Saturday, June 11

China: ducking reality

"Pundita, Do you think America's China policy is coherent? To me there is a tension between the protectionist/ isolationist/ China as rival camp and a steadily weaker free trade/ multilateral/ China as partner camp. Is there any hope for reason or is China the next American bogeyman? When I see a mainstream Hollywood movie with Chinese villains I'll know who's won, but how far is that day? And more importantly, can it be avoided?
Simon in Hong Kong"

Dear Simon:
Yes, sure, there's a way the worst can be avoided but the worst is not what you envision. First let's go over old ground: There was a bi-polar US policy toward China for decades -- ever since the US got the idea to play Red China against the Soviet Union. The only way Washington could keep up the contradictory aspects of the policy -- really two policies -- was through a massive effort of willful blindness about China's military dictatorship.

After the Soviet Union dissolved, the Containment policy, along with the Cold War double policy toward China and many other nations, drifted. The push by Western transnationals to use China as an offshore manufacturing plantation came to dominate US relations with China. In 1995 the push was codified, at the policy level, with the creation of the 'America Desk' at the State Department. It was explicitly stated that US business interests should be at the forefront of US foreign policy.

In line with this the CIA and DoD were in effect gutted by the Clinton administration. Add to this, the inherent limitations of a military in a democracy. Every year the Pentagon has to deliver a report on various nations' military strength, including China's. But until this year the parameters of the report were so narrow as to give a very distorted and incomplete picture of China's threat.

For example if you make a simple comparison between, say, China's naval strength and the US counterpart, well of course China is no threat. Ditto for nuclear missiles, etc. In short, if you exclude every scenario except classic symmetrical warfare, China comes up short.

So every year there was the ritual of Congress and the White House asking the Pentagon, "Are they a threat yet?" and the Pentagon replying, "Nope."

After 9/11, it dawned on Congress that in theory at least it would be possible to destroy any nation, even America, using asymmetrical warfare combined with portable WMD. At that point everybody began ringing up all those American companies that had been using China for a plantation and allowing hordes of Chinese to work for them stateside with minimal supervision. They asked, "Just exactly what kind of technology have you shared with the Chinese all these years?"

They also rang up German, French, British and Israeli defense contractors and asked the same question. Then they began rooting in the files in the office that looks just like the warehouse in the final scene of Raider's of the Lost Ark. The name of this office was "All the intelligence reports on China nobody bothered to read for the past half century."

Then they rang up the Indian military and asked, "Would you mind repeating all those wild claims you've been making about China for the past 40 years?"

By the end of 2002, the Congress had felt their way toward the idea that it's plumb loco to allow trade issues to dominate a superpower nation's defense policy. From there, it was a hop and a skip to the realization that a nation pays a high price for willful blindness. But it was a little late in the day to apply the realization to China, which held a huge amount of US debt.

In short, by 2003 it was painfully clear that America had not been content to make one Faustian Bargain -- the one with Saudi Arabia. They had made two. So the question was how to back away from the edge of the cliff without crashing the US economy and the world economy.

But again, it was late in the day. The weapons/ dual-use technologies that China had acquired had been sold to any despot or terrorist army with the money to buy. When American officials and military brass yelled at their Chinese counterparts, "What were you thinking?" the Chinese lapsed into Pidgin English and produced charts and graphs to demonstrate they were just a poor developing country.

So here we are today. The Shanghai Gang managed to eject Jiang Zemin and his crew from power as a sop but again it's late. The US has done a pretty good job of locating the al Qaeda sleeper cells in the United States -- the ones that were already in country in 2001.

I don't know how the Australian government has done with their batch. Europe's report card is not good. Keep in mind that England was the terror capital of the world for decades because of their very compliant policy toward Islamic 'dissidents.' The Saudi government has bumped off every al Qaeda cell they could find but they ain't called sleeper cells for nothing. Doubtful the Saudis got all the sleepers.

As for Russia -- another country that was very irresponsible about dual-use technology and weapons sales -- it's doubtful Russia's scorched earth policy after the Beslan massacre rooted out all the sleeper cells.

As for Canada and the countries south of the American border, nobody knows. As to when the enemy will strike again, nobody except the top al Qaeda leaders know the answer. But the money in the US defense community is on a coordinated strike in many parts of the globe.

I don't mean to single out China. There was a lot of yelling behind closed doors in Jerusalem, in Paris, in London, in Moscow, in Washington, in Riyadh, and many other world capitals. Basically, you can't go to sleep with your eyes open in a world of portable nukes and expect everything to be peaches and cream on the day you wake up.

What you're seeing coming out of Washington is not incoherent policy; it's the struggle to ditch the bi-polar policies -- the double standard -- and formulate a single policy that looks at the world with clear eyes.

How do you create rational defense/foreign policy in an interconnected world, a very dangerous world, which runs on trade? That is the question before Washington, before every government that's awake. President Bush and the US military leaders know the Bogeyman isn't a nation, no matter how much grandstanding politicians do to please constituents and lobbyists. The Bogeyman is an intersection of events.

So allow me to reformulate your question to read: "Is Beijing awake yet?" Eight thousand dead migratory ducks say no.

Beijing was warned before and after SARS broke out. They were warned before and after the big H5N1 outbreak. The WHO and CDC warned until they were blue in the face: Don't lie; give the most accurate reports you can, immediately. Don't wait days or even hours. Still, each time, Beijing suppressed the true number of dead birds and lagged in making reports. This happened again just days ago.

Then they lied about the cover-up -- stupid lies because many Chinese across China saw dead birds falling from the sky. There are unconfirmed reports that Chinese who made accurate reports about the number of dead ducks they counted were arrested. Given the long, well-documented history of Beijing's attempts at coverup, the reports hardly need confirmation. That's the spirit! Ward off a pandemic by throwing it in jail.

Realize this death falling from the sky had happened before -- during the last outbreak. There was no way to prevent everyone from describing what they saw.

So why does the leadership in Beijing act like that? Because they are not confronting the reality that Ayman al-Zawahiri doesn't give a damn about Chinese wanting to save Face. The H5 strain of virus couldn't care less how hard Chinese work to make their nation look spiffy for 2008 Olympics visitors.

Please nobody write Pundita to ask if I know about the joint defense conference. They are still sleepwalking. Earth calling Beijing: Wake up.

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