The Rapid Vanishing of the Great Facade
(I’ve got 3 or 4 more posts planned. I’m in a bit of a rush to get them out because I know within the next few weeks I will be unable to write so freely. Sorry for the serious post, but sometimes we need to understand the world around us and be made aware of what is happening in the South China Sea.
It’s historic, and very precedent setting.
I've struggled with this a bit. China takes over some islands. So what? Seriously..WHAT IS THE BIG DEAL? Than I realized the Big Deal is that China, if it is allowed to handle disputes with its neighbors one on one, rather than as a part of a larger body of nations, that it will pretty much be able to get its way, and do whatever it wants, when it wants.
I’ve been working on the below for a full week. I realize it’s not well written or organized. I just ran out of time, and I’m still bothered by the fact my Pulitzer has not found its way to me yet. I know, I just know its lost in the mail somewhere.)
What will China do when a USN ship goes within 12 miles of an island claimed by China?
We’ve already talked briefly about the consequences of a conflict with China, in the past. I’m also aware you guys would rather have me talk more on the personal relationship side with China. Allow me to diverge from that with this post.
Any type of conflict with China will be akin to what happened when the US invaded Iraq over a decade ago; that is, it will blow the top off of a simmering conflict, and bring it into the wide open, where passions and prejudices will collide with nationalistic fervor as regards that loaded word of “destiny”.
In retrospect it seems so blindingly obvious that invading Iraq was nothing more than a son’s attempt to fully restore the legacy of a father. What it also shows perhaps is just how wise the father was not to “finish the job”.
While we frequently hear and read about how we’ve gained nothing but the ire of the Islamists, I would argue they already hated us, and just needed an excuse to put their thoughts into action. However, if the USA had stayed out of Iraq would the world had seen so much death and destruction over the past decade?
It is within this context I need to wonder what will happen if China and America do come into conflict? I’m pretty certain China has given orders to its people not “to shoot” under any circumstances. But when stress, emotion and nationalistic fervor become involved does not reason and logic disappear?
These are my thoughts if the obviously “don’t do that’s” do indeed take place:
The laowai in China
As I’d mentioned earlier, in another post, the first thing one can expect is that any foreigner in China will be presumed by the “non discriminating” Chinese to be an American. Be honest, how many non-American laowai have been assumed to be American? Probably all of you. You are all sick of the inevitable question, 你是美国人吗？
Laowai will be beaten up in bars. In situations such as these, China will lump us all “together”. Insulted and spit on. Called names on the street. Dragged from taxi’s and beaten up. Taxi’s will even refuse to take you as a rider. Being seen walking down the street with a Chinese girl, or vice versa will add fuel to the roaring fire.
Living with a Chinese girlfriend? Do you have permission to rent that apartment? In other words expect the harassment of Americans to greatly increase. And unfortunately, of other laowai as well.
There can be no measured response
50 or 75 years from now maybe China will fess up and some brave 80 year old something Chinese author will write a short book saying “we riled up the masses and brought it all on ourselves”.
The USA will not be able to have a tit for tat with China. Chinese Psychology will not allow it. The USA might think it can, but it cannot. If a USN ship is attacked and people are killed, or even fired upon, the USA will have to respond. Then the Chinese will have to respond. Accusations etc will fly, and perhaps the event will even be kept secret from the media.
(Don’t kid yourself. The USN knew that artillery was on the island for a whole month before anyone else did. That artillery is gone now. The USN probably told them to quietly take it off. Or maybe China was testing to see what it could get away with)
But this much is true: China will not be allowed to unilaterally withdrawal from those islands. The Chinese people will not allow it. Xi’s credibility as a leader will be put into question. Withdrawing from those islands will doom Xi.
What would China do if the USN simply put a decrepit ship and beached it right up on the lagoon? Or several? (This is an extreme example.)
There is no ending that I can foresee that ends well for China, ie, China keeping and occupying those islands for itself, militarizing or not. It is only a matter of time before the USN has a full fledged naval base maybe a days’ sail from these islands, in the Philippines.
So what does a tit for tat lead to?
There are two scenarios. One is modest, another extreme.
The modest scenario is simple: An incident does occur. This incident would lead to China refusing to grant the US Navy freedom of the seas. Ships collide. Then both sides quickly and quietly meet in Beijing to defuse the situation. China quietly agrees not to militarize the islands, and to accept the US’ right to sail within 12 miles of these rocks. Done.
China is not forced to leave the islands. Both sides call it a “win-win”.
Now the Extreme……
A short, sharp, violent encounter occurs that forces the USN to escalate. Maybe a Chinese ship collides with an American vessel. China’s main tactic is the “Swarm tactic”. It would simply send many, many smaller vessels not affiliated with the Chinese Navy to block and intimidate the US Navy from entering the 12 mile zone.
However, this is where it gets tricky. Thanks to CNN, we all now know the Chinese have done what we previously thought was “unthinkable” and, not only occupied those islands, but publicly declared them a part of “Chinese sovereignty”. These islands are 1000 miles from China and only 163 from the Philippines. I don’t know what is scarier, China thinking it could get away with such a thing, or The Chinese People thinking they have the right to take such an action…???
Still don’t believe how different China is from the West? Read the above line one more time.
Only if one uses logic “with Chinese characteristics” can one make such a claim. Well, the next “unthinkable” line to cross would be militarizing them.
Should the USN not be able to express the freedom of the seas, the American public will likewise put pressure on Obama to “do something”. Honestly, speaking, the only ships in the American navy arsenal probably big enough to gain entrance to the 12 mile zone in a situation such as this would be carriers. China has so many ships in the area, though hardly any “navy”, that it would indeed be hard to avoid the “swarm”.
