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China-U.S. Competition

Tag Archives | China-U.S. Competition

Fearing China: Gaps, Assumptions and Military Spending

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DoD Photo
DoD Photo

DoD Photo

The biblical assertion that there is nothing original under the sun finds form on a regular basis in the behaviour of states. This is particularly so regarding assumptions or more often than not, misassumptions, about military means and abilities. The entire Cold War complex was riddled with psycho-babble and speculation: If they (they being a loose term for the enemy) get this weapon before we do, what will it do to the balance of power? As ever, the weapons race was pre-eminent, giving tenured positions to game-theorists and promoters of the “prisoner’s dilemma.” Nothing was spared in terms of dollar or rouble.

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Is the TPPA an Extension of U.S. Foreign Policy?

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Ryan Lim/Malacañang Photo Bureau
Ryan Lim/Malacañang Photo Bureau

Ryan Lim/Malacañang Photo Bureau

A few weeks ago, I had the chance to attend an insightful talk by Professor Richard Tanter, a leading analyst on East Asia. In talking about the recent American “pivot” to East Asia and its imminent desire to consolidate an East Asian alliance, Tanter was emphasizing US’s ailing economy and its limited capacity for outreach as a challenge for US foreign policy.

Faced with severe and ongoing budget limitations, Tanter’s analysis struck an accurate chord in underscoring a qualitative change in US foreign policy abroad. Indeed, moving away from a neorealist practice of conducting international affairs, post-crisis economic hurdles are reflective of the current US government’s Liberalist turn. To put it into non-IR terminology: the US is increasingly shifting its focus to building and strengthening economic alliances, rather than military ones.

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U.S.-China Cyberwar Row: Will the United States Step Up its Active Cyber Defense Posture?

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FBI
FBI

FBI

The indictment of five Chinese military hackers by a grand jury in the Western District of Pennsylvania illustrates the increasing importance of cyberspace in the great power relationship between the United States and China. It also shows that four years of talking about cyber-espionage, including at the presidential level, have lead nowhere. All five of the alleged offenders are purported to be members of the secretive Unit 61398 of the People’s Liberation Army in Shanghai. They are accused of computer hacking, economic espionage and other offenses targeting the U.S. private sector. According to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder: “This is a case alleging economic espionage by members of the Chinese military and represents the first ever charges against a state actor for this type of hacking.”

Any serious analysis on cyber-espionage has to be caveated with the fact that we have to evaluate evidence based on primarily open source intelligence, which does not provide us with an entirely accurate picture of the China-US cyber competition – much of it is happening in the shadows and outside the public’s view. However, it is evident that the Department of Justice indictment was partially announced to assuage the U.S. private sector and to demonstrate that the United States government is boosting its efforts to stop Chinese cyber attacks. Likewise, we can make a few additional deductions based on the history of China-US cyber relations.

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Letting the Rapist in the House: The U.S.-RP Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement

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President Barack Obama during a joint presser with Philippine President Benigno Aquino III

“We Do Not Want Filipinos, We Want the Philippines.” – San Francisco Argonaut, 1902

President Barack Obama during a joint presser with Philippine President Benigno Aquino III

President Barack Obama during a joint presser with Philippine President Benigno Aquino III

The cloakroom of hegemony can be a heavily stocked one. There are variations in style, dress and material – but at the end of the day, the accent is unmistakable. Imperial wear remains just that, an ominous warning to those who taste it, and those who would love it. In the context of Washington’s move into the Philippines under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), cloaked hegemony is again giving its ugly strut in the country.

Activists who campaigned for years to remove the US military presence from the country now face a reversal of those gains under President Benigno Aquino. That it should be the son turning back the legacy of the mother, Corazón Aquino, would seem to make it a suitable topic for tragic drama. In a more concrete sense, the agreement would tend to constitute a glaring breach of the Philippines constitution of 1987, which disallows the presence of foreign military bases and troops. In 1992, US military bases were dismantled, less to do with Washington’s embrace of peaceful demobilisation than the Philippine Senate’s resolution of 1991 to end Washington’s leases on the bases.

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Gunboat Diplomacy in South China Sea Can Lead to a Red Line

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The United States may be heading for another Red Line moment–this time with China.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel touring a military academy in Beijing

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel making his fourth trip to the South China Sea region recently, wanted to reassure Japan and other nations that the U.S. stands with them if China pursues stated territorial annexation. The “Sleeping Dragon” has arisen, hungry for the small mostly uninhabited islands in the East and South China Sea claimed by Japan, Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan. Mr. Hagel’s visit comes on the heels of Russia’s takeover of Crimea which had been part of Ukraine. The fear is that China has been emboldened by Russia’s move, leading to similar action over the long disputed islands. China claims their rights to the islands go back 2,000 years, which could possibly include the international waterways between them. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton previously noted that unimpeded navigation access was important to U.S. national interests. More than half of the world’s merchant goods flow through these waters.

