Normative Narratives


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Conflict Watch: The U.S. is Teaching China How to be a World Power

“In remarks directed at China, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel spoke Saturday of a “growing threat” of cyber-attacks against the United States and called on America and its allies to “establish international norms of responsible behavior in cyberspace.”

“The United States has expressed our concerns about the growing threat of cyberintrusions, some of which appear to be tied to the Chinese government and military,” he said in a speech largely devoted to the Obama administration’s defense posture in Asia.

“At the same time, Mr. Hagel stressed the need for more talks between the American and Chinese militaries to build trust and reduce the risk of miscalculation at a time of mounting rivalry.

His remarks were immediately challenged by a Chinese general in a question-and-answer session after his speech. A delegate to the conference, Maj. Gen. Yao Yunzhu, director of the Center for China-America Defense Relations at the Academy of Military Science in Beijing, said she was not convinced — and China was not convinced — that the United States wanted a “comprehensive” relationship with China. The new United States policy in Asia and the Pacific amounts to containment of China, General Yao said.”

Mr. Hagel responded that Washington wanted more transparency in military dealings with China. “You have to talk to each other, be direct with each other, be inclusive,” he said.”

Over all, he said, the United States will keep its “decisive military edge,” an oblique but distinct reference to American military superiority. China has announced an 11.2 percent increase in military spending this year, part of its rapid military modernization.

He stressed that new technologies would entail spending fewer resources in a smarter way, saying that the Navy had launched an experimental drone from an aircraft carrier last month for the first time. It was a feat, he said, that ushered in a new era of naval aviation. Unstated — but understood by many in the audience — was the fact that China just last year put into service its first aircraft carrier, an old Ukrainian vessel refitted by the Chinese.

Mr. Hagel also said the United States would deploy a solid-state laser aboard the Ponce, a naval vessel, next year. He said it would provide “an affordable answer” to counter threats like “missiles, swarming small boats and remotely piloted aircraft.”

The complex relationship between the U.S. and China has been a recurring theme here at NN. The two countries combined account for roughly 1/4 of the world’s population and 1/3 of global economic output. The relationship between the two countries has become even more important as technological advances continue to make the world “smaller”.

The new major threat to U.S. security is cyber-attacks. Not terrorists attacks on U.S. soil, not an invasion from a foreign enemy, but cyber-attacks. The world is connected through the internet and other satellite technologies, and there is no turning back from further integration. The problems facing the world in the 21st century require cooperation, coordination, and global governance. This is why we see so much emphasis on transparency and accountability in international relations, because what happens in one country has direct effects on other countries in today’s globalized world.

It is because of this that the U.S. is taking such a hard-line approach with China. The U.S. must have very conclusive evidence to continue to name the Chinese government and military as the source of many cyber-attacks in America. America’s leaders fully understand the complexity and importance of our relationship with China; it is because of this that the U.S. generally treads carefully with regards to China–we pick our battles.

But the U.S. is also making it abundantly clear that while national sovereignty may be enough to avoid international military intervention (as Russia and China continue to emphasize with regards to the Civil War in Syria), it is not a shield which a country aspiring to become a hegemonic power can hide behind.

Sustainable hegemonic power requires transparency and accountability. It requires a strong citizen base, with investments in human capital and overall enjoyment of life. It requires the freedoms and social capital needed for people to pursue meaningful lives, to innovate and push the frontiers of whatever industry their passion lies in. It requires a long-term vision of the world, and sustainable development policies to realize that vision. It requires post-modern values and an appreciation of human rights for all people in the world. And it requires a modernized military to back up your normative view of the world.

China is an economic power, but not yet a global power. Until China loosens the reigns of authoritarianism, and provides its people with the hope and optimism that equality of opportunity, social mobility, and freedom of expression bring, China will not realize it’s true growth potential. In recent years China has made great strides in reform and modernization, but in reality has only begun the process.

President Obama is set to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping on June 7th and 8th. “On his previous U.S. visit last February, President Xi proposed the concept of “a new type of relationship between major countries, a concept which was accepted in March 2013 by Tom Donilon, National Security Advisor to the President Obama. American Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew, Secretary of State John Kerry and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey have all visited China recently and raised concerns over North Korea’s nuclear program, cyber security, trade and military communications.

We have not seen the U.S. accept many diplomatic initiatives proposed by China and perhaps the most pressing concern in U.S. circles centers on just what form the “new type of relationship between major countries” will take. The meeting is also a great opportunity for both sides to voice their concerns and reach some kind of consensus.”

President Obama will likely address President Xi directly over matters such as Cyber-security, the Korean Peninsula, and the Syrian Civil War. Part of being a global power is taking an active role in international affairs, and going beyond fulfilling the negative rights of a “do no harm” international policy.

