What China learned from Vladimir Putin
Call it the Georgia lesson. In 2008, Russia informed the United States and the rest of the West that the former Soviet Caucasus and Central Asia were no longer their playland, but rather Moscow’s sovereign sphere of influence. How did it do so? By going to war with Georgia. Now we have China informing Japan ...
Call it the Georgia lesson. In 2008, Russia informed the United States and the rest of the West that the former Soviet Caucasus and Central Asia were no longer their playland, but rather Moscow’s sovereign sphere of influence. How did it do so? By going to war with Georgia.
Now we have China informing Japan — and the rest of Asia — that the Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea are its territory in which to fish and whatever else it wishes. Like Russia, Beijing did so by demonstrating that it was prepared to go to almost any extreme — in this case short of war, but including the crippling of several Japanese industries — to press its territorial claim. This includes rights over the big oil and gas reserves in the islands. Today Japan blinked. After this, will Japan continue the presumption that it is in charge of what it calls the Senkaku islands? Not if it wishes to continue to manufacture the Prius, as Andrew Leonard notes at Salon.
The difference of course is that, with all due respect to Russia and Georgia, this case concerns truly serious players. The breathtaking part is China’s readiness to dismissively take on Japan, the world’s third-largest economy.
Today, President Barack Obama is to meet with the 10 worried member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. In a joint statement and with Obama behind them, they will suggest that China is bad, bad, bad to have forced its way with Japan, and wrong, wrong, wrong if it thinks it will get away with it again. But, as with the Georgian incident, is the U.S. prepared to go to war to press its case? Are any of the ASEAN nations? That was Russia’s bluff in 2008; it is China’s now.
A smart oilman told me yesterday over lunch that the rise of China was never going to be like the rise of Japan in the 1980s. Japan was a commercial power without imperial pretensions; China is both.
At the Financial Times, Geoff Dyer says this is not just the caprice of Chinese rulers, but the prodding “of powerful groups within the party-state system.” This includes China’s oilmen and other industrial leaders, Linda Jakobson of the Stockholm International Peace Institute tells Dyer, “new actors [who think] it is time for China to take its place on the world stage.”
China’s leviathan brawl over a single fishing boat captain over the last few days is a territorial issue: China’s red line. In 2008, Russia signaled that it could be friends with the West, as long as no one presumptuously trod on its turf. China is saying the same thing now. That, in addition to the value of the yuan, marks out the new arena of tension between it and the West.
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