Mr. Hagel announced that two additional guided missile destroyers would be sent, bringing the total to seven U.S. warships in the China Sea region. The news gave Chinese officials the opportunity to showcase their newly refurbished Soviet aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, with its J-15 fighter jet strike group, signaling China’s growing global reach. China’s claim of territorial sovereignty over the islands was made very clear. Any provocation would require a response—crossing their Red Line. China has a growing global appetite, expanding its economic interests in every continent. Chinese warships could soon be cruising off the coasts of Africa, South America, and North America to protect their interests.

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Forget Oil and Gas, the South China Sea Just Got More Complicated

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Vietnam’s civilian-led patrols, backed by marine police and a border force, will be deployed from 25 January within Vietnamese waters in the South China Sea. Photo: Reuters

As former-best-friends-turned-sour during the Cold War, the Sino-Vietnamese relationship has managed to overcome a number of issues and has progressed to levels of cooperation unimaginable only 10 years ago.

Vietnam’s civilian-led patrols, backed by marine police and a border force, will be deployed from 25 January within Vietnamese waters in the South China Sea. Photo: Reuters

But conflicting territorial claims in the South China Sea continue to risk derailing any significant cooperation between the two countries. Where the dispute once focussed on the promise of untapped hydrocarbon resources in the region, the nature of it has now changed – it has become a struggle symbolic of something much more important than oil and gas.

The US Energy Information Administration concluded in 2013 that the contested areas of the South China Sea are unlikely to have any significant oil and gas deposits. But the fact remains that even if any were discovered, these would prove too expensive to extract. The cost of drilling a deep water well is around $30 to $60 million, or about five times more than drilling in shallow waters. And while the cost may not put all investors off, the risk of becoming mired in a political dispute will. The 2009 BP pullout from a joint Vietnamese exploration in disputed territory was testimony to these concerns. As BP became threatened by China, Vietnam also applied pressure to prevent its withdrawal. Faced with this catch-22, BP finally backed out due to “commercial and technical reasons.” In other words, the project was scrapped for being unprofitable.

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A New Great Game in Central Asia?

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Drillers from Central Asian Mining Services collect samples from the North Aynak mineral zone outside Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan. Alexandra Zavis/Los Angeles Times

Is there a new “Great Game” springing into existence in Central Asia?

Drillers from Central Asian Mining Services collect samples from the North Aynak mineral zone outside Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan. Alexandra Zavis/Los Angeles Times)

Drillers from Central Asian Mining Services collect samples from the North Aynak mineral zone outside Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan. Alexandra Zavis/Los Angeles Times

Many pundits and journalists who write on the region and its global importance argue that there is. In fact, after the Cold War and the birth of the five republics of Central Asia, this debate has dominated much of the analysis of the region. Just in Afghanistan alone, its mineral wealth could prove to be invaluable. Nathan William Meyer observed in International Policy Digest in 2012, that “Afghanistan’s mineral resources are hard to underestimate and current projections border on the hyperbolic. In June, 2010, the Pentagon confirmed reports that Afghanistan’s massive deposits could make it a major world producer of iron and copper. The lithium deposits in Ghanzi Province may rival Bolivia’s for the title of world’s largest. The country’s Samti gold deposit is estimated to hold 20-24 metric tons and according to the US Geological Survey a single million ton deposit of rare earth elements (REE) in Helmand Province gives Afghanistan the world’s sixth largest REE reserves.”

Captain Arthur Conolly, a British officer of the Sixth Bengal Native Light Cavalry, coined the concept of the ‘Great Game’ in the 1830’s. Later, the English writer Rudyard Kipling immortalized the concept in his 1901 novel Kim. In basic terms, the Great Game was simply a struggle for power, territorial control, and political dominance between the Russian and British Empires in Central Asia in the nineteenth century. This competition of maneuvering and intrigue between the two empires came to an end in 1907, when both nations were forced to focus their resources on more serious threats. The British had to gear up and contain the rise of an assertive Germany in Europe, and the Russians were locked in a fierce struggle with the Japanese in Manchuria.

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John Kerry’s Beijing Visit unlikely to Change Dynamics

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Secretary of State John Kerry and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi during a meeting at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing, China on February 14, 2014

John Kerry recently concluded a friendly visit to Beijing, with both sides chatting about matters of mutual concern in a way that implied these two great powers have areas of shared concern and interest. Some observers might fear that peace might break out. Don’t worry it won’t.

