure that competition remains free of conflict? After all, competition may have driven European supremacy in the last millennium, but it also caused incessant warfare that ultimately eroded Europe's global dominance.
First, we must identify areas of cooperation and competition, building frameworks to make the most of the former, and be assertive on the latter. The dicey challenge comes from those issues that cut across both cooperation and competition (e.g. China's holdings of U.S. debt; dual-use technology exports). The U.S. can enhance its comparative advantage in soft power by bolstering our alliances in the Asia-Pacific. Among other things, this means working with regional partners to deepen our economic engagement in Asia, such as completing the Trans Pacific Partnership to expand a liberalized trade regime. The U.S. must also address our internal weaknesses and inefficiencies. Serious debt reduction efforts will improve American efficiency and help restore economic growth, while boosting science, technology, engineering, and math education will ensure the intellectual capital necessary to compete.
Competition is not easy; it is an unending struggle demanding sacrifice and hard choices. But to stagnate in complacency carries a greater cost of decline. The magnitude of China's "threat" may vary considerably with circumstance, but the existence of competition is undeniable. We should welcome the rise of a peer challenger as an opportunity to push ourselves to be better.
Julian Eagle Platón is a graduate student at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas-Austin. Will Inboden is an assistant professor at the LBJ School, and co-curator of Shadow Government.
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"It is almost never when a state of things is the most detestable that it is smashed, but when, beginning to improve, it permits men to breathe, to reflect, to communicate their thoughts with each other, and to gauge by what they already have the extent of their rights and their grievances. The weight, although less heavy, seems then all the more unbearable." - Alexis de Tocqueville
Analysts are analyzing and pundits are opining over the culmination of the Chinese leadership transition this week. In particular we are treated to the analysis of Minxin Pei (and here in a debate with Li Cheng), who is one of the most astute observers of China. And others are offering thoughtful insights about the possible democratization of China, such as Peter Hartcher of the Sydney Morning Herald who takes his own stab at Pei's ideas about a Chinese "French" Revolution possibly in the offing. Pei's and Hartcher's comments spark my interests when they wonder if what is happening in China this week is the beginning of decennial that will usher in more than simply another turning over of power to a new set of leaders on the Politburo. What they suggest is nothing less than the possibility of a Chinese version of the complete social, political and economic revolution that was the West's other great revolution and that helped shaped the whole world's notions of civil society. I think they are on to something given what we have been learning in the last ten years as the Chinese political but especially the economic model has matured. Nevertheless, I think there are significant enough differences between the context of the French Revolution and the context of whatever it is that the Chinese people and state are living through to question whether the analogy can yet be judged valid.
First, the Chinese Communist Party and its officials appear to be smarter and more flexible than were the Bourbon court and its supporters in the late 18th century. I know this might sound odd, but if we examine the last twenty years of what Deng and Co. wrought, we see at least a very clever if not wise regime that has adapted to the way the world works rather than one trying to hold on to an image of the world and itself that won't work. This is not meant to excuse the horrific violence and continuing oppression, but Mao's China has been dead and gone for over thirty years. Violence for violence's sake, attempts at mass societal remaking and upheaval for the purpose of an autocratic leader's emperor fantasies are a thing of the past. From the end of that era to now, the party and state have sought accommodation with the world's economic system (and done quite well in it) to the material benefit of the Chinese people and increasingly to the benefit of their ambitions as human beings to thrive in the exercise of their talents and ambitions if not their freedoms. Louis Capet and his court simply refused to grasp reality and adapt to it except in shallow ways and in fits and starts. Again, nothing excuses the party's oppression and violence against citizens that they readily label enemies of the people whenever convenient, but I'm focusing on a regime's ability to adapt to change and nothing more.
