Saturday, June 05, 2010

Gates snubbed by PRC Military, F-16s in doubt

First, the Taipei Times report on the snub of Defense Secretary Robert Gates' visit to China:
On Thursday, Gates told US reporters in Singapore he believed it was the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) — rather than the Beijing civilian leadership — that was responsible for cooling relations and nixing an invitation for him to visit.

A CNN producer reported after talking with Gates that the secretary had been “dismissive” of Chinese protests regarding sales of US weapons to Taiwan.


Earlier this week, Pentagon officials said Beijing gave no reason for not inviting Gates, but they “assumed” it was part of a continuing protest about arms sales to Taiwan.

Since then, US government sources have told the Taipei Times that the Gates snub may not just be a protest about past arms sales, but a warning that relations would deteriorate sharply if the US agreed to sell the 66 F-16C/D fighters that Taipei wants.

American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) Chairman Raymond Burghardt, who is currently visiting Taipei, said when asked about the possibility of an F-16 sale that Washington was “considering it carefully.”

After meeting with Burghardt on Thursday, Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) told reporters that he got the feeling that Washington was very likely to give a green light to the sale.
Gates blamed the Chinese military, which, it is said, is hawkish and wants to challenge the US. But at Foreign Policy columnist Josh Rogin says the snub raises questions about China ties (read the whole thing, it's good):
U.S. officials admit privately that the the Gates snub is a bad sign, one that contradicts the impression they had coming off the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue that saw more than 200 U.S. officials travel to China just two weeks ago. Officials said that they still hold out hope that Gates will be granted a visit soon, but their confidence about China's willingness to improve military-to-military relations is quickly eroding, and the road ahead is far from clear.

"Nearly all of the aspects of the relationship between the United States and China are moving forward in a positive direction, with the sole exception of the military-to-military relationship ... the PLA [People's Liberation Army] is significantly less interested in this relationship than the political leadership of China." Gates said Thursday in a rare open rebuke of the Chinese military. Gates made the remark en route to Singapore, where defense officials from all the Pacific countries except for China are convening for the annual Shangri-la Dialogue.

The conventional wisdom in Washington is that China is still protesting U.S. arms sales to Taiwan. But an administration official told The Cable that it's just not that simple. There is a struggle inside the Chinese Communist Party between those who want to more forcefully confront the U.S. on a range of issues, mostly within the PLA, and those who genuinely seek better ties, and the faction favoring confrontation is gaining ground.
Randall Shriver's comments on the problem of mil-mil relations in that piece hit the target:
"The Chinese are seeking leverage wherever they think they may find it to persuade us to curtail or stop completely U.S. arms sales to Taiwan -- and our actions surely give them the impression they have leverage by holding out on mil-mil contacts," said Randall Schriver, former deputy assistant secretary of State for East Asia.
The irony of hitting the military is profound -- recall that the Pentagon, especially the Navy, has been an ardent suitor of China. Hence the Chinese -- as so often -- are crapping on their benefactor.

The Taipei Times reports links the mil-on-mil pressure to the F-16s but the Foreign Policy column says that the issue is driven by China's domestic politics. I'll take Door B on that.

Schriver put his finger on an issue I've discussed before. The US views "the relationship" itself as important, as a goal, whereas the Chinese view their concrete policy goals as important. Hence the tendency is for China to threaten the relationship in order to achieve goals (such as stopping arms sales to Taiwan). As long as the US values the existence of the relationship itself, over the concrete goals of the relationship, it will be vulnerable to this strategy of Beijing.

Indeed, China's policy of using "anger" -- and remember that anger is a policy -- has been so successful that all over Washington officials dealing with China issues appear to have totally internalized the possibility of Chinese "anger", asking of possible Washington policy moves whether they will make China angry. Hence China closes off policy choices before they receive proper consideration, and US policy is dominated by fear of petulance. Isn't it time the US stopped worrying about whether it will piss off China?

The F-16s are a case in point. Despite KMT Legislative Speaker Wang's comments above, a person present at the press conference of AIT head Raymond Burghardt said that Burghardt was questioned about the F-16s but really only said that the US was willing to refurbish Taiwan's existing aircraft. Burghardt, by all accounts an immensely likeable man in a fantastic job -- he gets to be diplomat here while based in the heartbreakingly tough post of Hawaii -- is a man "who says nothing straighter than anyone I've ever met" according to one local reporter I know. Burghardt gave no assurances on the F-16s at the presser.

He also said that the claims that the upcoming termination of the F-16 production line puts pressure on the US is nonsense. If the US wants to sell Taiwan F-16s, it can re-open the line, he said. The unspoken corollary to that is that the line can stay closed, too, if the US so chooses.

In other words, Taiwan is probably not getting any new F-16s, which in any case are now no match for the current generation of fighters coming out of China. Though the Chinese-made copies of the Russian Su-27 are having teething troubles, as the China Reform Monitor reported:
Due to technical problems, China's Air Force has refused to accept 16 J-11B fighters manufactured by the Shenyang Aircraft Corp based in Liaoning Province. China is believed to have developed the new fighter based on technology from the Russian Sukhoi Su-27 fighter, suggesting the firm may have failed to properly employ Russian technology. “When the Air Force was checking them up for delivery, J-11B had abnormal vibration after taking off. As a result, the Air Force refused to accept the aircraft,” Japan’s Kyodo News quoted a Chinese source as saying. The J-11B was reportedly not chosen for exhibition at the October 5th National Day military parade due to doubts about the domestically manufactured fighter.
.....other modern fighters, such as the J-10, are coming online. China is also reported to have developed advanced “meter-wave radar technology capable of detecting stealth aircraft in actual combat,” the Beijing-owned Ta Kung Pao reports (via China Reform Monitor).

Unless Congress moves, because the Administration is dominated by its desire to achieve "better relations" with China -- a will-o-wisp if ever there was one, we're not getting any F-16s. Chew on that.
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D said...

Cheer up. The latest Reuters report has this quote:

"[Gates] urged Beijing to accept the "reality" that Washington is committed to arming Taiwan, like it or not.

"It should be clear to everyone now -- more than 30 years after normalization -- that interruptions in our military relationship with China will not change United States policy toward Taiwan," Gates said."

Dealing with the Chinese government is always going to be a pain in the butt. That's how it's been since the Qing dynasty and it's probably not going to change.

Don said...

This from the Rogin piece:

"Some critics wonder aloud why the U.S. is always in the position of the ardent suitor when it comes to deepening military relations with China. After all, the U.S. is still the world's pre-eminint military power and the Chinese refusal to engage is a net loss for China, they say."

Incredible really, but the US has been in the supplicatory role in this "relationship" since 1971.

It should be no surprise that the PLA alone feels no obligation, ever, to pretend otherwise. CCP authority in China is 100% underwritten by the military and the highest organ of national authority is the Central Military Commission -- for which the Politburo is never more than a temporary shopfront in times of peace. What's more, the Chinese population is mentally and socially militarized to a degree unimaginable in the developed world. The country is far closer to N Korea in this respect than it is to the imagined strategic partner of Washington DC wishful thinking.

The idea that a PLA-controlled PRC will accommodate itself to Western expectations of a 7-Habits-type win-win relationship, presumably so as to support a global "pax" americana and eternal US domination of the Pacific up to China's shores, is sheer fantasy.

From the PRC perspective, the only net loss for China is if the US's anomalous international hegemony is allowed to endure for much longer.