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April 2, 2009

4

Thanks For The Responses!

by Master Pillow

Thanks for all the responses I’ve gotten on my last posting! I’ll let Kakashi from the Japanese anime Naruto give the thumbs up! It took a lot of time to write but I’m satisfied with how it turned out. Excuse me for replying in a post instead of in the comment thread but I ended up writing a reply that’s a bit too large to post in the comment field.

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Taru,

Thanks for your comments about my blog. I’m glad you are visiting my site and I hope you’ll continue to come often! As you can guess I write about anything on my mind although it’s usually something to do with Star Trek, video games or movies. I don’t usually launch into politics unless something has been brewing in my head for a while.

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Evie,

Yeah, it might seem kind of weird reading something that links Veronica Mars, recent history and a large dose of economics and geo politics but I can get longwinded sometimes! I think you are bang on when you say there’s always a “feeling out” period and some sort of inherent underlying prejudice that some people feel when they are presented with cultures, people or situations that seem foreign to them. I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing since it boils down to the fear of the unknown. The only way to get around it is to try and temper these feelings and discover the other person or event that is going on around you. Information is power and most of the time once you confront it you’ll realize that most people around the world have many things in common. Like good old Shylock said in The Merchant of Venice, we’re all basically the same.

Sometimes it is disheartening to listen, mainly to politicians, wax on with a brusque “us versus them” mentality. Democrats will phrase their speeches to highlight differences between them and the Republicans that show themselves to always be morally superior and righteous whereas their opponents would ruin the country. The reverse is also true as well as Republicans are no different. The language of politics tends to run along these lines where one side is always right and the other always wrong. You can see this phenomenon everyday if you listen to news programs and of course, it is out in full force during any election period.

Unfortunately, this kind of rhetoric makes its way into global politics as well thus America was always good and the USSR was always bad. You can bet that someone living in Moscow during the Cold War would feel totally the opposite was true. People just can’t help but end up defining themselves in opposition with someone else. It doesn’t matter if it is class, creed, religion or political leaning but it seems that many will always compare themselves to others and make the assumption that they are on the right side every time.

This is a human flaw that needs to be tempered with something as easy as what you said by trying your hardest to understand someone else’s point of view.

As for China they have obviously gone through the “century of humiliation” much of it attributed to foreign intervention but obviously some of it is self-inflicted. However, to move forward one has to forgive the sins of the past and move on. If one gets locked into an infinite loop of paybacks it’s going to be a disaster. Just look at the Middle East for example.

China is most definitely on the rise and how it deals with its new found clout is going to be the defining story of our lives for the next fifty or so odd years. They have much to be proud about such as the biggest movement of people in history out of the poverty line. Still, there’s much more work to be done but these things take time. As someone living in a middle power country we can only hope that as China rises it doesn’t embark on an abusive and intrusive foreign policy that does little but make everyone else think they are doing nothing but bullying countries around.

As for the USA, it is not like Rome is burning here unlike what some commentators have said recently. It is merely going through a cycle whereby its power is waning when compared to China. The US is still the biggest economy in the world with much political capital. It just needs to choose its foreign policy more wisely in order to not provoke the world into thinking it is ignoring everyone and embarking on needless unilateral action. Even if China manages to surpass the US in GDP, the standard of living in the US will be far superior based solely on the population difference between both nations. That is, unless China keeps expanding till it reaches the same income level per household that the US currently enjoys. In that case the Chinese economy would end up 2-3 times larger than the US. Even then, this is not the end of the world as hopefully China doesn’t abuse its power.

Till then, I highly encourage anyone to travel. Not just to China but everywhere else in the world. By travel I mean out of the country you reside in. You’ll be surprised at what you find especially if you don’t join a tour and make a habit of going off from the beaten path. I’m sure it will enhance your perspective and give you insight to other cultures.

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CaitlynA,

Thanks for the clarification on the “Law of The Sea.” Looking back I think when I wrote that it “doesn’t go into much detail as to what is allowed to travel in the zone” didn’t come out exactly as I intended. You are correct in what the law states that it is supposed to support navigation rights by any shipping through a country’s EEZ including military vessels.

