“What’s on Second”

So let’s stipulate – I like acting like a US lawyer – that the US grand strategy  of the second term seems fixed on Asian rebalancing or  a ‘Pivot’, and that we have at least some acknowledgement in the halls of Washington that the new grand strategy is as much about economic diplomacy as political and military actions, as I wrote in the last blog post – ‘Determining Who’s On First‘.  Well how does this then line up the US-China relationship in the face of new leadership in Beijing?  That requires us to look at both the domestic and foreign policy stance of the new leadership.

On the domestic front are we likely to see significant economic and even political reform?  On the foreign policy front are we likely to see a more reflective and restrained Chinese strategy in the Asia Pacific in the light of the need to build or rebuild economic alliances and wider collaborative behavior?

Now a quick examination of likely domestic policy moves.  First, let’s dispel the impossible.  There was little likelihood, asymptotically approaching zero I’d say that these new leaders – from this generation of leaders – would on their own adopt democratic political reform.  As China expert Susan Shirk put it recently in the FT.com in the run up to the new Standing Committee choices:

This is a question of legitimacy and popular support for the party,” says Susan Shirk, a US expert on Chinese politics put it ft.com in “China wrestles with democratic reform (November 7, 2012): “They need to show that they’re moving in the direction of democracy but they are very fearful of losing actual control.

So their might be musings of reform – in fact there were such thoughts expressed by some in the old Standing Committee, but actual reform – not likely.  To seemingly underscore this, the two candidates most likely to favor political reform – Li Yuanchao the head of the Organization Department (and an early attendee to Harvard’s Kennedy School) and Wang Yang the Communist Party Chief of Guangdong Province – were both left off the Standing Committee. As Iain Mills, a freelance writer in China saw it:

Also of note was the public reappearance of ex-President Jiang Zemin alongside one of the instrumental figures in the Tiananmen crackdown, ex-Premier Li Peng. Although Jiang had taken on the state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and secured China’s accession to the World Trade Organization during his presidency, in terms of social and economic policy, the influence of this generation of leaders would seem to be highly retrograde. Jiang loyalists took senior positions in the Central Military Commission, while conservative factions appear to have blocked the promotion of reform-minded officials such as Wang Yang.

Okay so little likelihood of serious political reform.  But what of significant economic reform.  Certainly the previous leadership including Premier Wen Jiabao pointed to the need  to tackle the growing economic power and corruption of China’s State-owned Enterprises.  Now of course The Premier only began to talk about this at the twilight of his career.  And it would appear that the collective message, including from the new Chairman Xi Jinping,  is a broadly anti-corruption message.  Unfortunately this message is conservative and not reformist.  The anti-corruption message is an internal Party message to root out bad guys -if they can be found – and not indicative of major structural reform. Again Iain Mills reflections on economic reform seems apt:

It should also be noted that the renewed pre-eminence of conservative elements on both the Standing Committee and the Central Military Commission comes ahead of potential changes of the heads of key civilian institutions including the People’s Bank of China, the state-run power sector and the National Social Security Fund. How these institutions will be aligned and function under the new administration remains unclear. The broader picture, however, seems one of an economic reform agenda that will continue at a gradual pace, while hopes of major political reform have been pushed out to 2017 at the earliest.

Finally, what then of foreign policy action? Now it was positive that the new Chairman took over the the Central Military Commission.  It is evident that foreign policy has suffered from a number of voices.  China’s behavior in the Asia Pacific has seemingly become more assertive.  The pattern has yet to end.   A new policy to take effect on January 1st provides that border patrol police will have the right to board and expel foreign ships entered disputed waters in the South China Sea.  China has also begun to issue new visas that includes a picture including disputed territory in the South China Sea.  Various South China states including the Philippines and Vietnam have publicly objected to the new visas and refused to validate them.  Officials seem to be continuing policies that reflect the assertive China strategy in the South China Sea, not to mention the East China Sea.  In the face of little moderation, China policy, as described by Mills, appears to continue to be an assertive nationalist approach:

Beijing has often been unable to speak with one voice on major external events and has offered no clear articulation of how it would operate as the largest power in Asia. This vacuum, coupled with still-fervent nationalist sentiment in many quarters, appears to have been filled by those who favor a more forceful approach to enforcing China’s foreign policy objectives.

The assertive China approach has driven a number of ASEAN states to encourage a US return to Asia; it has even enabled Japan to play the military card with a number of Asian players.  There is little to hinder the new leadership if it chose to moderate its stance in the Asia Pacific.  Let’s watch closely for a more collaborative China approach of the new China leadership.

Image Credit:  Reuters

Determining Who’s On First

The last couple weeks have concluded busy leadership contests.  The two contemporary great powers of the international system – The United States and China – both have chosen new leadership.  The methods could not be more different.  Many observers have commented on the dramatic contrast.  And the contrast is stark –  Barack’s democratic national election voted on by millions upon millions of American citizens, as opposed to the backroom horse-trading by unelected Party seniors concluding shortly after the 18th Communist Party Congress, with the traditional march on stage of the seven – all men – Standing Committee Members of the Politburo.

But this yawning gap in the reliance on popular will and accountability is no surprise.  This has been, and sadly continues to be, the CPC modus operandi.  Nor is it a surprise to witness the dramatic electoral slog by sitting Presidents – all to the good – and the US contenders “dukeing” it out – in this instance President Obama and Governor Mitt Romney – and billions spent by both sides in this electoral contest.  Instead let’s look at the expectations and consequences of the choices made.

