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China is Vulnerable to 4GW and 5GW


The Chinese government’s hamfisted and Brezhnevian reaction to the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to imprisoned political dissident Liu Xiaobo, which included a tantrum by the Chinese official media, empty threats against the Norwegian government and the bullying arrest of Liu’s hapless wife have served primarily to telegraph the deep insecurity and paranoia of the CCP oligarchy. Not only was the move reminiscient of how the Soviet leadership bungled handling the cases of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Andrei Sakharov, but coming on the heels of China’s worst year for public diplomacy since the end of the Cultural Revolution, it leaves me wondering if China’s leadership have corrupted their OODA Loop through self-imposed intellectual isolation and an unrealistic assessment of Chinese power?

Most observers have attributed China’s recent aggressive diplomatic behavior on matters of trade, the South China Sea (where China essentially demanded that China’s neighbors accept vassal status when China lacks the naval power projection to make good on such demands) and the Korean penninsula to be a direct result of confidence in China’s economic power and status as a “rising power”. Perhaps.  China has been “rising” for a long time. That’s not new. The real novelty is Chinese incompetence in foreign affairs, an area where Chinese leaders have been admirably astute for decades since the “China opening” of the Nixon-Mao meeting. Chinese statesmanship has previously been noteworthy for it’s uber-realistic calculation of power relationships and strategic opportunities.

The reaction of Beijing to the Nobel Peace Prize Committee was hysterical rather than the quiet disdain of a confident great power, an indication that China’s elite remain acutely sensitive regarding their own political legitimacy, or lack thereof ( also evidenced by their  recent centralization of control over China’s vast paramilitary police security troops). It is also highly unusual that China has manuvered itself into a position of friction simultaneously with virtually all other great powers on various issues, while alarming most of its neighboring states; and moreover has done so in a very brief period of time.

Something is amiss at the Central Committee and higher levels of the CCP and government. Either primary attention is being given to internal power struggles related to eventually generational shift of leadership, or a particularly belligerent and parochial faction has increased it’s influence at the expense of better informed and more pragmatic groupings that have steered China in the recent past.

The following are some possibilities:

  • The Chinese leadership will find fewer rather than more opportunities as neighboring nations and distant states act to “Raise the costs” for China, which will in turn feed the Chinese leadership’s sense of paranoia, victimhood and isolation.
  • The view of reality of Chinese leaders will be increasingly subject to what Col. John Boyd termed “mismatches” and they will be easily baited into reaction and overreaction by foreign adversaries and domestic dissidents. Want to send Beijing into a tizzy before an important international conference? Just roll out the red carpet for the Dalai Lama or the President of Taiwan.
  • Habitual overreaction and “hardliner” attitudes in foreign affairs will bleed over into domestic unrest issues with the leadership escalating rather than de-escalating situations of domestic protest over legitimate but basically apolitical grievances over poor local governance and corruption.
  • Dissident groups inside China will eschew overt political protest for covert sabotage, hacking, swarming and systems disruption while minority elements, particularly Muslims and “cults” like Falun Gong will gravitate toward terrorism and criminal enterprises to fund their activities.
  • The senior leadership will reverse course and change back to Chinese diplomatic approaches emphasizing enticing “soft power” that served China well since Deng Xiaoping’s tenure. At home a renewed emphasis will be placed on anti-corruption drives, cultivating nationalism and placating peasantry and underemployed aspirants to middle-class “good life”, urban dwellers.


From East Asia Intel.com:

“Hu and the generals face challenge by Xi and the ‘Gang of Princelings’

by Willy Lam

In theory, the upcoming plenary session of the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Committee is devoted mainly to fine-tuning the country’s Twelfth Five-Year Plan for the years 2011-2015. Personnel changes have not even been included in the publicized agenda of the plenum, which opens on Oct. 15.

However, all eyes are on whether Vice-President Xi Jinping, 57, will get the additional – and crucial – title of vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC). While Xi is the most senior-ranked Politburo Standing Committee member among politicians born in the 1950s, the power base of the putative “core of the Fifth-Generation leadership” will not be secure until he gets a CMC slot.

….It is almost certain that Xi will succeed Hu as Party General Secretary at the 18th Congress – and that he will take over the supremo’s position of state president in March 2013. However, Hu has indicated to close aides his wish to serve as military chief for one more five-year term beyond 2012.

The 67-year-old Hu has cited the precedent set by ex-president Jiang Zemin at the 16th CCP Congress in 2002, when the latter surprised his colleagues by refusing to quit the CMC despite having retired from the Central Committee and the Politburo. If Hu gets his way, there will be no urgency for Xi to be made CMC vice-chairman this year….”

