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09 February 2013


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FB Ali

One report you won't read in US newspapers or hear on US news media:

"Homs' displaced residents begin to return after year of sustained bombing"



Since this is an open thread: To you all a hearty Kölle Alaaf!

David Habakkuk

F.B. Ali,

I see it has been reported that the Chinese might construct a naval base at Gwadar. Are there reports plausible – and if so, what would be the thinking behind the decision, and would be the strategic purposes of the base? And – a question also for Neil Richardson – what would be the likely American, and also Indian, responses?

David Habakkuk

Neil Richardson,

Thanks for that – as I am an ignoramus about the politics of the Far East, and all kinds of developments of very great significance appear to be happening there, it gives me a lot to ponder.

An article on the Sino-Japanese dispute over the islands by an economist at the LSE called Robert Wade, whose analyses of the Asian economic crisis of the late Nineties I found helpful, appeared a few days ago. It concludes:

‘In a civilized world both parties would agree to submit their claims to the International Court of Justice; but neither side is willing to consider such a move. Meanwhile, wisdom on the Chinese side lies in recognizing the truth of Joseph Nye’s point, “Unless China is able to attract allies by successfully developing its ‘soft power’, the rise in its ‘hard military’ and economic power is likely to frighten its neighbors, who will coalesce to balance its power”. But political leaders and the media in the US and Japan also have a responsibility to act on Nye’s other point, “We should … ensure that China doesn’t feel encircled or endangered”. They are conspicuously failing in this respect.’

(See http://triplecrisis.com/the-island-dispute-between-china-and-japan-the-other-side-of-the-story/ )

I would be interested to know what you think of Wade’s analysis.

Neil Richardson

Dear Brigadier Ali:

It makes sense for them to heavily invest in Gwadar now in light of the recent development in Myanmar. Xinjiang had been neglected for centuries, and there's been open discussions among the PRC leadership on integrating the ethnic minority groups through economic development. We shall have to see how that works out, but the pattern up until now has been the migration of Han Chinese which has resulted in ethnic strife (e.g., Uyghurs).


"Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light."

More power to him, TTG, I hope to do the same.

Clifford Kiracofe

The "March West" concept seems quite logical and appropriate for Beijing as part of "rebalancing" of its own priorities. The New Silk Route concept has been around for a while and seems to have received increased attention in recent months.

I recall Premier Wen made some important and very interesting comments highlighting a new Silk Route policy. It certainly ties into a focus on economic development to include poverty reduction as well as focus on the domestic market.

One can envisage long distance rail transportation from China to say Hamburg in a sort of new Silk Route across Europe-Asia (ie Eurasia). I would think the EU would be quite attracted to this long distance railroad Silk Route. Obviously, there could be some excellent opportunities for US business as well in all this. Also, Russia can be involved in major rail transportation corridors.

It seems to me that emphasizing a New Silk Route across Eurasia with US participation is positive and constructive from a development and commercial perspective. It does offer perhaps a way to lessen tensions arising from perceptions of the East Asian issues.

As to the Diaoyu Islands, named Senkaku by the Japanese, this is an important matter. I have the sense that it is more important than the Taiwan issue from Beijing's perspective. As a friend of both Japan and China, the US should stay absolutely neutral on this and encourage the two sides to work the matter out diplomatically.

The US has already given the perception of tilting to Japan by incorporating the islands in the US understanding of the mutual security treaty. This is controversial. The US legal position has been in the past that it is neutral and recognizes that this is an international legal dispute between several parties: Japan, China, Taiwan. In the past, as far as I recall, the question of whether the islands fall under the security treaty has been two-fold: at times we have said they do not and at times we say they do.

The Diaoyu Islands were seized by Japan back in the days of the Sino-Japanese War. But the Chinese side argues the islands belonged to Taiwan/China for several hundred years prior to that...back to the Ming dynasty.