Second, even though I know many academics reject Fukuyama's "End of History" thesis (his actual thesis and the straw man some have invented so that they might cast it down), the world that Deng and his successors inherited is one where the language, rhythm and norms moving both rhetoric and policy in the international arena are those of democratic capitalism. The party and successive governments have accepted that they must pretend to respect rights and constitutional norms even though they violate some of them consistently and many others of them often. Hypocrisy is the compliment that vice pays to virtue-and that can slowly but surely create conditions of reform. After all, China today has tens of millions of business people and entrepreneurs who know and appreciate deeply what it means to provide for themselves in commerce apart from state patronage; hundreds of thousands of lawyers now work throughout Chinese society and call for an end to corruption and for the advent of constitutionalism where before only a few thousand party hands practiced law and then only for state interests; and millions of peasants are engaged in or at least aware of tens of thousands of protests waged annually against government abuses of people's rights to property (communal or private homesteads) and right to life, including their fetal or infant daughters subject to the horrendous workings of the one-child policy. The party is well aware of all this and avidly seeking ways to mollify these tens of millions. But the House of Bourbon remained tone deaf in the face of the changes and dissent overwhelming them. They did not take seriously that the times and spirit of the age were changing and so were caught unawares and unprepared for it.
And finally, the party and state apparatus live in a time when continuing economic prosperity relies on adapting to democracy and the rule of law rather than assuming mercantilism and patron-client relations can and will forever characterize the system permanently. My own travels in China and interactions with Chinese officials and education leaders reveals an elite eager to explore whatever ideas and methods they can that will help them combat corruption, widespread societal cynicism and the evils of crass materialism that endanger humane society. If those ideas and methods derive from Western religious and philosophical thought, so be it. I have found them to be quite open to hearing from these sources and all this is reawakening an interest in ancient Chinese philosophy: the trio of Marx, Lenin and Mao do not have the answers.
So is the Chinese Communist Party the Bourbons? That is, are they unaware and unprepared for a changed world? I don't think so and they haven't been acting that way, whether or not they actually make a successful transition to a more democratic system. So far, they have shown themselves to be adapters at least in terms of economics. They seem to know that adapting there is no longer enough.
Are the half of China that is poor and not yet benefitting from the last thirty years of growth ready to support insurrection in a way that truly shakes the regime? Lots of uprisings over the last ten years might point to such an eventuality, but it still seems doubtful that they are ready to do that on their own or be lead into it by any faction. For now they are still walk-ons in the unfolding drama.
Are the modern Chinese business people and entrepreneurs as well as the lawyers and other such professionals the Chinese "Third Estate," ready to overthrow a party and state they see as unwilling to change? We cannot know...yet. We can speculate that even if a lot of folks in China are reportedly reading Tocqueville on how regimes are most threatened not when everyone is poor and oppressed but when conditions are improving, that does not mean that both the party and the change agents are going to provoke a conflagration. There are factions in the party who, having made a lot of money and who enjoy considerable independence from party strictures (some of it squirreled away overseas if flight is necessary), might be reformers-cum-revolutionaries who are even now inside the palace and will bring reform slowly but surely and without the kind of protracted bloodshed launched by the Jacobins. Maybe they are indeed the Girondins who, given a chance, can bring about a better transformation than Robespierre launched based on the impractical and fantastical ideas of Rousseau. (Of course, if the Jacobins in the party, whoever they are, neutralize such reformers, a terrible upheaval is more likely.)
Who knows? I would be guessing if I offered a prediction. But I think this is at least possible. Time will tell. Maybe this leadership change is the beginning of a long transformation to a more democratic and less authoritarian China, whether Xi knows that or not. I hope the newly re-elected Obama administration is paying attention and thinking of ways to aid that transformation.
While there is no scarcity of trouble in the Sino-American relationship, special attention should be paid to the unfolding Sino-Japanese contretemps over the Senkakus (which China and the Republic of China call the Diaoyutais). During the last few years the bulk of Washington's attention has been focused on disputes between China and Vietnam and China and the Philippines. Obviously, these are important. Manila is a treaty ally, and Vietnam is a potential strategic partner. In both cases we have dual interests in de-escalation and in helping the two countries stand up for their rights and interests.
But Japan is different. It is arguably Washington's most important ally. A successful Asia strategy is impossible without a strong alliance with Japan. Japan's location makes it essential to any U.S. military operation in Asia. Its strength and resilience make it a reliable partner. Its shared sense of interests and values cement our bond. And, Japan is still a very strong and militarily capable country.
China's incessant incursions into Japanese and disputed waters, and its bullying and badgering of Japan over the Senkakus, have prompted an unproductive nationalist response among some politicians in Japan. But it is Beijing that has created a vicious cycle. Its provocation leads to nationalism. Japanese nationalism in turn sparks strong emotions among the Chinese people. But the Chinese Communist Party also looked the other way as Japanese businesses in China were ransacked and boycotted.
