Monday, May 02, 2005

Discussing China at Foreign Exchange

The last couple of days, I have been discussing China at Foreign Exchange. It is not Fareed Zakaria TV show, Foreign Exchange. It is Vikash Yadav's weblog, Foreign Exchange. I found Vikash's blog through his wife Stacey's blog. I have been reading his blog for more than a month now and have always enjoy his insightful comments. He was kind enough to give me a detail respond on how the Middle East can adapt the Pacific Rim model to their economy. I was intented on posting on that subject but another post of his caught my attention instead.
Vikash discussed Robert D. Kaplan article in the Atlantic Monthly concerning China titles "How We Would Fight China." Vikash disagrees strongly with Kaplan's argument that China is desiring hegemonic dominance and he also disagree with Kaplan assessment of China military intention. The post is here with my comments. In my comment, I defended Kaplan. I actually feel guilty that my first major posting on Foreign Exchange is not of praise but criticism. And to add to my guilt, he was very generous about my comment. But I think it is my best analysis thus far, so I will post it. But the credit goes to Vikash too. His analysis is one of those analysis that you disagree with, but it is so cogent that it forces you think hard to come up with a good respond.
Here is part of our conversation. There rest is here. Vikash stated that:
Kaplan is making an assumption that China harbors a deep desire for hegemonic dominance. This is incorrect strategic analysis. Chinese military doctrine is completely defensive… The only thing that a friend or foe of China needs to understand is what China considers to be within its perimeter. China is primarily obsessed with reversing its so-called "Century of Humiliation."
In which I responded:

I have to agree with Kaplan assumption because of two underlining premises, the definition of hegemony and Chinese military doctrine. Chung Kuo is what the Chinese call their country. It is often incorrectly translated as the Middle Kingdom. The first syllable Chung mean center and the second syllable Kuo means country. This is how Chinese are taught from birth to see their country, the center of the universe, the flower of civilizations. China perception of itself, or an ideal perception of itself is key to how it perceive other. China does seek hegemony and has historically, until the last two century, enjoyed hegemony. Historically, China relationship between itself and its neighbors was were superior-subordinate relationships. That was the nature of international relation in the Pacific until the arrival of Westerners. It meant that annually, at China Imperial court, countries far and near paid tribute to China in lavish gifts and openly recognized China supremacy, swore allegiance and reaffirmed their vassals status in relation to China. Rulers of Pacific countries had to seek official recognition from China. For instance, before a Vietnamese crown-prince became a Sovereign, he had to get approval from China before his coronation. The Chinese Emperor then grant him a title and a new name, in addition to his Sovereign name. In Vietnam, the ruler called himself Emperor at home, but when addressing the Chinese emissary, he referred to himself only as King. All these were formality and symbolic but violation of these etiquettes guaranteed a war, often not annexation war, but a punitive war. The 1979 Sino-Vietnamese war is the modern example of punitive campaign. What usually happened is vassal states apologized, sent more lavished gifts, and be pardoned. This is hegemony as it understood in the Pacific.

You are absolutely correct in saying that China want to reverse its "Century of Humiliation." But that means a restoration of power relation in the Pacific to the condition prior to the arrival of the Westerners, which is the condition similar to what I described above. In such a condition, the whole Pacific is within China perimeter as a sphere of influence. China therefore naturally resent US influence in the region. The facts that other Pacific countries often went to the US first for assistance before going to China is an unbearable insult.

Chinese recent shift in its military doctrine reflect its ambition. The so call defensive people war doctrine was discarded replaced by a more offensive doctrine. There were two primary reasons for this evolution. First, the PLA was shifting its doctrine from the "People's War" to fighting a "Local War Under High-Technology Conditions." The Chinese believe their next war will be a short, fast-paced conflict on their periphery rather than a protracted war of attrition on friendly terrain...

Vikash responded:
I am aware of China's traditional understanding of hegemony vis-a-vis its vassal states (which even extended at one time to Sri Lanka). However, I would have to disagree that this is how China would like to frame relations in the current era. Let us look at China's relations with India. China did wage a (successful) punitive campaign against India in 1962, but its current relationship is not an attempt to place India in a humiliatingly superior-subordinate relationship. At least I don't think Indian or Chinese leaders perceive it that way. Admittedly, China's relations with Vietnam and the "Nanyang" region as a whole are more complex and delicate because of historical relations. However, I do not think that China since the eighties has sought to meddle in Vietnam's foreign or domestic policy, nor did it derail the re-estalishment of diplomatic relations between the US and Vietnam. (I am unfamiliar with Vietnamese history after the 1979 conflict, so correct me if I
am wrong).
...I think the shift in PLA tactics and strategy is not equal to a shift in overall military doctrine. (In fact if I recall my Garver readings correctly, that tactical shift occurred in the sixties). Your own post shows that China is not preparing for occupation, but for fighting short forward battles on the periphery and retreating. This is the tactic they used against India, Korea, etc. Their doctrine is not about regime change or occupation of foreign soil. The Chinese use force to bring states back to the bargaining table. This may cause some humiliation if a country gets its nose bloodied, but the goal is not to subordinate/overthrow/occupy/annex the neighboring country.
I still disagree with Vikash but it was a very good and challenging debate and his argument remain strong and cogent. Jing from Those Who Dare provided some additional information as well as his post on the 1979 Sino-Vietnamese War. Thank you, Vikash, for a good intellectual exercise.

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