Short of war (1)

I have often cited former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s views on China. I, and many others, find him, and Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, to be both experts on China and insightful in their analyses of the Sino-American relationship. (Parenthetically, isn’t it sad that no one it their right mind would ever sight Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as either expert or insightful on anything except, perhaps, political photo-ops and explaining away ethical breaches?)

Now I see another article by Kevin Rudd in Foreign Affairs headlined: ‘Short of War ~ How to Keep U.S.-Chinese Confrontation From Ending in Calamity‘ that is worth a read. “The contest between their two countries will enter a decisive phase in the 2020s,” Mr Rudd says, and it “will be the decade of living dangerously. No matter what strategies the two sides pursue or what events unfold, the tension between the United States and China will grow, and competition will intensify; it is inevitable. War, however, is not.

Kevin Rudd then suggests how to contain the “competition” between America and China and keep it peaceful by applying measures “short of war.

The main devices with which states deal with each other,” George Kennan said (1947 ~ link just above), “are divided into two broad categories: measures of pressure and measures of adjustment.” Measures of adjustment are mainly diplomatic and legal: finding redress for grievances through negotiation and compromise. Measures of pressure are still diplomatic but with large doses of economic and military muscle added. In general terms, the more rich and powerful do better at both.

Kevin Rudd says that “The Chinese Communist Party is increasingly confident that by the decade’s end, China’s economy will finally surpass that of the United States as the world’s largest in terms of GDP at market exchange rates. Western elites may dismiss the significance of that milestone; the CCP’s Politburo does not. For China, size always matters. Taking the number one slot will turbocharge Beijing’s confidence, assertiveness, and leverage in its dealings with Washington, and it will make China’s central bank more likely to float the yuan, open its capital account, and challenge the U.S. dollar as the main global reserve currency. Meanwhile, China continues to advance on other fronts, as well. A new policy plan, announced last fall, aims to allow China to dominate in all new technology domains, including artificial intelligence, by 2035. And Beijing now intends to complete its military modernization program by 2027 (seven years ahead of the previous schedule), with the main goal of giving China a decisive edge in all conceivable scenarios for a conflict with the United States over Taiwan. A victory in such a conflict would allow President Xi Jinping to carry out a forced reunification with Taiwan before leaving power—an achievement that would put him on the same level within the CCP pantheon as Mao Zedong.” Please note that Mr Rudd conflates China, the Chinese Communist Party and Xi Jinping, the man. He is correct to do so … for the moment. Xi Jinping is the Party and the party is China, but, in my opinion, neither statement is as robust as it appears. One of the problems with autocracies is that they are opaque; we cannot see the internal political manoeuvring. We know that Xi Jinping has made many promises … but what happens when things don’t go as planned?

Washington must decide how to respond to Beijing’s assertive agenda,” Kevin Rudd says and it must do so quickly. “If it were to opt for economic decoupling and open confrontation, every country in the world would be forced to take sides, and the risk of escalation would only grow. Among policymakers and experts, there is understandable skepticism as to whether Washington and Beijing can avoid such an outcome. Many doubt that U.S. and Chinese leaders can find their way to a framework to manage their diplomatic relations, military operations, and activities in cyberspace within agreed parameters that would maximize stability, avoid accidental escalation, and make room for both competitive and collaborative forces in the relationship. The two countries need to consider something akin to the procedures and mechanisms that the United States and the Soviet Union put in place to govern their relations after the Cuban missile crisis – but in this case, without first going through the near-death experience of a barely avoided war.” In essence he says, the old Cold War worked; thus, there might be a useful role for Cold War 2.0: managed strategic competition.

Managed strategic competition,” Mr Rudd writes, “would involve establishing certain hard limits on each country’s security policies and conduct but would allow for full and open competition in the diplomatic, economic, and ideological realms. It would also make it possible for Washington and Beijing to cooperate in certain areas, through bilateral arrangements and also multilateral forums. Although such a framework would be difficult to construct, doing so is still possible – and the alternatives are likely to be catastrophic.

Xi Jinping’s View

Kevin Rudd reminds us that “In the United States, few have paid much attention to the domestic political and economic drivers of Chinese grand strategy, the content of that strategy, or the ways in which China has been operationalizing it in recent decades. The conversation in Washington has been all about what the United States ought to do, without much reflection on whether any given course of action might result in real changes to China’s strategic course. A prime example of this type of foreign policy myopia was an address that then Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivered last July, in which he effectively called for the overthrow of the CCP. “We, the freedom-loving nations of the world, must induce China to change,” he declared, including by “empower[ing] the Chinese people” … [but Mr Rudd says, and I agree] … The only thing that could lead the Chinese people to rise up against the party-state, however, is their own frustration with the CCP’s poor performance on addressing unemployment, its radical mismanagement of a natural disaster (such as a pandemic), or its massive extension of what is already intense political repression. Outside encouragement of such discontent, especially from the United States, is unlikely to help and quite likely to hinder any change. Besides, U.S. allies would never support such an approach; regime change has not exactly been a winning strategy in recent decades. Finally, bombastic statements such as Pompeo’s are utterly counterproductive, because they strengthen Xi’s hand at home, allowing him to point to the threat of foreign subversion to justify ever-tighter domestic security measures, thereby making it easier for him to rally disgruntled CCP elites in solidarity against an external threat … [and] … That last factor is particularly important for Xi, because one of his main goals is to remain in power until 2035, by which time he will be 82, the age at which Mao passed away. Xi’s determination to do so is reflected in the party’s abolition of term limits, its recent announcement of an economic plan that extends all the way to 2035, and the fact that Xi has not even hinted at who might succeed him even though only two years remain in his official term. Xi experienced some difficulty in the early part of 2020, owing to a slowing economy and the COVID-19 pandemic, whose Chinese origins put the CCP on the defensive. But by the year’s end, official Chinese media were hailing him as the party’s new “great navigator and helmsman,” who had prevailed in a heroic “people’s war” against the novel coronavirus. Indeed, Xi’s standing has been aided greatly by the shambolic management of the pandemic in the United States and a number of other Western countries, which the CCP has highlighted as evidence of the inherent superiority of the Chinese authoritarian system. And just in case any ambitious party officials harbor thoughts about an alternative candidate to lead the party after Xi’s term is supposed to end in 2022, Xi recently launched a major purge—a “rectification campaign,” as the CCP calls it—of members deemed insufficiently loyal.”

Tomorrow: Kevin Rudd explains China’s aims and it’s one HUGE problem.

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.

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