Australia - a perception of China's ambitions
Australia plays an increasing strategic role in the Asia-Pacific region.
In an "alliance of democracies" with India, Japan, South Korea, and the U.S., Australia is seeking an answer on how to deal with China as an emerging world power.
The crucial question is whether China will play an offensive and aggressive role and how to act and react against dangerous Chinese ambitions.
This newsletter from "down under" - written by WSN Editor Australia Ian Adie - offers an interesting view from a different geostrategic angle.
Dizzy with Success?
US think tanks and alarmist media see China seeking to replace an America whose “manifest destiny” was and is to lead the world. True, wherever the winds of change are raging, notably In Africa, Central and West Asia and Latin America, China is heavily involved. Is it simplistic to make the modernisation of China (not to mention India, Brazil…) a proxy for the success of globalisation, in effect marketisation or Americanisation ? America’s soft expansion has galvanized the world economic and financial system into a Frankenstein no Power can control. Globally rolling equity bubbles, proliferation of an alphabet soup of financial instruments too complex to understand, Wall St. jitters over bad loans undermining world markets, deficits, the greenback debt mountain, all offer China a jiu-jitsu hold on the heavily armored “superpower”. But no one wants both wrestlers to fall out of the ring.
It is equally simplistic to misconstrue Beijing’s current slogans about “peaceful ascent” (heping jueqi) at home and “harmonious world” abroad to mean that “China will never fight” (e.g over Taiwan). Still valid is China’s age-old strategic doctrine updated from Sun Tzu (Sunzi Bingfa) by Chairman Mao. Work to win without fighting, or if you must, asymmetrically, by deception and surprise.
The historic rise of America was not “peaceful”, the Beijing People’s Daily chose the 11 March 2003 to report (“The American Empire steps up Fourth Expansion”). Like Mr.Putin’s strategists, China’s purport to fear the US plots to “encircle” them with NATO and a “democratic axis” of Australia, India, Japan – next, Indonesia, Mongolia…The Joint Sino-Russian military manoeuvres this August 9-17 are ominous. Coming after threats to Taiwan on the much-publicized 80th anniversary of the PLA (Chinese Armed Forces) they for the first time combine the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, originally the “Five”) with the CSTO (Collective Security Treaty Organisation) of former Soviet colonies. The Code-name? Peace Mission 2007. (George Orwell lives! - In Bishkek)
No wonder intelligence services predict "Black Swans" not only in the Middle East. Out of the blue come "events, dear boy", as Harold Macmillan so feared. Like the events cited by Hellenosyrian risk analyst Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Throughout antiquity, swans were icons of whiteness and purity, as rapturously explained by Le Comte de Buffon in his “Histoire Naturelle (1785)”. Only a few years later, Taleb points out, to general amazement Australia's swans were found to be black.
Now for the Wild Geese?
But now, we may also look out for "wild geese" - events sparked by a State or non-state actor for one declared purpose, but with other, unintended consequences. You might cite, e.g. planning in July, 2001 to rid Afghanistan (aka pipelineistan) of the Taliban; the March 2003 decapitation of Iraq; and perhaps now a "Tonkin Gulf"-type incident in the Persian Gulf, US troops entering Pakistan, higher-intensity Arab-Israeli conflict, something like a new 9/11 - pro-Bush writers hope for it, conspiracy theorists predict it. Some intelligence suggests a Saigon-style military coup for regime change in Baghdad, not Tehran…
A Moscow-Beijing Axis?
A Task Force of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR; “U.S.-China Relations: An Affirmative Agenda, A Responsible Course”) euphemizes a “Policy Consensus Under Strain”, as the earlier policy of “engagement” to “integrate China into the World Community” slips too close to “appeasement” for some experts. While detailing the PRC’s military build up and recent missile rattlings, direct or thanks to “rogue” dragon’s claw North Korea, the CFR persists in the quaint and outmoded expectation that “China” (i.e. the Party’s 4th Generation mufti leadership, Norinco, the serving PLA brass, or who?) will “understand and appreciate a continued US leading role”.
The US Department of Defense warns in its report of 23 May 2007 "Military Power of the People's Republic of China" that “China's continued pursuit of area denial and anti-access strategies is expanding from the traditional land, sea and air dimensions of the modern battlefield to include space and cyber-space".
To get this en clair, read "Unlimited Warfare" (Chaoxianzhan) by two Colonels in the Chinese air force, Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui (Jiefangjun Wenyi Chubanshe, 1999). War, they explain, can be fought by a "planned stock market crash, a computer virus attack, making currency exchange of the enemy country erratic…” The internet, Bin Laden and "explosions" at the World Trade Centre are mentioned in passing. What is really alarming is that these otherwise sober strategists seem to believe that the "Opium War" was the 'biggest State drug promotion in history'.