While the United States affirmed that the U.S.-Japan treaty covers the Senkakus, there still is a disagreement between Washington and Tokyo over who has sovereignty over the islands. This disagreement dates back to the 1970s and is yet another manifestation of the careless and rushed way in which Washington handled its normalization with China.
Japan feels isolated, and cannot understand why Washington remains neutral over this sovereignty dispute. Japan has a point. The United States has dined out on a neutral stance -- falling back on apathy toward the outcomes of territorial disputes throughout Asia, as long as they are "resolved peacefully" -- for a long time. This position was reasonable enough when China was weak and unable to press its claims, but those days are over. Is the United States really agnostic about the outcome of territorial disputes in the East and South China Seas? Of course not. It does not want conflict, but neither does it want China to control territories that sit along important sea lanes.
Washington also wants to side with its allies. The time has come to assess how we really want the various sovereignty disputes in key waters to be resolved. The assessment should be based both on calculated geostrategic interests as well as the interest we have in supporting friends and allies.
The Sino-Japanese dispute may be the most important test for the United States in Asia in the coming year. The tension between two very powerful countries shows no signs of abating. Japan will not back down from its sovereignty claim. In this case, Beijing is playing with fire. While ambiguity is sometimes necessary, the need for clarity from the United States is pressing. As China challenges the established order -- one that has kept the peace in Asia for three decades -- the United States must take the lead in defending that order. That means standing by an ally. Perhaps even more daunting, it also means the time has come to define our preferred outcomes in territorial disputes between China and our friends.
While we have no doubt that Bob Schieffer, the moderator of Monday night's foreign policy debate, will have plenty of material to choose from in formulating his questions for the candidates, we couldn't resist a chance to add our own suggestions. Following are some potential questions for the debate as submitted by the Shadow Government crew:
1. Mr. President, is there any foreign policy challenge America faces that you would concede has gotten worse on your watch because of actions you have taken or not taken? In other words, is there any foreign policy problem that you would say can be blamed at least partly on you and not entirely on Republicans or President Bush?
2. Mr. President, what is the fairest criticism of your foreign policy record that you have heard from Governor Romney over the course of this campaign?
3. Mr. President, what is the most unfair criticism of Romney's foreign policy platform that you have heard your supporters levy over the course of this campaign?
4. Mr. President, why do you say that Romney is proposing defense expenditures that the military have not asked for when Romney is just proposing restoring funding to the levels you claimed were needed in your own budget a few years ago. That budget, which you asked for, reflected what the military asked for didn't it? And didn't you order the military to accept deeper cuts -- thus they can't now speak up and ask for those levels to be restored without being insubordinate, so isn't it misleading to claim that they are not asking for them when you ordered them not to?
5. For both: Both campaigns have featured senior retired military endorsements as a way of demonstrating your fitness to be commander-in-chief. Don't you worry that such endorsements drag the military into partisan politics, thus undermining public confidence in a non-partisan military institution?
1. Mr. President, history tells us that prestige matters; that is, nation-states who are regarded for their power, whether military, economic or moral, are less often challenged by those who wish to upset the peace or change the international order that favors the interests of the great powers. Has your administration seen an increase in the prestige of the United States or a decrease, and why?
2. For both: Isn't a reform of our foreign aid system and institutions long overdue, and shouldn't reform have as its primary goal the promotion of direct and tangible US interests, such as more trade with more countries that govern themselves democratically? If this is truly the appropriate goal for international development funds, then why aren't all aid recipients required to practice sustained and real democracy?
1. For both: Do you believe that the economically endangered nations of Europe should adopt policies of austerity, as countries like Germany have argued, or that they should turn instead to more fiscal stimulus? If you prefer stimulus, is there any level of debt/GDP at which you get concerned about their ability to pay those debts? If you believe these countries should borrow more, from whom should they borrow? Should the United States be offering funds?
2. For both: There has been almost no progress on global trade talks since the summer of
2008. How would you assess the health of the World Trade Organization and the
world trading system? Is this important for the United States? What would you
do to strengthen the WTO, if anything?