The US somehow incorporated the Diaoyu Islands within its occupation/administration of the Ryukyu Islands back in about 1954. The Diaoyu Islands were never part of the Ryukyu Islands chain. In 1971, when the US transferred "administration" of the Ryukyu Island chain to Japan the Diaoyu Islands were included somehow in this transfer. At either point, in 1954 or in 1971, the US could have transferred them to Taiwan our friend and ally but chose not to.

Japan and China were on the verge of war over the Ryukyus in 1879 from what I recall of that era. Japan had seized the Ryukyu Islands which were a separate kingdom.

Al Arabist

Kolle Alaaf this week and Fasnacht the next, yes during Lent in the city of Erasmus. It's a great visual fest.

FB Ali

David Habakkuk,

In May 2011 the Pakistan Defence Minister visited China and discussed, among other matters, the port of Gwadar. On his return he announced that the Chinese had agreed to take over the running of the port. He also said that Pakistan would be very happy if China were to construct a naval base there also. China quickly moved to distance itself from this indiscretion by saying it had not received any such request.

Pakistan certainly would like to have a naval base in Gwadar but can't afford to build one. They probably hope that China will build it and share its use with them. The Chinese would certainly like the use of such a base, but not in the near future; they are aware of the reaction it would cause. However, it certainly figures in their long-term plans.

For now, I presume, apart from managing the port they will probably set up monitoring facilities to track traffic in the Persian Gulf and US naval movements in the area. Their main interest in Gwadar currently is likely commercial, especially as an alternative route (along with the Karakoram highway) for oil supplies.

The Spiegel article mentions that it is intended to run a gas pipeline along the K'koram highway. This links to the likelihood of there being an Iranian gas pipeline coming into Pakistan in the next year or two. There is also the proposed TAPI pipeline.

Neil Richardson

Dear Mr. Habakkuk:

IMO Wade's article is a good summary of the Chinese perspective on the recent developments in East and South Asia. I do acknowledge that the narrative in the Western and East Asian media has been one-sided for the most part. In addition I agree with Wade that both Japan and China should agree to ICJ arbitration. (At least it would spare Japan from the charges of hypocrisy as they'd asked ROK to agree to ICJ arbitration on Dokdo)

However, where I think Wade undermines the strength of his argument might be the omission of the reasons for South Asian and East Asian states in "balancing" rather than "bandwagoning" in terms of their relations with the PRC. I had several discussions on this point three years ago when the popular view here seemed to be that these Asian states would bandwagon, and the United States would have to retreat to Hawaii. Although I had predicted the opposite, I did not foresee the rapid pace of balancing as I hadn't expected the PRC to make as many mistakes in their bilateral relations with Vietnam, the Philippines and certainly Japan in such a short period of time.

The critical issue at hand is how does the PRC interpret the EEZ and freedom of navigation. (And I point this out while fully acknowledging that the United States should have signed UNCLOS years ago. However as one Chinese scholar pointed out to me in jest, the American political system was designed by geniuses in order for idiots to operate it. All one needs to confirm the validity of this tweak is to listen to Jim Inhofe explain his reasons for opposing the treaty.) The United States has maintained that while EEZ allows the claimant country the right of economic exploitation of resources, freedom of navigation (and overflight) should be maintained beyond 12nm territorial sea. And I should also note that China's claim for EEZ is far greater than 200nm from the coastlines which is why you have the Philippines and Vietnam repeatedly clashing with the PRC every few months.

I also think Wade is oversimplifying his description of the Bush administration's China policy. He neglects to mention that the very first international crisis of the administration was the EP-3 collision in April 2001 when a sloppy J-8 pilot tried to scare a US crew flying 70mi off Hainan. In May 2000, PLAN officers told PACOM that the USN and USAF would have to cease reconnaissance flights near their coastline. After they were rebuffed (these flights were over international airspace), beginning in Dec.2000 the PLANAF began to "aggressively" intercept US reconnaissance flights (the video data from some of these flights had been partially released after the Hainan incident). And there have been too many incidents of PLAN intercepts of US, Vietnamese, Filippino vessels and aircrafts from 2000 to today to count. Even Indian vessels have been targeted 60nm south of Haiphong.