Certainly, the reelection of Barack Obama keeps fixed in place – at least for now – the signature American foreign policy thrust – the rebalancing of US policy toward Asia – the so-called pivot. And indeed Obama’s first foreign sojourn has been to Asia and to the leaders EAS gathering in Phnom Penh.  And on the way Obama – a son of Asia in part – visited Thailand and more startling – Burma – indeed the first American President to make such a visit.  But it was at the EAS, the Leaders forum, where the United States made its presence known.  One of the agreements signed was with the ASEAN, a key player in Asia, where the US and ASEAN signed the “Expanded Economic Initiative” or E3 -an agreement as the White House Press release declares is:

… a new framework for economic cooperation designed to expand trade and investment ties between the United States and ASEAN, creating new business opportunities and jobs in all eleven countries

ASEAN at this time has a combined GDP of USD$2.2 trillion and is the fourth largest export market for the US and largest trading partner overall.

But this agreement signals a more nuanced and sophisticated foreign policy.  US policy has been so militarized over the last decades and in particular by the initiatives in Iraq and Afghanistan that many officials and observers fail to recognize today the critical nature of economic diplomacy.  But the US rebalancing is not just about – and indeed possibly not primarily about – repositioning of forces, though this is important as well.

It is more than evident that foreign policy officials, especially Secretary of State Clinton see that US grand strategy is about – economic diplomacy.  In fact just before the announcement of the E3 initiative between the US and ASEAN, Secretary Clinton delivered a speech at the Singapore Management University entitled, “Delivering on the Promise of Economic Statecraft.”  This important speech includes the ‘startling’ admission that:

For the first time in modern history, nations are becoming major global powers without also becoming global military powers.  So to maintain our strategic leadership in the region, the United States is also strengthening our economic leadership.  And we know very well that America’s economic strength at home and our leadership around the world are a package deal.  Each reinforces and requires the other.

Now in fact the myopia of the Washington beltway is rather breathtaking when you think about it.  Geez foggy bottom has discovered economic diplomacy.  It is not just about guns boys and girls.  I would gently point to my mentor, and indeed a mentor to many in the international relations field  – Richard Rosecrance – now at the Harvard Belfer Center that wrote way back in 1986  The Rise of the Trading State: Commerce and Conquest in the Modern World. The book focused in part on Germany and Japan that had chosen the path of territorial conquest only to discover post war – and following the enormous destruction brought by territorial conquest – that power and plenty and great power status could be acquired through trade, investment and commerce and without the resort to territorial aggrandizement.

In the context then of current US grand strategy then, as Secretary Clinton states:

In short, we are shaping our foreign policy to account for both the economics of power and the power of economics.  The first and most fundamental task is to update our foreign policy and its priorities for a changing world.  … Responding to threats will, of course, always be central to our foreign policy.  But it cannot be our foreign policy.  America has to seize opportunities that will shore up our strength for years to come.  That means following through on our intensified engagement in the Asia Pacific and elevating the role of economics in our work around the world.

Of course the path of US grand strategy is equal parts domestic and foreign policy.  The so-called ‘fiscal cliff’ and debt accumulation of the US do need to be addressed.  To counter China views of US decline, US domestic policy needs to repair its economy – and not on the backs of others.  But US economic initiatives of the sort that Clinton reviews in the Asia Pacific will be critical in raising US economic growth from the anemic to the robust and ensuring the US a continuing influence in the Asia Pacific.

But what about China and its new leadership?  Stay tuned.

Image Credit:  Daily Telegraph – dailytelegraph.com.au

The Fear of the “Boogey Man” And Other Thoughts – China as a Great Power

I suppose it is partly due to US electoral season but the “China Threat School” has been rather busy in the last while.  Stephen Walt blogger  at foreignpolicy.com and professor of international relations at Harvard has noticed it as well.  In a recent blog post “Inflating the China Threat” he chronicles stories  from several mainstream media where the talk is all about China raising its nuclear deterrent capability.  As Walt argues:

The discussion is all pretty Strangelovian, of course, but nuclear strategists get paid to think about all sorts of elaborate and far-fetched scenarios.  In sum, those fiendish Chinese are doing precisely what any sensible power would do: they are trying to preserve their own second-strike deterrent by modernizing their force, to include the development of multiple-warheads missiles that would be able to overcome any defenses the United States might choose to build.

I won’t dwell in the ‘ghoulish world’ of counterforce, countervalue, first strike and second strike capabilities, but international relations’ experts remain dogged in their efforts to describe the Grand Strategies for the United States and China and to establish a path for both to avoid the rivalry, competition and even conflict that historically has occurred in great power relations with so-called power transitions.

It is that vein that I recommend back-to-back pieces by two American experts writing in the September/October issue of Foreign Affairs.  First there is the piece by Aaron Freiberg a professor of the Woodrow Wilson School of Princeton University who previously served in the George W. Bush Administration as the Deputy Assistant of National Security Affairs in the Office of the Vice-President – yes, the Darth Vader of the Bush Administration.  The article is “Bucking Beijing: An Alternative U.S. China Policy”. The other perspective is tackled by well known China expert Andrew J. Nathan of Columbia University and his co-author Andrew Scobell at the Rand Corporation – their article “How China Sees America: The Sum of Beijings Fears”.

It is now common to describe the China-US relationship as the most important relationship of the 21st century.  In this instance this common declaration is in fact – right.  But then how each should engage the other remains opaque. It is particularly difficult when when it comes to China.  The fact is China experts or others are unable to see into the “blackbox” of Chinese decision-making.  Most critically, we  have little idea of how the Chinese military influences China’s Grand Strategy.

But then we don’t really  have a good handle on what China’s Grand Strategy is, anyway.  Think how we’ve been speculating in the last few years on what China’s core interests are? Whether China since 2010 has exhibited a “new assertiveness”? Or what military modernization strategy China is following – and to what end?

Into that opaque environment the China Threat School wades in with relative ease.  For realistically in the face of such uncertainty a “hedging strategy” is not unreasonably a favorable option.

