Thursday, June 25, 2009

Displaced Tensions

"Eight, sir; seven, sir;
Six, sir; five, sir;
Four, sir; Three, sir;
Two, sir; one!
Tenser, said the Tensor.
Tension, apprehension,
And dissention have begun. "
— Alfred Bester (The Demolished Man)

Ma save us! While US analysts appear to be enamored of the Beijing line about tensions in the Cross-strait relationship (hilariously, some see Ma as a savior), there's no better way to hold up to the light the double standard Taiwan's democracy gets slammed with than to take a gander at China and India, as well as at the continuing saga of China's expansion into Pacific Ocean islands it has never owned (like Taiwan, for example).

Let's start with India. WSJ this week hosts Jeff Smith with a nifty review of China's spidery encirclement of the subcontinental state. Apparently New Delhi announced it was increasing its troop presence in the Himal in response to Chinese expansionism, provoking the usual tantrums from Beijing. That region of the world doesn't get all the sexy media coverage that the Taiwan Strait gets, but it is a powder keg in its own height-challenged, oxygen-deprived way....
In recent years however China has been raising the temperature at the border. Chinese claims to Arunachal Pradesh and frequent Chinese "incursions" into the nearby Indian state of Sikkim have begun to multiply in line with Beijing's rising economic and political influence. Moreover, unlike India, China has methodically developed its infrastructure along the disputed border, littering the barren terrain with highways and railways capable of moving large numbers of goods and troops.

For its part, New Delhi has become both increasingly aware of its disadvantage and exceedingly suspicious of China's intentions. India's June 8 announcement that it will deploy two additional army mountain divisions to the northeastern state of Assam will bring India's troop levels in the region to more than 100,000. The Indian Air Force, meanwhile, announced it will station two squadrons of advanced Sukhoi-30 MKI aircraft in Tezpur, also in Assam. They will be complemented by three Airborne Warning and Control Systems and the addition or upgrade of airstrips and advanced landing stations. This is part of a broader effort to bolster India's military and transportation infrastructure in its neglected northeast.
When it comes to India it is possible for writers to state seriously that China is heating things up. These are the same tactics it uses with Taiwan, but the curious fact is that in the Taiwan case, the island takes the blame. Probably because it is more difficult to find Indians willing to carry water for Beijing than Americans.....
Upon hearing India's plans, Beijing became irate. The People's Daily, a Communist Party mouthpiece that serves as a window into the thinking of Beijing's insular leadership, published an exceptional broadside against New Delhi on June 11. It described India's "tough posture" as "dangerous," and asked India to "consider whether or not it can afford the consequences of a potential confrontation with China." China is not afraid of India, the editorial taunted, while mocking India for failing to keep pace with China's economic growth. The editorial reminded New Delhi that Beijing had friends in Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Nepal but most importantly, it left no doubt about Beijing's future position on Arunachal Pradesh: "China won't make any compromises in its border disputes with India."
This is exactly the same tone that China takes with Taiwan: the Peaceful Riser(tm) erupts with threats and taunts. You could replace "India" with "Taiwan" in that paragraph and not miss a beat... right down to the same stupid visa and status games:
This is not the first time China has lost its cool over the border issue. Back in 2006, China's Ambassador to India ignited a political firestorm when he declared the "whole state of Arunachal Pradesh is Chinese territory... we are claiming all of that. That is our position." Later, on two separate occasions, China denied visas to Indian officials from Arunachal Pradesh, explaining Chinese citizens didn't require visas to travel to their own country.


China has been applying pressures as well. This March, China broke with Asian tradition and tried to block a $2.9 billion loan to India at the Asian Development Bank, furious that the loan would fund a $60 million flood-management program in Arunachal Pradesh. (Last week China was overruled with help from the U.S., and the loan went through.) Before that, Beijing clumsily attempted to torpedo the U.S.-India nuclear deal from its seat at the Nuclear Suppliers Group. And of course, China remains an opponent of India's bid to join the United Nations Security Council and a staunch ally of India's nemesis, Pakistan.
Thank all gods China is a Peaceful Riser(tm) and not a belligerent, expansionist power intent on grabbing pieces of its neighbor's territories, eh? Smith also notes:
But what riles India most is China's incursion into its backyard and the belief China is surrounding the subcontinent with its "string of pearls" -- Chinese "investments" in naval bases, commercial ports and listening posts along the southern coast of Asia. There are port facilities in Bangladesh and radar and refueling stations in Burma. Thailand, Cambodia and Pakistan now all host Chinese "projects;" China's crown jewel is the Pakistani deepwater port of Gwadar.

Then there are Sri Lanka and Nepal, India's immediate neighbors, where civil wars have opened space for Beijing to peddle influence. A bloody insurgency by Maoist rebels in Nepal gave way in 2006 to power-sharing agreement now on the brink of collapse. China has openly supported the Maoists against the royalist establishment backed by India. In Sri Lanka, meanwhile, the decades-long civil war between the Hindu Tamil minority and the Buddhist Sinhalese majority was decisively ended by the latter May, but not before Beijing could gain a foothold in the island-nation. Appalled by the brutality of the fighting, India had scaled back its arms sales to Colombo in recent years. China happily filled the vacuum, in return gaining access to the port at Hambontota on the island's southern coast.
In addition to all this, Smith also says that China supports Maoist rebels in India. Note that India does none of these things to China -- there are no Indian bases on the Senkakus or in Korea. Maybe New Delhi ought to expand its contacts with Japan, including joint defense exercises...

