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Friday, 29 November 2013

Needed: A China-Japan hotline (Pakistan Observer)

M D Nalapat. Friday, November 29, 2013 - A single spark can light a prarie fire”, was the lesson taught by Mao Zedong, the creator of the Peoples Republic of China. History provides numerous examples of the way in which a single incident creates a chain of consequences that may ultimately lead to disaster. An example is the 1914-19 WW-I, which began after Archduke Francis Ferdinand of Austria was killed by Gavrilo Princip in Sarajevo in 1914. 

The cost of war has become intolerably high, such that the most effective way to destroy the economies of Europe or the US would be to lure them into a conflict involving ground forces. At an average cost of $600,000 per soldier deployed on the field, NATO is financially unable to bear the costs of battle even against ragtag groups such as the Taliban. Only against much weaker - and conventional - forces such as those of Saddamite Iraq or Kaddafy-ruled Libya can the alliance prevail, and that only as long as the conflict remains conventional.

Once irregulars enter the field, NATO is doomed to face attrition. Unlike in the case of Europe in the previous century or Africa now, relatively few modern wars have taken place in Asia between two countries from the world’s largest continent. Rather, outside powers have sought to impose their will on Asian countries,as for exmple France and subsequently the US in Vietnam or the US and the UK in Iraq. After 1945,two countries which had a long history of tension and conflict have ever once taken up arms against each other, despite being heavily-armed neighbours. Japan and China have in fact become significant economic partners of each other. After Taipei, Tokyo is the largest external investor in China, with Japanese companies providing jobs to more than twenty million Chinese across the gamut of the roduction, distribution and service lines of these enterprises.

China has also by far been the biggest recipient of cash aid from Japan,a s well as being given several technologies. Both economies have formed a symbiotic relationship with each other, and any breakdown of commercial ties would lead to immense economic pain for both. This is especially important for China, for if growth falls below the 6% level, there would almost certainly be widespread unrest in that country. The people of China are seeing the lavish manner in which the elite live their lives, and they want a share of such dazzling prosperity. In the past, the people of China were content to toil away at a primitive standard of living but since the 1990s their concept of minimum acceptable needs has changed, and they expect the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to deliver such a standard of life in exchange for popular support. If Chairman (of the CCP) Mao was the creator of the PRC, it was Deng Xiaoping who was the architect of the immense prosperity that the country has witnessed during the previous three decades.

Deng de-emphasized the military and made it explicit that the use of force or even the threat of force was off the table, save in extraordinary circumstances. The last war fought by China against any other country was in 1979,with Vietnam, and this when Deng had yet to establish his supremacy over the Communist Party. Since then, there has not been a single war fought by China. A frontier (that numerous NATO-funded or influenced think tanks across the globe characterise as “extremely tense” - the Sino-Indian border) has in fact seen exactly zero bullets fired across either side during the past five decades. Contrast such an absence of conflict with NATO, especially after that military alliance’s post- 9/11 avatar of saving the (rest of) the world.

The first response of major NATO powers, especially France in theatres in Asia and Africa, where it boasted significant colonial possessions during the previous century ,is first the threat of force, followed by the use of force. Had it not been made clear by President Vladimir Putin that Moscow would not confine itself to words during the planned NATO campaign against Syria in early 2013 as took place in Libya two years before, but that Russia would provide armed assistance to Bashar Assad, by now Damascus would have followed Tripoli and Benghazi by being under the effective control of groups that are ideological cousins of Al Qaeda.

Deng’s insistence on peaceful means to resolve conflicts created immense goodwill for China. Although Jiang Zemin used a flurry of missiles in the mid-1990s to make the point that Beijing had more projectiles than Taipei, all that such a show of force did was to ensure that Chen Sui-bian of the Democratic Progressive Party, a trenchant critic of China, won the presidential election in Taiwan. It was Jiang whose tactics ensured Chen’s victory. Hu Jintao, who succeeded the Shanghai tycoon as CCP supremo, changed course and used soft power and business carrots to woo the Taiwanese, a softening of stance which helped the pro-China Kuomintang (KMT) to win the last two presidential elections.

While Hu Jintao was in office until a year ago, the situation between China and its neighbours was tranquil overall. However, during his final months in power, tensions began to rise on the South China seas issue, and these have reached a dangerous flashpoint, with Beijing’s implied threat of force against any military aircraft that does not identify itself to Chinese authorities before entering the vast airspace over the South China seas. The US has responded by sending two B-52 bombers sans any notice, and Japan may follow suit. Should a Japanese airctaftbe brought down by an over-zealous Chinese pilot, the consequences may be grave, with the possibility that the incident may ignite a broader war, which would involve many of China’s neighbours What is needed is for tensions to be rolled back.

There is too much at stake for Asia to allow its two most advanced countries to exchange bullets or missiles against each other. What is needed are two hotlines, one connecting the Prime Minister of China with his Japanese counterpart, and the other the military leadership of both countries. The time for such instant emergency communication is now, before a tragedy occurs because of an error of judgement in either Beijing or Tokyo.

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