The United States has almost a century of experience being a modernized hegemonic power; China can learn from our experiences and expedite the modernization process, or it can continue to hide behind the shield of “national sovereignty”, depressing its future growth potential.

If Xi wants to really change the relationship between China and the U.S., trusting that the U.S. has China’s best interests in mind is a good place to start. The U.S. is not trying to undermine Chinese development–the two countries are too interdependent on one another. The first step towards achieving Xi’s goal is building real trust and friendship between the countries leaders. 

Hopefully the meeting between the two reform-minded leaders will act as a catalyst to allow the U.S and China to begin building this relationship. The U.S. government can provide the Chinese government with the leeway and responsibility in global affairs it desires, if the Chinese government can prove it can be more transparent and accountable for its actions.

It will be interesting to see how each side views the talks, and what sort of changes in U.S.-Chinese relations occur.


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Conflict Watch: The Obama Ultimatum


To say North Korea’s recent actions and rhetoric have been anti-American would be an understatement. Within the past few months Kim Jong-Un has launched a nuclear test strike, cutoff phone lines with the U.S. and South Korea, barred South Korean workers from entering an industrial complex bordering the two Koreas, stepped up its military capacity, suggested countries shut down their North Korean embassies for the safety of their diplomats, and vowed nuclear strikes on the U.S. and its allies.

Much of this is just tough rhetoric, a young leader trying to show he can “rule with an iron fist”, that he is able to rebuff “western interests”, and will not have his national sovereignty challenged.

Experts agree that North Korea could not strike the U.S. mainland with nuclear weapons. More immediately at risk would be South Korea, Japan, and other pacific island allied states. This is alarming for the U.S. as well, who operates a close to 30,000 troop force in South Korea. South Korean has responded with it’s own stern warnings to North Korea, that it will “strike back quickly” if the North attacks. Japan has recently begun ramping up its military capabilities partially in response to North Korean rhetoric. Factor in China’s proposed military expansion, and we have a full blown arms race in Asia.

This is not an issue of China versus Japan, as both sides are essentially on the same side. The Chinese government has recently expressed dismay towards its allies in Pyongyang, agreeing in principle to tougher U.N. sanctions after North Korea’s most recent nuclear test strike.

The U.S., seizing onto this opportunity, has proposed what I call “the Obama ultimatum”:

“The Obama administration, detecting what it sees as a shift in decades of Chinese support for North Korea, is pressuring China’s new president, Xi Jinping, to crack down on the regime in Pyongyang or face a heightened American military presence in its region.”

“’The timing of this is important,’ Tom Donilon, Mr. Obama’s national security adviser, said in an interview. ‘It will be an important early exercise between the United States and China, early in the term of Xi Jinping and early in the second term of President Obama.’”

“In Beijing, officials said Mr. Kerry also wants to reinvigorate the dialogue with China on climate change… A week after Mr. Kerry’s visit, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will spend four days in China to try to improve communication between the American and Chinese militaries.”

“’What we have seen is a subtle change in Chinese thinking,’ Kurt M. Campbell, a former assistant secretary of state for East Asian affairs, said in a speech Thursday at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. The Chinese now believe North Korea’s actions are “antithetical” to their national security interests, he said.”

This article seizes on many issues brought up at Normative Narratives involving U.S. and Chinese cooperation on issues concerning the “global commons” (environmental, security, etc.). It also highlights the potential for closer Washington-Beijing relations as two supposedly progressive leaders take the helm of the first and second largest economies in the world.

But there are some issues holding back U.S.-Chinese relations. Issues of trust between the two superpowers exist; cyber-attack accusations have flown from both governments in recent months. Also, there are factions within China who believe it is in China’s best interest to have an anti-Western power in the Korean Peninsula. Some believe that if China came down hard on North Korea, even so far as to push for a reunification of the Korean Peninsula at some point in the future, this would bolster U.S. influence in the region and diminish Chinese influence.

And it is exactly because of this point that I like “the Obama ultimatum”. If China’s greatest fear is increased American military capacity in the Asian Pacific, Obama has just offered Xi Jinping a surefire way to check U.S. military capacity in the region.

Obama has essentially put the ball in Jinping’s court. The next move belongs to China. Will they rebuff the American offer in an attempt to show solidarity with North Korea and protect the interest of “national sovereignty”?

It makes little sense to think they would; when you consider the growth and development of China, there is no question as to which country, between the U.S. and North Korea, is a more important partner. Factoring in Japan’s stance and it makes little economic or military sense for China not to align itself with “western interests”.

Nothing should be taken for granted; historically nations have been known to do things against their economic interests in the pursuit of strengthening their political ideology. But in today’s globalized economy, where the political economy intersection is so prevalent in mainstream political thinking, it would be very surprising to see China not at least attempt to comply with Obama’s offer.

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