zenpundit.com » Blog Archive » Dealing with the China we Have Rather than the China we Wish to Have

Dealing with the China we Have Rather than the China we Wish to Have

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. "zen"]

A Sinocentric view of the maritime world courtesy of  The Policy Tensor (hat tip Historyguy 99)

An amigo who is an expert on China pointed me toward a couple of links last weekend. Here is the first:

Japan-China COLD WAR 8 / CPC decisions made under layers of veiled obscurity 

….Whenever a crisis occurs, diplomatic authorities typically attempt to assess the situation by contacting their counterpart of the country concerned to investigate, if any, what their intentions are. For example, the incident could merely have been an accident or a calculated act sanctioned by those at the center of the administration. But when the Chinese become involved, such diplomatic approaches may no longer be a possibility.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry, which is supposed to be the equivalent of the U.S. State Department or Japan’s Foreign Ministry, is “merely an organization which carries out policies decided by the Communist Party of China (CPC),”a senior Foreign Ministry official said.

Foreign Minister Wang Yi is just one of 205 members of the Central Committee of the CPC, and is not even included in the 25-member Politburo, which is regarded as the party’s leadership organ.

Indeed, when the Chinese National Defense Ministry announced the establishment of the air defense identification zone (ADIZ) in the East China Sea, including the Senkaku Islands, on Nov. 23, the Japanese Embassy in Beijing approached the Chinese Foreign Ministry. However, an official in charge at the ministry said, “We don’t know about it [ADIZ], as it’s outside our jurisdiction,” which left the embassy nonplussed.

If the Chinese Foreign Ministry is of so little use, then where are the country’s diplomatic policies worked out? Important decisions are made by the Central Leading Small Group on Foreign Affairs, while decisions on military affairs are carried out at the Central Military Commission.

The two organizations are central organs within the CPC, erecting a barrier for diplomatic and defense authorities of the United States or Japan. Discussions in these organizations are kept secret from the outside. Diplomatic relations in China are complicated further by individual diplomatic issues sometimes being used as ammunition to attack rivals in power struggles within the Communist Party.

….Between the United States and China, there is the Military Maritime Consultative Agreement (MMCA), signed in January 1998. However, the accord was no use on occasions such as a collision between a U.S. Navy plane and a Chinese fighter jet over the South China Sea in April 2001.

Former Defense Undersecretary for Policy Michele Flournoy, who was the chief negotiator in vice ministerial-level defense talks with China under the first administration of Barack Obama, said during an interview with The Yomiuri Shimbun on Feb. 4, that the United States tried to have the MMCA function, but the Chinese side took a backward-looking stance. Although there is a mechanism there, China had almost no intention of complying with the mechanism properly, she added.

Our problem here is not China or the Chinese government, but our own credulity in the face of empirical evidence. The Chinese are simply playing their cards well for as long as we are going to allow them to do so. In their shoes, I would suggest doing exactly the same so long as it keeps working.

Getting your adversary to negotiate with powerless and ill- informed  representatives while the real decision makers sit at a remove is a time- tested tactic in bargaining.

The side that uses this approach gets at least two bites at every apple which means the other side increasingly has to give further concessions to secure what they thought had already been agreed to. It is a classic example of negotiating in bad faith. Furthermore, the side using it is the one interested in winning or at best, in buying time, not in reaching an agreement.

When presented with this dynamic the smart move is to walk away and immediately implement whatever the other side would rather you not do or give up the game and move on to something else. Agreements and treaties have no intrinsic value unless they advance, or at least preserve, interest. If the other party has no intention of abiding by the terms at all then they are less than worthless, being actively harmful.

China’s decision-making is both opaque and riven by factions about which Americans are poorly informed, even those who have real academic expertise and language fluency are forced periodically to read tea leaves about high level decisions within the CCP.  The following link represents a certain attitude among more nationalistic Chinese elites:

China Should Coordinate the Gradual Fall of the U.S.

When a giant is about to fall, you should give him certain support to help him to fall down slowly instead of his falling down all of a sudden, or you would be the one who suffers. That’s why I said “China should coordinate the gradual fall of the U.S.” instead of allowing her to collapse all at once.

