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Beijing's global strategy

By Frederick Stakelbeck
web posted April 24, 2006

US President George W. Bush laughs with Chinese President Hu Jintao during a welcoming ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC.
US President George W. Bush laughs with Chinese President Hu Jintao during a welcoming ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC.

Chinese President Hu Jintao's first visit to the U.S. last week to meet with President George Bush and corporate executives from Boeing Co. and Microsoft Corp. comes at a difficult time for the Chinese leader, as concerns regarding his country's meteoric global rise continue to grow. Deputy Secretary of State Robert B. Zoellick warned China recently that it must begin to take definitive steps to address what he called a "cauldron of anxiety" in the U.S. and abroad over Chinese global intentions. "Many countries hope China will pursue a peaceful rise, but none will bet its future on it," he said.

Almost seventy years ago, Japan sought to dominate "Greater Asia"; eventually going to war with the United States and its allies. But unlike Japan, China in the 21 st century has adopted an aggressive global positioning strategy that promotes relations with a select group of diverse global partners aimed at guaranteeing its continued cultural, economic, political and military transformation while at the same time, pursuing the systematic dismantling of perceived Western hegemony led by the U.S.

Indeed, China's plan is global in scope, reaching deep into Asia, Europe, Latin/South America, Africa, the Middle East and even North America.

In Asia, China continues to threaten Taiwan with military force, employing a policy of total capitulation, rather than bilateral cooperation. Last year, China's emerging navy challenged regional heavyweight Japan by violating the country's sovereign waters. More troubling for the U.S., Indonesia, Myanmar, Laos, Malaysia, Thailand, Burma and Vietnam increasingly look to Beijing for guidance on regional issues. Beijing continues to support a nuclear North Korea without hesitation or regret. The country's leadership role in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), comprised of member states Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, has raised fears among Western observers that the arrangement is a modern day "Warsaw Pact." The announcement this month by SCO secretary general Zhang Deguang that Mongolia, India, Pakistan and Iran would become permanent members in the near future has heightened concern.

In Europe, Beijing has reacted angrily to coordinated attempts by the EU to protect its decimated manufacturing base. Like their counterparts in North America and Latin America, millions of Europeans have lost their jobs as a result of cheap Chinese imports. Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin have developed close trade, energy, intelligence and defense relationships with Beijing. Joint military exercises by China and Russia in August and the prospect of expanded exercises in 2006 present national security concerns for the U.S. and its Western allies. China's recent bilateral energy agreement with Russia gives the country a deep footprint in Eastern Europe. Former Soviet satellites such as Georgia and the Ukraine have fallen under Beijing's spell as well.

In Latin/South America, Cuba, Venezuela, Chile, Bolivia, Brazil, Argentina, Columbia and Panama are receiving instructions from Beijing on a regular basis. Recognizing an opportunity for a permanent base of influence and operations in the Western Hemisphere, China has stepped into the void left by the Soviet Union's collapse to create a new, multi-faceted communist umbrella, using defense, trade and energy agreements as ammunition. Recent elections in Bolivia, Peru and Chile have resurrected fears in the U.S. of a socialist, pro-China continent devoid of economic pragmatism and resentful of U.S.-led free trade initiatives and long-held security alliances.

Venezuela's leftist agitator Hugo Chavez has become a close ally of China, regularly visiting Beijing and hosting high-level dignitaries from the country. "China offers the best option for breaking 100 years of U.S. domination," Chavez noted last year. In its haste to gain Beijing's favor, Caracas pledged to ship 300,000 barrels of crude a day to China in February, placing U.S.-Venezuela relations in a state of severe disrepair. Last month, U.S. Army General Bantz J. Craddock told a Senate Armed Services Committee, "More and more Chinese non-lethal equipment has been seen in Latin America and military officers from the region have become frequent students of Chinese military training."

Not surprisingly, China's president Hu has become fast friends with Cuba's aging dictator Fidel Castro, developing synergies in the areas of energy, intelligence and defense. Taken collectively, these developments translate into growing Latin/South American apathy towards the U.S. and greater convergence with the Chinese model of globalism.

In resource-rich Africa, Nigeria, Sudan, Angola, Algeria, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe and South Africa, have worked with Beijing in the areas of defense, trade, minerals and energy development. China has gained several strong allies on the continent by supporting known dictators like Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe and Sudan's Omar al-Bashir; providing the economic, intelligence and military means for both leaders to remain in power.