Now Aaron Freiberg’s analysis provides a sophisticated two-headed US hedging strategy. This strategy is two-headed because it requires the US to both balance China’s growing power and to seek economic engagement as well. As he declares:

Developing and funding a credible strategy for countering China’s [military] buildup and adopting a tougher approach to economic engagement will both be important. So, too, will be continuing to stand firm on issues of principle. … What China’s current leaders ultimately want—regional hegemony—is not something their counterparts in Washington are willing to give.  …  Short of Beijing’s genuine democratic transition, however, Washington will not willingly abandon its policy of balancing and withdraw from the region.

Freiberg then underscores the vital nature of  firm US actions in this region:

The stakes could hardly be higher. Since the mid-1990s, China has been piecing together what Pentagon planners describe as asymmetric “anti-access/area-denial” (A2/AD) capabilities. … Absent a strong U.S. response, Chinese planners might eventually come to believe that their growing A2/AD capabilities are sufficiently impressive to scare the United States off from intervening or provoking a confrontation in the region. Worse still, they might convince themselves that if the United States were to intervene, they could cripple its conventional forces in the western Pacific, leaving it with few options other than the threat of nuclear escalation. Maintaining stability requires reducing the likelihood that China’s leaders could ever see initiating such an attack as being in their interest.  A direct U.S.-Chinese military confrontation is, of course, extremely unlikely. But the aim of the balancing half of U.S. strategy must be to ensure that it remains so, even as China’s power grows.

It is a get tough/stay tough kind of policy – with effective military pushback from the United States and a credible commitment to allies in the region and avoid any incipient appeasement by these allies toward China:

In the absence of strong signals of continuing commitment and resolve from the United States, its friends may grow fearful of abandonment, perhaps eventually losing heart and succumbing to the temptations of appeasement.  …  When it comes to Asia, the United States does not have the option of what The New Yorker first described as the Obama administration’s penchant for “leading from behind.

So a renewed firmness – apparently that has slide in the recent Obama years. But suggests Freiberg there is the need to promote engagement with China as well.  But this economic engagement needs to be “righted”.  Freiberg declares:

Rather than treating engagement as desirable for its own sake, the United States needs to take a more clear-eyed and results-oriented approach. The place to start is trade. The bilateral economic relation- ship still provides benefits to both sides, but it has recently grown increasingly lopsided. Beijing uses its currency policy and subsidies of various kinds to boost its exports.

Here it is then – strong on defense, strong on balancing against the rise of China, and a tough but fair economic policy.

So let’s look across the divide to the piece by Nathan and Scobell.  Shortly.

Image Credit: WWE – the Boogeyman






It Takes Two to Tango

As I mentioned in the previous post, “‘Pivots’ and Great Powers – Both Sides Now” I thought I should dwell a bit on former Australian Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd’s speech/article called “The West Isn’t Ready for the Rise of China” (for the article grab it at the NewStatesman.com).  The fact is Rudd – prime minister or not, or foreign minister or not – is one of the smartest foreign policy dudes, especially when it comes to China, in all of the Asia-Pacific.

So what did Rudd say and what did he write?  Now the title comes from a quote in the article “It Takes Two to Tango.” It was Rudd himself who drew attention to the quote.  It was Rudd’s assertion in his recent Munk School of Global Affairs speech – that closely tracked the New Statesman article – that the quote comes from Mae West.  My exploration suggests – “it ain’t so”. Of all the quotes attributed to the famous Mae West no list seems to include that quote.  But the quote itself is a reminder of the impact the powers have on each other.  More on that below.

So what is Rudd’s basic point?  Well it comes from the sub-title.  China’s rise to dominance in the international system is, as Rudd suggests, “imminent”.  In fact what he actually says is, “… the west is completely unprepared for China’s imminent global dominance”.   More pointedly Rudd then poses the key question: we seem unable to determine whether China is prepared to accept the international order the west created over the last 50 years or not.  Will China, as Rudd says, “accept the culture, norms and structure of the postwar order?  Or will China seek to change it?”:

Importantly, some might say disturbingly, the matter remains unresolved among the Chinese political elite themselves.  … At present, there is no centrally agreed grand design.  In other words, on this great question of our age, the jury is still out.

While there are some elites in China that favor the continuation of the liberal economic order – obviously those in particular that have benefited from reform and opening – there are political forces in China – conservative political forces and the military – that do not.  It is not that they haven’t benefitted from the dramatic sustained economic growth but they certainly are resistant to greater domestic political reform.  Moreover, the military – like militaries everywhere adopts hedging and worst case scenario strategies – which raise countermeasures and mistrust in the region and heightens rivalry and competition. The most evident arena of tension recently is the South China Sea but there is tension between China and Japan in the East China Sea.  Nevertheless, it remains possible for the west (this is the term Rudd uses but the inclusion of Korea and Japan etc., make this an odd reference) and others, according to Rudd, to have an impact on China’s views and to help China’s leaders to accept a continuation of the current international political order:

Moreover, the rest of the world’s ability to shape the contours of China’s future global role constructively represents a limited window of opportunity, while China’s international debate is still fluid, while Chinese influence continues to be contested, and well before final strategic settings become entrenched.

So Rudd carries a relatively positive message – though clearly not a starry-eyed one.  And as he argues, effective engagement with China that retains the liberal order will only come with concerted and collective effort:

But it will require collective intellectual effort, diplomatic co-ordination, sustained political will and, most critically, continued, open and candid engagement with the Chinese political elite.