….In the long term, the U.S. is heading towards decline and will become weaker and weaker. However, the so-called “weak” is a comparative word. In comparison with China, the U.S. is still very strong. The U.S. is going down from the summit, whereas China’s is climbing up from below. 

Sohu Business: That is to say, we do not need to worry about the overall safety of China’s foreign exchange reserve over a period of time?

Sheng Hong: Yes, but we still need to be constantly alert. In the long run, the U.S. dollar will gradually weaken and a crash of the currency is possible when it weakens to a certain extent. This is because, one way to solve the U.S. debt problem is to borrow, and another important way is to increase the supply of dollars, which will further weaken the U.S. dollar. 

If people lose faith in the U.S. dollar and anticipate the U.S. government to continue the inflation policy, they will sell dollars and aggravate the crash of the currency. This, however, will not happen at once. Moreover, the U.S. government is rather cautious at present. Although it is inclined to a loose monetary policy, including the quantitative easing monetary policy, thus increasing the amount of U.S. dollars, which made up the U.S. fiscal deficit, fiscal problems will soon be reflected in its currency. Therefore, in terms of interests, China must be very careful though this problem will not happen right now and that the U.S. dollar is still stronger than the RMB now; in terms of strategies, China should pay more attention to and begin to make preparations for it. Or it would be too late to prepare when that day comes.

…. In fact, the turning point came out long ago. Moreover, I have mentioned in my articles published previously that the turning out was actually the financial crisis which occurred at the end of 2007 and the beginning of 2008. Now, it’s just that some people attached labels to current events, before which many people did not even know about the situation. Nevertheless, economists should start their analysis from the financial crisis. I mentioned in my article titled Who Would Let Obama Stand Alone? that Americans could not blame others for questioning the safety of the U.S. assets since they caused the financial crisis by themselves. I won’t buy your financial assets if I do not trust their safety. If you want me to buy your financial assets, you must offer higher returns. When you lose others’ trust in you, you are already going down from the peak. 

The 9/11 Attacks struck the U.S. seriously, but not as seriously as the Financial Crisis did. The Financial Crisis was inherent rather than extrinsic. I have been following this issue ever since the financial crisis. I said at that time that the U.S. would gradually head towards decline. The debt crisis happened because not so much seigniorage could be collected any more. The U.S. has inertia in foreign military contacts which prevents it from withdrawing its troops from Afghanistan and Iraq at once, and it had to cope with the financial crisis. Therefore, the debt crisis is inevitable. It is not a turning point but a label attached by S & P. 

….The military contraction. This is very important. After Obama came to power, he clearly sensed that the military existence by the U.S. throughout the world could not remain the same as before because the U.S. has less and less money. The reality of the U.S. faced by Obama is an inevitable continuous contraction, which is actually a strategic turning point of great significance for the U.S. I mentioned just now that when trade deficits are reduced, less reflux of dollars will be attracted, resources of military expenditure will be reduced, and then military forces should be contracted. 

It is human nature to not want to accept the reality that some people genuinely intend us harm. Sure, in the abstract yes but when eye to eye people tend to bend themselves into pretzels giving the other person the benefit of the doubt when the empirical record indicates otherwise. This willing gullibility is why con games have such staying power when the first instance of bad faith is usually a foreshadowing of the nature of who you are really dealing with. It is so much easier psychologically to ignore rather than to confront and embrace conflict (even when it is only rhetorical).

The elephant in the room is that there’s an influential faction within China’s elite that has unrealistic to grandiosely hegemonic ambitions regarding China’s role in Asia and the world. They are not the entirety of China or even China’s leadership, but given China’s aggressive bullying behavior of the past three to five years, they appear to be ascendant. That is a strategic dilemma for the US and its allies.

Our job is to interrupt their momentum so that their hopes come to grief and our that moves that strengthen the faction in China’s leadership that prefers peaceful and harmonious relations over conflict with all of China’s neighbors and the United States.

Share

19 Responses to “Dealing with the China we Have Rather than the China we Wish to Have”

  1. Justin Boland Says:

    Outstanding read, thank you. 

    That Sheng Hong piece definitely kept my eyebrows roughly level with my hairline the whole time. Plainly stated stuff. 

  2. J.ScottShipman Says:

    BZ,Zen! Concur with Justin; a very good read.