It matters not that the wars of 1842 and 1856 between European Powers and the Manchu Empire were as much about selling Foreign Mud in Canton as the American War of Independence was about a tea party in Boston. Memories of European arrogance and Japanese atrocities subtly influence attitudes and policy today. Short on legitimacy, the still essentially military dictatorship has to use chauvinism as well as consumerism to hold together what Dr. Sun Yat-Sen (Sun Zhongshan) called the ”rope of sand”.
Moscow's siloviki are likewise exploiting Russian patriotism and feelings of victimhood. Among other things, building up a thuggish youth militia, "Nashi" (Ours) disturbingly reminiscent of the Hitler-jugend; to march, hail Putin and intimidate those in his way. In Leninist alliance with its old foes the hutu laomaozi (dimwit beardos, erstwhile soviet big brothers), cemented by massive arms deals and a pipeline being built to Siberia, China is heavily involved in the scramble for energy security all around a chaotically changing, borderless world. But the elite there is also divided on whether to break out of the box with a maritime or landward hardware strategy. In fact, they are combined. But Sinologists point out that in absence of reformed, but not necessarily "enlightenment institutions" The PRC’s economic “rise” is financially brittle. There are rumblings of "rightful resistance" in the vast rural areas (shades of the Boxers, 1900), but there is little evidence that Party or private beneficiaries of urban prosperity yearn for “democracy and rule of law” as understood in the West
Dollar sinks, Ruble bubbles? Welcome to Weimar!
The UN, BIS (Bank of International Settlements) and exuberant Mr. Greenspan, among others, have warned of trouble ahead for the international economy; the IMF wondered if it could be smoothly "decoupled" from the US dollar if the latter's decline became even more precipitous. Rather than trying to think "out of the box" of institutions and mentalities going back to 1648, 1815, ("A World Restored") and 1945, we must realize there is no box any more, - except maybe Pandora's? A Canadian investment analyst headlines WELCOME TO WEIMAR!
Given his background in the paranoid KGB (Committee for State Security), Putin may not be entirely faking fear of "encirclement" by NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation), but no secret plans for first-strike missile capability against Russia could be behind the US proposal for an anti-missile shield in central Europe. It is sized to handle a small launch e.g. from Iran, but not the massive arsenal still at Russia's disposal.
Putin's noisy exit from the CFE (Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty), test of sea-launched missiles and threat to put some in East Prussia (Kaliningrad) and more surprises every day, should not distract intention from more interesting hints at asymmetrical, full spectrum warfare in de facto alliance with China and its new friends like Venezuela as well as the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organisation). Putin can soothe Euro-barbarians by cutting off gas, hack Estonia… He even dares to dream of replacing the US$ with the ruble as world reserve currency. Behind the blustering facade, the Russian Bear, for all its huge resources, is by itself still a Potemkin Power: enter the gold-hoarding Dragon.
Between them, Russia and China are said to hold $3 trillion which they could combine to use for political purposes. China alone has FX reserves of USD 1.3 trillion and adds $ 1 million a minute. Its buying spree for resources from problematic regimes in Africa and Latin America may reflect the fear that feeding that money into the domestic economy would wreck it. But China threatened the US with a “nuclear option” wreck by dumping the dollar, as from 8 August 2007.
Fishbowl Government: different solutions?
Democratic governments north of the equator have for years given the impression of rabbits paralyzed in the headlights of oncoming social fragmentation and malaise. Crime seemed to thrive (and Jihad in Europe) against a background of uncontrollable borderless flows of sovereign capital and foreigners, divergence of interests between corporations and governments, physical and virtual off-shoring of jobs, rising GDP not raising personal incomes, and more. Those winds of change howled ever louder, thanks to the communications revolution. Tony Blair found the UK media "feral". His mistake was to try and join the rat-pack, not fight it. Given the job of co-opting the enemy, even Alistair Campbell himself denounced it on Australian radio as "putrid".
A Greek, not Roman precedent for “Empire” – or rather, Defense?