3. For both: In 2009, in response to the stimulus bill, a top Chinese economic official said, ""We hate you guys. Once you start issuing $1 trillion-$2 trillion... we know the dollar is going to depreciate, so we hate you guys but there is nothing much we can do...." Brazil's finance minister, Guido Mantega, has accused the United States Federal Reserve of igniting a global currency war with its policies of quantitative easing. To what extent does the United States need to consider the international ramifications of its economic policies? Do you believe a strong dollar is in the U.S. interest? If so, what does that mean?
1. For both: What do you consider the top two national security threats to our country?
2. For both: How do you see increasing energy independence for the United States affecting our foreign policy?
3. President Obama, you have threatened to veto any changes to the 2010 Budget Control Act, yet both your Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff believe sequestration going into effect would be disastrous. How will you enact the Budget Control Act without damaging our national defense?
4. Governor Romney, you have committed to increase defense spending; where does the money come from to do that in year 1 of a Romney administration?
5. President Obama, Vice President Biden has said that your administration will withdraw U.S. forces from Afghanstan in 2014, whether or not the Afghan security forces are then capable of taking over the fight. Do you agree?
1. For both: Under what circumstances would you authorize military action against Iran's nuclear facilities? Will you intervene to stop the civil war in Syria? If so, what lessons have you learned from our recent experiences in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya that will shape how you undertake an intervention? How do you plan to accomplish a responsible transition to Afghan leadership for security there? What should be the mission of U.S. troops in Afghanistan after transition, and how many troops will be required to accomplish it? Or do you envision a complete withdrawal of all forces?
2. For both: Should the United States support the spread of democracy abroad? What is the role of democracy assistance in U.S. grand strategy, and how does it relate to our overall national interests? How will you respond to future peaceful uprisings like the Green Revolution or the Arab Spring?
3. For both: Some Americans are concerned that the government has accumulated too much power over the last decade in its effort to develop a robust counterterrorism capability. Others believe we need to keep those powers because the terrorist threat has not abated. Do you plan to sustain the government's new, post-9/11 war-time powers, reportedly including targeted killings and indefinite detentions, indefinitely? If not, will you publicly and explicitly commit to defining a clear end-state to the war against al Qaeda, the achievement of which will terminate the new powers?
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There has been a lot of commentary on the Obama administration's "pivot" (or "rebalance") to Asia here at Shadow Government. Most commentators have praised Secretary Clinton's activism towards Southeast Asia, but pointed out that the rhetoric of the pivot will look hollow without a real trade strategy and adequate resourcing for our forward military forces. This past month it looks like the wheels may have started coming off on the trade strategy axle.
In early September regional leaders met at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders meeting in Vladivostok, sans Barack Obama who was unwilling to skip town in election season, and courtesy of Vladmir Putin who was unwilling to schedule the meeting at a time the U.S. President could attend. President Obama's absence was not the end of the world: Bill Clinton skipped two APEC summits and managed to compensate the next year (for the record, George W. Bush missed none...but that was before we were "back in Asia" as the current White House likes to say). The real problem at Vladivostok was the hallway banter by the other delegates about TPP -- the Trans-Pacific Partnership -- that forms the core of the administration's strategy for building a regional economic architecture that includes us and strives for WTO-consistent trade liberalization and rule-making. The overall critique in Vladivostok was that the U.S. side is playing small ball on TPP, to the frustration of multiple stakeholders. The U.S. business community is worried at the lack of market access in the negotiations; the Australians and Singaporeans are hedging with Asian-only negotiations because of what they see as incrementalism by USTR; and Japanese officials are dismayed by administration signals discouraging Tokyo from expressing readiness to join TPP.
This all matters because of the other summitry gossip that is coming out of Asia. On November 18-20, the Cambodians will be hosting the East Asia Summit, which President Obama joined with great fanfare last year and which the president will be able to attend this year because it is after the U.S. elections. The main deliverable on economics at that summit will be a decision within the region to proceed with the RCEP -- an Asian "Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership" that includes the ten ASEAN states, Japan, China, Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand -- and does not include the United States. The Cambodians' current plan for the November summit is to hold an RCEP inaugural meeting while President Obama waits outside the room cooling his heels with Vladmir Putin (since Russia is also not included in the regional trade deal). Stunningly, our allies Japan, Australia ,and Korea all appear to be on board with this scenario.