Despite the initial shock of the Hainan crisis, the Bush administration did not overreact when it came to its long term China policy. The Bush administration's policy in the second term was that of engagement with the PRC which the Obama administration continued during its first 18 months. Just about the only proactive policy measure taken by the Bush administration had been dissuading NATO allies and Israel from transferring military technology to China. (And this was a continuation of the Clinton administration policy)

The proximate causes of the deterioration of Sino-American relations in my mind were a series of missteps by both the PRC and the United States beginning with Lee Denghui's visit to Cornell. The PRC miscalculated how the United States and other Asian states would perceive its actions after conducting three missile tests over Taiwan prior to the 1996 election which resulted in the Third Taiwan Strait Crisis. The United States overreacted by sending two carrier battlegroups (Adm. Prueher who then was the CINCPAC as well as Assistant Secretary Winston Lord had strongly opposed this decision. Perry and Gore had convinced Clinton take this clumsy option which has set off a chain reaction within the PLAN). And the 1999 bombing of the PRC embassy in Belgrade only inflamed the PLAN's desire to attain the capability to deter US naval power projection in what they consider China's "lake", i.e. the East and South China Sea. Of course the problem is that when the PLAN openly discusses Anti-Access Area Denial (A2/AD) using its vast missile inventory, their range fan not only includes their "lake" but also much of the critical maritime choke points in South Asia such as Malacca. That is the real point of contention for the United States IMO (and freedom of navigation is a fundamental national interest of the United States going back to the early years of the republic).

The United States did ask the PRC to seek to resolve its EEZ claims with South Asian states through institutional means such as ASEAN years ago. One suggestion was to use the North Sea Oil negotiations (common median line) as the basis before either ASEAN or ICJ arbitration. To date, all of the suggestions have been met with curt refusal. If what the Filippino, Vietnamese and Japanese accounts of bilateral negotiations are to be believed (I hesitate to do that for obvious reasons) the PRC's negotiating position has been intractable. That is why most of the press coverage in East and South Asian states have been so negative. For states with memories of Chinese suzerainty which had lasted for centuries, these were predictable reactions.

I think a basis for modus vivendi does exist for all the parties concerned in East and South Asia if China does indeed "March West." If the PRC would pledge that it would not use military force to solve their Taiwan problem and agree to the resolution of EEZ disputes through institutional arbitration, the United States should agree to refrain from using naval power projection within areas of the 200nm EEZ such as the Yellow Sea and the Taiwan Strait. IMHO some measure of democratic reform is inevitable in the PRC. And clever uses of economic statecraft such as preferential trade agreement with Taiwan leading to common currency could provide the basis of peaceful transition and reintegration. The problem as we found out about the Third Strait Crisis is that the PLA hardliners simply ran out of patience in 1995 and prevailed over the opposition of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs during the policy deliberation. As soon as the ongoing leadership succession concludes in the PRC, I think the United States should be open to any possible overtures from Beijing on reaching accommodation on these issues. Despite the idiocy I'd witnessed during the Hagel and Kerry hearings, undying love for the state of Israel and the paramount necessity to bomb Iran back to the stone age are not the most important foreign policy imperatives for the United States. If we don't get the Sino-American relations right, not only will both countries suffer but worst case scenarios could result in catastrophes for the international economic system.

Neil Richardson

Dear Mr. Habakkuk:

"And – a question also for Neil Richardson – what would be the likely American, and also Indian, responses?"