The United States went the other way. Some veterans of statecraft, notably Dick Cheney, (codename "Angler") apparently decided early on not to co-opt but circumvent by secrecy what they saw as the 'bread and circuses' syndrome, by which in democracy welfare always trumps Defense. As when, in Vietnam, they saw a public ill-informed by the feral media pressured a self-serving (if not disloyal) Congress to cut the money and snatch defeat from the arms of incipient success. Long before 9/11, usually seen as beginning of a new era in world affairs, the fall of the Berlin wall and then of the USSR inspired re-thinking about the security of the United States. From 1992 when he was Secretary of Defense onwards, the theme of Dick Cheney's Song of America (Harper's, October 2002) was played over years in Defense Reviews etc.; and especially in the Report of September 2000 on "Rebuilding America's Defenses" by the Project for the New American Century, PNAC.
In the classic case-study of how Democracy died by neglecting defense, Demosthenes exhorted the Athenians, when would they do the necessary? ‘When something happens, when we need to for God’s sake?’ If the current threat (Philip of Macedon) dies, he cried, ‘you will raise up another one in no time, the way you attend to your affairs’. And sure enough, they got Conqueror Alexander the Great.
After the disappearance of the specific (Soviet) threat Cheney and his PNAC friends thought it necessary, in an unpredictable, brutal world, to fund, transform, deploy and equip forces to pre-empt the emergence of any unknown future threat - a Black Swan - or potential rival to American supremacy. This meant to be, as Colin Powell bluntly put it, the "bully on the block". In fact, on every block. Ergo "The United States will require bases and stations within and beyond Western Europe and Northeast Asia" (National Security Strategy, September 2002). The Defense/Foreign-Policy element of the plan could not fully swing into action until 9/11 gave the voters the happening and the "need".
On the home front, a system coded as "Continuity of Government", COG, was set up in secret under Reagan with input from Cheney and Rumsfeld. It practiced installation of a kind of temporary dictatorship in case of nuclear catastrophe, when the cumbersome procedures of the Constitution had to be put aside. Cheney took the opportunity of 9/11 to revive and implement COG, provoking charges of a creeping Cheney coup d'état from The New Yorker 7 July 2007, and other usual suspects. Not only China saw it as “Imperialism”.
Self-determination and dictatorship
Jimmy Carter's sometime adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski blames the last three Presidents for squandering American power after victory in the Cold War and creating the present mess in the Middle East. But as a reviewer notes, among other blunders Carter himself had some responsibility for emergence of the Taliban and Al Qa'ida. (New York Times, 8 April 2007).
The truth is that the predilection for "brushing aside" democratic institutions at home and diplomacy abroad goes much further back. As Truman's Secretary of State, Dean Acheson, remarked in a speech of 1964, after 1918 President Wilson used "self-determination" to disintegrate defeated enemies, the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires. But President F.D.Roosevelt used the concept, along with so-called free trade, against his wartime allies to "dissolve their colonial connections". The results of Wilson's policies, said Acheson, hardly inspired enthusiasm. One could say the same of the plans of Roosevelt and his entourage of Soviet moles to remake the post-war world, as adumbrated "with sly assurance" in his cosy chats with Churchill and De Gaulle and revealed in the memoirs of his son Elliott Roosevelt ("As he saw it", 1946) and the General (Memoires de Guerre Vol II pp. 237-239).
Recent research by Jim Powell and others has faulted Woodrow Wilson for the role of the Federal Reserve banking system he set up in 1913 in bungling the Great Depression, for Wilson's War, and above all the contribution - again with his dark-side alter ego bogus "Colonel" House - to the disastrous decisions at Versailles.
Carrying on from where he left off, FDR's Folly deepened the Depression, which had put "Democracy in the Dock" (Nelson, London 1939) world-wide. FDR outsmarted business interests plotting a coup, to become an anti-business dictator himself - sweeping aside constitution and legality to enforce "control from the top", as advocated in Stuart Chase's book "A New-Deal" (1932). Chase enthused, "Why should Russians have all the fun remaking a world?"
Abroad, put simply FDR planned to extend to the ex-European Empires the Latin American status of informal empire or "banana republics" like Guatemala. De Gaulle realized it meant a "system of permanent intervention" requiring installation of US bases world-wide. Emancipation of the "colonial connections" must come, he wrote but if botched, it would engender "xenophobia and anarchy".
World "public opinion" today lambasts Bush and "the neo-cons" for carrying forward policies of venerated past Presidents. Under FDR's successors, covert and overt operations continued to be multiplied in regions formerly under European influence. Books by Kermit (Kim) Roosevelt of the CIA and his man Miles A. Copeland Jr. explain how the intention was to "charismatize" and manage "mystagogues" like Asian Billy Grahams, to take over as secular "nationalist" leaders, in the name of anti-communism.