Rudd has outlined a number of steps for the strategic engagement of China and its elites.  But before we get there let me comment on a number of aspects of this analysis that seem to me to raise questions over Rudd’s policy roadmap.  First, Rudd’s approach suffers from what I call, “Time Travel”.  Though it may be a helpful rhetorical device, I think the notion of China’s imminent global dominance is just wholly exaggerated.  Here I am focused on the “imminent”.   While China’s dominance in the international political order may come – it is no time soon.  There well may be a long period of rivalry and competition but given strategic-military deployments the China “dominance” will for the immediate future remain regional.  Which doesn’t mean that engagement of China is not required but it leaves global leadership and influences more fluid and less likely to be dominated by China.

The same “Time Travel” dilemma seems to me to be evident when he examines the emergence of China as the largest economy.  Now Rudd admits that it is likely to occur sometime over the next two decades – though he believes that it likely to come sooner rather than later. Fine, but we are still talking some significant time in the future – let’s be optimistic – ten to 12 years. That impacts then on the framing and immediacy of change to the political order and the character of the engagement called for in the global setting.  More critically is the reality that real economic power derives from GDP per capita and not just the absolute size of an economy.  And China is somewhere in the neighborhood of 100th in GDP per capita.  And beyond the low per capita GDP, we should be hesitant to predict China’s economic trajectory from past growth.  So while China’s growth has been phenomenal and sustained over thirty years there is still a significant distance to go.  And again that impacts on China’s position in the global political order.

On the policy roadmap Rudd believes that the fashioning of China’s engagement necessarily occurs in the Asia-Pacific and where Rudd suggests, “ … the new regional institution underpinned by shared international values will be needed to craft principles and practices of common security and common property for the future.”  Now Rudd, to his credit, has consistently over the years urged the need for a broad Asia-Pacific security community.  While Prime Minister Rudd promoted the Asia Pacific Community, now he believes that the East Asia Summit (EAS)  – from his perspective the successor to the APc – is the appropriate critical setting arraying together all the major powers of the region, including now India, Russia, the US and China, around a single table with, as he describes it, “an open mandate on political, economic and security issues.”

The security dimensions of the EAS and other multilateral settings, however, are contested by China.  In the recent ASEAN Ministerials and the ARF meetings China strongly resisted the discussion of the South China Sea territorial disputes, which China has insisted should only be handled bilaterally.  The EAS – the summit leaders forum – is just as likely to find China arguing that these disputes should not be included on the leaders’ agenda.  Rudd’s comments in Q&A at the Munk School argued that these territorial matters were taken up in any case.  Well, they were but at the cost of no communiqué and the discussions at the ministerials say little about the likelihood of placing it on the leaders agenda.  It is not the smooth path implied by Rudd.

Multilateral discussions are critical.  Engaging China is necessary.  But several conclusions can be drawn from contemporary events and behaviors.  First, the asymmetry of power with many ASEAN members make the inclusion of most of these states open to division, especially in the context of consensus.   Collective effort is important but the critical relationship is the bilateral US-China one.  The Australias, Indonesias, Japans and Koreas are significant and can assist in supporting the liberalizing elements within the Chinese system, but it is the engagement of the US that remains critical.  If the US-China relationship cannot maintain engagement and a collaborative spirit, I am doubtful the rest can ensure success

Image Credit: Wikipedia – Kevin Rudd




“Pivots” and Great Powers – Both Sides Now





I could not resist – and a big thanks to Joni Mitchell and Judy Collins for the reference to their famous tune.  I f you recognize the reference – well you know …

In 2009 I think  – the draft of this book chapter was done in 2008 – Zhang Yunling of CASS – “Mr. APEC” in China –  and myself wrote a chapter on the regional dimension in the US-China relationship in an edited volume by Gu Guoliang and Richard Rosecrance called Power and Restraint: A Shared Vision for the US-China Relationship.   Zhang Yunling and I tried to capture the US-China relationship this way at the time:

China’s strategy is based on three principles: first, China recognizes the United States as a superpower; indeed the current sole superpower; second , China will cooperate with the United States in as many areas as possible; and third it would seem China will continue to increase its strength, including military strength, and raise its status both regionally and globally.  From China’s perspective, as long as the United States recognizes and takes into account China’s interests, China is unlikely to challenge the overall US leadership. In the final analysis, the most significant question for China is, how can it balance its support for democracy, domestically and externally, with the defense of sovereignty whether Taiwan, Central Asia or the Asia-Pacific generally?

Well, that was then and this is now!  It would not appear to me that these constitute the bedrock “rules” that define this most important bilateral relationship.  But let’s take a look at the rules and where the relationship is today.

The context has changed a great deal since the full onset of the global financial crisis of 2008.  It appears that the “Chinese foreign policy elite” – I am not sure exactly who these people are – but there is a view from western experts – I know these folks far better – that there is a from Beijing the view that the US is in decline and that it is losing its hegemonic status.  Furthermore, and more ominously, as a result in  part of the US Administration’s “Asian pivot”, these same China experts have a heightened suspicion that the US is unwilling to adjust to its relative decline and China’s rise.  As Brooking’s Kenneth Lieberthal recently described it at ForeignPolicy.com:

In Chinese eyes, the United States has always been concerned primarily with protecting its own global dominance – which perforce means doing everything it can to retard or disrupt China’s rise.  That America lost its stride in the global financial crisis and the weak recovery since then while China in 2010 became the world’s second-largest economy has only increased Beijing’s concerns about Washington’s determination postpone the day when China inevitably surpasses the United States to become the world’s most powerful country.

So it would seem that China has drawn back from the view that the US is the only superpower. Instead many China experts now suggest that China is a global power as presumably is the United States.  Quite honestly I haven’t s clue what a “global power” is – and I suspect it is simply a way for Chinese experts to assert that China is a superpower – without having to actually proclaim it.  There is little question that both states are great powers – lord knows no one would question each being in the G20 etc., but then including India also makes sense. Clearly India is not yet a “global power”.  It seems to me to be disingenuous to manufacture this new category – especially if you compare the two by military or economic metrics – it ain’t so.  I think too many experts distort time lines.  It more than a decade, possibly two, before China’s economy will match the US so let’s not conflate that future with the present.  And as for the military and strategic partnerships – not even close.

