A reading of recent articles in the Chinese media show a broad picture -- in Beijing's view, a strategic partnership with the US can be established only if core issues like Tibet and Taiwan dividing them can be solved, writes China expert D S Rajan.
An article titled 'US Plot Against China', written by Air Force Colonel Dai Xu, an influential Chinese strategist, carried by the Chinese language edition of the official Xinhua News Agency on May 27, has come down heavily on the US for its 'crescent-shaped strategic encirclement' of China.
Intriguingly, the write-up, a reproduction of an earlier one by the same author three days ago in another publication (Huan Qiu Shi Ye -- Global Vision, May 24), has appeared close to the second round of Sino-US Strategic and Economic Dialogues (Beijing, May 24-25) and is naturally making the analysts ponder over the question as to how to interpret its timing and content.
Dai Xu has alleged in his article that during the Cold War, the US objective was to 'contain China hard', for the purpose of 'strangulating the Soviet Union softly'. After the Cold War, its strategy was reversed -- containing Russia hard for the purpose of 'strangulating China softly'.
Touching on what he calls the 'US dollar trap', Dai Xu takes what Professor Zhang Wuchang, of the Beijing University of Finance said several years back as basis, to disclose that in China, the US controls 21industries out of a total of 28, after 'hollowing out' China economically, at a time when the country's focus for years remained on achieving GDP growth through trade.
The US reinvested in China the money it got from China, eradicated Chinese brands and dominated China's mineral resources, shares of the Bank of China and China's stock market. Dai Xu has added that at the same time, the US does not allow China to buy American companies and denies China any of its hi-tech weapons.
All that US wants is that China invest heavily in US treasury bonds, leaving it with no money to buy technology, build modern industry, develop armament potentials and build defence capabilities. The American humour is that the US should sell 'toxic debt' to China in return for the Chinese sale of 'toxic toys' to them.
Assessing that the US 'diplomatic clamp' strategy aims to totally isolate China, the Chinese expert has acknowledged that Southeast Asia is more and more becoming politically dependent on the US. In Northeast Asia, Vietnam is becoming pro-US. The US strategy in North Korea, Myanmar and Pakistan, the three 'true friends' of China, is meant to challenge China. The US indirectly stimulates North Korea's nuclear weapons programme so as to hurt China's image internationally and force South Korea, Japan etc to get closer to Washington in response.
The growing interests of the US in Myanmar serve the purpose of controlling China while Myanmar itself may develop no trust on China and opt for support of India and ASEAN to balance China. In the case of Pakistan, that nation has already come under the US control due to Afghan war. In the Indian Ocean, there is US-India collusion against China.
Within China, the US is strategically focusing on Tibet and Xinjiang and manipulating the situation there. In conclusion, Dai Xu has asserted that the US is carrying out 'soft attack' on China and its grand strategy is to encircle China.
Colonel Dai Xu is a known hawk on defence matters and had recently supported Chinese development of overseas bases. The Chinese official English language media like the Global Times are giving international publicity to his views.
What looks important is that he is not alone in the People's Liberation Army hierarchy to question US strategic motives vis-à-vis China in recent times. Another senior PLA officer Colonel Liu Mingfu of the National Defence University, in his book on China Dream, released just prior to the March 2010 National People's Congress, has asked China 'to cast away illusions and get ready for the duel with the United States for global domination in the 21st century'.
In contrast to the nationalistic stand and hard-line position against the US of the PLA experts mentioned, Chinese comments on the subject in general have so far remained cautious. State Councillor Dai Bingguo, while admitting the lack of Sino-US consensus in the latest dialogue, has been optimistic on long term bilateral relations. He has described the ongoing dialogue as beneficial to further development of 'positive, cooperative and all-round' partnership between China and the US in 21st century. Xinhua's Washington correspondent Liu Hong has described the dialogue as symbolising 'more and more equal Sino-US partnership'. Professor Chen Dongxiao of the Shanghai Centre of International Studies has hoped (Qiu Shi, February 2) that the 'situation of Sino-US mutual dependence in strategic interests would be maintained for a long-term as both sides need each other in the interest of strategic balance'.
The foregoing leads to a key question -- how to interpret the anti-US outbursts coming from experts like Dai Xu at this juncture? The situation somewhat looks similar to what happened in November 2004 when Qian Qichen, considered then as China's foreign policy Czar, right on the eve of US polling in which President George Bush contested for second time, blamed the US strategy for its aim to encircle China, in his article for China Daily. It was another matter that China Daily disowned that article ultimately.
The least that can be said is that the views on the US strategy towards China, coming from military analysts like Dai Xu, may represent the thinking prevailing at least among some sections of opinion makers in China. Such opinions seem to have a domestic dimension too -- by implication, they appear to disapprove the present pragmatic approach of Beijing to Washington.
The patronage being given to the views by official agencies like Xinhua indicates that the concerned writers are influential. Having said that, there seems to be no direct evidence so far, to prove any leadership divisions on the subject; in particular, any rushing to conclusion that the Chinese military is not in agreement with the current US policy of the country's foreign policy establishment, could be erroneous. The Chinese system allows reconciliation of differing approaches -- in the domain of external relations, the party's leading group on foreign affairs plays a role to this effect.
The views from military experts in any case seem to have potential to put pressure on the present collective leadership functioning in China on relations with the US; especially the fifth generation leadership to take over in 2012 may have to address what perhaps looks like a policy debate with respect to ties with the US.
Has the leadership come under such pressure already? The answer could be yes, judging from the formal introduction of a new criterion by the Hu Jintao regime for conducting the Sino-US relationship -- protection of China's 'core interests'. The message is that 'core interests' principle, providing for 'no compromise' on issues of territorial integrity and national sovereignty, will from now on drive China's strategic course towards foreign powers including the US.
The criterion has received emphasis at the Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi's press conference during the March National People's Congress session; specific references were made on the occasion to Taiwan and Tibet. A broad picture emerges -- in Beijing's view, a strategic partnership with the US can be established only if core issues like Tibet and Taiwan dividing them can be solved.
Both China and the US know that such a thing cannot happen soon and as such, it can be expected that their bilateral relations will continue to be based on pragmatism for years to come.
Beijing has so far not formally applied the 'core interest' criterion into the ambit of its relations with countries having land and sea territorial problems with China. Especially, the disputed border with India has not so far officially been brought by it under that principle.
China may not deviate from this position, as its inclusion of the disputed border with India under the 'core interest' category, if happens, could undermine its 'mutual accommodation' formula with inherent provision for some compromise on the boundary question. In this regard, it would in any case be necessary for New Delhi to keep a close watch for future trends in China.
D S Rajan is director of the Chennai Centre for China Studies