Cultivating the Shi’ite Banana in the Middle East
Poor Miles, my brother-in-law, could never make J.F. Dulles understand (Allen did) that a real nationalist leader like Nasser (or for, that matter Mossadegh, Soekarno or Ngo Dinh Diem) would want to nationalise things, talk to Communists and not necessarily identify his interests and values with those of the United States.
Truman complicated the CIA’s work in Damascus, Cairo and Tehran, when for reasons of domestic politics he unwittingly helped Stalin drop Israel onto the Middle East with his surprise recognition and "Moscow's Surprise: The Soviet-Israeli Alliance of 1947-1949" (for background, cf. also my paper "Best Intentions, Blind Interventions: A Crash Course...IJCM Vol. 13 Nos.3-4, 2003). At Suez, 1956, Eisenhower used the power of the dollar to deal Britain and France out of the Game of Nations.
Experience in that Game taught Miles that the pre-requisite for survival of any regime in the Middle East was not democracy but a "repressive base" to head off coups and assassinations. The mukhabarat and the savak left only the mosque as haven of opposition; whence the wrong "mystagogues" arose. Up came the Partisans of Ali (Shia), despised by Al-Qa’ida and other Sunnis as infidel “Persian footwear”, from Iran all over the Fertile Crescent, via Iraq. Neither “evil” axis-member Iran nor the Great Satan can now install in Baghdad they regime they want, so the latter’s weakness – (Wallah! what if the GIs leave?) could be its greatest strength in their fanfare-free negotiations to avoid the worst for both - and for the Saudis, source of many Baghdad suicide-bombers and unacknowledged kernel of evil, as a Rand Corporation Briefing of July 2002 put it.
World making, breaking China
'Remaking the world' by breaking up Empires proliferated small, weak and failing States, easy prey. The PRC is said to be overtaking France in Africa, supporting even mangy Sudan and Zimbabwe. Its presence seems more welcome than the proposed US Africa Command (Africom) which is meant to "enhance stability across the continent”.
"Is Washington losing Latin America?” the journal Foreign Affairs asked last year,
as the China Daily celebrated a "People's Trade Agreement" between Bolivia, Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela and China heaped arms and money onto Chavez. Splitting the chrysalis of the Monroe doctrine (1823) that expected "political affinity" with the US, some Latin American countries are in a flutter with his rhetoric about a Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA). They may think again as Brazil goes nuclear again and an arms race brings more instability. After Costa Rica switched recognition to Beijing from Taipei, the Vice President of Nicaragua denounced Beijing’s pressure to follow suit as “yellow imperialism”.
An Asia-Pacific Arc of Instability
Nowhere is the problem of barely viable and failing States more evident, and more important for Australia, than in the Asia-Pacific "arc of instability" to our North. As the North Korean threat to Japan seems to recede (maybe they have another reactor buried deep), in the South low-level threats stretch from Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines to small islands like Fiji, (military coups) Tonga (riots) and the Solomons where the Government had to ask in Australian and other friendly troops to restore order. Planeloads of Chinese were flown home.
The region has become a theatre of competition between China and Taiwan, and ultimately China and the United States. China's development of container shipping facilities in Panama is an example of its shift from Jinhai (inshore) to Lanhai (blue-water) maritime strategy, in which a satellite-connected network of assets such as communication relays and radar units could be installed in the “aided” Pacific microstates.
In oil-rich East Timor (Timor Leste) the Chinese are building a huge new Foreign Ministry and may supply arms to inflate the defense force (Force 2020). Another candidate for geo-strategic rivalry is resource-rich Papua-New Guinea with its increasing Chinese population. At Gwadar in Pakistan China is helping build a port short-circuiting the "Malacca Dilemma". It is one base in the "string of pearls" including Chittagong in Bangladesh, and others in Cambodia, Myanmar and Sri Lanka.
To deal with the many and changing requirements facing the stretched Australian
Defense forces (ADF), in addition to plans for a modest build-up of Defense, on 26 July 2—7 Canberra announced allocation of more resources to a restructured International Deployment Group (IDG) of the Australian Federal Police, AFP.) Partly inspired by the example of the Portuguese units (Guarda Nacional Republicana, GNR) operating in East Timor, the IDG will be developed as a gendarmerie, better suited than the conventional ADF or AFP to handle low-intensity conflicts in “fragile states”.
In conclusion – some recommendations.
Given that in democracy, the necessary is usually politically impossible until the last minute or ‘something happens”, it is not surprising that some media are calling for a new 9/11 “to save America” (e.g. Philly.com 08/09/07). We may hope that the present turmoil on NYSE and war games in Central Asia are enough to provide a wake-up call – so that democracies start to get their bureaucratic and political acts together and tell the truth to their electorates.