  3. zen Says:

    Much thanks gents! I had a nice offline convo the other day with a smart dude on this subject but I can’t quote any of it so the above was largely my half of that discussion

  4. Grurray Says:

    Yes, very eye opening. 
    Our foreign policy is a total disgrace. Ignorance and inexperience is one thing, but willfull ignorance is criminal.
    .
    On the other hand the second link is really interesting. If this is what the Chinese really believe then we are in a better position than I thought.
    .
    “Yes, but we still need to be constantly alert. In the long run, the U.S. dollar will gradually weaken and a crash of the currency is possible when it weakens to a certain extent. This is because, one way to solve the U.S. debt problem is to borrow, and another important way is to increase the supply of dollars, which will further weaken the U.S. dollar.”
    .
    Macroresilience has covered this before:
    http://www.macroresilience.com/2013/06/25/government-debt-is-money-in-an-elastic-monetary-system/
    US government debt is, for all intensive purposes, considered to be money. There’s no inflation on the horizon at all that will be caused by the Fed.
    He’s pointed out correctly in the past that every time there is a debt limit crisis or default crisis, bond yields actually drop. No one in their right mind would want to hold anything else but US debt if there is a financial crisis. There’s complete agreement that it is a guaranteed safe haven and will be for some time.

    If there was a crisis of trust in the government’s ability to pay its debts it has been completely erased thanks to the Tea Party, which has been the most significant American political movement in generations.
    Think about how bad things looked fiscally with the configuration of our government in 2009. Now in a stunning, unprecedented reversal, we’re likely going to have a balanced budget by the end of the decade. That has nothing to do with the Fed or Congress or any President. It’s all thanks to grass roots movements comprised of private American citizens.
    This is something the Chinese apparently will never understand.

     

  5. Scott Says:

    To be honest, I’m not sure that China’s ambitions have changed in centuries.  She has always seen herself as master of Asia.  I think now that she is merely trying to reach where she was in the 15th century, before the emperor ordered the destruction of Zheng He’s fleet.  The US is seen as merely a faan gwai-lo obstacle to that.

    Also, while I know it’s fiction, Tai-Pan by James Clavell has some fun scenes of Chinese negotiating tactics…

  6. carl Says:

    Zen:

    Some very elegant sentences In there. Good job.

    .

    Agreed as to what our job is with respect to Red China. But can we, will we do it? As has been shown for the past 13 years with the Pak Army/ISI, credulity in the face of empirical evidence to the point of apparent insanity seems to be a built in and fundamental feature of American foreign policy. I don’t know if anything short of the shock of a major defeat, God help us, can change that.

  7. larrydunbar Says:

    “It is a classic example of negotiating in bad faith.”

    *
    Do you believe the U.S.A. is dealing in bad faith? After all, the House of Representatives’s Chairman on, I believe, the Foreign Relations Committee suggested that we should start sending, as aid, small arms to the Ukraine. How bizarre and ill informed is that? Let’s hope those removed have a better idea.

  8. carl Says:

    larrydunbar:

    Let’s see, Ivan just gobbled up Crimea and is making noises about moving into the rest of Ukriane. With that in mind sending weapons to the Ukraine doesn’t seem bizarre at all, it seems logical.

  9. Grurray Says:

    http://foreignaffairs.house.gov/sites/republicans.foreignaffairs.house.gov/files/ROYCE_090_xml.pdf
    .
    3 (2) consistent with section 506(a) of the For-
    4 eign Assistance Act of 1961 (22 U.S.C. 2318(a)), 
    5 the President is encouraged to draw down defense 
    6 articles from the stocks of the Department of De-
    7 fense, in order to provide non-lethal assistance, 
    8 which could include communication equipment, 
    9 clothing, fuel and other forms of appropriate assist-
    10 ance, to the Government of Ukraine; and 
    11 (3) the Administration should expeditiously con-
    12 clude its current review of all security assistance to 
    13 the Government of Ukraine. 
    .
    I suppose you might sneak a few rifles in there somewhere
    .
    http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/09/22/china-ukraine-idUSL3N0HI04620130922
    .
    Last fall China bought 5% of Ukraine. I wonder now – is this Chairman promoting American interests or Chinese? 
     