Secretary of State John Kerry and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi during a meeting at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing, China on February 14, 2014

My personal opinion is that a dwindling group of PRC doves in the Obama administration are being rolled by military and think tank hawks who sense the weakness of the individuals with suspected panda hugger inclinations, such as Joe Biden and John Kerry, and also smell blood in the water with President Obama’s emerging lame duck status and the likely return of a down-the-line China hawk civilian slate with the expected election of Hillary Clinton as President in 2016.

The result has been a spate of articles calling the White House, especially Joe Biden, soft on China and pointing the finger at John Kerry for being excessively preoccupied with the Middle East and thereby allowing the precious Pivot to Asia to languish.

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The Coming Collapse of China

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Tiananmen Square. Photo: Peter Morgan

In a remarkably short period of time, China has become a world-class manufacturing powerhouse.

Tiananmen Square. Photo: Peter Morgan

Not surprisingly, China’s impressive economic growth of 9.5% annually, its widespread economic investments around the world, and its rapid ascent to global power, have caused concern in the western world, especially in the United States. China’s growing appetite for non-renewable resources, and its efforts to achieve global hegemony has added to this anxiety. History demonstrates that when a new great power emerges, uncertainty and conflict follow, because the rise of this new player challenges the status quo. China’s recent successes and its entry onto the global stage have convinced many historians and scholars of international relations – Martin Jacques and Niall Ferguson to name two – that China will inevitably become a global hegemon. I believe it is naive to think that there will be such a thing as a global hegemon. No country or great power can completely dominate the world today. However, the closest a country can come to global hegemony is through regional hegemony.

The United States is supposed to be the world’s superpower not because it is dominating the entire world, but because of its complete domination of the western hemisphere. As of now, it has no political, military, or economic rival in its region. Contrary to conventional wisdom, I argue that China will not dominate the twenty first century. Nor will it become the hegemon – the political, military, and economic leader – of its region. I maintain that China, after the slow-down of its economic growth, will began to recede and thus play a much more diminished role on the global scene. China’s history demonstrates that the country is a regional hegemon when it is internally stable. When internally unstable, the country is in no position to project its power effectively abroad. One of the major problems the country is currently faced with is Uyghur nationalism and their independence movement.

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China at a Crossroads: What does it Want to Be?

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Illustration: John Shakespeare

For decades the Chinese government has deployed both soft and hard power to promote China’s influence and status, while at the same time discouraging interference in Chinese affairs.

Illustration: John Shakespeare

China’s foreign policy has been premised on its desire to ensure uninterrupted economic growth while at the same time promoting political stability and prolonging the rule of the Chinese Communist Party. In doing so, China has portrayed itself on one hand as a good neighbor while at the same time pulling its weight and making sure its neighbors know who’s boss. China’s modern geopolitical psyche is characterized by the often used Chinese saying “hide one’s brilliance and bide one’s time.” China sees its return to global prominence as inevitable, based on its modern history as a global leader in such areas as trade, finance, and industrial production. Today China’s global strategy, and its path to global prominence, are to embrace multi-polarity while supporting the principle of state sovereignty and self-determination.

Multi-polarity generally works well for China in the international arena, where China has perfected the art of sitting on the sidelines and waiting for an end game to emerge, then swooping in and claiming the spoils. A good example of this was the Iraq War, where China did not participate in combat but aggressively pursued oil contracts, ultimately winning a large percentage of them. However, China prefers uni-polarity when it comes to its relations with Asian nations. While it maintains a veil of collaboration and cooperation with its Asian neighbors, in reality, China prefers that its neighbors snap to attention when China makes a proclamation, or takes action in the region. This is very much in evidence with the Senkaku and Spratly Islands.

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Escalating Tensions Over China’s ADIZ

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U.S. Naval ships in the Pacific

China is setting up its Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) and extending it into some of the disputed parts of the East China Sea.

U.S. Naval ships in the Pacific

Not only the neighbouring countries, Japan and South Korea, but the United States are concerned and cautious as it appears to be a calculated Chinese exercise to consolidate its increasing sphere of influence over the zone.

The area includes international air space east of China’s airspace into the East China Sea and up to 130 km. from Japan’s territorial airspace. China’s ADIZ has stirred attention as it overlaps with the zones set up by Japan and South Korea. This was opposed by Japan, South Korea and also by the US as all these countries have carried out their respective flights through this region since China’s announcement last Saturday to set up its ADIZ in this zone as an expression of their defiance to China’s plans to bolster its control over the contested region. The trios response has led to a tense situation in the region as Vietnam, Philippines, Indonesia and other littoral countries have already contested the rising Chinese presence in this disputed area over the past few months. China has also scrambled its fighter jets to identify and tail 12 American and Japanese aircrafts that entered its newly established ADIZ, raising regional tensions.

