Last week, GPS invited readers to pose questions to the New Yorker’s Beijing correspondent, Evan Osnos. Here's what he had to say:
China’s People's Liberation Army has always defended the party as much as national borders, notes "j. von hettlingen." How much influence does the military have over decision making?
As Mao put it, “Power flows from the barrel of the gun.” By that, he meant that the Party would always require the force of arms as its final defense. But he, and his heirs, also engineered the system to ensure that civilian power would predominate, and we have seen that, for the past 30 years, China’s diplomatic and military posture has been secondary to its development imperative. The military is getting more assertive but, for now, it is not an independent power.
“Hen na gaijin” raises the issue of the South China Sea. How likely is a clash over territorial disputes there or the East China Sea?
The danger is not of a strategic decision but of a mistake – a miscalculation, an error, a clash – and that danger gets larger as more vessels crowd into a confined space. Importantly, it can be said that Chinese leaders, even the more hawkish wing, do not actively seek a conflict simply because the Party’s operating principle is to control – and a conflict, by definition, has too many variables it cannot control. The Party knows that one of the few things more destabilizing than a conflict would be a conflict in which it loses.
What is motivating China’s cyber activities, asks Matthew Carr through Facebook. How concerned should other countries be?
It’s activities are motivated by the kind of military and diplomatic ambition that accompanies the rise of any great power - and a sense that its time has come to make up for lost ground in the race of technological superiority. The U.S. and other powers see cyber as an indisputable new front, and are putting their own resources into it accordingly, so China is not unique in this regard. But China’s cyber activities have been especially intense because it still sees itself, fundamentally, as engaged in asymmetric competition with the United States, and cyber – like insurgent or guerrilla operations – provide advantages to the weaker party in a conflict.
One analyst has suggested that an Arab spring like revolution could arise if a significant burst in the real estate bubble occurs, says “H”. Is the communist party ready for such an eventuality?
I think real estate by itself is not significant to cause social unrest, but it contributes to the social tensions beneath. The government has managed to steer the real estate market through highs and lows in recent years more successfully than many analysts predicted, and I suspect that continues. But that does not alleviate the prospect of social unrest, which is fed by factors ranging from environmental deterioration to corruption and land seizures.
China is generally seen as the country with the most leverage with North Korea. Norman Morford asks through Facebook what developments we can expect to see in the relationship?
I’m not encouraged, I’m afraid. China is, indeed, the country with the most leverage on North Korea, but China’s policy is one of hedging:
Its overriding priority in the relationship is to preserve the status quo – not because it likes the current tension (it does not) but because it fears what could come after. It feels no immediate threat from its erratic neighbor, and it is willing to allow a degree of uncertainty to ensure that Kim stays in power, because that precludes the creation of a democratic Seoul-backed, U.S.-allied government on China’s border.