In the volatile Middle East, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Iran have become close energy partners with Beijing. In December, Kuwait, an important regional U.S. ally, signed a multi-billion dollar energy agreement with China to invest in the country's refinery and petrochemical infrastructure. At approximately the same time, Beijing began high-level discussions with OPEC to secure energy supplies from the organization's suppliers. Another U.S. ally, Saudi Prince Abdullah, visited China in January and signed several bilateral agreements to assist China in the development of its strategic reserves and refinery capacity.

Of particular concern to the West is China's close relationship with a nuclear obsessed Iran, borne from China's need for energy to run its growing economy and Iran's need for cheap manufactured goods for its young, Western-leaning population. With a $100 billion, 25-year investment by China's state-run energy enterprise Sinopec and an agreement to develop Iran's lucrative Yadavaran oil field, Beijing's continued presence in the country is virtually assured.

In North America, China has made energy and trade agreements with traditional U.S. allies Canada and Mexico, while increasing its industrial espionage activities on the continent. Last year, Canada's National Post reported that the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS) warned the country's parliament that foreign spies were seeking Canada's science and technology secrets. The annual report specifically cited China as a "very aggressive pursuer" of sensitive information which could be used for military purposes. The report also noted, "China's intelligence services are preparing Chinese scientists and students to act as spies to steal Canadian technology and classified information." Beijing has actively pursued Canada's valuable oil sands, natural gas and mineral deposits ahead of the U.S., increasing national security concerns in Washington.

Chinese President Hu Jintao's recent visit to Mexico City to meet with Mexican President Vicente Fox marked a new beginning in Sino-Mexican relations with both leaders signing agreements in the areas of bilateral trade, mining and energy. "The motive of my visit is to deepen the strategic association between Mexico and China," Hu said.

At this time, it is important to understand that the Chinese philosophy of "globalism" is a far cry from the U.S. model based on individual freedoms, market competition and democracy. Instead, China's philosophy is based on the development of a global system with limited individual freedoms, a state controlled media, highly regulated economic expansion and the use of state-controlled entities to secure strategic resources. The U.S. and China have different perspectives concerning global growth and responsibility, as well as different levels of capabilities. But what will occur once China's global capabilities are well-established and in full working order?

If China's recent history is any indication, the world is in for a time of exasperating change. Over the past year alone, Beijing passed an "Anti-Secession Law" asserting its legal authority over Taiwan, pressured Central Asian republics to remove U.S. bases, obstructed UN Security Council action against Iran, actively supported several African and Latin American dictators, armed the authoritarian Nepalese regime and oppressed the people of Tibet. These are not isolated examples of a country laboring through a maturation process – unfortunately; this is the Chinese leadership model that will one day be applied to the rest of the globe.

China has used military force several times since the Korean War, including operations in the Spratley Islands and Vietnam. These actions were not taken to defend freedom or to address social injustice; rather, they were taken to settle differences with the country's regional neighbors. Those who believe that an empowered communist China with global military and economic dominance would choose not use that dominance against its ideological enemies are trading long-term security for short-term peace of mind.

Although the U.S. welcomes the opportunity to work with competitive world powers, it cannot blindly ignore a competitor's preparedness for armed conflict and the creation of hostile, anti-West global alliances. In the case of China, both are being actively pursued. Beijing has no interest in joining the current global security structure led by Washington and the UN – That much has been made very clear recently. China's global actions should be carefully monitored and a proactive plan of action formulated to address an emerging adversary, not a potential friend and partner. Diplomatic visits aside, America must be prepared for what will come in the future – an increasingly capable China with military, economic, political and cultural influence and power.

Michael Green, former director of Asian affairs at the U.S. National Security Council noted recently, "China is trying to expand its influence in the world at the expense of the U.S., which is not something we are going to give them a pass on." As concerned American citizens, we can only hope that Mr. Green's candid opinion concerning U.S. vigilance in the face of China's unprecedented global expansion is heard by Washington very soon.

Fred Stakelbeck is an expert on bilateral and trilateral alliances as they relate to China foreign policy. His writings address the implications of China's emerging regional and global strategic influence and relationships upon U.S. national security. He can be reached at frederick.stakelbeck@verizon.net.

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