The CFR Report finds none of the challenges facing the US and the world can be handled without Chinese cooperation. OK, but it makes rather sanguine recommendations on how to Gulliverize China by encouraging consumption-led development, sensibly observing that the US must first out its house in order – starting with reform of education, given that so few high-school leavers graduate. While soaking up patriotism, they should now be taught that since the US has already made over much of the world in its image, its ‘manifest destiny’ is achieved and it no longer need or can become the “bully on the bloc”.
All decision-makers, in competing private corporations as well as turf-defending government agencies, must act in the knowledge that they are combatants on the same side in an insidious campaign – whose “battlefield is everywhere”.
On that home front, i.e. Wall St., it is not enough for the PPT (Plunge Protection Team, Paulson and Bernanke) to intervene in the stock market while pretending that China cannot hurt the dollar without hurting itself. Absurd! That may have been true in the days before about half of so-called US imports from China were actually from US companies off-shored there. So what if dumping lowers the value of its $ mountain? China does not have trade deficits requiring other currencies to pay its bills, and it does not need FX to support the value of the RMB, which is not traded in the markets.
Senators proposing a Bill to impose tariffs to make the PRC revalue the RMB should desist, and read the CFR Report pp. 58-63 “The United States should not expect appreciation of the Yuan to resolve its trade difficulties with China”.
Instead, Congress should ensure that Agencies such as the CFIUS and Treasury coordinate comprehensive national vigilance against the PRC’s use of “capitalism against capitalism” (investment, piracy and theft of intellectual property etc.etc.) as part of its development of “comprehensive national power” and security.
2. In the UK, Brown, Miliband and Co. must similarly organize an effective UK equivalent of the CFIUS to stop overseas nationalisation of assets like Barclays Bank (The CBI assesses 50% of large British enterprises already in foreign hands). And if Mr. Brown really intends to correct the British malaise by returning power from the Executive to a Sovereign Parliament, he should consider making it perpetual and indissoluble – no tinkering with the economy for General Elections, but one-fifth of the House of Commons seeking re-election each year. As for the rest of Europe, as America seems to falter it is time even for France to put aside knee-jerk anti-gringo schadenfreude and rally round.
3. Credible proof must be publicized by NATO and USG that there are no plans to achieve 1st-strike missile capability against Russia or PRC in either Europe or Asia-Pacific, to undercut the “Einkreisung” propaganda of the Russian and Chinese military. CIA and MI6 for example should analyze and advise, what divergences of agenda there are in Moscow and Beijing (e.g. should China rain money on aircraft carrier capability or pipelines…? Can Mother Russia trust the Golden Hoard ?)
4. Paying attention to clear evidence that Chinese arms are being supplied through Iran’s Pasdaran in order to bog down the US in Iraq, plus Saudi supply of suicide bombers and cash into Iraq to counter US creation of the Shia threat, it is imperative the UN/IAEA organize sanctions against foreign energy supply and investment in Iran where it is vulnerable, along with backchannel and discreet open ‘dialogue’ on the basis of common US-Mullah interests in heading off regionalisation of the conflict. Rumored contingency plan to overthrow Maliki Government OK for Psywar, but IMHO result would be as bad as overthrow of Ngo regime in Saigon. (Ed. Lansdale was right to refuse JFK on that).
1. Action must be stepped up by all possible agencies to diversify non-hydrocarbon and non-Middle East/Russian sources of energy, especially nuclear, along with unconventional sources such as tidal, geothermal, ceramic fuel cells, hydrogen, magnetic…
2. The APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) meeting due 8-9 September in Sydney (www.apec2007.org) will bring together at the Economic Leaders Meeting (AELM) the leaders of all major regional economies as well as thousands of delegates and media. It should provide an occasion to address the problem of economic activity, with or without the direct involvement of some Governments, taking on some characteristics of ‘asymmetric warfare’. It must be recognized that uncoordinated or ‘rogue’ activity of para-statal corporations - and even bits of Government, as exemplified in the US Congress Commission’s Report on intelligence failure about 9/11, is not unique to big democratic countries.
Rome did not fall in a day. What we are witnessing, without being able to see the wood for the marching trees, like MacBeth, is a paradigm shift - like the dissolving of the centralized command-and-control of the Roman military machine into a non-territorial catholic Church (dare one say, a holy Ghost of Empire?) and a kaleidoscope of territorial Estates and States eventually to develop into Nations, fitting the Marxist definition: a “band of armed men”. But now, markets?