By Gregg Andrew Brazinsky, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Gregg Andrew Brazinsky is an associate professor of history and international affairs at George Washington University and advisor to the North Korea International Documentation Project at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. The views expressed are his own.
Japan can sometimes be wrong, a basic fact that Washington sometimes seems to have a problem understanding. American officials have long seen Japan as a staunch U.S. ally, one that former Japanese Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone once suggested could become an unsinkable aircraft carrier in the Pacific. But while this may be true, since securing power in December 2012, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has done far more to undermine American strategic interests in Asia than to support them.
Regrettably, the Obama administration’s response to this unfortunate shift in Tokyo’s foreign policy has been weak and confused. It’s time for the U.S. to get serious about reining in Japan.
By Shihoko Goto, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Shihoko Goto is the Northeast Asia associate for the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars’ Asia Program based in Washington DC. The views expressed are the writer’s own. This is the last in the '14 in 2014' series, looking at what the year ahead holds for key countries
Will Japan assert its own vision for East Asia, or will it continue simply to react to China? That will be the biggest question in 2014 for Tokyo as tensions with Beijing continue to mount.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s decision to beef up military spending and enhance its longer-term security is a game-changer for the region, and while there is a chance the move will strengthen bilateral relations between Japan and the United States, it is unclear how this will impact Tokyo’s relations with Beijing. Whatever happens, though, there can be little doubt that tensions over the disputed islands in the East China Sea will remain in the headlines this year – and the reality is that there is no easy solution to the dispute over who owns what Japan calls the Senkakus and China the Diaoyu Islands.
Tokyo’s decision last month to increase military expenditure to $239 billion over the next five years, coupled with a new 10-year national security strategy, was the clearest sign yet that Japan is serious about strengthening its defense capabilities against a backdrop of China’s surging economic and military power.
By Andrew S. Erickson and Austin M. Strange, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Andrew S. Erickson is an associate professor in the Strategic Research Department at the U.S. Naval War College. Austin M. Strange is a research associate at the China Maritime Studies Institute. The views expressed are the authors’ alone.
December 26, Chairman Mao’s birthday, is always a significant date for China. But last month’s 120th anniversary came at a time when his legacy is increasingly subject to vigorous debate among the Chinese public, media, academia and even officialdom. And it also established a new landmark in contemporary Chinese history, an unprecedented milestone in Chinese foreign policy that Mao would surely be proud of: the 5th year anniversary of China’s naval anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden.
To honor the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN)’s contributions to maritime security off Somalia, the China Maritime Museum, located in Shanghai, opened a special exhibit that runs into March, and which features photos and actual mission mementos. Chinese media outlets continue to roll out a flurry of articles commemorating the occasion. But what is the actual significance of Chinese anti-piracy activities? And what has China accomplished there over the past five years?
First and foremost, China’s naval foray into the Gulf of Aden, beginning in 2008, is a resounding response from Beijing to threats against its overseas interests. Chinese people and economic assets continue to disperse throughout the world at record pace nearly four decades after Deng Xiaoping’s opening up reforms. As a result, nontraditional security breaches outside of China, such as natural disasters, terrorist attacks (and, in this case, maritime piracy) pose growing threats to Chinese national interests.
By Fareed Zakaria
I know, it's seems odd to speak of problems and the need for reform in the world's fastest growing big economy. But China has built up imbalances in that economy for some years now and they are not sustainable for much longer. Even before the financial crisis, China's top officials were aware that the economy was, in Premier Wen Jiabao's own words, "unstable, unbalanced, uncoordinated, and unsustainable." It needed to wean itself off cheap credit and undergo market reforms.
Since then, in response to the global economic slowdown, China pumped even more easy money into its economy. The result, according to Morgan Stanley's Ruchir Sharma, is that China's total public and private debt is more than 200 percent of GDP, an unprecedented level for any developing country. Sharma points out that while it used to take one dollar of debt to produce one dollar of Chinese GDP growth, today it takes $4 to produce that same dollar of growth. Businesses and local governments have piled on debt. The property boom has accelerated. Without serious policy changes relatively soon, this is a bubble that is going to burst.
I'm not ready to bet against China. Its leadership has shown itself to be capable of difficult decisions and smart execution. And if the leaders do manage this transition well, China will emerge stronger, and of course become the largest economy in the world. If they don't, they will likely face a slump and perhaps political tensions that bubble up in the wake of a slowing economy.
For more on this, watch the video or read the TIME column
By Fareed Zakaria
Beijing faces other serious challenges. Chinese people almost anywhere in the country experience serious air and water pollution, and they have begun to complain vocally. They are also increasingly outraged by something almost as ubiquitous: corruption. China's corruption is masked because of the state's tight control of the media, but the Communist Party is well aware of the problem and has pledged to revamp its systems of promotion and party discipline to ensure that officials are less corrupt and more focused on ecological damage, not just growth.
