Thursday, August 18, 2005

China-Japan Tensions

The growing tension noticeable recently in China-Japan relations has been traced by Professor Dipak Basu of Nagasaki University, mainly to differences over Taiwan. (Expanding Empire I and II in Statesman 8th and 9th August 2005).

Describing China as an imperial power extending into Tibet, Turkistan,Manchuria, Mongolia and more recently the Spratleys, Taiwan remains an as yet unachieved imperial target. None of these societies have been 'part of the Motherland' in any meaningful sense, and Basu avers that China can claim undisputed rule over Taiwan only for a period of eight years, from1887-1895. Japan's refusal to accept Taiwan as part of China, her recognition of Taiwanese independence he places at the root of China's animosity towards that country as she readies to stake her claim to Taiwan, perhaps even militarily.

By contrast we may see that the Indian government has never recognised Taiwan and by and large tried to placate China. A few years back however, during the Narsimha Rao regime, India opened a trading consulate in Taipeh (earlier she traded through an Indian representing Taiwan in Delhi), and even more recently upgraded the post somewhat by appointing a serving foreign officer in place of a retire. Despite her public pusillanimity with regard to China, the Indian government seems to be strengthening her ties and alliances with Japan, South Korea and the US, and hastening slowly towards a less vulnerable position. However, the conduct of the Himalayan negotiations leave much to be desired, andthe protracted sell-out over Tibet, a kind of attenuated retreat from both reality and principle, is indeed a tragedy and strategic surrender of Himalayan proportions.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Rural Unrest in China

A front page article addressing rural unrest in the People's Daily is a clear sign of concern. The Western media to their credit have picked it up. But the story sits oddly with the other news this morning, of new reassurances by the army that it is not "expansionist," coupled with more warnings to Taiwan; the opening of "strategic dialogue" with the United States; further attempts to arrive at a settlement of the North Korean issue, and the arrest of a top state enterprise official in Guangdong.

These stories show the fundamental problem faced by the unelected Chinese government, of lack of domestic support even at a time when it seems more successful than ever on the international front.

A few weeks ago the overseas Chinese newspapers were reporting that participation in unrest or demonstrations had risen from 70,000 perhaps a decade ago to more than 3,000,000 in recent years. Rioting followed a basketball game in Beijing recently. Two reasons lie behind this: first, there is more and more about which to be angry, and second, the people no longer fear the authorities as they did. Corruption, poverty, and vast income inequality are obvious to all, as is the arbitrariness of the government. Occasionally armed thugs are set on rural demonstrators, but payoffs and settlement are also common.The communists will remember their own foundation epic: how a government that did not serve the people was overthrown when the people rose up. That may not be exactly how it happened, but that is how they think it happened--and they don't want to take any chances.

Lack of mention of Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao's ostensible greater concern for the ordinary people is striking. Instead we have a contradictory and harsh note: all of these obvious pathologies are in fact normal, a sign of healthy development, and don't dare protest.

My own hunch is that the army's influence is increasing, and although this manifesto is not issued in their name, it was they, and not the government, that reassured the world they were not expansionist--and threatened Taiwan. But I wonder whether, if it came to the crunch, the army will really support a government that crushed obviously justified protests by the fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, and children of its own men? anw

Why Did Secretary Rice Miss APEC?

I know that Asians are puzzled that US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice failed to turn up at the recent Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation group meeting in Korea, sending instead Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick. As an American, I am puzzled too.

Dr Rice is of course a Soviet specialist, something not in much demand these days. But she may have inherited the mind set of senior Soviet era foreign policy specialists, such as Mr Kissinger and Mr Brzezinski, that stresses the "big issues." (Asked why he never visited key ally Australia Mr Kissinger said, "we have never had trouble with Australia"). So perhaps Dr Rice thinks that Moscow, Beijing, and so forth are the really important places in foreign policy.

If so, she is absolutely incorrect. From an American point of view, Japan is the key ally in Northeast Asia and Australia in the far south. The ASEAN countries, who will feel the sting of this slight very deeply, are home to half a billion people, mostly having respectable standards of living and education, some having democratic regimes, and all sitting on the most important sea and land lines of communication in Asia. They need much more attention, not less.

Robert Zoellick, an accomplished trade negotiator, for all his strengths, is not the man for that mission. Trade is important, but so too is security, not his strong suit.

Then of course there is India. It remains to be seen whether the brave start made by Mr Bush and PM Singh will be pursued. But the buzz in DC is that Ms Rice is yielding tactically to the bad guys and ignoring the good guys. APEC would bear that out.

I am never one to be pessimistic. But in retrospect the US diplomacy of the 1970s got a great deal wrong. It paid no attention to the key issue of domestic political systems, instead going for a countries are weights to be balanced in pans approach--only to see one weight, the USSR, disappear, creating problems about which few had thought at all, and its counterweight, China, emerged unbalanced as a regional destabilizer. And, oh yes, wasn't India supposed to collapse in a whirlpool of ethnic cleansing, regional division, misgovernment, and poverty? This is what happens when instead of attending to detail, national security advisers or secretaries of state attempt to focus on the (inevitably misidentified) "big issues." I smell it in the air again. anw