At one level this resembles the silliness of a junior high school prom, but at another level it could be the moment people start writing the obituary for the "pivot." To prevent that, a returning Obama administration or a new Romney administration has to put more oomph into the current anemic U.S. trade strategy. The RCEP launch will be embarrassing, but since those talks have no prospect of hitting a WTO-compliant level of trade liberalization, the United States can retake center stage again by showing that it can form an even more impressive coalition of trade liberalizing states. This means getting Japan in to TPP; leveraging Canada and Mexico in the TPP process (which will also help us counter Brazilian efforts to separate South America from us); and beginning to move on a complementary trans-Atlantic FTA process. The "pivot" was never sustainable without like-minded allies in our hemisphere and Europe and now is the time to recognize that and develop a strategy accordingly.
The next administration will also have to demonstrate credibility by moving to secure trade promotion authority (TPA) from the Congress (just can't get around Article One Section Eight of the Constitution). Finally, the administration had better start thinking about new ways to engage on economic issues within the EAS that keep us in the regional dialogue without requiring a high-standard FTA with countries like Laos or Burma. Bob Zoellick was a master of that art at USTR when he pioneered the Enterprise for ASEAN Initiative -- a flexible framework that allowed a la carte participation by countries ranging from an FTA (Singapore) to establishing very basic economic dialogues (Cambodia).
In short, for trade to continue underpinning U.S. leadership in Asia, we will have to go global, be agile within the region, and give a shot of adrenaline to USTR. Otherwise, the "pivot" will be a minor footnote in the textbooks.
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I read Jeffrey Lewis' FP blog post with interest because he highlights the nuclear balance between the United States and China, a topic that deserves greater attention than it has gotten.
Recent years have seen growing attention to China's fielding of so-called anti-access/area denial systems, including an increasing number of accurate conventional ballistic missiles to strike airbases and other facilities in the Western Pacific and anti-ship ballistic missiles to target mobile power projection forces like carrier strike groups. To date, however, the nuclear dimension of Chinese military modernization has received less attention. Still, in recent months, China's military has reportedly tested a new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), the DF-41, which is reportedly equipped with multiple, independently-targeted re-entry vehicles, or MIRVs, as well as its new JL-2 submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM). China's nuclear buildup remains unconstrained by strategic arms limitation agreements, such as the Russo-American New START Treaty, as well as arms control affecting ballistic and cruise missiles, such as the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.
In Lewis' view, the path to stability is predicated on the United States and China accepting mutual nuclear vulnerability. Indeed, his discussion of the Sino-American nuclear balance takes mutual vulnerability as its starting point. He goes on to argue that "Our refusal to recognize that vulnerability is simply a fact of life essentially blocks a productive dialogue with Chinese leaders."
There is, however, plenty of room to question whether Chinese political or military leaders share our perspective. Indeed, official publications of the People's Liberation Army such as the Science of Second Artillery Campaigns show that the Chinese military views nuclear weapons much differently than American strategic thinkers. Other books, such as Coercive Deterrence Warfare, portray launching missiles in close proximity to enemy forces as a form of deterrence. In other words, official literature espouses some very different -- and potentially very dangerous -- notions.
Writing in the latest issue of The Journal of Strategic Studies (which, in the interest of full disclosure, I edit) Tom Christensen of Princeton University argues that Chinese leaders believe that they are only now acquiring a secure second-strike capability. As a result, he raises the possibility that China will become bolder as the quantity and quality of its nuclear force increases. China's nuclear modernization program may thus have greater consequences for China's behavior than is commonly believed.
On the other side, as Dana Priest recently described in the Washington Post, the United States has an aging nuclear arsenal. The newest weapon in the U.S. nuclear force was designed and deployed in 1991. U.S. nuclear weapons, all of which are at least 20 years old, were designed for an expected operational life of 10-15 years. You can count the number of U.S. weapons laboratory employees who have actually designed a nuclear weapon on one hand -- and the number will only get smaller over time.