Any such changes are bound to face political resistance and backlash from within the Communist Party and from some powerful sectors of society. President Xi Jinping has launched an anticorruption campaign, though many in China believe enforcement has been selective. He has also sought to stabilize the party's power by tightening the noose on any critics in the media and universities and even those who are private businesspeople. Xi has created a national security council focused largely on internal security, a sign of not only where his priorities lie but also where he sees his greatest challenges.
I'm not ready to bet against China.
By Robert Daly, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Robert Daly is director of the Kissinger Institute on China and the United States at the Wilson Center. The views expressed are his own. This is the first in the '14 in 2014' series, looking at what the year ahead holds for key countries.
Three stories dominate American coverage of China at the close of 2013: the recent plenum that outlined China’s direction for the next decade, China’s establishment of an air defense identification zone (ADIZ) in the East China Sea, and Beijing’s delayed issuance of visas to American journalists. The common thread in these stories is Chinese Communist Party (CCP) General Secretary Xi Jinping. Xi’s vision and political acumen are the driving force behind reform proposals that could reshape China. Xi would have had to sign off on an ADIZ that has deepened suspicion that China seeks regional hegemony. And Xi has spearheaded a year-long campaign against freedom of information that may culminate in the closing of the China offices of Bloomberg and the New York Times.
Xi’s program to date is Reform, Resurgence, and Repression. What China becomes under his leadership in 2014 and beyond will depend on whether this modern strongman is truly modern and truly strong, or whether he is cultivating an image of strength in an attempt to rein in a dynamic but fragile nation which an anachronistic CCP can no longer control.
Reform. The policy goals Xi set at the plenum demonstrated that he shares the Chinese people’s concerns for social welfare, sustainable growth, a cleaner environment, and cleaner government. Xi’s self confidence and specificity gave plenum documents the feel of a new social contract. They were a populist’s promise to the masses.
By Phelim Kine, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Phelim Kine is the New York-based deputy director of the Asia division at Human Rights Watch. The views expressed are his own.
It’s the Chinese government’s Nelson Mandela problem.
When news broke of Mandela’s death on December 5, China’s state media joined in the global torrent of tributes for the former political prisoner turned beloved president of South Africa. President Xi Jinping praised Mandela as “an accomplished politician of global standing,” while state-owned China Central Television described him as “an old friend of China.” Glaring omissions in those early tributes were references to “freedom,” “democracy” and any mention of Mandela as a Nobel Peace Prize laureate.
That was no accident. For the ruling Chinese Communist Party, observing Nelson Mandela’s death is a fraught exercise in verbal contortions to distance him from China’s own imprisoned Nobel laureate and advocate for peaceful social change: the writer Liu Xiaobo.
On December 11, China’s state-owned Global Times went on the offensive with an accusation that “Western media” had “deliberately cast a light on the imprisonment of Liu and praised him as ‘China’s Mandela.’” The objective? To deflect from the striking parallels between the globally revered former South African president and the quiet, self-effacing Chinese writer in Jinzhou Prison in northeastern Liaoning province.
GPS speaks with International Crisis Group analyst Yanmei Xie about recent tensions in East Asia, China’s air defense identification zone, and what it means for U.S. ties with Beijing.
What exactly is the air defense identification zone that China has announced?
The air defense identification zone, announced last month, covers a set of islands – called Diaoyu by China and Senkaku by Japan – whose sovereignty is hotly disputed by the two countries. Beijing has demanded that from now on, aircraft entering the zone have to report their flight plans, maintain communication and show identification, or “China’s armed forces will adopt defensive emergency measures to respond.”
What’s behind the move?
Challenged at sea, Beijing could be hoping to assert greater control over the contested islands by unilaterally establishing administrative rights over the airspace above them. It has already been eroding Japan’s administration of the disputed waters by regularly dispatching patrol vessels to the area since the Japanese government purchased three of the islands from a private owner in September 2012.
The move may also have been driven by the People’s Liberation Army’s desire to expand its power projection. The PLA for years has been arguing that Japan’s air defense identification zone unfairly restricted Chinese military aircraft’s movement and advocated for the establishment of one of its own.
China’s sudden declaration, however, is puzzling in light of its foreign policy goals. Just a month ago, Chinese President Xi Jinping in a high-profile speech, stated that “safeguarding peace and stability in the neighboring region is a major goal” of the country’s diplomacy.
By Jeffrey W. Hornung, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Jeffrey W. Hornung is an associate professor at the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies in Honolulu, and an adjunct fellow with the Office of the Japan Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. The views expressed in this article are his alone.