I do think though that this incident is a great indicator of China’s neophyte status as a military power. The problem being that both the US and Russia are veteran hands at playing these “wargames” evinced by their constant manoeuvring during the Cold War where each side shadowed the other in a daily attempt to test both hardware and military prowess of their crews. That is over forty years of experience not only in naval jostling but in other arms of the military.

After the dissolution of the USSR, Russia entered a period of decline as they could not upkeep their enormous military spending leading to them radically scaling back such activities and only having a few submarines and other assets actually deploying to sea.

However, even though that was the case the US has always kept up their military preparedness and their sortie rate has not largely declined.

Now we have an ascendant China with a spanking new Navy that has close to zero experience in such matters and who obviously has little insight into Cold War machinations that went on between the USSR and the US save for whatever they read. They are only beginning to revamp their command and control systems as well as actually pen their new military doctrines.

As such, when a US military surveillance plane or ship ventures anywhere close to their key installations they are embarking on a knee jerk reaction to immediately deny access to foreign military assets. In short, they are acting like a kid who is protecting his or her new toys by lashing out with physical harassment instead of calmly analyzing the situation and playing along. It was hard to keep secrets in the Cold War era and I doubt it is any easier now.

If they had the deep operational knowledge and tactics gained by the Russians and Americans for wargaming during the Cold War they’d probably realize that it would be better to leave those assets alone or shadow them everywhere and reciprocate in kind by doing exactly what you said by sending their own subs and surveillance trawlers to peep at American installations.

However, I really do think that the dynamic this time around is incredibly much more tangled and complex than when it was merely just the US versus the USSR. Back then you could argue it was as simple as who wielded the biggest and best military and in turn who managed to influence other nations to follow their political ideology. This time around China is a much different beast who is competing not to spread ideology but pure market capitalism – something that the US previously thought it had mastery over. Add in the fact that China is so linked to the US economy and owns a massive chunk of its debt, the US suddenly finds that it is befuddled as to how to meet this challenge. Some would say that America outspent the USSR and forced them to keep pace and when they couldn’t, the bottom fell out of their economy. That is not going to work this time at all.

Like Evie said and I as well in my blog I have my doubts how the US will react if a similar vessel to the Impeccable is sent by the Chinese to survey and snoop around any major American naval installation. It is not that I doubt that the US will decide to leave them be much like they allowed the Soviets to but I wonder if such an event would spur all the wrong types of patriotic furor if it were reported on let’s say CBS, FOX, ABC or NBC.

Part of the point that I was trying to get at in my blog is that communication is of utmost importance when feeling out another country or culture that is foreign to us, yet I find that a huge section of the press might be willing to spin a story like that into something that it shouldn’t. For instance, I have visions of how the American population will react if the prime time news leads with “Chinese Spy Ship Sitting off the coast of Norfolk, Virginia.”

Now I can understand why you might not like the word “spy” but even if you use something tamer like probe, investigate, analyze, or peep, it all boils down to the same basic fact that the ship is there to collect useful military intel. Whether it is there mapping the ocean floor or merely acting as a listening post to eavesdrop the fundamental mission is one of espionage. If the US news leads with a story like this, the reaction is going to be the same as the Chinese one was to the Impeccable minus the harassment of course. Much like the Chinese people must feel offended or insulted that an American ship is doing this, I posit that the US people will react the same way due to the underlying current of negative reactions to China in general.

This goes back to my initial point and something Evie remarked on, that people just have an inherent fear of the unknown. I have no doubt this sort of mission by the Impeccable or any other similar vessel from any other country happens all around the world as everyone is intent on peeping at other nations to probe their military capabilities. The issue arises if it makes front page news. While you and I and most other people could probably shrug that these wargames are going on every day it just does not play well to most people who will react negatively if they hear another country is actively engaged in these activities so close to their coast.

While the American public might not “hate” China much like the way they demonized the USSR, I think most will agree that they do not have an overall favourable impression of the country. Surprisingly, based on polls recently conducted in China they have a much more favourable view of the US than the US has of China.

What I am driving at here is that this incident is betraying a larger geopolitical issue for China and the US beyond the law. Of course, if China wants to be successful and enter into a relationship with the rest of the world, it is eventually going to have to straighten up and agree to follow international law. Just look at the enormous problem they have with pirate/copied merchandise that infringes on copyrights left right and center. Once they begin to clean things up I hope popular opinion will begin to swing a bit more positively. Certainly other issues such as lead paint and toxic baby formula do nothing but reinforce the negative but every country has gone through similar problems and only over time does the proper QA and government regulation kick in to better protect the consumer.