Though it is true that the US and China have sought to cooperate in a number of critical areas – especially in the global economy, notably China’s leaders urging collective effort to resolve the eurozone crisis and to avoid grater turbulence – in other areas there is no collaborative spirit.  Most puzzling is China’s determination to support Russia to the bitter end on Syria.  It is unnecessary and with little that would suggest that there is a Chinese interest in playing “poodle to Putin”.

More contentious are the growing demands and “police” encounters in the South China Sea between China a number of Asian countries.  China has asserted a broad territorial claim that encompasses much of the South China Sea.  In addition there are territorial clashes between China and the Japan in the East China Sea. Many in Washington have declared a new China assertiveness threatening regional stability.  The US has meanwhile – without declaring sides on the territorial claims, has insisted on freedom of navigation and a multilateral approach to resolving the territorial demands.  China has in turn rejected this approach – and at least for now has insisted that these territorial claims should be settled by the contending parties only – bilaterally in other words.

The new assertiveness has enabled many in Washington to focus on the growing military modernization in China’s armed services and calls to meet such military challenges.  The point here is that the so-called new assertiveness has drawn close attention to China’s military threats and the consequences of the growing military modernization.

Where then do the two great powers need to go? Here are some actions that the two can adopt that are likely to lower the temperature on the competition, lead to a new set of rules and can be accomplished largely without the other:

  • Both take a deep breath and limit the degree of hedging each proposes for the other.  Hedging focuses on worst case and frequently results in outcomes  each is concerned to hedge against;
  • The US de-emphasize rhetorically the Asian pivot; work more quietly with ASEAN allies to generate a Code of Conduct acceptable to both sides;
  • China turn down the volume on the South and East China Seas and at least in the case of the South China Seas propose concretely joint development agreements with the parties – Vietnam, Philippines, and others.  These agreements enable the parties to side step the territorial claims for the present; and
  • China needs to rethink its Syria position in the UN and consider abstention as opposed to veto.

I was fortunate enough early in the week to hear former Australian Prime Minister and Foreign Minister speak on the Rise of China.  If you take a look at the NewStatesman.com the article entitled “The West Isn’t Ready for the Rise of China”, the piece fairly reflects his remarks at the Munk School of Global Affairs.  I thought I’d just provide a quick sense of the approach that Rudd brings to this critical relationship:

So, what then is to be done?  Is it possible for the west (and, for that matter, the rest) to embrace a central organizing principle as we engage China over the future of the international order?  I believe it is.  But it will require collective intellectual effort, diplomatic co-ordination, sustained political will and most critically, continued, open and candid engagement with the Chinese political elite.  So, what might the core elements of such an engagement look lie?

I will turn to Rudd’s perspective.  This should allow me to describe the new rules of collaboration required for the US-China relationship.

For this particular “thought exercise”, I will try and describe what are the rules of behavior that can ensure that the competitiveness and rivalry can be contained – that rivalry and competition do not escalate to heightened and sustained rivalry – and then even to conflict.


Image Credit: abc.net.au

“Pivots” and Great Powers – From the Other Side




In my earlier post – of close to the same name – I mentioned that it was Minghao Zhao’s earlier NYT op-ed, dated July 12th, “The Predicaments of Chinese Power,” that got me thinking again about the US-China relationship.

Now as I pointed out in this earlier blog post,  Zhao is currently a research fellow at the China Center for Contemporary World Studies, the think tank for the International Department of the Central Committee of the CPC.  I learned subsequently from my colleagues in China that he graduated from Peking University (Beida) with an MA and is also the Executive Editor of the China International Strategy Review a publication from the School of International Studies (SIS) at Beida.

Okay what did Minghao Zhao have to say?  Well like any good international relations specialist, Zhao focuses a lot on power and the various forms it takes in the global governance system.  Summarizing Zhao,  he suggests the following:

  • It remains a controversial issue as to what China’s grand strategy is, or should be;
  • When we measure China’s power we find that it is powerful on some measures – population, global trade, gross domestic product but is woefully inadequate on per capita GDP and near the bottom on the human development index;
  • Looking at the employment of power and influence, China has a long way to go, say in comparison to the US, whether it is hard power or especially “soft power”;
  • China is, as described by Zhao, “

… still unfamiliar with these new power games. The complex web of national security threats facing China underscores  the need for greater efforts to integrate the strategic tools of diplomacy, defense and development.  What is more, China has not yet found a way to utilize “civil power” in achieving sustainable diplomatic successes.

  • China still has a way to go to find a strategy that will reassure other countries – read that as its near neighbors – especially in the South China Sea and also the greater powers – Japan, Korea and especially the United States.  China has also not learned – here I am not sure China is the only great power that suffers from this, read that as the United States – to practice multilateralism where the powers share responsibility in deciding and acting.  Indeed Zhao summarizes well this gap between between its power and its intentions:

While the Chinese truly believe in their declared peaceful intentions, they have yet to convince others especially the United States  and Asian neighbors.  China needs to boost its participation in multilateral forums and readjust its approach to stress the sincerity of its commitment to peaceful development.

  • Finally – and here I suspect Zhao draws his conclusion from having observed the United States over the past few decades – China needs to restrain itself.  If I can summarize here the world needs to take a “deep breath” and avoid adopting a pose of exaggerated fear given China’s rise and the growing power China has, and is acquiring.  At the same time China’s leaders need to restrain themselves when it comes to the territorial disputes that now plague China on its maritime borders and to constrain the nationalist impulses that pulse through the China blogosphere and presumably more broadly in Chinese society.

