Tuesday, April 12, 2005

The China Bluff


Well, once again we’re hearing about “America in Decline”. This time, it’s James Pinkerton in “NewsDay”, claiming to see “3 Signs of Impending ‘Asian Century’ “. Count me unawed. From what I read, Mr. Pinkerton is simply rehashing what he got from the State Council of China’s Ministry of Information. It can be amusing, though , to see him try to form an argument that can withstand a passing breeze of considered review.

Mr. Pinkerton begins with a sadly predictable tone, claming that a “peaceful - for now - struggle has been joined.” Apparently, the US-Sino conflicts of the past generation are just now reaching Mr. Pinkerton’s attention. Mr. Pinkerton bases his claim to a new threat, on what he calls “three huge fuses” in “the Far East”.

Pinkerton’s first “fuse” is the trip by China’s Prime Minister, Wen Jiabao, to India, and the blustering claim that China and India woud be the “two pagodas” of economic might in the coming “Asian Century”. Supposedly, the “strategic partnership for peace and prosperity," is going to "reshape the world order." Fortunately for the planet, but not so well for Pinkerton’s credibility, this is not the first time we’ve heard this sort of thing. Japan, South Korea, and Vietnam all claimed similar breakthroughs were just around the corner, but those never worked out.

The official Indian embassy, for one thing, comments that India is reaching agreements, unilaterally, with a number of Southeast Asian countries, especially Singapore, and continues to enjoy benefits from a Trilateral Agreement with Taiwan and Japan. The China claim is simply not unique.

Next, the Asian e-zine Muzinet sees serious problems with the Sino-India pact, noting that there is a “glass ceiling” to how far each country is willing to trust the other. The Muzinet article also observes that a long-standing border conflict between China and India is not only still unresolved, but that diplomats have described present efforts as the “last rung” of opportunity to resolve the matter amicably.

Undeterred by facts, Pinkerton next claims that “China is also poking yet another hole in the worldwide arms embargo imposed on it by the United States after the 1989 Tienamen Square massacre.” That claim, frankly, made me laugh out loud, because it admits on its face that China is operating within the constraints of American military, diplomatic, and economics power, projected far from the US border. It’s like an ant boasting, because the human only wiped out 90% of his mound. But Pinkerton blithely misses this simple fact of reality, preferring instead to fantasize that China and India, already Regional Superpowers in his mind, “should have little trouble obtaining the rudiments of just about any kind of weaponry.” Pinkerton displays appalling ignorance of the state of India and China’s military infrastructures. Both countries should be able to defend themselves adequately, for reasons of terrain and other salient elements, but neither country has reached the level of technology to address even the 1991 level of US capability, to say nothing of serious doctrinal faults. For example, the rigid command structure in both nations prevents utilization of independent forward command, a basic element necessary to employ AirLand Battle tactics. It only gets worse, when the actual level of training is considered.

Pinkerton, seeing the weaknesses in this imagination he has presented, hurried on to another fiction, claiming “the historic hostility between China and Japan, a close U.S. ally for 60 years, is bubbling back into violence.” That statement is actually quite true, but the truth is much more serious for China. In addition to Japan, China also has exceptionally poor relations with Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore, and both Koreas. One critical problem China is in developing a hegemony, is that they must bully their neighbors to have it, and cannot rely on their cooperation. This is not a recipe for dominance; quite the opposite. A clear signal was sent during the Indonesian Tsunami, where the Indonesian and Indian governments, no great friends of the United States, nonetheless asked for the US Navy to protect their coasts while rescue and recovery operations were underway, a clear slap at China.

Pinkerton’s “third fuse” is North Korea, suggesting that China will be willing to let North Korea delivery nuclear weapons to terrorists – unless the U.S. submits to Chinese demands. The fact that North Korea has not yet tested a nuclear weapon, let alone begun a stockpile, makes the question far less solid than Pinkerton wants us to think. Worse, Pinkerton displays an appalling lack of consideration about the Chinese way of thought. China does not like the United States form of government, but they are fully aware that a nuclear event on American soil would provoke an unquestioned retaliation in the same kind, and to a greater scale. China, boast though it does, can at best threaten the West Coast of the United States, which does not come close to the devastation the U.S. can mete out in a full exchange. The United States needs to prepare for the North Korean threat, but the Chinese Politburo is not rash enough to allow Pyongyang to start a cataclysm. If Pinkerton understands this fact, but published his claim anyway, he is a boorish lout. If he really fails to understand even the basic truths of these relationships, he is an utter fool. For my part, I will simply observe that like all the doomsayers before him on this point, Pinkerton is unquestionably wrong, and his claims do no more than distract from more substantial issues and conditions.

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