Now, China has indeed ratified this particular law so I suppose one can look at it and basically say that they are crying wolf during this incident with no legal backbone to support their claim but that brings up the salient point that strikes at the very heart of this law. How is it enforced? To my knowledge the UN has no hand in enforcing this law and that it is up to the individual states to basically work it out amongst themselves. This strikes me as one of those odd situations that run along the lines of, “Who polices the police?” In both 2001 and 2009 even though if you read that the Chinese were in error the result appears to be a loss of face to the US as they are seen to be capitulating and not pressing the issue further.

Like any issue that becomes politicized there are numerous threads running through any decision undertaken by any government. A cynic would say that most countries would follow these laws but those who are powerful enough (say, the US, China, Russia) merely use them at their own whims since they can “get away with it” with relative impunity.

Of course, this is what makes people around the world even angrier when they see actions by major players that openly bend, warp, misread, or plainly ignore such rules and laws. Growing up we all learn to never break the law but as adults we see it all the time around us. We all hope that everyone plays by the rules but as history shows, any major power is in this game for themselves.

Like I said, I’m a dreamer who hopes that people grow up and work together in harmony. Yes, it sounds like hippy flower power sometimes but it is the truth. My intent with this article is merely to show that cooperation and communication usually will lessen angst and the inherent fear people have of other cultures or things they do not know. China is ascending but their rise and America’s relative decline are not events that should be feared as long as cooperation and appreciation are placed at the forefront.

There are of course many obstacles to such a relationship, with one always being the military rights and exercises of any country that by definition are primarily meant to defend. Incidents like this, which involve the murky topic of espionage (some would say being proactive defense) are always going to happen but they do nothing but raise tensions and inflame a high degree of patriotic protectionism from both participants. Smaller countries look at something like this and throw their hands up in frustration as rules and laws are constantly being “bent” to suit a political goal. Surfing around the net one gets the impression that this incident is “playing” the way it is merely because the Impeccable is a military vessel on a probing mission. If China harassed a civilian freighter or fishing trawler than it would probably have been relegated to the back page of the news or never even been broadcasted.

I really don’t see that China is backpedalling or retreating on the issue but that is more a result of it quietly going by the wayside precisely because the US government is not pushing it further due to other political reasons. I remember the earlier incident in 2001 caused a massive stink that lasted months but this time the fracas has been left to quietly slip off into the news nether as economic issues dominate the relationship between the two countries. If this had taken place say three of four years ago I have no doubt that the Americans would be much more engaged to show the world that China is acting in a reckless manner but President Obama is caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place.

If he decides to press the Chinese or spend an inordinate amount of time railing against their apparent disregard for the law he is going to shoot himself in the foot precisely because he needs China to keep investing in US Government Bonds to help finance his stimulus package. If he decides to bring the case to the UN, he is left with the unenviable position of defending a law that his country has not even ratified as well as throwing political mud at China which he cannot afford to do so at this point in time. It’s not a stretch to assume that the Chinese government would retaliate through the economic bat or other area which would cause the US grief.

In short, even if China wantonly stretched the limit of the law, the US is in no position to make them accountable. You will remember even back in 2001 that in the end the US had to back down and even send a written letter of apology to the Chinese government over the death of their fighter pilot. This is a fundamental issue to US-China relations and it is quickly becoming clear that military incidents cannot be solved through military means. To do so is quite frankly incomprehensible as both are armed to the teeth. Thus, we are left with the diplomatic route and I am sure there is much going on behind the scenes in both countries to try and avoid such incidents from reoccurring.

Indeed, after the incident one positive reaction has been the call by many American military personnel to renew and enhance military dialogue between China and the US. An increase in military exchanges will undoubtedly help to clear up any misgivings each side has about the other and hopefully a cordial relationship can begin to grow between two militaries that seem in direct opposition to one another. China is bent on a massive naval build-up, in part due to their stunning loss of face when Bill Clinton sent part of the US Pacific fleet near Taiwan just as China was rattling the sabre in an effort to influence the Taiwanese elections. China quickly realized that it had inferior forces to deter and deny American access to that area of the world and embarked on its current increase in naval assets.

