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Crouching Dragon

Making sense of China’s huffing and puffing.

The Global Times, CCP’s mouthpiece, has unleashed a barrage of editorials on the altercation between Japan and China over the arrest of a Chinese captain, whose trawler collided with Japanese coastguard ships earlier this month near the disputed Senkaku islands.  The People’s Republic suspended high-level exchanges with Japan, after a Japanese court extended the detention of the Chinese captain.

Today, in yet another in a series of fiery editorials, The Global Times opines:

Now is the time to seriously examine Japan. It should be apparent by now that China will be forced to endure long-term conflicts with Japan, and emphasizing only friendly relations is not prudent. In addition, China needs to be certain of Japan’s soft spots for clearly targeted reactions.The pain has to be piercing. Japanese politicians need to understand the consequences – votes will be lost, and Japanese companies have to be aware of the loss of business involved. Japanese citizens will feel the burden due to the downturn in the economy. China’s domestic law, business regulations and consumers can all be maneuvered.

Provoking China comes with a heavy price tag. Finding Japan’s soft spot will help end its hostile policies against China during its rise. [The Global Times]

The Japanese will do well not to back down.  This is not China’s first altercation this past year with its neighbors.  It faced-off against South Korea and the U.S. in May over North Korea’s sinking of a South Korean warship. And its posture has grown increasingly confrontational towards Vietnam.  So much for “Peaceful Rise.”

But beyond all the huffing and puffing, and inebriated ranting is a CCP that is concerned about how it has played its cards, post-2009.  When U.S. president Barack Obama traveled to Beijing in May and seemingly “recognized” China’s position as the preeminent power in Asia, China (and much of the world) saw this as the actions of a fading superpower beating an honorable retreat.

However, even as Mr. Obama sought to engage with China on global issues, it became increasingly apparent that the Chinese didn’t share the same enthusiasm for such an arrangement, and instead were eager to challenge global efforts and the “U.S.-led order,” where it made sense.

In doing so, China overestimated its own relative power and potential in a post-economic-crisis world.  It expected the U.S. to yield to Chinese supremacy in the East- and South China Seas.  But rows between the U.S. and China, most noticeably in May, coupled with good counsel from some folks in the Obama Administration and ASEAN allies has resulted in a change in Washington’s stance to one that is more willing to contest Chinese power in its own back yard.

That the U.S. stood with Seoul on the sinking of the South Korean warship should come as no surprise.  But more encouragingly, discussions between the U.S. and Vietnam on civilian nuclear cooperation are a potential game-changer, and could bring the one country in the region perhaps most susceptible to Chinese bullying under U.S.’s “umbrella.”

The result of all of this is a country that harbors global aspirations, but is unable to project power, unchallenged,  in its own neighborhood.   The series of maneuvers that the U.S. orchestrated between July and September are the diplomatic equivalent of Hannibal at Trasimene.  And while it may not be  quite like Gaius Flaminius, China has realized that it has grossly miscalculated its reach, influence and relative power in the global order.

This should be painfully apparent to those aboard Beijing’s bandwagon. And a matter of encouragement to Asia’s democracies.

   

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The New Great Game in the Middle East

Belly dancing on a tightrope.

The Best Defense carried a guest blogpost by Daniel R. DePetris on how India and China’s increasing demand for energy resources might play out in the Arabian Peninsula and the Greater Middle East.  The writer asks, how will New Delhi and Beijing’s foreign policies be affected by their quest for energy resources in the Middle East? Will they seek to assert themselves (thereby helping share “America’s burden”) or assume a more passive role?

These are all interesting questions, but also ones that have been largely answered.  The broad contours of engagement with the Middle East have been laid out by both countries.  China, in the past, tended to regard the Middle East as too distant for it to actively engage in the muddled politics of the region.  Even at the UNSC, while China sought to leverage its position to undermine U.S. power, it hardly ever actively brought proposals to the table on resolving the region’s long-standing disputes.

China’s growing economy and quest for resources necessitated a change in its approach.  It has established energy ties with several Arab countries.  It is invested heavily in construction projects in the Peninsula.  It is engaged (albeit uneasily so) in negotiations on the Iran nuclear issue, while it clandestinely pursued to build up Saudi Arabia’s nuclear deterrent via its friend, Pakistan.  While China today is engaged in the Middle East on several levels, its motivation is primarily economic, and its relations, nascent.

