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 chaffed at President Obama’s low key reaction to Chinese claims about the South China Sea are emboldened by the arrival of President Trump. Now, according to a report in the Independent, “A 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.“
The Chinese have made quite a thing
out of humiliation. There is even, near Guangzhou, a 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
about 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 upend, and China as
a 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
one 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-Americ
anism 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 East 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?
- 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.