Monday, May 15, 2017

China Does Have the Home Field Advantage

Is America losing Asia to China? Define "Asia," please.

That's the argument of these authors:

With Washington in disarray, the Belt and Road Forum kicking off this weekend in Beijing should be a blaring wake up call that U.S. leadership in Asia is in peril. For two days, China will play host to more than 1,200 delegates from 110 countries, including 29 heads of state. The event will be centered on China’s “One Belt, One Road” program — more recently rebranded as the “Belt Road Initiative” (BRI) — which aims to provide much-needed infrastructure to connect Asia, the Middle East, and Europe.

Announced by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013, BRI is nothing if not ambitious, with plans to involve upwards of 65 countries and marshal in the neighborhood of $1 trillion. While skepticism is warranted about the novelty, value, and feasibility of many of the proposed projects, leaders around the world — with nary a better prospect of satisfying their development needs — are pining to take part. This is only the latest manifestation of Chinese leadership at a time when U.S. commitment to the region is less certain than ever.

I think the authors are making too much of this. Especially given that most of the Chinese advances took place before January 2017.

What is Asia, after all.

China is the biggest part of this. So China has that chunk.

Russia has a vast territorial expanse in Asia. Our level of commitment to Asia isn't affecting Russia's status as China's near-client state.

India has a vast population portion of Asia. Given Chinese claims on Indian territory is India likely to fall under China's sway by participating in the land route to Europe?

Bangladesh? A lot of people but not really a player and not really a potential Chinese asset.

Indonesia? That's a large population country on a critical sea route. There is a strain of anti-Chinese feeling there:

The leader of a powerful Indonesian Islamist organisation that led the push to jail Jakarta's Christian governor has laid out plans for a new, racially charged campaign targeting economic inequality and foreign investment.

In a rare interview, Bachtiar Nasir said the wealth of Indonesia's ethnic Chinese minority was a problem and advocated an affirmative action programme for native Indonesians, comments that could stoke tensions already running high in the world's largest Muslim-majority nation.

This is not fertile ground for Chinese soft power.

Will Taiwan fall under China's soft power? So far the Taiwanese seem unwilling to trade freedom for despotism despite increased trade with the mainland.

Is the Philippines where Duterte is making googly eyes at China vulnerable? Well, Duterte seems to be using his charm offensive to shield his own military build up in the South China Sea:

The Philippines has begun sending troops and supplies to [Pagasa Island, in the Spratly Islands chain,] an island it controls in the disputed South China Sea, setting the stage for a potential dispute with Beijing.

And that is just part of a broader order to occupy claimed islands before China can grab them.

Japan and South Korea? They seem solidly allied to America.

Australia and New Zealand? I'm just not worried that they might abandon the longstanding American alliance.

Then there is Southeast Asia that has long been in play with America, China, and India competing for influence. China has been able to cut away one from the herd to keep the ASEAN grouping from formally being anti-Chinese. There is competition there, but I'm not ready to panic given that China has territorial disputes with those states and we do not.

But really, the Belt Road Initiative (aka Silk Road initiative) is a focus on the interior of Asia as a path to Europe. So really we are talking about Central Asia where former Soviet republics could lead to the Middle East and then to the Mediterranean and Europe; or through Russia for a path to Europe.

Which means China isn't a threat to American influence but a threat to Russian influence in Central Asia, Russian freedom of action, and even Russian dominance of their own sparsely populated but resource-rich Far East (of which large chunks were seized from China in the 19th century).

Really, if China is putting a lot of money into building trade routes to Europe, is China going to be happy with Russian military adventures in Europe and the Middle East that threaten Chinese trade?

Won't China attempt to exert more restraint over Russian aggressiveness in the west?

And who can blame countries for wanting some of the money that China is promising to dole out? Put out free donuts in your office coffee room and people will come. That doesn't mean that they will be free the weekend you plan to move.

We have never had the part of Asia that China threatens to win. American economic investment in Central Asia is mostly pointless given the remoteness from America.

Russia is actually the potential big loser in this great game. But Russia would rather muck around in the Donbas and Syria, seeking scraps of empire rather than face the daunting task of resisting China's rising power in Asia.

We certainly need to remain involved in east Asia as a reliable military and trade partner.

But as far as I'm concerned, let China have their Asian interior adventure. We and our allies on the littorals of eastern Asia will be safer.

UPDATE: Related information on China's interests in Europe via the Belt and Road project. Europe is the objective--not the routes to Europe.