Tag: China

China Military Build-Up Threatens U.S. Dominance, Not Its Security

The U.S. dominates the globe militarily. Washington possesses the most powerful armed forces, accounts for roughly 40 percent of the globe’s military outlays, and is allied with every major industrialized state save China and Russia.

Yet the bipartisan hawks who dominate U.S. foreign policy see threats at every turn. For some, replacing the Soviet Union as chief adversary is the People’s Republic of China. They view another military build-up as the only answer.

The PRC’s rise is reshaping the globe. Of greatest concern in Washington is China’s military build-up. The Department of Defense publishes an annual review of China’s military. The latest report warns that the PRC “continued to improve key capabilities,” including ballistic and cruise missiles, aircraft and air defense, information capabilities, submarines, amphibious and airborne assault units, and more.

Obama Announces End to Arms Embargo on Vietnam

President Obama’s trip to Asia is off to a running start with the announcement that the United States will lift a decades-long American arms embargo on Vietnam. Initial commentary on the announcement has been generally positive, portraying the end of the embargo as the most recent in a string of events signaling improved relations with America’s former adversary in an increasingly dangerous region. So, what comes next in the U.S.-Vietnam defense relationship?

1. How will China react?

China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs had a relatively quiet response to the announcement thus far. However, increased American military support for Vietnam fits into the narrative of a U.S.-led effort to contain China. It would not be surprising if more aggressive rhetoric comes to the fore in Chinese media over the coming days. China has also shown a willingness to respond to U.S. shows of force or resolve with military displays of its own. Vietnam’s capacity to resist Chinese coercion should increase once arms sales begin, but if China responds to such sales with assertive counter-moves then the security dilemma in the South China Sea (SCS) could become worse.

2. What equipment will Vietnam buy?

Given the challenges it faces in the SCS, Vietnam will likely place a premium on military hardware that improves maritime domain awareness and the ability to quickly respond to infringement on its claimed territories. For example, in 2015 the United States pledged $18 million to help Vietnam purchase U.S.-made Metal Shark patrol boats for its coast guard. Sales of more advanced or lethal systems may be more difficult given the challenges of integrating such systems into an arsenal already dominated by Russian weapons and the high price tag of U.S. hardware. Additionally, Vietnam has overlapping territorial claims with the Philippines, a U.S. treaty ally. Vietnam-Philippine squabbling is not the primary threat in the SCS right now, but Washington policymakers have an incentive not to approve sales of equipment that could give Vietnam a significant advantage over the Philippines.

3. How does lifting the arms embargo advance U.S. goals in the SCS?

In a press conference announcing the end of the embargo, President Obama stated “the decision to lift the ban was not based on China,” but was part of a broader process of normalization with Vietnam. This statement is only partly true. On the one hand, U.S.-Vietnam relations have greatly improved over the years and this is the next logical step in normalization. On the other hand, assertive Chinese activity in the SCS is the most pressing security concern in the region and lifting the arms embargo should improve Vietnam’s ability to deal with it. Improving the military capacity of U.S. allies and partners is a low-risk way to increase the costs of Chinese actions, which seems to be the current U.S. objective in the SCS. Unfortunately, “imposing costs” isn’t an end state.

Lifting the arms embargo on Vietnam is an important step toward the best course of action for the United States in the SCS: using weapons sales and economic support to bolster the self-defense capabilities of friendly states. It will be virtually impossible for America’s partners to achieve military parity with China on their own, but with the right mix of weapons systems and strategy they could present serious challenges to Chinese military action. More capable allies and partners should enable the United States to be a balancer of last resort in the SCS, instead of the first line of defense. 

Even Donald Trump Realizes We Should Talk to North Korea

Yet again Donald Trump has proved that he was not the most militaristic Republican running for President. While most of Trump’s erstwhile Republican opponents were more likely to propose bombing North Korea, he proposed talking with Pyongyang.

Whether Trump meant a summit, phone conversation, or diplomatic discussion is unclear. But Washington should propose diplomatic talks, whether or not ultimately capped by a presidential conversation.

After all, other approaches are a nonstarter or have failed. Military strikes likely would trigger serious retaliation and possibly full-scale war. Sanctions have inflicted pain but not changed Pyongyang’s policy.

Why engage? First, even paranoids have enemies. Diminishing its sense of threat would at least create a possibility that Pyongyang would respond favorably to American initiatives.

Fifty Years after the Cultural Revolution

May 16, 1966, is regarded as the beginning of Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution in China. Post-Maoist China has never quite come to terms with Mao’s legacy and especially the disastrous Cultural Revolution

Many countries have a founding myth that inspires and sustains a national culture. South Africa celebrates the accomplishments of Nelson Mandela, the founder of that nation’s modern, multi-racial democracy. In the United States, we look to the American Revolution and especially to the ideas in the Declaration of Independence of July 4, 1776. 

The Declaration of Independence, written by Thomas Jefferson, is the most eloquent libertarian essay in history, especially its philosophical core:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

The ideas of the Declaration, given legal form in the Constitution, took the United States of America from a small frontier outpost on the edge of the developed world to the richest country in the world in scarcely a century. The country failed in many ways to live up to the vision of the Declaration, notably in the institution of chattel slavery. But over the next two centuries, that vision inspired Americans to extend the promises of the Declaration—life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—to more and more people.