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The Hysteria over China’s Air Defense Identification Zone

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Japanese Coast Guard off of the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands. Source: Al Jazeera

Bonnie Glaser gets it about right regarding China’s newly announced Air Defense Identification Zone or ADIZ: “I don’t know that this is specifically directed against Japan, so much as it is the Chinese feeling that every modern country should have an Air Defense Identification Zone.”

Japanese Coast Guard off of the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands. Source: Al Jazeera

Just to make it clear. An Air Defense Identification Zone is not a “no fly zone” or extension of sovereignty. It is defined by the speed of modern enemy jets and the amount of time needed to challenge, identify hostile intent, and prepare air defenses. When unidentified planes entire an ADIZ, they are required to identify themselves.

Per Xinhua, the new regulations require: First, a flight plan identification. Aircraft flying in the East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone should report the flight plans to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China or the Civil Aviation Administration of China. Second, radio identification. Aircraft flying in the East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone must maintain the two-way radio communications, and respond in a timely and accurate manner to the identification inquiries from the administrative organ of the East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone or the unit authorized by the organ.

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Challenges for China-Africa Relations

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President Jacob Zuma addresses the China-Africa roundtable meeting hosted by China's President Xi Jinping in Durban, South Africa. Source: GovernmentZA

Adapted from Amb. David H. Shinn’s Speech to the Cosmopolitan Club in Manhattan.

President Jacob Zuma addresses the China-Africa roundtable meeting hosted by China’s President Xi Jinping in Durban, South Africa. Source: GovernmentZA

Before making any predictions it is important to begin with a few basic assumptions about China that will also impact its relations with Africa. I believe China’s leadership will remain stable and in full control of the country through at least the Xi Jinping era. China’s focus will remain on ensuring domestic political stability and economic development. But structural challenges such as its aging demography, continued migration to cities, higher population growth rate as a result of loosening restrictions on the one child policy, higher labor costs, dangerous levels of income inequality, lack of a universal social security system, worsening environmental conditions, more severe weather events due to climate change, increasing domestic pressure for input on decision-making by ordinary Chinese, and growing global competition from other emerging nations will take their toll on China’s society and system of governance.

Nevertheless, China’s GDP growth rate will continue to out-perform the world average, but at a less impressive rate than during that past three decades. China will also maintain a high savings rate and contribute disproportionately to global economic growth. While it will try to change elements of the existing international order, it will operate within this system rather than try to replace it.

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China and Africa: The Next Decade

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Chinese and Chadian workers at an oil site in southern Chad, part of China's growing economic presence in Africa.  Ruth Fremson/New York Times

China’s leadership will remain stable and in full control of the country. Its focus will remain on ensuring domestic political stability and economic development.

Chinese and Chadian workers at an oil site in southern Chad, part of China’s growing economic presence in Africa. Ruth Fremson/New York Times

But structural challenges such as its aging demography, continued migration to cities, higher population growth rate as a result of loosening of restrictions on the one child policy, higher labor costs, dangerous levels of income inequality, worsening environmental conditions, more severe weather events due to global warming, increasing domestic pressure to allow input on decision-making by ordinary Chinese, and growing global competition from other emerging nations will take their toll on China’s society and system of governance.

China’s economy will continue to out-perform the global average, but at a less impressive rate than during that past three decades. Nevertheless, China will contribute disproportionately to global economic growth. While it will try to change elements of the existing international order, it will continue to operate within this system rather than devote physical and human resources in an effort to replace it.

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China, Africa and Implications for the United States

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China is planning to build Chad’s first oil refinery, lay new roads, provide irrigation and erect a mobile telephone network. Chinese oil workers at the exploration site.  Ruth Fremson/New York Times

China and the United States have surprisingly similar interests in Africa.

China is planning to build Chad’s first oil refinery, lay new roads, provide irrigation and erect a mobile telephone network. Chinese oil workers at the exploration site. Ruth Fremson/New York Times

Both rely increasingly on the continent for oil while China also imports large quantities of minerals. Both seek political support from Africa’s 54 countries, which constitute more than a quarter of the membership of the United Nations. Both see Africa as an increasingly attractive export market, although today the African countries collectively account for a tiny percentage of each country’s global trade.

China also wants to expand the “one China” principle throughout Africa; four African countries recognize Taiwan. This is not an American interest. For its part, the United States wants to minimize the impact in Africa of terrorism, narcotics trafficking, international crime, piracy and money laundering so they do not harm US interests in Africa or the homeland. While these are increasingly becoming Chinese interests, they have not yet reached the level of US interest. The United States also seeks to continue naval access to African ports and maintain the ability to overfly and land military aircraft. This is not yet an important interest for China.

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