China’s more assertive posture in regional territorial disputes took a new turn at the weekend with its decision to implement an Air Defense Identification Zone. At a time when tensions in the region are already high due to a lingering territorial dispute between China and Japan, China’s action has escalated tensions in the East China Sea. Now, with Beijing apparently demonstrating a fundamental misunderstanding of diplomacy with its neighbors, the region is forced to confront provocative and potentially destabilizing behavior.
On November 23, China’s defense ministry unilaterally announced the establishment of the East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone. According to the new rules for conduct in this ADIZ, any aircraft flying into China’s ADIZ is required to submit flight plans to Chinese authorities, maintain two-way radio communication, and keep radar transponders turned on. Should a plane refuse to follow these instructions, China’s military will “adopt defensive measures.”
ADIZs are, by themselves, not controversial, acting as early-warning perimeters for self-defense. But while there are no international rules concerning their size or establishment, China’s action is provocative for two reasons. First, it may be attempting to set new rules for aircraft flying above waters considered a state’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ). Second, it chose to establish an ADIZ that overlaps considerably with those of both Japan and Taiwan as well as a sliver of South Korea’s. Provocatively, included in China’s ADIZ are territorial disputes it maintains with Japan over the Senkaku Islands (Diaoyu in Chinese) and with South Korea over Ieodo (Suyan Rock in Chinese).
By Michael Mazza, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Michael Mazza is a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. The views expressed are his own.
It’s difficult to know precisely what was behind China’s decision to institute an East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) at the weekend. Chinese claims to the contrary, it is clearly meant to up the pressure on Japan in the two countries’ dispute over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, over which the ADIZ extends. Internal Chinese political dynamics may also be at work here; President Xi Jinping, for example, must be benefitting from taking a strong stance vis-à-vis Japan. But whatever the reason for the creation of the ADIZ at this time, Beijing may ultimately regret it – and not only because it increases the likelihood of a violent incident over the East China Sea.
First off, the move needlessly antagonizes Taiwan and South Korea. The fact is that it puts a wrinkle into recently stable cross-Strait relations, as Taiwan also claims sovereignty over the Senkakus (known as the Diaoyutai in Taiwan), and it now has an overlapping ADIZ with the mainland.
The ADIZ is even more surprising in the context of China-South Korea relations, which have looked particularly warm of late. Seoul’s quarrels with Japan over history have been at their worst in recent months, and Beijing has effectively stoked that fire. But China’s new ADIZ overlaps with South Korea’s; covers the disputed Socotra Rock (which both countries claim as within their own exclusive economic zone); and may extend a bit too close for comfort to Jeju Island, where South Korea is building a major naval base. In one fell swoop, Beijing has reminded Seoul that South Korea has more in common with Japan than it normally likes to admit.
By Fareed Zakaria
China’s leaders have promised “unprecedented” market-oriented reforms that are “comprehensive,” “economic, social and political.” We will have to wait and watch to see what that means but, for sure, it means no moves toward democracy. It will likely involve administrative changes that make China’s bureaucracy more efficient, effective and honest. Local courts, for example, long dominated by corrupt local politicians, are likely to be streamlined, perhaps with the creation of an American-style federal circuit.
In fact, so far, the country has actually moved in the opposite direction politically, clamping down on the Internet as part of a Maoist campaign against dissent. One participant described this as a strategy that “moves left politically so that you can move right economically.” He said it mirrored Deng’s approach, which is summarized in a joke that he once instructed his driver to turn on the left signal while turning the car to the right.
By Elizabeth Economy, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Elizabeth Economy is C.V. Starr Senior Fellow and director of Asia Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. The views expressed are her own.
In the aftermath of an apparent suicide attack in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square on October 27 that injured dozens of people and killed five (including three involved in the attack), Chinese authorities moved quickly to label the incident terrorism and to arrest a handful of suspects who reportedly helped plot the attack. In the process, word leaked out that those involved were from Xinjiang, a Muslim-dominated region in the far northwest of China. For decades, Xinjiang, itself, has been the site of often-violent ethnic strife between the Muslim Uyghur majority and the Han Chinese minority. Uyghur discontent, however, has rarely spilled over into other parts of China. Now, Chinese authorities are claiming that Uyghur extremists have, for the first time, taken their cause to Beijing.
Assuming this suicide attack was, in fact, a premeditated terrorist attack and not simply an act of individual desperation – an assumption many in and outside China continue to question – the government’s next step will likely be to crack down in Xinjiang itself. Past violence in Xinjiang has been met by Beijing with highly repressive policies, mass arrests, and demonstrations of military and police force. In fact, the Tiananmen incident occurred while Beijing was already in the midst of a government-directed crackdown on online activists in Xinjiang. Even more moderate approaches have fallen flat. In May, for example, residents of one county in Xinjiang were the beneficiaries of more than 100 government-sponsored lectures on ethnic relations during “ethnic harmony education month.” The following month, 35 people died in ethnic violence in that same county.