As our colleague describes it:

An exaggerated fear of China’s capacities and intentions can itself become a couse of conflict and lead to tragic results.  China’s entry into the world must be accompanied by a new dynamic of mutual accommodation with that world.

For  a number of years many China observers asserted that Chinese policy followed Deng Xiaoping’s historical dictum: 韬光养晦 – taoguang yanghui – concealing one’s capabilities; biding one’s time to have an achievement.  Though the phrase is not free of controversy over its meaning, most agree that at least in terms of strategic policy that China shouldn’t be overtly aggressive and take a forward and assertive policy stance.

Now there has been a Washington view since about 2010 that China’s restrained policy stance – or what I would suggest as a junior partner role – has come to end.  Because China is a global power – this is a phrase that Minghao Zhao adopts and is expressed by many experts though I think it is a highly problematic description of China currently – and there is a strong current of opinion in China that the United States is in decline, and in fact that China has been too defensive – that China could, and should, now be more assertive. Indeed because of this perceived new Chinese assertiveness, at least in the region, that US policymakers have articulated this Pacific or Asia pivot, as described in the earlier post.

So it seems we are now witnessing an emerging gyre of “action and push back” by the United States and China.  Is this the best way in fact to characterize the US-China interaction.  Well I don’t think we have reached this point but it is difficult to both assess China strategic policy – indeed almost everyone agrees that is near impossible to describe China’s grand strategy – and therefore to determine if the US-China is in some growing tit-for-tat strategic framework.  Certainly leaders from both countries assure each other – and the global public –  that the relationship is not of that sort and that their strategic policy continues to count on maintaining a positive engagement and collaborative policy.

So let’s examine more closely the relationship in the next few days.

Image Credit:  news.xinhuanet.com – The Central Committee of CPC

The Current Heart of China “Assertiveness” and the United States “Pivot”



This past week ASEAN ministerial meetings popped up repeatedly in Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh.  These meetings served as diplomatic and political backdrop to the growing clash of interests in the seas east, west and south of China.

ASEAN has been a central player in Asian diplomatic and economic affairs since its formation in the late 1960s.  But on its face this is not necessarily more than a important regional organization.  Now, however, at least since 2008, one of the key ASEAN players, Indonesia, has also become a member of the G20 Leaders Summit.  The ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) a security dialogue forum has reached out to include key players in Asia – most notably China and the United States.  And the growing territorial claims especially, but not only, in the South China Sea have drawn in these key players to the security dialogue.  Given that there is no larger security organizational setting where not just regional powers but also the great powers engage here, the ASEAN meetings do appear to fit into the global summitry galaxy of institutions.

Much attention has been paid to the continuing tension that has hung over this region now for several years with contending territorial claims to the South China Sea by China, and various ASEAN and members including the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei and for good measure Taiwan.  There have also been clashes between Japan and China over the East China Sea.  The maritime area is a key for the global transport of goods and vital energy resources.  Over half the world’s total trade transit through the area.  And  there have been increasing signs of resource riches – especially oil and gas – in the area as well.

The clash of interests was very much in evidence at, or surrounding the 45th ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ meeting in Phnom Penh early in the week followed by the ASEAN Regional Forum meeting.  The ARF is one of the few diplomatic settings for security dialogue in Asia.  This year’s ARF meeting – the 19th –  includes not only ASEAN Foreign Ministers but dialogue countries including – Australia, Bangladesh, Canada, the People’s Republic of China, the European Union , India, Japan, North Korea, Republic of Korea, Mongolia, New Zealand, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Russia, East Timor, United States and Sri Lanka – 26 countries plus the EU in all.

Both meetings have highlighted the tensions between ASEAN and its allies and China. The United States has used these meetings to display rhetorical support for ASEAN countries without necessarily supporting any of the specific claims of these ASEAN countries.  The US efforts would appear to be an effort since at least 2010 to insinuate itself in East and Southeast Asia – and draw closer to various ASEAN states especially Vietnam and the Philippines.

In the South China Sea the ASEAN FM have been pushing to engage China in a long standing effort to resolve conflicts between the various states.  On Monday the FM sought to complete wording for a document to set out a Code of Conduct.  The Philippines have pressed for wording that would include measures to resolve territorial disputes and to raise the conflict in the Scarborough Shoal between the Philippines and China.

Manila appears to be leading the ASEAN push to persuade China to accept a Code of Conduct (COC) that would go some way to resolve the territorial disputes themselves. There has been a ten-year effort to complete a code of conduct which most ASEAN leaders have see as a legally binding document that would govern the behavior in the various seas and “establish protocols for resolving future disputes peacefully”. (see the WSJ “Beijing Defends Sea Claims as Clinton Visits Region” by Patrick Barta July 11, 2012)

China has been unwilling to discuss such a document signalling instead that it would be prepared only to discuss a more limited code aimed at “building trust and deepening cooperation” but not one that settles the territorial disputes, which it insist would be better negotiated with each country separately.  In the current diplomatic settings China has urged that officials leave discussions off the agenda.

For China, the collective ASEAN effort to promote a binding  COC has posed unwelcome interference in what Beijing has described not as territorial disputes between China and ASEAN but only disputes with some ASEAN states.  China has insisted that resolution of these conflicts be undertaken bilaterally.

Since the 2010 ARF meeting the United States Secretary of State has made it clear that the United States supports a multilateral solution and insists on the freedom of the seas:

Issues such as freedom of navigation and lawful exploitation of maritime resources often involve a wide region, and approaching them strictly bilaterally could be a recipe for confusion and even confrontation.

The Chinese position has remained adamant in the run-up to the ARF that US and various ASEAN positions were “deliberate hype” and intended to interfere with relations between China and ASEAN.   The Foreign Ministry continued to insist that the issue be left off the ARF agenda.