The Obama administration is committed to the elimination of nuclear weapons and has reportedly been conducting internal studies envisioning massive cuts in the U.S. nuclear arsenal. A number of policy makers with whom I've spoken in recent weeks tell me that if Obama is re-elected, he will seek to slash unilaterally the size of the U.S. nuclear stockpile. Such a move could grant China nuclear parity with the United States, or at least put it in reach. Such a move would give China greater nuclear leverage not through an expensive buildup on their side, but through disarmament on ours.
Although there is much in Jeffrey Lewis' piece with which I disagree, I do believe that the United States and China should enter into more serious discussions about nuclear weapons. Indeed, I believe that the United States should refuse to enter into future nuclear arms limitation talks without the participation of the Chinese. A failure to do so could jeopardize the nuclear balance that has underpinned American and allied security since the end of World War II.
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The supposed grand master stroke of Obama's foreign policy, the Asia "pivot," is burning to death on the streets of the Middle East. The idea that the sole superpower can pivot away from any critical region was always strategically unsound. But even the Asia part of the pivot is not doing as well as the very self-satisfied Obamanians imagine (Full disclosure: I'm an informal advisor to Mitt Romney's Asia team). Herewith a few questions from a pivot skeptic:
1) Why are Japan and China close to coming to blows over the Senkaku/Diaoyu dispute? Could it be that Japan is less than assured, as President Obama likes to say about another beleaguered allied democracy, that Washington "has its back?" In the absence of assurance of American power and commitment, might it be the case the Japan is expressing its concern over Chinese power through less than helpful acts of nationalism? Might the Japanese read the American newspapers stories that tell daily tales of a declining defense budget and nuclear deterrent?
2) If the Obamanians have managed the China-Taiwan relationship so well, why has China increased its arsenal of theater missiles pointed at Taiwan, its fighter-aircraft programs, and its strategic arsenal? Why hasn't the U.S. sold anything to Taiwan to offset these growing programs? Why does Taiwan remain outside of any meaningful international organization?
3) Might it be the case that Iran watches North Korea grow its nuclear arsenal and kill South Koreans with impunity and learns that having a nuclear arsenal offers a rogue country the ultimate deterrent that can protect it as it menaces its neighbors?
4) Why is it that for all the talk of a "rebalancing" or pivot to Asia, not a single ally or friend has a clue how it should reposture its military? Why isn't Washington bringing allies into a discussion of what military capabilities it is prepared to offer to help defend the Asian peace? For allies the pivot is beginning to look like a few nice speeches, a few thousand Marines rotating further away from flashpoints in Asia and into Darwin, Australia, and a few little ships deployed to Singapore.
5) President Obama was opposed to the South Korean Free Trade Agreement before he was for it. As a senator he helped the agreement gather dust after it was negotiated. As president he took his sweet time getting it ratified. Since then not a single solitary free trade agreement has been signed in Asia. Is free trade not an important tool of the smart power the Obamanians are supposed to be so adept at practicing?
6) Is India not an important part of an Asia policy? If it is, why is the Obama administration, which was for the surge in Afghanistan before it turned against it, showing every sign of rushing to exit Afghanistan? If Afghanistan is smoldering, it would seem that the Indians may not be able to play the role we hoped it would in East Asia.
7) Is it not the case that Asian allies who depend upon Middle Eastern energy resources may watch U.S. fecklessness in the Middle East and perhaps question Washington's ability to be the security partner of first resort in Asia?
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No doubt the Obama administration has its hands full with a full-blown crisis in the Middle East, but we rightly expect presidents to have enough hands to deal with more than one crisis at a time. So far, there is little evidence that the administration is engaging with the trouble in the Pacific over a handful of disputed islands in ways that attend to U.S. national interests. Our interests are clear: aggression is not acceptable, and certainly neither is a war between China and Japan over disputed islands, no matter whose claim is ultimately justified. The United States should make this clear not only in public pronouncements but with serious behind the scenes diplomacy. Our goal should be to encourage all in the region that keeping a close relationship with the United States is paramount, and those who want our influence in the region should be favored. Showing weakness or inattentiveness over this dispute is just as dangerous as showing it in the Middle East with regard to the safety of our embassy personnel and with what should be our non-negotiable stance on free speech despite protesting mobs.
