Tuesday, April 05, 2005

The Rising Tide of Chinese Influence

Yesterday on the floor of the US Senate, Senator James M Inhofe (R-Oklahoma) warned his colleagues about the malign spread of Chinese influence around the world and the danger it presents to American interests. Senator Inhofe notes that the current thrust of Chinese action centers on its need for oil.
This need for energy security may help explain Beijing's history of assistance to terrorist-sponsoring states with various forms of weapons of mass destruction-related items and technical assistance, even in the face of U.S. sanctions. But this pursuit of oil diplomacy may support objectives beyond just energy supply. Beijing's bilateral arrangements with oil-rich Middle Eastern states also helped create diplomatic and strategic alliances with countries that were hostile to the United States. For example, with U.S. interests precluded from entering Iran, China may hope to achieve a long-term competitive advantage relative to the United States.

Over time, Beijing's relationship-building may counter U.S. power and enhance Beijing's ability to influence political and military outcomes. One of Beijing's stated goals is to reduce what it considers U.S. superpower dominance in favor of a multipolar global power structure in which China attains superpower status on par with the United States.

This driving need for fuel has caused the Chinese to seek alliances with unfriendly regimes in America's backyard.

In Venezuela, anti-American President Hugo Chavez announced a $3 billion trade strategy with China, including provision for oil and gas. Army GEN Bantz Craddock, who heads the United States Southern Command, stated that China is increasing its influence in South America, filling a vacuum left by the United States.

In his March 9 House testimony, General Craddock called China's progressive interest in the region ``an emerging dynamic that could not be ignored.''

But the Chinese aren't focusing on one area to the exclusion of others.

I have been traveling to Africa for many years. The Chinese are everywhere. I just got back last night from Africa. I saw a conference building being constructed, given to them free, from China, and we know what kind of relationship that gives them. I saw a conference center being constructed in the Congo. I saw a large sports stadium. Both were donated by the Chinese. China has been expanding its influence throughout Africa with projects like this.

One saying I heard was: The U.S. tells you what you need, but China gives you what you want.

Has China suddenly become compassionate and generous? I think the fact that these countries have large oil and mineral deposits paints a real picture.

In the Middle East, Beijing recently signed a $70 billion oil and gas deal with Iran from which it receives 14 percent of its oil imports. Naturally, China has come out firmly against the U.N. Security Council holding Iran economically accountable for its nuclear program.

I was just in Sudan 2 days ago. Likewise in Sudan, China seeks to diffuse or delay any U.N. sanctions against Khartoum. It hardly seems coincidental that 7 percent of its oil imports comes from that conflict-stricken country, a supply that China seems ready to protect.

At this point, I will pause and tell my colleagues the experience we had just 2 days ago in that area in Uganda, just across the Sudan border. We were working with President Museveni. We actually went up to the area called Gulu, which is right on the Sudan border where the terrorists are coming across maiming children, cutting their limbs and their lips off. It is horrible. It is beyond description. I do not think there has been anything like that since the Holocaust. Yet China is supporting that group.

Not only are they willing to use the U.N. to safeguard its energy sources but also its regional influence. This is not new. In 2003, the United States spearheaded the proliferation security initiative as a multilateral weapons of mass destruction interdiction strategy. The initiative has proven effective, particularly in the interception of centrifuge parts bound for Libya. The Bush administration believes this success was a major reason Libya peacefully ended its nuclear program.

The Chinese are willing to form alliances with any government, regardless of that government's stance and practice on human rights. This makes the Chinese infinitely attractive to various dictatorships and authoritarian regimes around the world. The Chinese offer trade and the chance of eventual military alliance to such states, while the US offers only criticism of their human rights abuses and threats of economic sanctions. The Chinese can follow this path because China is a totalitarian society run by ruthless, bloodless, mass murderers who learned their statecraft under the gentle tutilege of Chairman Mao (who murdered 30-40 million by famine alone, and millions of others by more direct means). The Chinese economy may have been liberated from communism, but the government and people continue to live under communist political rule.

During the Cold War, American leaders, cognizant that most of the world was ruled by nasty regimes, opted for a policy that sought alliances even with such leaders as Marcos and Suharto as a pragmatic means of checking the spread of communism. Washington understood that communism represented such a potent long term threat to the survival of the US and the Western world in general that overlooking the brutality of these regimes was a lesser evil compared to permitting them to fall into the Soviet orbit. Pragmatic American policy during the Cold War allowed the US to surround the USSR with an network of US-allied states that contained the spread of communism and resisted attempts by the Soviets to infiltrate other areas of the world. Today, the US has abandoned pragmatism in favor of "promoting democracy." Morally, this represents a sound and just policy. Practically, however, it aides the Chinese by driving many less-than-democratic regimes away from the US and into the orbit of anyone who offers an alternative to US economic and military might.
China appears to be working through the United Nations to not only undermine the initiative but also to render it globally ineffective. This has been accomplished by getting the United States to drop a provision on the interdiction of foreign vessels carrying banned weapons on the high seas.