China, of course, followed a different vision, the vision of Mao Zedong. Take Mao’s speech on July 1, 1949, as his Communist armies neared victory. The speech was titled, “On the People’s Democratic Dictatorship.” Instead of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, it spoke of “the extinction of classes, state power and parties,” of “a socialist and communist society,” of the nationalization of private enterprise and the socialization of agriculture, of a “great and splendid socialist state” in Russia, and especially of “a powerful state apparatus” in the hands of a “people’s democratic dictatorship.”

China Needs a Foreign Policy which Makes Friends

Rising powers tend to be cocky and pushy. They believe their time has arrived and they want their just deserts—now. So it is with China.

Alas, there’s a downside, which Beijing has discovered. Rising powers don’t make many friends.

If you listen to the debate on the U.S. presidential campaign trail—not recommended for the faint-hearted!—you’d think America was a helpless Third World state, besieged by enemies deploying vast armies and armadas. The truth is, the United States dominates the globe. Among its advantages is being allied with every major industrialized state, save China and Russia, and is friendly with many other states as well.

The latter point underscores America’s extraordinary global reach. There are many reasons Washington has so much international clout. Much of this has is because U.S. policy has emphasized making friends and acquiring allies.

There are downsides to this approach. Nevertheless, overall the United States is stronger because it has a cooperative relationship with so many other countries.

In contrast, let’s look at the international response to Beijing’s so-called peaceful rise.

Governments - Big Players - Make Markets Unsafe

Reportage in The Wall Street Journal on April 3th states that “A fund owned by China’s foreign-exchange regulator has been taking stakes in some of the country’s biggest banks, raising speculation that it may be a new member of the so-called ‘national team’ of investors the Chinese government unleashes to support its stock market.”

Statists and interventionists around the world (read: those who embrace State Capitalism) think “Big Players,” as the academic literature has dubbed them, will protect us from economic storms. While there is a budding and serious academic literature on Big Players – aka Market Disrupters – the financial press virtually ignores the Disrupters’ potential to bury us. Indeed, instead of stabilizing markets, the Big Players disrupt them. They are the purveyors of instability. For those who wish to grapple with the technical literature, I recommend: Roger Koppl. Big Players and the Economic Theory of Expectations. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002.

Big Players have three defining characteristics. Firstly, they are big — big enough to influence markets. Secondly, they are largely insensitive to the discipline of profits and losses, insulating them from competitive pressures. Thirdly, their freedom from a prescribed set of rules affords them a high degree of discretion.

With these characteristics, Big Players are hard to predict. In consequence, they can disrupt. They divert entrepreneurial attention away from the assessment of strictly economic market fundamentals, such as the present value of prospective cash flows. Instead, the focus shifts toward attempting to predict the actions of Big Players, which are inherently political and unpredictable. This reduces the reliability of expectations, replacing skill with luck.

Is Washington Courting India as an Anti-China Ally?

The just completed visit of Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter to India has generated considerable speculation.  That is especially true in China, where opinion leaders noted not only was this was Carter’s second trip to India during his relatively short tenure as Pentagon chief, but that he cancelled a previously scheduled trip to Beijing so that he could make this latest journey.  That move, they feared, suggested a rather unsubtle tilt against China in favor of one of its potential geostrategic competitors.

The agreement that came from Carter’s visit will do nothing to reassure the Chinese.  Carter and his Indian counterpart, Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar, pledged to increase logistical cooperation in the military arena, especially maritime cooperation.  Although that agreement is still a considerable distance away from constituting a full-fledged military alliance between the two nations, it continues a trend that has emerged over the past decade of ever deepening strategic ties.  And mutual concerns about China’s ambitions appear to be the driving force in the bilateral relationship.

At a minimum, the United States appears to be trying to put in place the building blocks of a containment policy directed against China, if U.S. leaders later decide that such a full-blown policy has become necessary.  On this same trip, Carter made a stop in the Philippines to reassure that country of strong U.S. backing in its South China Sea territorial dispute with China. Apparently previous statements by the Secretary of State and President Obama himself, combined with a buildup of U.S. troops in the island nation were not sufficient evidence of resolve.

And Carter’s sojourn in India must be seen in the larger context of Washington’s efforts to strengthen its long-standing alliances with South Korea and Japan and to forge cooperative military ties with such former adversaries as Vietnam.  Along with Japan, though, India would be the biggest prize as a strategic ally.

Despite the wishes of some Sinophobes in Washington, we are likely to see a more measured response from India.  Delhi has much to lose and little to gain by becoming a cat’s paw ally of the United States against China.  That is especially true if Washington is not willing to sever its close ties with India’s arch-enemy, Pakistan.  Yet as long as U.S. leaders insist on waging a “war on terror” with a major Central Asia/South Asia component, centered in Afghanistan, they will not cut Washington’s supposed Pakistani ally loose.  And as long as that is the case, Indian leaders and the Indian public will view professions of U.S. loyalty to their country’s vital interests with justifiable skepticism.

Moreover, shrewd Indian policymakers may conclude that the best position for their country is one of constructive neutrality in the growing tensions between the United States and China.  Whatever side India would take, it would anger one of those great powers, lose potential benefits, and increase its risk level.  Only if China truly adopted a policy of rogue expansionism is that sober calculation likely to change.  In the meantime, Ash Carter and other American suitors may press their courtship of India, but they are likely to come away disappointed.