If you wondered why team Obama was visiting Burma recently, then you’re not along, for numerous places exist that require an American executive. Burma was Washington’s choice in the great game of containing China. No one understands this better than Dr. Edward N. Luttwak. Author of “The Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire” and “The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire”, both fine reads that help the beginner understand how America can ply its tradecraft as we seek to engage Beijing in the Pacific.
Luttwak is correct in his analysis of China’s weakest point: domestic sovereignty. He has yet to embrace a more Machiavellian concept of restraining Beijing by cutting its envelopment of several third world countries that continue to ‘enjoy’ the Chinese. Africa and South America come to mind when you consider how China desperately needs raw materials in its expansion. Note: Chinese partners like Pakistan and numerous others aren’t welcoming Beijing. These are weak nation states, mostly kleptocracies that are taking advantage of a financial situation if only for these weak states to consolidate their own political hold. Another sad chapter in how after the death of Marxism these indigenous political economies became trapped within the stranglehold of their own utopian rhetoric. Anything but welcoming Capitalism! Although that’s exactly the remedy required for Africa to rise. More on that another time.
Luttwak explains that Beijing cannot enjoy both an expanding economy and a rapidly growing military, because rival nation states throughout the entire Pacific are awakening, building military and trade coalitions countering the Red Chinese.
Burma was only one partner, the Americans are building relations with the Philippines at Cam Ranh Bay Port, Darwin in Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam and many others.
The leadership in Beijing suffers from ‘great state autism’, meaning the inability for Chinese leaders to seriously focus on foreign affairs except when in crisis mode. Why is this the case? The old synoptic view of the confluence of vast geography, domestic political complexity (read weakness) and distance along spell havoc for the Han. Luttwak notes that strong historical tendency for the native Han to view themselves as superior, a very strong sore spot for manipulation.
Nevertheless, team Obama has contributed to Beijing’s newfound strength. The South China Sea only became an issue for Beijing when team Obama stated in earnest that climate change was superior to human rights. The nasty grapple over the Senkaku Islands has its origin in Beijing’s need to find a domestic rally point deflecting attention away from plummeting economic news coupled to poorly performing Prime Ministers. Do we need to be reminded of how Beijing noticed how team Obama dropped Taiwan off Washington’s radar screen? Ma Ying-jeou noticed as did the Communists in Beijing.
We should always remember that China, like the House of Saud, always feels threatened by American resolve, so it continues to mask both its responses and its priorities as it deals with political superiors.
What we can expect from American resolve is a strategy of pure containment. Our goal is to thwart the ambitions of Beijing in seeking total Pacific hegemony. What Washington seeks is for the Communists in Beijing to wise up and know that their ambitions threaten the survival of China’s own political economy. This threat is mortal.
Beijing will not acknowledge that modernities impact cannot be staged managed by technocrats. This means that China must acknowledge that rising income inequality, daily protests, ethnic unrest, not to mention the social impact of digital technology or the humanist need for liberty can be thwarted forever.
Just ask the Monarchies of Europe!