Playing bumper cars?

Despite warning from China to not test its claims of sovereignty in the South China Seas, which were just renewed, days ago, some factions in the US  which, reportedly chafed at President Obama’s low key reaction to Chinese claims about the South China Sea are thediplomat_2016-03-04_16-35-03-386x273emboldened by the arrival of President Trump. Now, according to a report in the IndependentA United States aircraft carrier strike group has begun patrols in the South China Sea amid growing tensions with China … [about which] … The US Navy said the force, which includes the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson and a fleet of supporting warships, has begun “routine operations” in the disputed waterway … [and] … The operations come amid concerns the South China Sea could become a flash point under President Donald Trump’s administration.

gettyimages-475600706The Independent report go on to say that “Steve Bannon, Mr Trump’s closest adviser and chief strategist, has said he thinks there will be a US-China war over the South China Sea within the next five to 10 years … [and] … Similarly, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson recently appeared to call for a blockade of the South China Sea islands.” The fact, and I assert that it is a fact, is that President Obama was so cautious because his national security team ~ state department, defence department, CIA, NSA and so on ~ did not (and, just weeks later still do not) know what China’s near to mid-term strategic aims stephen-k-bannon-ohio-rally-sept-14-getty-640x480are or, therefore, what tactics they might employ in pursuit of those aims. There is, quite simply, no reason at all for anyone to believe that Team Trump knows any better. Steve Bannon’s opinions don’t count as “actionable intelligence,” at least not in any universe except, evidently, the one occupied by President Trump, Mr Bannon and, presumably Captain Hook and Tinker Bell. But, that’s the universe in which we now appear to live and so the US Navy has sent a very powerful force into dangerously, politically and strategically contested waters.

How will China react?

The Chinese have made quite a thing out of humiliation. There is even, near Guangzhou, xi_jinping_chinanewapa museum dedicated to China’s “humiliation” by the British in the Opium Wars. Part of Xi Jinping’s political narrative, it seems to me, is “never again.” It is difficult, even foolhardy, to try to predict aaeaaqaaaaaaaaipaaaajdmzmwuymzkwlwvmmzatndewns1hn2flltg3nge0mjhhyjg5oq-2about China, but I believe that Xi Jinping sees China at something of a crossroads, with paths leading towards stagnation and economic failure, modest growth within the current global system ~ the one President Trump appears to want to up-end, and China as deng_xiaoping_1978a great, global power and the dominant (only important) power in East Asia, and himself as something of a transformative leader, à la Deng Xiaoping a generation ago. If I am anywhere near correct, even in the right ballpark, then we must assume that Paramount Leader Xi will not let President Trump’s challenge go unanswered.

What can he do?

Xi Jinping has a range of options: political, diplomatic, economic and military. Being who and what he is I expect that he will use all of them, and probably a few I have not imagined. There was a reason Xi was at the World Economic Forum a few weeks ago ~ the important meeting that Prime Minister Trudeau foolishly missed while he tried to mend domestic political fences ~ he is positioning himself, globally, and strategically as the anti-Trump, as the trustworthy, reasonable, honest partner in global affairs.
I expect that China will, amongst many other measures, deploy its own military, or, rather, beef up its forces in and around the artificial islands and, directly, challenge the Americans. There are “rules of the road” that govern how ships and aircraft interact with
downloadone another ~ I expect the Chinese to stretch and bend and even, quite flagrantly, break these rules as they play ship-to-ship and aircraft-to-aircraft games of bumper cars at sea and in the sky. the Chinese will not mind if they lose an aircraft or even a small ship. In fact they will, possibly, welcome such a loss because it can be used to fan the flames of anti-Americ635991927398625972-ep3jpganism in China and around the world. Remember the orgy of anti-Americanism that official Ottawa whipped up in 2002? Anti-Americanism is always good politics, even in the USA, and especially in Europe and Asia in 2017.
Could Bannon be right? Could it lead to war?

I am as close to 100% certain as I can be that China doesn’t want a war: not with the USA, certainly, not with anyone, in fact. My sense, and I think it is as well informed as anyone’s, is that Xi Jinping believes that he can and really, sincerely wants to achieve China’s long term strategic goals, which include displacing the USA as the dominant regional power in my-cute-shark-attack-cartoon-2-dragon-vs-dinosaur-lion-king-t-rex-best-of-kids-animal-cartoonEast Asia, without fighting. But, I also believe that China believes in the analogy of the dragon vs. the shark (or elephant vs the whale) which suggests that China, a great land power in Asia and America a great sea power from far, far away, while each “supreme” in their own domain, cannot have a decisive war because neither can defeat the other “at home.” Thus, I think that Xi is unafraid of combat because he believes, I suspect, that powerful forces in America, more powerful than Donal Trump, will pull America back from any brink. (I hope you can see how uncertain I am about all this.)

On principle, the US, and those forces who want to take a hard(er) line against Chinese aggression ~ that’s what it is ~ in the South China Seas have the moral high ground. But, tactically, I suspect that Xi Jinping has all the advantages ~ except in aircraft carriers, and I think he has all the strategic marbles, if only because the USA has Donald Trump.

Oh, and Canada?

What should, what can Canada do?
  • First, we should align ourselves as closely as we can with Australia, the Philippines and Singapore and try to play a constructive role ~ real, diplomatic peacekeeping, not the rubbish the UN does ~ in the region aimed at preventing open war;
  • Second, we should try to strengthen our diplomatic and trade ties with China; and
  • Third, we should try to strengthen all or ties, diplomatic, trade and military with Australia, India, New Zealand and Singapore ~ all of whom are in the Anglosphere, beyond CANZUK.

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.

6 thoughts on “Playing bumper cars?

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