  10. larrydunbar Says:

    So do we give those small arms to the people who were in the streets last week (or so) and let them finish the job, or do we give them to the Ukraine military. and what is the Ukrainian military doing without weapons?

  11. carl Says:

    larrydunbar:

    I heard on one of the Sunday shows that some days ago a Ukrainian gov official went to DC to ask for weapons and the Administration said they would send rations. It doesn’t matter why tthe Ukraine military has or doesn’t have weapons now, they will need lots more if Ivan moves. And not just the military. I think it evident that Ukrainian regular military resistance would be short lived. The resistance after a short time would be irregular. That means civilians with weapons fighting Russians. So they will need weapons and ammunition. They will also need anti-tank and shoulder fired anti-aircraft missiles. They could wreak havoc on the Russians if they had a lot of those. Remember, for all the trouble we have had in Iraq and Afghanistan with IEDs our opponents have never had much beyond RPGs as far as standoff anti-vehicle weapons go. If Ukrainian irregular forces had sufficient numbers of say Milans and SA-24s the Russians could have quite bit of trouble.

    .

    It is important to remember that a very large number of Ukrainian men have prior military service and the Ukraine has a tradition of insurgency. They will know how to use weapons but they will need weapons to use.

  12. larrydunbar Says:

    ” It doesn’t matter why tthe Ukraine military has or doesn’t have weapons now,”

    *
    If not now, when? Doesn’t it seem bazaar to you that we never ask why? You and the Republican leadership are more than ready to finance an insurgency in Ukraine, but you haven’t a clue why. Are you fighting the Soviet Union?

    *
    More likely you and the House Republicans are trying to finance an insurgency against a modern day Tsar.

    *
    Besides the selling of weapons, when has it ever been in the U.S.A’s interest to fight a Tsar in some far away location. I haven’t heard of any Russian nuclear submarines or ships putting pressure on the U.S Navy or global trade, but then I don’t get around much.

  13. carl Says:

    larrydunbar:

    It is in the world’s interest that countries be discouraged from conquering and annexing neighboring countries. It tends to make trade uncertain and gets a lot of people killed. In this case even more so because it is Russia doing the conquering. They have a history of being very unpleasant, witness the millions they intentionally starved to death in Ukraine (the Ukraine, imagine that) in the 30s. Especially also that Ukraine borders Poland, a NATO country. The Poles don’t like Ivsn either. So there iis where our interests are, by resisting Ivan here we not only serve our immediate interest we also demonstrate to other aggressive countries in the world that the cost might be higher than they figure. All good things.

    .

    Actually we are rather fortunate in this if Ivan does go forward. We don’t have to have one US soldier set foot in Ukraine in order to be effective. There are lots of Ukrainians who are quite willing to have a go at the muzhiks. All they need are weapons and money. They will do the rest. Lots of people would help out with the unconventional warfare to include the Poles, Czechs, you name it. Vlad could get in pretty easy. He might not get out so easy and a prolonged unconventional conflict might crack the Russian economy.

  14. Watcher of Weasels » Watcher’s Council Nominations – March Madness Edition Says:

    [...] Mission of the Special Forces is to Make Muslims Like Them submitted by The Watcher Zenpundit – Dealing with the China we Have Rather than the China we Wish to Have submitted by Watcher (h/t, The Glittering Eye)Glen Reynolds/USA Today -Washington is headed for [...]

  15. Gurray Says:

    “what is the Ukrainian military doing without weapons?”
    .
    two reasons
                      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Budapest_Memorandum_on_Security_Assurances
                      voluntary de-militarization in exchange for far & near powers respecting its borders & sovereignty.
    and
                      Yanukovych stole billions from the country. Any money left over for military expenditures went to                   the secret police, who’s primary job was to suppress dissent. 
    .
    Just after China bought their large cut of Ukraine last year, a new grain terminal opened in the Port of Odessa, the largest such terminal in the region. There was also talk late last year of the Chinese building an ever bigger deep water port costing tens of billions of dollars in Crimea and may have included an LNG terminal.
    This was to be the western terminal for a southern “Silk Road” route, which would bypass Russia. 
    It would be a huge blow to Russia, Putin, his cronys, and all their plundering schemes.
    So much for all the talk about NATO expansion forcing Russia into a corner, Russians defending their traditional ethnic brethren, illegitimate western backed coups, etc.
    .
    Russian really invaded Crimea to prevent from getting encircled by Europe and China and also to preserve their plutocracy.
      