Meanwhile a PLA general has publicly suggested that China build bases in the South China Sea, and China's moves there are causing tensions to rise with Vietnam "in recent months":
In recent months, tensions flared between China and Vietnam, which is one of the claimants contesting sovereignty over the islands, and Hanoi reportedly signed a $1.8 billion deal with Russia for six Kilo-class submarines in what analysts say appears to be the strongest response sent by Hanoi toward Beijing for what it increasingly sees as China's encroachment on the South China Sea islands (Ria Novosti, April 27). The submarines, which are designed for anti-sub and anti-ship warfare, could help protect Vietnamese claims in the South China Sea by denying access to its more than 2,000 miles of coastline.
In addition to heating up things with India and Vietnam, China is also putting pressure on the Philippines. In case you thought that the Smith article was just another right-wing assault by neocons intent on fomenting a Cold War with China, note that both Left (Japan Focus) and Right (Jamestown Foundation) hosted Ian Storey's article on increased Chinese pressure on the Philippines over China's nonsense claims to local islands:
Developments in the South China Sea during the first quarter of 2009 reinforced several trends that have been apparent over the past two years. First, the Spratly Islands dispute has once again come to dominate Sino-Philippine relations, despite attempts by Beijing and Manila to move beyond it. Second, China has adopted a more assertive posture toward its territorial and maritime boundary claims in the South China Sea than at any time since the late 1990s. Third, the 2002 breakthrough agreement between the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China to manage tensions in the South China Sea is in danger of becoming irrelevant. Fourth, the USNS Impeccable incident on March 8 highlighted the growing strategic importance of the South China Sea for the United States and China, and reawakened concerns in ASEAN capitals that the region may one day become the principal theater wherein Sino-U.S. maritime rivalry is played out.
See? Anyplace else along the China border, rational observers point to the problem of increased Chinese pressure on neighboring states. But when it comes to Taiwan, the problem is that Taiwan provokes China. Can't wait until our analyst class starts shouting at New Delhi to stop provoking China over Arunachal Pradesh the way Chen Shui-bian "provoked" China.

The other lesson to be learned here is the failure to make the cross-regional connections between Beijing's expansionist policies in the Strait and elsewhere. The election of Ma Ying-jeou did not 'reduce tension.' Rather, the KMT's move to put Taiwan into China's orbit, thus 'reducing Taiwan-China tensions', has given China the confidence and opportunity to ramp up tension elsewhere.

Tensions are not reduced. They are merely displaced. And the more tension is 'reduced' here in the Beijing-Taipei, the more it will appear elsewhere. Because the cause of "tension" isn't Taiwan's democracy, but China's expansionism.

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Anonymous said...

Re the drop in tourists:

I'm often at TPE 101 for work, and have to hack my way thru the crowds of smoking, shouting Chinese disgorging from tourist busses. I thought it was interesting that this week there was almost no one...

Interesting, too, that there's a rumor going round in China that the flu is out of control in Taiwan! Now, I wonder who's spreading that rumor?

Anonymous said...

So much for not blogging anymore

Stefan said...

Would be nice if China's neighbors would become more aware that they have common interest. Just as with Europe and the US - China's position wouldn't be all that strong if they'd just make a minimal effort to coordinate their policy.

Dixteel said...

Stefan got a good point....

The best way for democracies to defend themselves against expansionism is through alliance. The problem is that right now in Asia, each democratic countries have some grudge against each others for some reasons.

Taiwan and Philipine for example, are relatively OK, but often have fishing disputes. And for some reasons that still puzzles me, a lot of Taiwanese dislike South Korean, and a lot of South Korean dislikes Japanese. Not to mention none of the Asia Pacific nations want to have formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan. Also, a lot of democratic countries such as Thailand, Indonesia, are new born, fragile or have some particular problems...Right now the democratic alliance in Asia Pacific is extremely weak and unstable IMO.

The interesting thing is that the despots around the world, such as the governments of North Korea, Burma and Iran, are now working in perfect harmony under the leaderships of Russia and China.

Tom said...

Welcome back, Michael. Several interesting articles. This one and the one on American beef particularly caught my attention. The DPP seems to want to be contrary especially when they could make some progress with the younger and more moderate voters. And the world seems to choose to ignore China but will react to disruption in the internet services like yesterday's google problems in China.

Anonymous said...

India is hosting the Dalai Lama and his supporters, while China hosts no Indian separatists. South-Tibet is part of China which the British wrongly grabbed and attached to India, in a time when China was in havoc due to civil war and foreign invasion. Michael should study the history of China more, because only studying a subset of it, namely Taiwan's, gives you a skewed and incomplete perception.

Anonymous said...

Moreover, unlike India, China has methodically developed its infrastructure along the disputed border, littering the barren terrain with highways and railways capable of moving large numbers of goods and troops.--

i dont know where he got his strategic knowledge but India do it better for own defense. so are "highways and railways" not ever the good idea for own defense unless you are trying to start the war.

Anonymous said...

India is hosting the Dalai Lama and his supporters, while China hosts no Indian separatists.---

WHAHAHAHAHA.. another idiot apears.. just in case but ALL terrorist and separatist atack inside of India are done by chinese weapons and financial help.

Robert R. said...

Anon, that's some quality misstating of the DL's position. Well done.

As for defense, the lack of roads does make it harder for the expansionists to move into the territory, but makes it near impossible for the Indians to actually get men and equipment into the theater.