Hat tip to David M.


T. Greer takes issue with my analysis and finds a method – authoritarian resilience – in the madness.

The Political Theater of the CCP  

….I hesitate to condemn the Central Committee on the grounds of incompetence. The line between China’s domestic and foreign policies has always been difficult to demarcate and observers risk misinterpreting the message Party policies seek to convey if they have not first identified the audience meant to receive it. That a Western diplomat finds the CCP’s policies hamfisted does not mean all interested parties will reach the same conclusion.

For example, few Chinese consider the centralization of China’s paramilitary police to be a bid for political legitimacy or an attempt to squash an alternate locus of power. To the contrary, it has been hailed as a critical part of President Hu Jintao’s larger drive to eliminate corruption in the countryside. This year local Party officials have been the subject of much criticism in the Chinese press for using the People’s Armed Police and extra-legal security groups to suppress citizens filing petitions against them. Removing local access to the police is not an unusual recourse to such blatant corruption – and is not seen as such by the Chinese people.  Centralization of corrupt elements is business as usual.

….This defense carries little weight in the cold court of international opinion. It was never designed to! The upper echelons of the CCP do not seek the approval of those living outside of China, but those living inside of it. China’s so-called “Victimization Syndrome” and “Cult of the Defense” define popular perceptions of international affairs. Any set of policies that conform to this narrative will quickly gain the support of China’s proudly patriotic populace. Indeed, the CCP’s most recent actions on the international scene have done just that.

16 Responses to “China is Vulnerable to 4GW and 5GW”

  1. Joseph Fouche Says:

    I suspect we might be seeing an attempt by the CCP to placate Chinese public opinion or at least selected sections thereof. While the consent of the governed is a more diffuse phenomenon under authoritarian regimes, it is something the Chinese leadership seems more and more attentive to as they strain to keep a hold of the greasy Mandate of Heaven. In the usual logic of constituency enlargement, the upcoming generation of Communist leaders may be attempting to outbid and outflank each other in winning broader support for their factions outside of the usual ruling class. After the passing of the relatively pragmatic genro that oversaw Japan’s initial westernization, a certain strain of xenophobic nationalism was one of the strongest characteristics of the second and third generations of leadership that emerged from the nascent middle class. We may be witnessing the emergence of a similar strain of xenophobic Chinese nationalism fed by the resentments of ten thousand slights inflicted by the outside world since the first Opium War. Such a xenophobia may be more prevalent among emerging professionals that Western observers rarely encounter or rarely witness. It would not be surprising for China to do things in the arena of foreign affairs that are well justified by domestic political considerations but look mindless from an outside perspective, especially one saturated in the myth of foreign policy realism. Let China sleep, quoth the cliche of the Corsican Usurper, for when it wakes the world will tremble. Tremble, world, tremble.

  2. Lexington Green Says:

    Weak regimes sometimes seek to cement domestic solidarity by creating foreign crises.  This is a cure that may be worse than the disease.  The regime may perceive itself to be weaker than outsiders do, and hence be hitting this medicine bottle on purpose.  Or it may be that they are just having a collective stupid-attack.  That happens, too.   

  3. Larry Dunbar Says:

    "Weak regimes sometimes seek to cement domestic solidarity by creating foreign crises." Weak regimes like Obama’s or that which is in China? "The regime may perceive itself to be weaker than outsiders do" Except Obama’s regime perceives itself to be stronger than outsiders do. "it leaves me wondering if China’s leadership have corrupted their OODA Loop through self-imposed intellectual isolation and an unrealistic assessment of Chinese power?" It leaves me wondering when China got its OODA loop? I would have thought you would have been left wondering much the same.

  4. Larry Dunbar Says:

    Of course JF said it best. When one OODA loop enters another, Tremble world Tremble.

  5. J. Scott Says:

    Good post, Zen. I watched the Chinese reaction and was moderately surprised. But what were the Chinese leaders supposed to do? Liu is the prisoner of the PRC, a fact not in dispute. If they celebrated the selection it would call to question the legitimacy of Liu’s incarceration; protest seems their only alternative—suppose it’s just the level in question. I’m guessing they did the calculus sans OODA and determined that since they are the holder of most of the West’s debt, might makes right—which constitutes the legitimacy (the story or tyranny) of their power. China and the West’s reactions continues to amuse me—"what" did the West think the commies would do if we pumped cash and manufacturing capability into their hands and depended on their interest in our debt? I’m not sure the Chinese are weak, but they hold a good hand—on that, I’m guessing they decided protesting wouldn’t do any harm—and I’m guessing they are right.