End of the Facade
In short, this whole unraveling of “The Great Façade” would lead to the unmasking of the rivalry. Pretense would disappear. An arms race would become more prevalent. Sides would be chosen.
It leads to one naval action after another. With the speed of information, the Chinese people will know only a short time after the result of any conflict takes place. That is, they will know almost as quickly as the Chinese Leadership knows. The Internet precludes China from being able to “control the story”.
It is only natural these great powers collide in a violent way. It is unnatural that they do not. Populations of both sides want something to happen. The USA is just dying to kick China in the teeth. It is tired of reading of both overt and covert hacking of it's institutions(and of the entire West), tired of suspecting and guessing which of it's native born Chinese is actually a spy. China can't wait to flex it's muscles. This is the way powerful countries should behave!
Preventing something from breaking out will be the greatest diplomatic coup of the 21th Century.
In it's simplest, most base form, it is a Race between China installing someone born Post Cultural Revolution, with no memory of China's Poverty or Backwardness, who has neither a chip on his shoulder, nor an ingrained inferiority complex with the West.....but wait....isn't that how China educates it's citizenry......? How can a Chinese leader grow up any other way?
How can China continue to co-exist in a world with other nations, while peacefully settling in?
And if China cannot control the story what will happen?
In its extreme form, it would be the eventual complete sinking of China’s navy, and the banning of China even having a Navy, ie similar to the denuding of Japan after WW2. That is really the only way the USN can contain China for the foreseeable future. It would mean a lot of USN ships being sunk as well. We simply have more ships to lose than China does.
One can make the very reasonable claim that China, as an importer of goods and a Great Nation, has the unabridged right to maintain a Navy. True.
But what if said Navy has as one of its purposes and missions to expand and protect its line of defense right up within shouting distance of another nation, at the expense of International Law?
How would China give up such a claim without losing respect not just within China but within all of Asia? Such a climb down would devastate China’s diplomatic corps. Its foreign policy would be in tatters.
Even having a tit for tat with China is dangerous. For all the folks out there from the West that remember the Cold War, laugh at the Russians all you want, at least they knew how to “play the game”.
The Chinese do not. The Chinese nation is so pathologically insecure and in need of respect its actions would not, could not be patterned after some Western example. In short, China would be unpredictable.
Or it could simply lead to twenty years of open hostilities between both nations. That is, the bringing of a simmering rivalry into the open for all to see. Not a war, but an arms race to rectify the situation.
The end of cooperation as regards North Korea, the end of Hong Kong’s “independence”, the creation of an Australian-Japanese military alliance, the establishment of a huge naval base at Vietnams Camranh Bay, only a stone’s throw from China. And the expenditure of a lot of money.
And the complete isolation of China in its own backyard. Nations are not just watching China, but America. Most are on the fence.
The big loser in all this would be Hong Kong. （See ya) That’s just how China sees everything. It doesn’t look at it as a US-Sino rivalry, but rather as a “Us vs Them” scenario. For China everything is zero sum. That’s the problem with nations so pathologically driven by face. It cannot win “half-way”. It can only get what it wants. The price of not getting what it wants is just unthinkable.
Why would Hong Kong suffer? Simple, Beijing knows how “dear to our heart” Hong Kong is. In short, Hong Kong becomes collateral damage. Punished not for a crime, but purely for the sake of emotionally wounding it’s sympathizer, The West.
Obama is also a loser. As Clinton was known as the “guy who couldn’t kill Bin Laden”, Obama not fifteen years from now will be known as the “guy that let China grow strong”. Is this fair, though? Didn’t Obama have the cojones to go after Bin Laden when he saw an opening? Indeed he did.
So does this whole Rise of China thing really Obama’s fault? Of course not. But historians decades from now will remember it was on Obama’s Watch when China made its move.
The Philippines wins in any increase of tension between America and China over these silly islands. The Philippines becomes a life time protectorate, once again…..just like “the good ole days”.
China has taken the full measure of Obama(and of America), and decided it can get away with these crazy building up of the islands. So I say congratulations, you’re right and you win round one. It says volumes of how Xi views Obama. Don’t believe me? Don’t they have a State Visit coming up in September? In America? How’s that gonna play out? Doesn’t look like Xi gives a damn.
You see, Xi doesn’t have to deal with newspapers telling him how “risky” his decision making is.
If Xi really cared what Obama thought, or in the tiniest corner of his mind respected him, he’d have waited until AFTER the State Visit. But fuck to all that. I’ll have those islands now, if you please.
In sum, Xi just doesn’t fear Obama. And the root of all decision making within China is fear. I don’t know what it was that tipped the balance between Xi and Obama(nor do you), but over the past couple of years, Xi decided this was a risk worth taking. And you know what….so far he’s right.
One can recuse Xi of any guilt for drinking his own Kool-Aid. He’s a popular dude, and has thrown a lot of very bad people in jail. In short, he’s guilty of acting the same way everyone else surrounded by sycophants act….invincible. Not under the inconvenience of having to read in the newspapers on a daily basis how dumb his decisions or policies are, China’s Dear Leader can be forgiven for believing he can do no wrong. Rationality takes a back seat.
I think China has the long game in mind here. Everyone knows Clinton will probably be the next American President. Everyone knows what a Hardass she is. Loveable Jackie O, she is not. China wants its buildup to be complete BEFORE she takes office and it’s too late to do anything about it.
First build up the islands and put in a runway.
Once the next president comes into power, put in some troops and weaponry.
Within ten years, China will have a whole string of these fortified islands. All without firing a shot.
Pretty impressive, eh?