One of Beijing's stated goals is to reduce what it considers U.S. superpower dominance in favor of multipolar global power structure in which China attains superpower status on par with the United States.

The tense situation in Taiwan continues to simmer. A few days ago, the Chinese Communist Party formalized a new stance on Taiwan. The following was approved by the National People's Congress:

If possibilities for a peaceful reunification should be completely exhausted, the state shall employ nonpeaceful means and other necessary measures to protect China's sovereignty and territorial integrity.

This represents a change from earlier ambiguous language that would have allowed China flexibility to consider other options should a conflict arise. As it is, China has taken away its alternatives.

This is a direct threat. The Chinese are solidifying and increasing their presence in east Asia. When not using overt political influence, they are expanding economically.

As political economist Francis Fukuyama observed:

The Chinese [have been] gearing up a series of multilateral initiatives of their own, including Asean Plus One, Asean Plus Three, a China-Asean Free Trade Area, a Northeast Asian Free Trade Area and so on in seemingly endless profusion.

The purpose of these proposals, it seems fairly clear in retrospect, was to allay fears of China's growing economic power by offering selective trade concessions to various Chinese neighbors. The Chinese greased the path to the East Asian Summit last December by offering its Asean neighbors a free trade agreement that would open access to much of the Chinese market by 2010.

Asean Plus Three appears to be a weak and innocuous organization. But the Chinese know what they are doing: Over the long run, they want to organize East Asia in a way that puts them in the center of regional politics.

China is also expanding militarily. Their string of pearls strategy includes a listening post in Pakistan, billions of dollars in military aid to Burma, military training and equipment to Cambodia, increased naval activities in the South China Sea, and expanding cooperation with Thailand and Bangladesh.

The purpose of this strategy is to create a military corridor for the Middle East to mainland China that would be impervious to any potential American oil embargo. As a recent internal Pentagon report outlines:

China ..... is not looking only to build a blue-water navy to control the sea lanes, but also to develop undersea mines and missile capabilities to deter the potential disruption of its energy supplies from potential threats, including the U.S. Navy, especially in the case of a conflict with Taiwan.

Of increasing concern in Washington is the rapid buildup of the Chinese military.

The weapons in which China is investing include cruise missiles, submarines, long-range target acquisition systems, specifically cutting edge satellites, unmanned aerial vehicles, and the advanced SU-30 fighter aircraft, and I have to pause at this moment and say something about someone to this day I still think is a real American hero, GEN John Jumper, the Chief of the Air Force. Back before he was in that position in the late 1990s--I believe it was 1998--he had the courage to stand up and publicly say something, and it certainly was not endorsed or wanted by the Clinton administration, but he said we have to do something. We have stopped our modernization program so now Russia is selling tactical vehicles, air vehicles, that are better than our fighters. He is talking about the SU-30 series, better than our F-15s and F-16s.

There are a lot of people who do not want us to advance militarily and be No. 1 and give our troops and our airmen the very best equipment. There are people who are trying to keep us from developing the F-22 and the joint strike fighter so that we again will gain superiority. Right now we do not have it.

China has bought in one purchase, and this has been several years ago, 240 of the SU-30s and probably a lot more, but that is what we found out. The new intelligence report states that China has accelerated its amphibious assault ship production. It plans to build 23 new boats capable of ferrying tanks and troops across the Taiwan Strait. This development is potentially destabilizing and has alarming implications.

We have to keep in mind they now are buying this capability to get across to Taiwan after for the first time coming out and directly threatening Taiwan.

A further concern is China's investment in nuclear submarines. It recently launched the type 094 class, the first capable of striking the continental United States with nuclear missiles from its own waters. It can strike the United States of America from its own waters. They have launched this class of a nuclear missile--or the ability to deploy it.

China has also been developing the JL-2 submarine-launched ballistic missile, expected to have a range of 4,600 miles. These represent a departure from traditional Chinese deterrent strategies. They have little tactical purposes. They will not be used in a regional battle. Rather, their importance is strategic.

China has modernized its military at an unprecedented rate. According to testimony from Dr. Evan Medeiros of the RAND Corporation, between 1990 and 2002 China's official defense budget for weapons procurement grew approximately 1,000 percent. That is 1,000 percent in a 12-year period. Nearly every year since 1997 has seen a defense budget increase of 13 percent, an increase far above China's GDP growth average of 8.2 percent for those same years.

Apparently, Francis Fukayama's most famed claim has proven wrong - history has not ended. Hopefully the Bush administration - currently obssessed with its $250 billion experiment in Islamic democracy in Iraq - will quickly awake to the Chinese threat and begin moving to counter it. Perhaps, as a first, tentative step, the time has come to stop exporting the US's industrial base to China. Senator Inhofe's speech is well worth reading in full.


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