  16. zen Says:

    Thank you carl!
    .
    Gurray wrote:

    Russian really invaded Crimea to prevent from getting encircled by Europe and China and also to preserve their plutocracy.
    .
    I think that is a pretty reasonable assessment of one of the motives; it is an extractive/commodity-export dictatorship

  17. The Razor » Blog Archive » Council Nominations: March 26, 2014 Says:

    [...] – Dealing with the China we Have Rather than the China we Wish to Have submitted by Watcher (h/t, The Glittering [...]

  18. T. Greer Says:

    I had an interesting conversation with a professor of Chinese politics and modern Chinese history last week end. I expressed to him the frustrations I sometimes feel trying to figure out what is going on inside Zhongnanhai. He laughed, and said the problem was not mine alone. After telling me of other’s failed attempts, he said something close to, “Now, whenever I go a lecture and somebody claims they know what the CPC’s leadership is doing and why, I just stand up and walk out.”
     
    .
     
    I have some sympathy with this view.
     
    .
     
    I appreciated both of these links. But it was the first one I found more interesting. I thought this paragraph was particularly relevant: 
     
    .
     
    “If the Chinese Foreign Ministry is of so little use, then where are the country’s diplomatic policies worked out? Important decisions are made by the Central Leading Small Group on Foreign Affairs, while decisions on military affairs are carried out at the Central Military Commission.
    .
    The two organizations are central organs within the CPC, erecting a barrier for diplomatic and defense authorities of the United States or Japan. Discussions in these organizations are kept secret from the outside. Diplomatic relations in China are complicated further by individual diplomatic issues sometimes being used as ammunition to attack rivals in power struggles within the Communist Party.” (emphasis added).
     
    I think that last line is the key to this issue. It is key to most issues regarding China – really to most issues regarding any country in the world. The Chinese communist party leadership is not a finely tuned machine devoted to the overthrow of American hegemony, and its decisions are not perfectly coordinated responses to American ineptitude tied to a universally agreed upon 30 year plan for the future.
     
    .
     
    When we look at American politics, it is very easy to see how most moves on the international scene directly reflect concerns on the domestic front; when the Obama administration decides to go forward with one policy or another, they are acting in response to political rivals in their party and in the opposition, the needs of vested financial and corporate interests, and the state of public opinion. China is no different. (In fact, if 20th century Chinese history is anything to go off of, Chines foreign policy is even more dependent on domestic power contests than American foreign policy has ever been). 
     
    .
     
    It is hard to recognize this cuz we don’t see what goes on inside the machine. The CPC is a black box. Inside the box is a world of competing factions, hidden power struggles and intrigue, and a driving fear that the Chinese people will tire of the box altogether. You said it pretty well: “China’s decision-making is both opaque and riven by factions about which Americans are poorly informed, even those who have real academic expertise and language fluency are forced periodically to read tea leaves about high level decisions within the CCP.”
     
    .
     
    So on my part, I have a lot of difficulty dealing with “the China I have, not the China I want,” because I have no idea what the China we have really is. I don’t know who is in the faction that promotes Sheng Hong view, and I do not know how many factions oppose them. I do not know why (aside from credibility with the Chinese people as a whole, which is a lot easier to understand and obtain data for) certain Chinese elites find it advantageous to adopt one position or another. I don’t understand the dynamics behind any of the faction’s “momentum” and thus have some difficulty figuring out how to stymie it.
     
    .
     
    I am not a professional China hand though. Perhaps there are some academics more intelligent than myself or government officials with classified materials who know and understand things I do not. But there’s is a hard, difficult task indeed!
     
    .
     
    A related and perhaps more pressing problem: Dealing with the Japan we Have, Rather than the Japan we Want.

  19. The Razor » Blog Archive » The Council Has Spoken: March 28, 2014 Says:

    [...] place t with 1 1/3 votes- Zenpundit – Dealing with the China we Have Rather than the China we Wish to Have submitted by Watcher (h/t, The Glittering [...]

Leave a Reply


Switch to our mobile site