Posted by: mulrickillion | November 14, 2011

The wrong model for China

By Peter Lee, Nov 5, 2011 —

It looks like China, faced with shrinking geopolitical options as the United States orchestrates a ”return to Asia”, is modifying its "peaceful development" doctrine and imitating the American security-based foreign policy that has brought the world so much grief over the last decade.

It would seem to be the worst possible choice.

The toxic legacy of the economic and foreign policies of the George W Bush years was on full display this week, as President Barack Obama, trying to turn his attention to China and Asia, got mugged by George Papandreou and Benjamin Netanyahu instead.

The United States envisioned the Group of 20 (G-20) meeting in Cannes as a declaration that the Greek crisis had been successfully finessed through the foresight and steadfast courage of the European Union, and it could harangue China on the issue of its bloated foreign exchange reserves. . . .

China can take these absurd antics as further confirmation of the political and economic dysfunction at the heart of the West’s 21st-century mix of democracy, capitalism, and militarism.

The bad news is, the dysfunction is headed China’s way.

The Libyan adventure – the replacement of a centralized autocracy with local thug rule and establishment of a weak national government desperately reliant on Western and Gulf sheikdom military and economic assistance, at the cost of only a few billion dollars and no Western casualties – is being called "one of the most successful in NATO history". . . .

In the Pacific, the United States chose to declare its commitment to maintaining free navigation through the South China Sea, thereby giving aid and comfort to the smaller states, notably Vietnam, suffering from China’s high-handed bullying on the issue of disputed atolls, sandbars, and rocks.

From Beijing’s perspective, the US declaration was a calculated slap in the face. In closed door discussions with US diplomats, China had previously stated that it considered the South China Sea "a core interest".

It appears that China’s intent was not to define the South China Sea – in which it was already engaged in bilateral wrangling with half-a-dozen countries and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations – as its exclusive territory. Instead, it is more likely that Beijing wanted the US to acknowledge the South China Sea as an area in which Beijing could lean on its local antagonists without a lot of squawking from Washington. In this context, "core interest" was probably meant to be construed as "sphere of influence", but without the acrid hegemonist/imperialist taste.

The exact opposite happened, of course, and Washington made a point of leaking Beijing’s "core interest" declaration – which, instead of sounding less cynical than "sphere of influence", sounded like a declaration of war against the region and the US.
Beijing was predictably infuriated, and the always unlikely dream of the "Group of 2" – a cooperative relationship between the US and China – evaporated for good.

A solution to the intractable South China Sea is probably more remote than ever.

"Mission Accomplished" for the US team, perhaps, since the festering situation gives America an open-ended opportunity to meddle.

The breakdown in relations with the US has created an awkward situation for China, whose foreign policy and economic strategy are built around the rhetoric of "win-win" world growth – or as cynics would put it, "selling the West the rope to hang itself with". Chinese ideologues have been straining to find a doctrine that allows for peaceful coexistence with the United States.

Treaty of Westphalia-type respect for sovereignty hasn’t worked. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton killed that with the Information Freedom/human-rights agenda. Libya buried it.

Appeals to enlightened self-interest haven’t worked. Especially in an economic downturn, there is too much political and geopolitical hay to be made by attacking China’s ill-gotten wealth.

The "core interest", aka "sphere of interest", formula hasn’t worked either. As the South China Sea fiasco indicates, any attempt by China to define a "core interest" beyond Tibet and Taiwan will be used against it. . . .

Asia Times Online: The wrong model for China

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