By Fareed Zakaria
For decades, Beijing saw Pyongyang as a historical and natural ally. But now, a senior Obama administration official told me Wednesday, “We are clearly hearing increasingly levels of frustration and concern” from Beijing about North Korea. A few weeks ago, a senior Communist Party analyst, Deng Yuwen, argued in an op-ed in the Financial Times that China should “abandon” North Korea.
Now talk is easier than action. China has never imposed penalties or strictly enforced sanctions against its ally. Beijing’s reasoning is understandable. We tend to think about North Korea through the prism of two issues: nuclear weapons and human rights. But the Chinese have a more pressing concern — national collapse. If they were to push the North Korean government too hard, they feel, the regime could fall, leaving millions to seek refuge in China. Even more important, China would be bordered by a formal ally of the United States — one with about 28,000 U.S. troops on its soil as well as nuclear weapons. You don’t have to be paranoid to worry about that scenario.
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.
"Fareed Zakaria GPS," Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN
Xi Jinping has officially been named China's new president. But what kind of leader will he be? And what does it mean for ties with the United States? Fareed speaks with Roderick MacFarquhar, Harvard University professor of history and political science, and the New Yorker’s China correspondent, Evan Osnos, about new Chinese President Xi Jinping.
When people look at his first moves, they point out that he went to one of the fast growing provinces that’s traditionally seen as a kind of sign that you support economic reform. Is that a fair analysis of that trip?
Osnos: What he did was he went down to the origins, the birthplace of the Chinese boom. And he draped himself in the flag of economic success. And he said, I will give you the “Chinese dream,” his term. This has been his innovation, his rhetorical innovation is what he calls the China dream. And it is a lot like the American dream. It's the idea that every child can get an education, you can start a business. What he's saying is recognition of the fact that Chinese people are a bit frustrated these days, and that after 30 years of economic growth, he needs to reinvigorate the idea that if you aspire to something in China, that it is a level playing field and the system is not stacked against you.
By Deirdre Tynan, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Deirdre Tynan is Central Asia Project Director of the International Crisis Group. The views expressed are her own.
China is spending billions of dollars in Central Asia, and is hoping for two things in return. The first is natural resources measured in cubic meters of gas, barrels of oil and metric tons of minerals. The second is more complicated and harder to measure: Beijing wants Central Asia states to be good neighbors – stable, predictable and not given to extremes.
Unfortunately, Central Asia is none of these things. What’s more, it borders China’s Xinjiang Province to the east and Afghanistan to the south, places that before the 20th century were linked by cultural similarities that remain as foreign to China today as they did during the reign of khans and emperors.
What Beijing is looking at beyond its western borders is in fact a region of great political risk and insecurity. Policy makers in Beijing recognize that Central Asia may soon exact a higher price than expected in terms of the political capital required to safeguard China’s borders and contain the brewing threats in the region. But, so far, China’s policy of non-interference prevents it from spending anything other than cash.
By Richard Wike, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Richard Wike is associate director of the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project. The views expressed are his own. You can follow him @RichardWike
When incoming Chinese President Xi Jinping finally takes office later this week, he will face a difficult set of problems that in many ways stem from his country’s remarkable economic success. Year after year of impressive growth has lifted millions of Chinese out of poverty, but Beijing is now wrestling with the side effects of that growth, and the Chinese public is increasingly concerned about issues ranging from pollution to consumer safety to inequality and corruption. It is this popular discontent that Xi will face from day one in office.
Xi will be able to see the most visible sign of China’s growth related problems right outside his office window. The stunningly poor air quality in Beijing and other major Chinese cities has generated international headlines over the last two months, and prompted considerable anger within China itself. Bloomberg News reports that pollution has become the leading cause of the country’s 30,000 to 50,000 annual “mass incidents,” the Communist Party’s preferred euphemism for protests. Even before the recent spate of air quality stories, most Chinese saw this as a major problem – a 2012 Pew Research Center poll found 75 percent identifying air pollution as a big problem, and 36 percent describing it as a very big problem. And it’s not just the air – water pollution wasn’t far behind, with 33 percent naming it as a very serious concern.
By Scott Harold, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Scott Harold is an associate political scientist for the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation. The views expressed are his own.
China has once again announced a major expansion in its defense spending, leaving outside observers to again debate what this all could mean. Unfortunately, the planned 10.7 percent increase for 2013 posed more questions than it answered: Is it a sign of a more assertive China that wants to pursue regional dominance? Is it an indication of a country seeking to redress long-term weaknesses in its military? Or is it a sign of a domestic leadership that can’t say no to the military at a time of political transition?
The fact is that it’s a bit of all of these.
In absolute terms, the official Chinese defense budget is slated to rise from approximately $106.4 billion in 2012 to $119 billion this year. (The White House, meanwhile, proposed a $553 billion budget for the U.S. Defense department in fiscal 2012). This means that, after subtracting out expected inflationary costs, the People’s Liberation Army will have approximately $12 billion more in budget this year than last.
By François Godement, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: François Godement is a senior policy fellow and head of the China program at the European Council on Foreign Relations. The views expressed are his own.
This week’s National People's Congress will complete China’s once-in-a decade leadership change, with Xi Jinping becoming the country’s new head of state. China's partners, and above all Americans, want a China that is a predictable and reliable. After all, huge business interests require stable relations with China. And there is no doubt, China is becoming more powerful – it is not only present in most parts of the world, but has also become a determining factor in the international arena. We would all therefore love to see Mr Xi as a Chinese Gorbachev. But getting to know Xi’s real personality, and his likely style of governing, feels like Kremlinology. And what is emerging is worrying.