Meanwhile in the East China Sea tension rose significantly after two Chinese patrol vessels entered waters claimed by Japan. This incident followed an announcement that the Japanese government was considering buying the Senkaku Islands (referred to by the Chinese as the Diaoyu Islands).  Though the announcement was part of a complicated negotiation by the current Noda government caused by strong domestic political interests, the announcement and tensions quickly engaged both Japan and China.

A full blown diplomatic row at the ARF was only avoided when the ASEAN countries failed to reach agreement on the language of the COC.  But the tensions and potential conflict remain.

China has certainly not backed away from the its diplomatic positions.  And as the most recent East China Sea incident with Japan suggest is prepared to exert measured “military” action to underpin its assertion of interests.  Meanwhile has expressed a view that inserts itself into the regional conflict – and likely garners ASEAN country support – but at a low immediate cost while not directly challenging China – yet.

For the moment US-China engagement retains the “upper hand”.  But the position could well sour were military action – even though likely of a rather limited sort and unlikely to be between the US and China – were to occur.

Miscalculations and mistakes happen.

Image Credit: Stratfor 2009

Back in Dalu

Beijing memories

It has probably been too long – but I am writing this post as I land at Beijing Capital Airport.  With a day of meetings ahead of me here in Beijing – mainly at Tsinghua daxue – and then on to Shanghai for a conference at the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies (SIIS), I gird myself for the traffic – Beijing Memories.

But in the end you ignore the traffic – whether here in Beijing or in Shanghai.  And you relish the vibrancy and activity.  The Shanghai Conference is titled, “Creating a More Global and Collaborative Asian and Pacific Leadership for the G20” The objective of the conference is to draw together experts and officials from the Asian and Pacific G20 countries – 9 in total – and describe and evaluate national perspectives.  The experts will key in on the big G20 questions – progress in dealing with global imbalances, arranging financial institutional reforms especially with respect the G-SIFIs (more on that in another post) and the progress in dealing with agricultural product price volatility and development.

This is the second annual conference.  A year ago we found that that there was little collaboration among the Asian G20 countries.  Now we shall see if there is much effort at collaboration in global governance issues among the Asian G20 or the Asian G20 and the United States, Canada and Mexico.


The Continuing Tension – Chinese Citizen Activism and More

This summer has seen push back from the laobai xing 老百姓  – the ordinary people and Chinese journalists as well.  It has indeed been a summer of discontent that the Party/State have found it difficult to contain.

I suppose it is not a surprise that we are witness in the last few days to a visit to Sina by Liu Qi, secretary of the Beijing Municipal Party Committee and a member of the Politiburo (See Josh Chin and Loretta Chao, “Beijing Communist Party Chief Issues Veiled Warning to Chinese Web Portal”, The Wall Street Journal (August 24, 2011).  Sina runs one of the most popular weibo (microblogs or “we-media”  in China). Sina in fact has a phenomenal 200 million registered accounts that represent a 40 percent increase over the last three months.

What is a weibo (微 薄)?  Well weibo in China are the cutting edge of social media. Weibo appear to be a combination of twitter  and facebook in China.  As my research assistant at the Munk School of Global Affairs, Qiqi Xie, found:

Since Weibo can sometimes outrun government censors for short periods of time, Chinese citizens can use it to publish more controversial material and to push personal causes … Today, microblogs are increasingly favored over traditional media – which is heavily regulated by the Chinese government in terms of mobilization, amount of information and speed.  According to Meng Lingjun, a lecturer at the Central China Normal University, microblogs “have not only served as a significant tool for information dissemination, but we have also affected the formation and changing of public opinion … in emergency situations.”

Weibo activity was particularly notable at the time of the collision of two high-speed trains near the city of Wernzhou.  As pointed out by Chin and Chao, “Afterwords, millions of users flooded onto the site to exchange information and express frustration with the government’s response.”

While weibo kept the Railway officials from trying to cover up and hide the serious incident, there is continuing worry that this form of citizen opinion will be stifled.  This concern was only heightened by a series by a series of editorials in the state papers discussing the need for more robust effort to refute “rumors” online with particular attention paid to the microblogging.  So the visit by the Party Secretary only raises further the concern over a crackdown on weibo.

The train disaster also gave the traditional news media several weeks of criticism that had seldom been in evidence.  Zhang Zhi’an a journalism professor at Sun Yet-sen University in the southern city of Guangzhou, “Estimates that China now has a pool of up to 500 investigative reporters, and many journalism students want to follow in their footsteps.” (see Kathrin Hille, “Chinese Media Dare to Flex their Muscles”  FT.com (August 11, 2011).

Have we reached a watershed in China for wider public opinion – or are we at the edge of a new crackdown?  More on this soon.





Is it America or is it the Liberal World Order That is Passing

[Editor’s note:  I’d like to thank Arthur Stein, UCLA and Richard Rosecrance, Harvard for the early discussions we held on the issues raised in this blog post.  They are not responsible for any of the opinions expressed here. ASA]

Pronouncements of American decline miss the real transformation under way today. What is occurring is not American decline but a dynamic process in which other states are catching up and growing more connected.

The above excerpt is the opening to the concluding section of John Ikenberry’s precis – his article in the recent May/June edition of Foreign Affairs, “The Future of the Liberal World:  Internationalism After America”  of his most recent book, Liberal Leviathan: The Origins, Crisis, and Transformation of the American World Order.

It may well be that a final evaluation of Ikenberry’s examination of the evolving global governance system will require a close reading of the book.  But for the moment let me assume that this FA is a relevant summary of the Liberal Leviathan’s thesis.