Therein lies the difference between India and China.  India’s engagement with the Middle East goes beyond the economic (although, arguably, energy security today is India’s chief motivator).  India’s historical cultural ties with the region have allowed it to engage with several, often warring factions in the Middle East without being drawn into zero-sum equations in the region.  Even where economic ties are concerned, India and China differ, with India having contributed substantially to the Peninsula’s human capital.

While India’s cultural ties with Iran are well publicized,  it has also maintained enduring cultural and economic ties with Arab countries.  These ties are the reason why a 350-year old Shiva temple stands at the outskirts of Muscat, why over a million Indians live and work in the U.A.E., and why India is Egypt’s fourth-largest trading partner.  That India has managed to maintain its ties with Arab countries, while also developing strong ties with Israel is a rare success for Indian foreign policy.  Belly dancing on a tightrope can’t be  easy.  And this is something that puts it at an advantage over Beijing in the Middle East.

This is not to suggest that the scope for adjustments in foreign policy, when required by national interest, does not exist.  India’s relations with Iran, for example, have come under stress recently, with New Delhi’s decision to support  U.N. sanctions, twice, against Iran and with its decision to launch Israel’s spy satellite, Polaris.  However, none of these changes will alter the nature of China or India’s engagement with the region.  Hopes that either country will offer to share “U.S.’s burden” in the region, therefore, are unrealistic.

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Big leaky tent

The Economist’s article on India and the China-Pakistan nuclear deal.

The Economist ran an article (h/t Anantha Nageswaran) on June 24, 2010 on the China-Pakistan nuclear deal.  Or so the title of the article suggested.  However, a closer inspection will take you, the reader, through an elaborate labyrinth of half-truths, baffling arguments and sweeping generalizations. They all come to a close, not as one might expect, with a stern rebuke of China and Pakistan’s nuclear shenanigans, but with an admonition of India’s “growing nuclear arsenal.”

The writer should have stopped writing when it was clear that this was going to be the article’s first sentence:

China’s proposed sale of nuclear reactors to Pakistan will intensify nuclear rivalry with India.

The Economist fails to makes no attempt to substantiate the statement.  The argument is lazy and fallacious, and deserves to be challenged. But the fun doesn’t end there.  With regard to the India–U.S. nuclear deal, the  article contends:

America argued that India had a spotless non-proliferation record (it doesn’t) and that bringing it into the non-proliferation “mainstream” could only bolster global anti-proliferation efforts (it didn’t).

Raise your hand if you’d like an explanation on India’s supposedly blemished non-proliferation record.  Let us say, for argument’s sake, that the  writer is alluding to India’s use of fissile material from the CIRUS research reactor towards its first nuclear test in 1974.  This act by India could be called a lot of things, but nuclear proliferation, it most certainly wasn’t.  Moreover, India’s actions were neither an infraction of any international treaties nor of agreements it had with Canada or the U.S.

The article’s final paragraph, though, is an absolute zinger:

If Pakistan really is worried about India’s growing nuclear arsenal, diplomacy might work better than an arms race. George Perkovich of the Carnegie Endowment, a think tank, says Pakistan should lift its veto on a ban on the production of fissile materials for bombs. That would put India (which claims to support a ban) on the spot. Like enriched uranium, hypocrisy can be costlier than it seems.

Really? India’s growing nuclear arsenal? Just last year, U.S. CJCS Admiral Mike Mullen, commented on Pakistan’s rapidly growing nuclear arms in a testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee.  Adm. Mullen’s observations were further corroborated by reports by The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists and The Federation of American Scientists. That being the case, it should be pretty clear which country’s been adding to its nuclear stockpile like nukes are about to go out of fashion.

The bigger issue with the article though,  is its defense of the discriminatory nature of the existing non-proliferation order, and the convoluted arguments it employs to suggest that “renegade” nuclear powers like India have endangered non-proliferation regimes  (most of which came into force, by the way,  after the Big Five had acquired enough nuclear weapons to destroy the world several times over).

And if the hypocrisy of the article isn’t immediately apparent, a gander at the accompanying chart, which displays  the status of all nuclear weapons’ programs, excluding those of NPT nuclear powers (as if they were somehow above scrutiny),  should put all skepticism to rest.

