Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Irrational Rise

Manchurian Candidate 2010: student recruited by PRC intelligence for deep penetration. He can't be the only one:
The operations range from sustained cyber-attacks to deep-penetration agents inside the US government like the kind of agent Shriver was meant to be,” he said.

Shriver first went to China when he was 21 years old, to study Mandarin at East China Normal University in Shanghai for a year.

He returned to China the following year for a visit and was approached by a woman called Amanda who offered to pay him US$120 to write a political assessment of how US-China relations were impacted by Taiwan.

According to court papers, Shriver was then introduced to two Chinese intelligence officers identified as Mr Wu and Mr Tang.

They persuaded Shriver to continue working for them by returning to the US and getting a job in either the US State Department or the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

The intelligence agents told him: “If it’s possible, we want you to get us some secrets of classified information.”

Shriver went home and took the Foreign Service exam twice — failing both times — in order to apply for a job with the State Department.

To keep his spirits up, the Chinese agents gave him a US$30,000 bonus.

Next, he applied for a job with the CIA and the Chinese gave him US$40,000 more.

Shriver told the agency that he had no contact with a foreign government, but during the extensive background checks it performs on potential employees, the CIA discovered that he had held 20 meetings with Chinese agents from 2004 to 2007.
Which is by way of introducing Dan Blumenthal's piece in Foreign Policy: What happened to China's peaceful rise? Blumenthal asks: what happened to China's soft power, its reputed patient, skillful diplomacy? Disappearing, as China rises. He turns to a couple of recent books to explain China's behavior in terms of its cultural view of a heirarchical, sino-centric world in which it sits at the top, with the Warring States period as its model for current international relations:
Thus, it could be that the current sanctification of Westphalian norms in China's foreign policy is merely a useful instrument in what Chinese strategists view as the competitive struggle for political hegemony ongoing today. Sovereign equality is accepted as a reality, at least for now, until China can establish a political order more in line with the Sino-centric hierarchy it naturally prefers. The concept of "non-interference" and respect for sovereignty is a useful way for Beijing to defend the territory China already controls and that which China claims.

In a competitive international setting, China would be highly attentive to the slightest adjustment in the distribution of power among states. The proximate cause of China's expansive South China Sea claims may have been a judgment that the current hegemon -- the United States -- was reeling from the financial crisis and distracted by two wars. The weakness of the strongest state in the system presented an opportunity for China to make its claim on the South China Sea more public and coerce the lesser "tributary" states along its periphery to accept Beijing's diktat.

The strong counter-reaction by Secretaries Clinton and Gates took the Chinese by surprise and left Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi stunned and furious. But precisely in his moment of fury, Foreign Minister Yang had much to reveal about how the Chinese elite think. In Yang's view, Secretary Clinton was "attacking China." And as Yang said, "China is a big country and other countries are small countries and that is just a fact." This reaction makes a great deal of sense when seen through the prism of China's world view as explained by Ford, Newymer and Pillsbury. First, Beijing sees itself as in an intensive competition for primacy that parallels the Warring States Period. U.S. attempts to stand up for its interests and allies are not taken at face value, they are "attacks" on China. Second, the natural order of things is that the "small countries" must accept China's superior position. In Beijing's view, accepting your natural place in the hierarchy is not just a matter of power politics in the classical realist sense, it is right, proper, and the only way to establish a stable order.
These two ideas help explain a lot of what we're seeing in Beijing's international diplomacy, including the waiting game it played when China was weak. The key in this case to understanding "the rise of China" is that it is a twofold event: China is rising, and the US is in decline. Had we not burned out our military and blown up our budget with two useless wars, we might be in a much better position to engage China.

The American folly in Afghanistan also gives lie, I would argue, to those who constantly argue that China will not do X because X is irrational. The US, a democracy with a vigorous opposition both right and left, still cannot shut down its war in Afghanistan, which is draining its strength, debasing the national democracy, and destroying its ability to make an economic recovery -- not to mention making Central Asia safe for Chinese expansion. The behavior of the US foreign policymaking elites on the Afghan War is the very picture of irrationality. And that is the supposedly competent US at work. How much worse will Beijing be?

Well, we're getting glimpses all over the place -- from China aggressing on Japan about Beijing's entirely artificial claim to the Senkakus to the steady seizure of Vietnamese fishing boats in the South China Sea to a whole state of India appearing on Chinese maps as Chinese to Colonel Saito and Annexation Barbie haranguing the Taiwanese delegation at a film festival in Japan.* There's no rational reason for Beijing to simultaneously peeve all of its neighbors at the same time. But there it is....

*Saito. Thanks to K C for "annexation barbie."
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Dixteel said...

"And as Yang said, 'China is a big country and other countries are small countries and that is just a fact.'"

This is actually very interesting. I did not know he said that. It really shows how Chinese officials think.

Karl said...

The argument that "China will not do X because X is irrational" is generally made by people who have not spent any significant time in China.

Marc said...

Yang's comment, and Ma's similar reference in the TT:

must both be referencing Mencius:

1. The king Hsüan of Ch'î asked, saying, 'Is there any way to regulate one's maintenance of intercourse with neighbouring kingdoms?' Mencius replied, 'There is. But it requires a perfectly virtuous prince to be able, with a great country, to serve a small one,-- as, for instance, T'ang served Ko, and king Wan served the Kwan barbarians. And it requires a wise prince to be able, with a small country, to serve a large one,-- as the king T'âi served the Hsün-yü, and Kâu-ch'ien served Wû.

2. 'He who with a areat State serves a small one, delights in Heaven. He who with a small State serves a large one, stands in awe of Heaven. He who delights in Heaven, will affect with his love and protection the whole kingdom. He who stands in awe of Heaven, will affect with his love and protection his own kingdom.

Book 1, Part 2, Chapter3