I would decline on what Indian responses might be as there are others here who are far more knowledgeable. Regarding what possible US reactions might be, it would depend on how the PRC leadership approaches EEZ disputes as well as Senkaku, Spratly, etc after its "March West." If there were entreaties emerging from Beijing on resolving these disputes through institutional means, I think the WH would react positively. Kurt Campbell is leaving the administration and I would wait to see who would replace him. (His views tend to be on the "hawkish" side regarding Sino-American relations)

GEN James Cartwright has repeatedly stressed the imperative of not antagonizing the PRC despite our "Pacific pivot" and the adoption of ASB (And I think Obama does share his views to the extent that Cartwright was his first choice as CJCS). GEN Dempsey has warned against falling into a "Thucydides trap" last year. (Other than the United States and Britain in the first half of the 20th century I cannot readily think of a situation when a hegemon and a rising challenger did not result in military conflict. And that exception might've been more due to geography than wisdom as Germany was closer to Britain.)

However, my worry is that the PRC "threat" (real or imagined) would attract the usual suspects among the neocons who still adhere to the "unipolar moment" fantasies. And in light of looming defense cuts, service rivalries could generate enhanced threat assessments (e.g., PACOM) with help from the likes of Lehman (He'd advocated the 600 Ship Navy during the Reagan administration. Due to inflation, he's lowered the goal to a 350 Ship Navy today). This is why I was extremely vexed during the Hagel hearing. There wasn't a single question on China. If the PRC does indeed pivot west and reach out on maritime dispute resolution, I believe Wang Jisi is correct in expecting an improvement in handling current and potential issues that could rise in Central Asia.

Alba Etie

Mr Richardson ,
'A new Silk Road would decrease China's maritime vulnerabilty " . Would not the Shanghai Five organization also be a vehicle to ease tensions in the region. Some type of Central Asian permanent trading block perhaps could help ease the stakeholders in to some kind of shared vision for prosperity . That would also help with the Salafist threats in the Stans - Myanmar could prove to be a driver for economic cooperation as well - and I think we better also think about the Indian interest in this too . I sometimes have to refer back to the maps of the region - I believe the former Burma also shares border with India .
It might be an imperfect analogy - but perhaps if some type of economic organization for Central Asia similar to the EU might bring more stability to this part of the world.


Looks like Hagel will be confirmed:


Babak Makkinejad

Is there a dearth of competent and skilled Pakistanis?

William R. Cumming

Chuck Hagel's nomination as SECDEF voted out of Senate Armed Services Committee favorably on party-line vote 14-11! Vote by full Senate on Thursday.

different clue

Is midsummer in your part of Arizona a dead season of zero growth the way midwinter is a dead season of zero growth here? Or can growth be all year round there if there is reliable irrigation water?

(I gather up what relatively little snow we have here anymore lately and pack it onto my garden beds in hopes of getting a snow meltwater charge to start the season).

different clue

I trust you are entirely out of danger now and the stent is stabilized and working as intended?

Hopefully the doctors can work with you to design a foodstyle/lifestyle protocol which can be lived with long enough to allow it to work its blood-vessel-clearing effects.


Very interesting report of a two year old 'suicide' of a Mossad agent held in an Israeli jail.


Former foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman doesn't care too much for his fellow Israeli members of Parliment, apparently:

“Once again, certain MPs don’t hesitate to identify with the enemy and take advantage of their parliamentary immunity to violate censorship,” he growled in an interview on Israel’s army radio.

FB Ali

Only among the politicians who rule the country.

Medicine Man

On the (much) lighter side: http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2013/02/hoth-symposium/all/

A debate on Wired Magazine about the military outcome of the Battle of Hoth. Perhaps amusement to be found there. I know I found it amusing.


Midsummer in Arizona is actually the time to be growing hardier vegetables like squash, zucchini, cucumbers, beans and melons. To be fair, there's shade cloth involved, but year round cultivation is possible. I had a zucchini plant last year that grew to my armpit, and if I had been prepared to take advantage of it I could have had a second harvest from seed to bolt. By the time August rolled around, the plants had conditioned to the point where they could stand the brunt of the sun w/o shade necessary.

That being said, there are certain items you have a narrow window for, such at tomatoes which are a pain to grow out here. And unless you're living up north or lucky enough to have arable soil built in, you're probably going to be using raised beds or spending a lot of time enriching desert soil.

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