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Atomic outsourcing

More on the China-Pakistan nuclear deal.

The inimitable K. Subrahmanyam is on target in this Indian Express piece on the motives and implications of the China-Pakistan nuclear deal which envisages China building two 650-MW reactors in Punjab province:

The real issue is the following. According to US nuclear scientists Thomas Reed and Danny Stillman who wrote The Nuclear Express, Deng Xiaoping took a decision to proliferate to selected Marxist and Islamic countries in the early ‘80s including Pakistan, North Korea and Iran…[I]t stands to reason that the Chinese proliferation to Pakistan and proliferation by both countries to Iran were deliberate state-led acts. All subsequent Pakistani proliferation attempts to Iran and Libya were state-sanctioned, and Khan was acting with full approval of successive governments and army chiefs in Pakistan.

China managed to insert a clause aimed at India into the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty draft, totally in violation of the Vienna Convention on Treaties, that the treaty would enter into force only when India which was totally opposed to the treaty, signed and ratified it. This was a challenge to India’s sovereignty.

The real issue they overlook is the Pakistani nuclear arsenal’s destabilizing effect on West Asia and the strategic gain for China from that phenomenon. On June 7 this year, The Washington Post disclosed that a former CIA officer who managed intelligence reports on Saudi Arabia has sent an uncleared manuscript to Congressional offices claiming that China supplied nuclear missiles to the kingdom early in the George W. Bush administration.

Shia Iran finds itself confronted on two sides by Sunni nuclear-armed powers. Iran has an experience of weapons of mass destruction (chemical weapon) by its Sunni leadership (Saddam Hussein). They face millennium-old Sunni hostility, al-Qaeda and its associates patronized by the Pakistan army regularly target Shias even while praying in mosques. Western analysts are right to worry about an arms race in West Asia. But the origins lie not in Iranian proliferation, but in Chinese-Pakistani proliferation. Iran is only trying to protect itself. The arms race is already on. [Indian Express]

A couple of points to further accentuate these arguments. First, the real issue here is how nuclear non-proliferation regimes have been singularly incapable of both holding China accountable to its non-proliferation commitments and dealing with nuclear proliferation perpetrated by a larger power like China.  While the West fumes and frets over a nuclear Iran or Myanmar’s so-called “nuclear brigade,” the 800-pound giant panda in the room is a China that has been entirely unapologetic about its intent to proliferate.

But then, this has been the defining characteristic of global non-proliferation regimes — they are discriminatory by design.  Recent news reports bring up China’s NSG commitments because of the impending NSG meet in New Zealand.  But there are several non-proliferation treaties that China has violated since 1990 in its decision to supply Islamabad and Pyongyang with nuclear know-how.

Second, China has, from the outset, sought to ensure India’s containment in the subcontinent.  It has pursued this by utilizing Pakistan as a tool — equipping Pakistan with nuclear weapons is just one aspect of this.  Given China’s intentions, India taking up its concerns vis-a-vis Pakistan to Beijing assumes that China can be turned around and that it can play the role of an honest broker in the subcontinent.  However, there is no precedent in the last 60 years to support this well intentioned, but misplaced leap of faith.  China can’t be an “honest-broker” when it is part of the problem.

Finally, as The Filter Coffee has previously pointed out, the impact of China’s actions will be felt most in West  Asia. Pakistan’s deterrence vis-a-vis India has, arguably, been in place since about 2000-2001.  Yet, Pakistan continues to produce nuclear weapons at a frantic pace.  The answer to this apparent disconnect lies in Pakistan’s nuclear commitments to Saudi Arabia.  Iran’s misplaced bravado and miscalculations have largely led to its nuclear isolation; however, the Sunni world is disquieted by Tehran aspirations and has sought refuge under a nuclear umbrella, provided by China, by way of Pakistan.

China’s reckless actions, which have already destabilized the subcontinent, now further complicate matters in an already volatile West Asia.   In addition, its defiance of non-proliferation efforts further accentuates systemic flaws in the global non-proliferation order.  These issues are of consequence to India and the rest of the world.  Myopic editorials on the matter hurt efforts in confronting the reckless behavior of a serial proliferator.

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