Everyman’s Strategic Survey: China

downloadIn my musing about threats and their interconnections, in this ‘Everyman’s’ series of reviews, I have mentioned several problem areas, including:

  • images (2)Da’esh/ISIL/ISIS;
  • The rest of the Middle East;
  • US economic problems and social divisions;
  • North Korea;
  • Economic and social turmoil in Latin America;Russian-Tanks-Crimea
  • All sorts of turmoil in Africa;
  • Europe ~ with or without a Brexit;
  • Russia; and
  • China.

Of these I regard Russia as the most serious threat, or, at least, the one which is most likely to suck us into a major war with a powerful enemy. I regard Da’esh/ISIL/ISIS (and, indeed,the rest of the Islamic Crescent) as very dangerous ~ willing, able and very likely to strike at us ~  but not as an existential threats. I think China is being a bully but is very unlikely  to provoke a war.

1297843406365_ORIGINALIn respect to China’s bullying, consider, just as an example, how very senior Chinese officials appear to regard Canada … Justin Trudeau’s Canada, anyway. As David Akin says, in the the Toronto Sun, China’s “foreign minister, Wang Yi, thought he was entitled to berate a Canadian reporter for asking a perfectly reasonable question about its human rights record and about the arrest of a Canadian, Kevin Garratt, on trumped-up espionage charges. Wang, though, wagged his finger at the reporter, saying she was showing “arrogance” and “prejudice” against China for just asking the question … [and] … [Foreign Minister] Wang did this in the headquarters of Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs with our Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion standing meek and mute beside him.

Many, many years ago a teacher related a story to me, about the study of Chinese history . It wasn’t original, someone else had told it to him, but he thought it useful guidance for a student …

mandate_heveanChinese history appears like the Chinese landscape seen from a train moving through rural China. It is a seemingly endless series of the same thing ~ cycles ~ just as one sees a village, then a field, next a rice paddy, a bullock, then a river, another bullock, and another rice paddy, then another a field and yet another a village, and a field and a rice paddy and a bullock, and, and, and … so Chinese history seems to go with the rise and fall of dynasties, punctuated by periodic invasions, interregnums, between dynasties, the Sinifiction of the invaders and the rise (and eventual fall) of a new dynasty. It seems to be endless and boring.

But there are some constants ~ rather like the railway line itself ~ running through the cyclical narrative: the search for respect based on the belief that China is special in the world … something akin to the (mistaken in my opinion) American belief in “special providence.”

Some scholars suggest that the cyclical nature of Chinese dynastic rule continues: the period from 1911 to 1981 (from the fall of the Qing Dynasty to the rise of Deng Xiaoping as ‘Paramount Leader’) was, some suggest, just  another interregnum ~ a period of turmoil between dynasties ~ and that things settled back to normal when Deng founded a new “dynasty” which drew the new model emperors ~ Paramount Leaders ~ from the upper ranks of the Chinese Communist party by a process that is every bit as opaque as was the selection of emperors in the historical imperial dynasties.

The new, 20th and 21st-century ’emperors’ ~ Paramount Leaders of China

What did not change, from the Shang Dynasty (3,500 years ago) to the new Chinese Communist Party Dynasty (today) is China’s quest for:

  • A strong central government;
  • Rule by a meritocracy; and
  • Respect  for the special status which many Chinese people is theirs by “divine right.”

But something is happening that Deng Xiaoping warned against, according to an article in The Economist:Mr Xi wants to be seen as such a man. [The sort of strongman that some say is needed to lead China.] By taking all the top jobs under his control, he has been turning away from the collective leadership of equals that Deng had created after the Cultural Revolution to ensure the capricious rule of someone like Mao could never happen again. In early April Mr Xi gave himself a new title: “commander-in-chief” of the Joint Operations Command, a new body (he was already head of the armed forces). He showed this off by appearing for the first time in public wearing combat fatigues … [and] … Mr Xi clearly worries that liberals might try to use the horrors of the Cultural Revolution to negate Mao entirely, and thus the party’s right to rule. He has been campaigning against what he calls “historical nihilism”, namely attempts to blacken the party’s early record by contrasting it with the prosperity of the post-Mao era.

Xi Jinping has reintroduced a bellicose, bullying tone to Chinese diplomacy, too. He is not a rude, crude, unlettered, country bumpkin as Mao was. He is a graduate of China’s finest university and a well-travelled, erudite man with considerable charm and diplomatic skills. he is choosing to play the bully because he wants to be seen as strong and he wants China to be both respected and feared.

The Chinese are tossing out a mix of hard and soft power signals …

… designed to keep the whole world, including Canada, off-balance, as Brian Gable, drawing in the Globe and Mail, shows us:


The Chinese are being bellicose and they are playing the bully-boy but, in my opinion, based on everything I have read, they are very conscious of their own strengths and weaknesses and the very last thing they want is a war with much of anyone.

The Chinese aim seems, to me, to be to displace America as the dominant power in East Asia. I think this is a long term aim ~ something that they see as being the work of a generation, something that might happen by, say, 2050. That aim would include, I guess, the removal of American military units from the Asian mainland ~ Korea ~ and the reunification of Korea under South Korean leadership. It appears to me that the only reason North Korea continues to exist is because of the US presence in South Korea.

I suspect that both North Korea and Pakistan serve similar purposes:

  • Pakistan keeps India on edge, off-balance and pre-occupied; and
  • North Korea does the same to South Korea (of course), Japan and the USA.

Of the two I think that Pakistan is more important to China because it might provide a stable seaport and a railhead leading into Western China.

China has a HUGE population but is rather light on natural resources, including water.

Of all the shortages facing China water may be the most acute:


China is already building a “string of pearls” ~ a string of seaports and naval bases linking it to Africa ~ and securing its sea lines of communications between resource-rich Africa and China’s South and East Coast seaports:


More worrisome for Russia is that Siberia is rich in both resources and water.

China has a long, long way to go before it matches, much less surpasses the US in power, but that does not mean that its actions and aspirations do not matter. China can make serious trouble for its neighbours and, indeed, for the whole region if it feels that its legitimate aspirations are being blocked by the US-led West. At the same time, China ought not to be allowed to bully its neighbours (and trading partners) without some pushback.

Canada should want and pursue a free(er) trade deal with China.

Canada should not want to make China into an enemy.

Canada should support the United States in freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea and it should, more actively, support the Philippines in defending its territories (islands0 in the region.

It’s not a difficult line to walk … it just requires a bit of gumption. China wants to trade with us ~ it needs resources from stable, secure sources. It will not welcome criticism of its domestic policies nor of its actions in a region where it sees itself as paramount … but it will respect Canada for putting its principles on display, which, it appears to me, is not what Prime Minister Trudeau and Foreign Minister Dion are doing.

Published by Ted Campbell

Old, retired Canadian soldier, Conservative ~ socially moderate, but a fiscal hawk. A husband, father and grandfather. Published material is posted under the "Fair Dealing" provisions (§29) of the Copyright Act for the purposes of research, private study and education.

3 thoughts on “Everyman’s Strategic Survey: China

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