Xi is reputedly a charmer with an engaging and easygoing style. His wife is a famous singer, his daughter is quietly studying at Harvard. It is reported that he is even reluctant to embrace a luxurious lifestyle (although this does not appear to prevent some of his relatives from doing so). In public, Xi refrains from making controversial statements – an exception of course being the 2009 remark about the "full stomach" and the "constant finger pointing of Westerners" during a trip to Mexico.
By Stephen Yates, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Stephen Yates is former deputy national security advisor to Vice President Dick Cheney and currently CEO of DC International Advisory, a consulting firm. The views expressed are his own.
The U.N. Security Council has unanimously passed a new resolution sanctioning North Korea for its third nuclear test. North Korea's reaction to the announcement of a vote? Threatening to launch a pre-emptive nuclear strike on the United States.
This latest verbal volley is likely bluster, but there is a troubling quality to what we see in North Korea, and it is strategically significant.
On the surface it appears to be a cyclical melodrama – a spoiled child seeking attention or a cynical rogue extracting rewards for bad behavior. But over the last 20 years we have been through multiple leadership changes, multilateral and bilateral negotiations, humanitarian aid and U.N. sanctions, and the one constant is the steady progress North Korea has made on enrichment and other requirements for nuclear weapons. And that progress appears to have accelerated since Kim Jung Un succeeded his father.
GPS speaks with Tony Prophet, senior vice president of operations at HP, about a report in the New York Times on its new guidelines for “high-risk” workers in China, and the challenges of doing business in the country.
Your company recently announced plans to improve protection for “high-risk workers” in China. What kind of workers fall under the category and what have you tried to do?
To be clear, we are addressing the rights of interns who are typically high school or vocational students and meet the minimum legal age for work in China. We've recently observed increasing levels of student and dispatch (temporary and substitute) workers in electronics manufacturing across China, and we’re increasingly concerned about accounts of student interns and dispatch workers being treated unfairly. Last month, we announced specific guidelines for the use of student and dispatch labor by HP suppliers operating in China.
What specifically is included in the guidelines?
Our guidelines limit student labor to no more than 20 percent of the total workforce in a facility at any point in time. Over time, we intend to reduce the student labor limit to 10 percent. Student workers’ hours will be limited to a maximum of 40 hours per week.
We require that all work be voluntary and student workers be free to leave at any time, upon reasonable notice. Workers won’t face any negative repercussions, including the threat of withholding their diploma or certificate.
We also believe the work of interns should complement their primary area of study. For example, if a student isn't vocationally headed toward manufacturing, electronic technology, computer science, tooling design or industrial engineering, then working in an electronics factory doesn't seem to be a constructive part of a curriculum.
This is the first in a new weekly series on GPS offering readers the chance to pose questions to leading analysts on key global issues.
China’s annual legislative session begins Tuesday as thousands of delegates from across the country gather for a meeting that will officially vote for the new leadership.
Few surprises are likely in what will be a carefully choreographed two-week session. But with territorial disputes, questions over the state of the economy and accusations that his country is engaged in widespread cyber espionage, President Xi Jinping has plenty on his plate.
Evan Osnos, China correspondent for the New Yorker, will be taking questions from GPS readers to help them make sense of the key challenges Xi faces. Please leave your questions on China for Evan in the comments section, and GPS will select the best questions for a response.
By Fareed Zakaria
Beijing’s response to the Obama administration’s initial diplomacy was cool, sometimes even combative. Meanwhile in Asia, many of the continent’s other powers had begun worrying about a newly assertive China. From Japan to Vietnam to Singapore, governments in Asia signaled that they would welcome a greater American presence in the region, one that would assure them that Asia was not going to become China’s back yard.
The Obama administration shrewdly responded with its “pivot” in 2011, combining economic, political and military measures, all designed to signal that the United States would strengthen its role in Asia, balancing any potential Chinese hegemony.
The result of the pivot, however, was to further strain relations with Beijing. Today China and the United States maintain mechanisms, such as the strategic and economic dialogue between senior officials, but they are formal and ritualistic. No American and Chinese officials have developed genuinely deep mutual trust.
For more on this, read the Washington Post column here.
"Fareed Zakaria GPS," Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN
Fareed speaks with Council on Foreign Relations President Richard Haass and former CIA Director Michael Hayden about the latest claims over China’s alleged hacking activities. To see this or other interviews, download the show at iTunes
The China hacking story. This is pretty serious, don't you think?
Haass: Oh, absolutely. It raises real fundamental questions about China's commitment to the rule of law internationally. It’s a form of espionage. It’s a form of economic warfare. It could also be in some ways, targeting, potentially, vulnerabilities in American society. So should the United States and China ever have a crisis, China could either threaten to do certain things or actually do certain things, say, against the American electricity grid or against the American financial system.
And these people aren’t freelancing. You know China as well as anybody. These people are clearly operating with the tolerance of the Communist Party in China, under the authority of the People’s Liberation Army. This is serious and I think the Chinese are underestimating the impact this is having about the nature of the relationship.
This sends a message to Americans across the board that this relationship is not what it should be if China is treating us in this way, essentially going after our information and going after potential vulnerabilities in our system, stealing our intellectual property. This is not how you act if you want to talk about words like partnership.