At this point, China is escalating its aggressive posture in both word and deed toward Japan (and the much weaker Philippines regarding another disputed set of islands). It also bullies other countries such as Norway for its role in giving the Nobel prize to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, and is distancing itself from the United States with its recent ill-treatment of Secretary Clinton and its refusal to engage in talks. All this escalation continues as Secretary Panetta visits the region and is being vocal about the dangers. In short, China has been for months strategically engaging in coercive diplomacy with any country that disputes its claims or offends its sensibilities regarding its human rights record. Unusually, not even the impending installation of a new premier has put this policy on pause.
But the role that China is playing is not the whole story. Japanese politics might be turning more decisively nationalist even as it reacts to Chinese pressure, and that could spell serious trouble for us as Joshua Keating points out at FP's Passport blog. It could also be devastating for the global economy if a trade and investment war breaks out. And we should not forget that in a region where we'd like to see democracy strengthened rather than derailed or weakened, this does not bode well, as Christian Caryl points out at FP's Democracy Lab blog.
Already Japan is matching Chinese diplomatic and economic actions with its own. It is now tit for tat. Each side is becoming locked in a downward spiral of slowing or stopping investment and trade, large demonstrations are manifesting in each country, and there are very loud and public calls for divestment and boycotts. Looming on the horizon is the increasing strength of more nationalist politicians in Japan who have chosen in this crisis with China to flex Japanese muscles. Cooler heads who in the past have defused tensions and maintained the huge mutually beneficial and complex economic engine of the Pacific Rim appear not to have the tiller in hand, nor can they afford to appear weak in an increasingly nationalist country. Understandably, more and more Japanese each year chafe at playing the role of dependent on U.S. might and diplomacy, or at least being perceived to do that. But whether anyone in the highest circles in Japan -- and China for that matter -- have been thinking about the grave risks they are running, even if they stop short of war, is anyone's guess. If emotion is overtaking reason, if leaders are more focused on righting the wrongs of history than in securing a stable and prosperous future, if they desire more to cut a figure before their publics (whether they get to vote for them or not) and on the world stage than to be statesmen, then we are all in serious trouble. Right now, it looks like that is what is happening.
It is the job of the United States to do all it can to prevent any kind of war, whether it be a trade war or an actual military conflict. This is our problem because the consequences of this conflict will impact us greatly, but also because we are party to the myriad territorial settlements and vague understandings of the disposition of the islands in the region after WWII. Given what has happened in the Middle East in the last two weeks regarding the Obama administration's record of being prepared, thinking ahead, and acting and speaking firmly in behalf of our interests, I am not encouraged.
The Obama administration's decision to lift the U.S. investment ban on Burma is the first time Washington has publicly broken with the country's democratic opposition since Burma's fragile but consequential political opening began several years ago. The United States has correctly encouraged that opening through a graduated policy of engagement that has rewarded Burma's progress but retained leverage to incentivize further reform over time. This was in keeping with the advice of Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel laureate whose party won over 95 percent of open parliamentary seats in elections earlier this year. Given that Burma remains controlled by a military regime in civilian clothing that continues to war against ethnic minorities and retains firm control over the economy and politics, Suu Kyi had urged a measured pace of international engagement that did not succumb to what she described as "reckless optimism" about a country that still has a long way to go on the road to democracy.
An oped I co-authored today in the Washington Post argues that Washington's decision to fully repeal the ban in U.S. investment in Burma, without carve-outs for energy or other economic sectors essentially controlled by the military, goes too far, too fast. In the U.S. Senate, John McCain and Joe Lieberman argued the same point in a July 3 letter to Secretary of State Clinton. Until now, the Obama administration had been smart in pursuing a pace of engagement on Burma that sustained consensus on the policy with Capitol Hill and Burma's democratic opposition. That consensus has been broken, as Josh Rogin authoritatively reported for The Cable. This will make deeper engagement with Burma harder to sustain should the country suffer a political reversal -- a not unlikely scenario given cleavages within its regime about the pace and scale of reform
An interesting thing has happened on the way from strategic competitor to regional ally (or whatever it is that President Obama labels China these days). During the economic malaise of the world's largest economy, and during Japan's lingering inability to escape the grips of recession, the Chinese economy has grown to become the world's second largest, behind only the U.S. (Japan's former position).
Of course this is not necessarily a bad thing. Economic growth hopefully will bring more freedom to China's people. At a minimum it'll allow more of its citizens to buy widgets that help them get around the Great Firewall.
