Back in the American defense belt of Orange County, I’m reading Kissinger and reflecting on the extensive annual report to Congress from the Pentagon regarding Chinese military capabilities. The full text of the report is here.
One minor advantage of the financial focus of VP Biden’s public remarks in China from 17-21 August was that the normal drum-beating on the security front relented, but only slightly so; the temporary disengagement from security and military competition seems just that.
Of course, these two threads — the military and the economic — were neatly tied together in a statement by the Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Republican John “Buck” McLeod:
China clearly believes that it can capitalize on the global financial crisis, using the United States’ economic uncertainty as a window of opportunity to strengthen China’s economic, diplomatic, and security interests. Therefore, security in the Pacific could be further jeopardized if our regional allies also come to believe that the United States will sacrifice the presence and capability of the U.S. military in an attempt to control spending. This is an unacceptable outcome…
For some reason this makes me think we might be better off with an annual White Paper by a few dozen academics analyzing the whole notion in the prior year of the “China Threat.” Goodness knows there is enough material to mine alone from such 4-times-a-week publications as 国防时报 (China Defense News). In the meantime there are always the incongrous statements of a “what? you’re nervous about poor old us?” take on the role of combat vessels in China’s peaceful rise by or the old standby 环球时报 (Huanqiu Shibao/Global Times).
A smarter approach might be to note that in Dalian, the northeastern port city from which the carrier launched and where I spent a little under two weeks this summer, “public opinion” was far, far more enraged over a chemical spill than they were over the heralded release of the aircraft carrier. (Do not miss these stunning photos of the Dalian protests — which I missed by a single day — from the China Media Project.) Moreover, the Wenzhou train crash in late July, which was caught in and ultimately overcame the maelstrom of pro-aircraft carrier domestic propaganda, further indicates the domestic limits for Chinese leaders of hyping military trophies over basic necessities like product safety and corporate/environmental regulations.
Back in Washington, American observers of Chinese naval capabilities are further alarmed by Japan’s aftershocks and slumps of various kinds. As a partner of Armitage International testified before a House Commitee in May 2011 (full text here of the hearing on “the Future of Japan“):
Again, our aspirations are for a strong Japan. We can’t have and should not be complacent about Japan looking inward. But I would also add there are a few voices who have talked about a reorienta- tion opportunity for Japan, some high-profile op-eds maybe, about looking at reorienting away from the alliance and maybe toward China.
I just want to say that while China will surely be part of the re- covery and will surely be part of Japan’s trajectory out of this cri- sis, this would not be a very wise move, in my opinion. China is not the same kind of partner that the United States will be now and looking forward; at best, an unreliable partner. We only need to look at the events of 2010 to see China’s more assertive sov- ereignty claims; vis-a`-vis Japan, their cutting off of rare earth ma- terials when Japan was in need; and in general, an attitude of sup- porting the adversaries of Japan, like North Korea. So I hope it is not an inward turn, but I also hope it is not a reorientation away from the alliance. I very much believe in the future of this alliance.
In the House Commmittee on Foreign Relations, the outlook for slightly less harsh rhetoric towards China is also not positive. One need only recall Chair Ros-Lehtinen’s remarks of July 1, 2011, commemorating the 90th anniversary of the CCP. Comments like hers that strip China entirely of its Dengist direction, pointing glaringly at Maoist continuities, are particularly rough.
We’re in for an interesting fall in any event.