The question that John poses is whether we are witnessing  just the decline of the United States – or I suppose slightly more correctly the ‘rise of the rest’ – or, in fact, we are also witnessing the decline of the liberal world order promoted most fiercely by the United States. If the latter is true then the global order will not only look less American but less liberal. As the newly emerging states become more central to the world order, they will bring a more illiberal – less open, less rules-based and less democratic – world order.  As John identifies this:

Rather, the struggle will be between those who want to renew and expand today’s system of multilateral governance arrangements and those who want to move to a less cooperative order built on spheres of influence.

The global governance system of the future will be more fragmented, less multilateral and more mercantilist.  But John argues that this is not the future of the international order.  And he suggests this more illberal outcome is not necessarily in our future by  distinguishing and separating the current multilateral order from the United States.  So while the global governance system has been built by the United States and supported by its traditional allies, liberal internationalism, “openness and rule-based relations enshrined in institutions such as the United Nations and norms such as multilateralism” will continue to exist without the United States as the hegemon. While the US, according to John, will not rule in the way it has in the decades since World War II, it will still be able to lead – and presumably it will do so.  And the reason for this is:  the rising powers – the Chinas, Brazils and Indias – are also wed to the global governance order of liberal internationalism.

For John the current global order is built on two ordering principles – the first  built on the evolution of states and the principles of state sovereignty and and norms of more or less collaborative great power relations.  And the second is built on the liberal order of a open, rules-based and and democratic international order.  Indeed the building of the state system was necessary for the building of the second – the liberal order.

Now international relations specialist have long debated whether a hegemon – the UK in the 19th century and the United States in the second half of the twentieth century – is a necessary element for maintaining a liberal order.  With John’s identified bifurcation, we need to determine whether the evolving international system of great powers is able to maintain a stable international order and to promote a liberal order.

John is certainly right that there is no strong evidence that the current Chinese leadership – the exemplar of the newly arrived rising states – rejects either element of the order – that is collaborative great power relations and as well a liberal order of open trade and a rules-based system.  But not having rejected the order as it currently exists is not the same thing as saying the Chinese leadership accepts and is prepared promote these norms and mechanisms of the global order.  And it it is possible that China might accept one principle – say great power stability – and yet fail to promote the other – the liberal order.  John acknowledges that stability is required for a liberal order.  But could it be that the evolving system may promote stability and great power accomodation – of a rather classic form – without necessarily promoting or even maintaining the current liberal order.

Where is the Chinese leadership?  There is no question that China has benefited dramatically from both elements of the order – international stability and openness – but China’s emergence as a great power and the perception – and I emphasize perception of US decline – may have led some of China’s current leaders to reassess China’s place in the global order and reflect on how it must act or indeed how others – especially the United States – must act.  Further, the perception of decline worryingly may have “infected” the next generation of leadership that will assume leadership in another year.

Let me look briefly at the second element of the current order – its Liberal nature.  Certainly China has become deeply integrated in the international economy – and that the degree of integration contrasts vividly with other rising powers of earlier decades.  But many suggest that China has dramatically benefited from advantages not employed by others.  China’s export trade policy has driven its economic growth – and it has been a boon to US multinational corporations as well, might I say – but the imbalances generated in the system are creating volatility and instability.  And it would appear the leadership – notwithstanding all the statements of a turn to a more domestic consumption-based model – is unwilling to abandon the export growth model that brought it such rapid economic growth.  Remember the leadership believes that it is essential to maintain high growth to avoid social unrest.

And as for democracy, the Party appears to determined to maintain one-party rule notwithstanding that the rule of law and democratic practices are the foundation of modernity.  While democracy may be the ideal there appears to be no appetite for it among the current leadership and there is nothing to suggest that the coming new generation of leadership is in any degree more enticed by the ideal notwithstanding the rise of a middle class in China. As a punctuation mark it is clear that China does not accept humanitarian intervention the newest aspect internationally of the liberal world order.

And as for multilateralism and the acceptance of restraint and collaborative great power relations, the signs are there but unilateralism and regional dominance have not disappeared from Chinese policy.  Just when you think the Chinese have accepted collaborative great power relations and multilateralism, there are the behaviors, or lack of behaviors, over Korea, the South China Seas and military – to – military relations with the US.

So there is a large question mark and not an explanation mark on Chinese policy and its support for a liberal order.  But the question of the passing of a liberal order is not just to be laid at the doorstep of China.  It is also a question mark  that now lies over US policy.  The continuing illiberalism over trade policy – the assertion continuously of a lack of a level playing field   – is a marked contrast in US foreign policy to earlier periods of liberal leadership.  The so-called “leading from behind” strategy – whatever that is – of the current US Administration leads to rising questions of US leadership – not just rule.  The chaos of domestic politics that undermines the prospect of the US dealing with its fiscal situation also raises concern that it will – and maybe cannot lead.

The saving element of this particular question – the maintenance of a liberal order, may come down to definition.  As one of my close colleagues Arthur Stein from UCLA asks “What is the liberal order?”  Maybe just as we have built a literature that examines the varieties of capitalism, so, according to Arthur, we must try and determine the varieties of liberalism that may still represent an international liberal order.   It may still be a liberal order notwithstanding more managed exchange rates and new rules on capital controls.  Or maybe not.

So the question of what is recognized as a liberal order may strongly influence whether we we are able to assess whether a liberal order can be maintained with or without the United States.  The likely reality is that the liberal order is not just built on US leadership but it surely includes US leadership.  It is a more open question whether we need China and others to sustain the liberal order.  But it too is a question that needs to be answered.

The liberal order – however defined – may survive China’s growing great power presence,  but I think it quite possible that without US participation not only will US leadership disappear but also the liberal order it built over the decades.  Then the remaining question will be, can we retain collaborative and accommodative great power relations.



The agenda for the renewal of the liberal international order should be driven by this same imperative: to reinforce the capacities of national governments to govern and
achieve their economic and security goals. … In this new age of international
order, the United States will not be able to rule. But it can still lead.