  6. zen Says:

    Hi Scott,
    If I were China’s ruler I would not have added fuel to the fire with histrionics and played the role of thug while global attention was focused on my reaction, which would have been a low-key and boring statement from a junior official. However as China’s elite have a siege mentality and are consumed with their own internal machinations ( see above addendum) they are likely to continue alienating the international community they spent decades courting.  Their behavior invites more nibbling away at their position by critics, trade rivals and dissidents.
    China holds a "good hand" so long as they don’t try to overplay it. The odd Sino-American relationship is bilateral in terms of dependency. We are their major market, without which export-led GDP growth collapses, they have overleveraged a generation of surplus wealth in dollars which they cannot afford to cause a run on without destroying their strategic cash reserves, they depend on the US Navy to keep sea lanes free and energy flowing. The US and China are uncomfortably locked in "golden handcuffs" for the forseeable future that chafe but make it impossible to separate.

  7. "Political Theater of the CCP" | T. Greer - The Scholars Stage Says:

    […]This week the Nobel Prize Committee awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xinbao, Charter ’08 author and Chinese dissident. The Chinese Communist Party did not take this news well. Blog-friend Zenpundit offers the following reflections[…]

  8. Curtis Gale Weeks Says:

    Well it seems obvious that the reigning neurosis in America (leaders, think-tanks, intelligentsia, pundits, and man-on-the-street) can be summed up as follows: "We must wait on the Chinese."

  9. Trains in the Night « The Committee of Public Safety Says:

    […] Perhaps Zombie Gustav and Zombie Axel would find better pickings in the ruling enclave of Chung-nan-hai. Perhaps not. The Peiping Junta does seem rather excitable of late. Opines the Zenpundit: […]

  10. I was Right: Jeffrey Carr « The Image Says:

    […] at least the Leviathan force that is more powerful than its system administration force is not. China understands OODA loops, and is using the Old Testament as a way to enter the Jewish […]

  11. Larry Dunbar Says:

    What, is it getting too real for you guys?

  12. Larry Dunbar Says:

    Death is real, reality is just a gradient.

  13. Larry Dunbar Says:

    China is not vulnerable to 5GW because it is able to move between the different OODA loops with precision and accuracy.

  14. zen Says:

    Hey Larry,
    Are you ok?

  15. Samurai R3 Says:

    The FACT that happened near Senkaku Islands

    (The ship of the Japan Coast Guard stopped a suspicious ship of China,encroached on the Japanese territorial waters on Sept.7th,2010.)

    The Japan Coast Guard ship brought alongside to a Chinese ship. The staff of the Japan Coast Guard boarded it. Afterwards, the Chinese ship suddenly left the sea route.
    One left staff of the Japan Coast Guard was kicked by Chinese crew. He fell into the water from a Chinese ship.To crush the staff who had fallen into the sea, the Chinese ship changed the course.The staff swam desperately to run away. Chinese crew tried to stab him to death with the harpoon. The Japan Coast Guard ship stopped to rescue the staff and the rescue was started. Chinese ship approached from the rear side. The staff was almost crushed. The staff managed to be carried up from the back to the Japan Coast Guard ship. The Chinese ship collided with the back of the Japanese ship after a few seconds. The hull of a Japanese ship damaged seriously.
    All parties concerned who had seen the video said that this was an attempted murder.

  16. Opposed Systems Design :: The trauma of constrained ascendancy :: October :: 2010 Says:

    […] Mark thinks that Chinese leadership has become dangerous disconnected from its environment (in a Boydian sense): Most observers have attributed China’s recent aggressive diplomatic behavior on matters of trade, the South China Sea… and the Korean penninsula to be a direct result of confidence in China’s economic power and status as a “rising power”. Perhaps. China has been “rising” for a long time. That’s not new. The real novelty is Chinese incompetence in foreign affairs, an area where Chinese leaders have been admirably astute for decades since the “China opening” of the Nixon-Mao meeting. Chinese statesmanship has previously been noteworthy for it’s uber-realistic calculation of power relationships and strategic opportunities. Mark correctly identifies a shift in Chinese behavior over the the past year or so. Where Mark’s analysis falls short lies in presuming that incompetence or short-sighted factions are responsible for this shift. The international relations theory of power cycles offers a richer way of understanding China’s position in the international system and how that has produced a change in its behavior. […]

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