The part that is troubling is that China's economy is not becoming more transparent. All of their statistics come from a national statistics bureau ultimately beholden to political leadership. The numbers are spartan, and even if the numbers are accurate they are far too broad to dissect an economy as complex as China's. The traditional data sources for the Chinese economy have remained the same and are no longer sufficient for the world's second largest economy, not for the financial world. The shortcomings of the NBS is a topic covered in depth here), here or here. If you're not interested in reading more there, just consider that China's quarterly stats, for an economy of 1.3 billion people, is tabulated in just two weeks. By comparison, the same tabulation takes the U.S. over a month. Amazing given China's size and the very restricted resources of the statistical bureau. Likewise, the headline numbers often seem to be edited to match other economic indicators -- and yet, the quarter-on-quarter and year-on-year numbers often don't make a lot of sense when compared. There is also no attempt to report stats like urban and rural employment. The Statistical Bureau makes revisions but they are only upward revisions and always create a discrepancy between revised and unrevised reports. Most obviously, there's a built in incentive for provincial officials to report higher numbers. You see the result of this in the creative math used in tabulating GDP for China's 32 administrative regions. Every single region reported forecasts of 8 percent of GDP or higher last year. Yet, the nationwide forecast was 8 percent.
But before Tom Friedman or Ray Lahood can say that it's just because China is better managed or uses better math, let me posit the obvious: China is publishing numbers to fit a set storyline and not vice versa. (Full disclosure: I am co-founder of a company that publishes The China Beige Book, a private quarterly survey that uses exclusively independent data to produce an accurate, real-time snapshot of the Chinese economy -- the views here are my own and do represent those of CBB, LLC). In a healthy economy, the government will publish data, and hoards of private companies will do their own research to either support or argue with the official results. That's not happening in China.
It's a real problem because of China's importance to the world market. Bad data begets bad policy. The White House is making decisions based on a limited view of what China's policy freedom of action may be because they're reacting to inadequate economic data -- and we know U.S. policymakers don't have better data. All over the world decisions are made on the perceptions -- not facts -- about what is going on.
How many G20 meetings have there been since the financial crisis during which this issue -- better and more transparent data -- was raised (Hint: Zero)? How about any special point raised by the IMF or World Bank -- all institutions the West controls? This is the world's second largest economy and every leader on earth may be flying blind, and doesn't seem to care. This has ripple effects throughout the financial world. National-level policy makers, hedge and pension fund managers, and even people controlling their own 401k all need better data. Yet, we seem all to be ok flying blind.
With the U.S. locked in horrific growth, no demand from Japan, and the eurozone's fiscal profligacy having made it a ticking time bomb, China's economic growth -- and how it deals (or does not deal) with the serious imbalances in its economy -- is becoming more important to the world economy, not less. The world of finance (including the Treasury Department and the Fed) are hanging their hat on world GDP growth impacted greatly by China's economy. Those decisions will impact your pocketbook directly. Like it or not China is deeply integrated into the world economy and into the U.S. economy in particular.
The fact is that we can't be sure what's going on there (is the bottom falling out of the real estate market, are unregulated non-banks easing credit, are they stockpiling valuable commodities?) We think we know the answer to some of these questions but we're not sure. Just this morning, the Wall Street Journal's Tom Orlick, one of the best commentators on this subject, penned a piece guessing about China's current inflation rate.
It's a very serious issue because the reality -- not the perception -- of China's economic health will impact the world economy. Decisions regarding U.S. government policies, Fed policy, world stock markets plays, and even your 401k are all made based on those perceptions. But the outcome will be based on reality. Tiny Greece is a good lesson -- it's a different situation but the same concept. Europe was cruising along blissfully on the perception that Greece was doing fine. But when the Greek government decided to come clean about the reality of debt off the books the euro crisis began in earnest. I'm not suggesting China necessarily has something to come clean about (though China's non-performing loans make for interesting reading) or that we are at some inflection point. But this is a dangerous time to be leaning on such dubious statistics.
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Shadow Government is a blog about U.S. foreign policy under the Obama administration, written by experienced policy makers from the loyal opposition and curated by Peter D. Feaver and William Inboden.