Wednesday, January 19, 2005

The Chinese chessboard 

Remember those first few months of the George W Bush presidency before September 11? I recall quite well the extensive discussion going on at the "Weekly Standard", among other outlets, about China stepping into the role of America's main global antagonist.

Then Islamofascists flew airliners into World Trade Center.

In those past three and a half years the red panda bear has been pretty quiet. Has China benefited, directly and indirectly, from sitting back and allowing the United States to run maniacally around the world and expend its resources and energy? Taiwan's "China Post"
"At a time when U.S. support is urgently needed for our democracy in the face of growing threats from communist China, new data is pointing toward a shift in the attitudes of ordinary American people following recent world events and U.S.-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"According to results of a survey performed by U.S.-based Zogby International on behalf of the Committee of 100, a group of prominent Chinese-Americans, 75 percent of ordinary Americans are opposed to using U.S. military power to defend Taiwan."
Meanwhile, on the western flank: "China is building up military forces and setting up bases along sea lanes from the Middle East to project its power overseas and protect its oil shipments, according to a previously undisclosed internal report prepared for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld."

But let's look at the things from a different perspective,
argues Steve Vincent:
"If you lay a map of oil regions in the Middle East and Asia over one showing American bases and military presence in the War on Terror, you'd find they roughly overlap. Coincidence? Right, and Mullah Omar's the next guest host on SNL. Under the rubric of fighting Al Qaeda, the U.S. has moved assets around the Caspian Sea and into Central and South Asia, where they will eventually serve to check Chinese penetration into those regions in search of oil. America and the PRC are on a collision course similar to Britain and Germany before World War I. What we can hope is that the liberation of Iraq, Afghanistan and (to anticipate my argument) Iran will, in the long run, create good will toward the U.S. and gain us allies in a coming conflict with Beijing."
Actually, the really interesting pastime is not so much projecting the present-day China into the future, but predicting what China will be like in five, ten, twenty or fifty years from now. Yes, some things never change, as realists would want to remind us; great powers have their own national interests which they pursue with a single-minded zeal, and China will always, for example, strive to ensure its energy security. But aside from that, what will the country look like? Will it eventually turn democratic, or at least liberalize more, to be on par with, say, Singapore? Will Chinese people and infrastructure manage to cope with the economic growth? Will there be one China or perhaps several successor states? And then there is the Christian wild card - some estimate that over the next 20 or 30 years between 20 and 30 per cent of Chinese population could be Protestant or Catholic - and currently the 80 or so million of Chinese Christians are already concentrated among the country's elite, and tend to be pro-American and pro-Israel.

When they say "watch this space", it's a pretty large and significant space to watch.


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