Saturday, April 24, 2010

Facts & Figures

Foreign policy has a good article on China's military. I highly recommend the last page where it mentions global aspirations. Of course, there's always the U.S. Department of Defense's report on China's military power if you're up for more. Both sources will put Kaplan's assessment of China in greater perspective.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Things to come?

I just finished digesting an op-ed piece I read in the Business Times out of Singapore. It describes how lucky China is to be at the center of geopolitics now and going forward, as its development will fundamentally change the international landscape. While I could quibble with that, instead I'll turn to the author's (Robert Kaplan) projections on how the U.S. will be impacted.

Kaplan in his piece towards the bottom mentions Taiwan as follows:

"Beijing is also preparing to envelop Taiwan not just militarily, but also economically and socially. How this comes about will be pivotal for the future of great-power politics in the region. If the US simply abandons Taiwan to Beijing, then Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Australia and other US allies in the Pacific Ocean will begin to doubt the strength of Washington's commitments."

While I don't disagree that Beijing is trying to isolate Taiwan, it's a far stretch to say that the U.S. will simply abandon Taiwan in the future. There is still substantial support for the island-bound democracy in Congress. Furthermore, China could be very different politically if and when Taiwan becomes part of the PRC. From my own perspective, China would only attack Taiwan when it felt that its economic development was complete and it could withstand any economic blowback from conflict in the Taiwan Strait. That won't happen for at least four decades. A lot can happen between now and 2050.

Kaplan then signs off with:

"Still, the very fact of China's rising economic and military power will exacerbate US-Chinese tensions in the years ahead. To paraphrase the political scientist John Mearsheimer, the US, the hegemon of the Western Hemisphere, will try to prevent China from becoming the hegemon of much of the Eastern Hemisphere. This could be the signal drama of the age."

If that were true, then shouldn't the U.S. just attack China now? You know, follow through with preventative war? Kaplan's basically saying that China's continued development is a zero-sum game for the U.S. I don't buy that at all given the economic relationship. Americans are able to consume inexpensive goods from China in a time of economic difficulty. I do not disagree with Kaplan that China's military modernization will cause angst in Washington, but it is very premature to even project armed conflict between the U.S. and China.

Admin note: Finals are fast approaching. As such, don't expect a lot of posts this coming week. Will be back to normal after May 3rd.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Comparatively weak

Yesterday I was quite busy preparing a presentation for my class on China's political economy. I've made it available online, although it's in Chinese. I'll translate it and post an English version sometime over the weekend.

The topic of the presentation centered on why the development of China's interior is important as a source of comprehensive national power (综合国力, CNP). As opposed to focusing on hard or soft power, Chinese scholars have combined the two with a new capability called coordinating power (协调能力). While hard power is measured in military and economic terms and soft power stemming from cultural attractiveness, coordinating power gauges a government's ability to channel resources and deal with problems. Given modern China's history, this isn't an entirely surprising addition.

Economic development of the interior is critical. From what I've read in the Chinese press and scholarly writings, China's CNP hinges on being able to bring development to the entire country, not just selected areas on the coast. In the presentation I chose Qinghai province to get a sense of its progress since economic reforms were first initiated in the 1980s. I was quite surprised to see annual income rise in tandem with a population, as the Solow economic model and empirical results show that high growth in population negatively impacts income growth (e.g. the more people you have, the smaller the slice of the pie each person gets). However Qinghai's experience goes against the grain. Turns out that the companies in operation were on the secondary and tertiary levels of the value chain, meaning higher incomes for employees.

So what do I mean by today's title? Quite simply that a segment China's academic community looks at the whole of China and other states when measuring strength. It isn't enough to have a strong military or economy, a state also needs an efficient government and domestic stability. From their 30,000 foot level, these Chinese scholars see their country as a comparatively weak country. While their assessment may be accurate today, it will most likely be dated come twenty years.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Walk, don't run

I can't help but be impressed with The Economist. We all know it's an excellent news source, but Kal certainly gets his point across very well with his latest piece. He nails it right on the head when China says there are no clear options in response to Iran's nuclear program. Why you ask?

The last thing China wants to do is support sanctions tough enough to bring down the Iranian government. After all, it was only last June when opposition protesters were shouting death to Russia and China. Beijing can work with the current regime in Tehran and doesn't want a change in management. Now some people are suggesting that China's commercial interests are dictating its position on Iran. I'm quite skeptical about economics playing significant a role, as trade in 2009 between China and Iran amounted to only $15 billion, while almost $1 trillion between the U.S. and EU combined. Those numbers alone would suggest China would be better off cooperating.

So does Beijing want Iran to have nuclear weapons? Not if it destabilizes the region. Saudi Arabia and the other countries in the region certainly don't want their Iranian neighbor to have nuclear weapons and would have little problem increasing deliveries to the West at China's expense if they felt it was to blame. The issue at hand though is China likes the status quo - it gets everything it needs from the world to focus on its domestic development. To agree to sanctions would disturb the balance China enjoys. As Kal's piece points out, there aren't any clear options for China that satisfies the West's demands and allow it to focus on development. Until such an option presents itself, the Chinese government will drag its feet.


The same bottom line can be applied to China's position on North Korea. The Chinese government would rather allow things to progress naturally rather than take any action that carries more risk than reward.