The Americans are sure to know this and obviously don’t want to see their firm grip as masters of the Pacific Ocean evaporate or be jeopardized by a growing Chinese navy. Still, military leaders obviously think and develop strategies to neutralize their opponents. This time it is no different and any sort of information that might give your own side an advantage over the other is just plain common sense even if by doing so you need to bend the law to your own advantage.

Even in today’s news coming out of the G20 taking place in London we are hopefully beginning to see some promising signs of a more robust China-US cooperation with the creation of the “economic dialogue” group and Obama’s acceptance of a trip to China later this year. Obviously, both countries are going to go about their military business separately but any sort of framework for a comprehensive treaty between these countries will do much to dispel any misgivings they might have about the other and hopefully cut down the risk of another ‘Impeccable incident’ from occurring.

China’s rise is going to be filled with numerous bumps in the road and obeying international law is obviously one of them. However, I think this is indicative of any growing country, especially one that has suddenly made a quantum leap from regional defense to the potential for global power projection. Although hawks might attempt to boost US military spending or embark on a Cold War mentality, I believe that Obama as constrained as he is by economics is on the right track by opening up more avenues for meaningful dialogue. By drawing China into International institutions and showing them the benefits, it will do much to help them in the future in both economic and military policy.

Anyways, I’ve rambled on enough. Thanks again for your insight to the “Law of the Sea.” It is obvious you have much knowledge about the issue at hand. I’ll go back later to my earlier post and revise it to include some of my thoughts from above and let’s all hope that in the years to come the G2 US-China relationship grows into one of mutual trust and understanding.

© 2009 The Galactic Pillow

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4 Comments Post a comment
  1. evie
    Apr 2 2009

    Hi MousiePillow,Love what you wrote! I’m a big fan! :-)) 😀Imho, when countries become rich and technologically-advanced, they will tend to behave like a ‘big bully’ (?) Look at the old colonial powers, they pillaged and conquered so many undeveloped countries, it’s not even funny. I think they even wiped out a whole race/tribe! It was guns versus spears and blow pipes. Horrible! Thank goodness no countries do that anymore. (Except one particular country is still flexing its muscle but it is not going to be able to do it much longer especially when its economy crumbles) *cough*I hope China won’t get this impulsive urge to take revenge, or do anything drastic in the future. I think they are arming Not because they want to be offensive but as a defensive stance so that they will never ever be ‘intimidated’ again. That’s just my 2 cents, because who knows what those Chinese Generals think! Trying to be nice with everyone and every country is just a pipe dream. I believe – guns talk louder than words. Yea it’s sad, I know, but that’s just reality.Regarding economics: the “no money, no talk” rule applies to everyone and to every country. The creditor do have a say on the debtor’s actions, like the Eisenhower and Eden case. :)) I ‘predict’ that in the future China will have more say on stuffs that the US do, eh?Your ideals really resonates with me. I agree totally! :-)) I hope every nation lives in harmony, and no country goes silly and try to start a war! ((rolleyes))I am optimistic that one day there will be No single war in any country on earth. Long live the human race! ;-))

    Reply
  2. Apr 2 2009

    Thank you for the thoughtful post – and it wa well worth a new post instead of a comment.China is in transition from a regional power to a global one, and sometimes its actions don’t match the global status to which it aspires. That will change over time. There will continue to be Chinese claims of excessive authority to which the US will react until China expands its commercial trading fleet, extends its Navy to guard its shipping far from its shores, and even observes US and Russian navies in their home waters. China’s actions as a regional power have been pretty aggressive against its smaller neighbors. The Philippines, Viet Nam, Taiwan all have territorial disputes with China over the continental shelf and its resources that have the potential to erupt in violence. A fear of unilateral action by China to resolve such disputes in China’s favor is one of the reasons other countries welcome the US fleet in the region as a counterbalance. China is a rising star, but for its neighbors this brings concern over sovereignty and, yes, concerns for their own rights under the LOS Convention that they feel are threatened by the biggest kid on the regional block.And you are correct that the influence of the media has added complexities to issues that have been handled much more easily in the past. The media stories about the Russian flag planting in the arctic were built into a threat of a russian takeover in spite of russian statements that the flag planting had the same significance as the US flag on the moon and countless other celebrations of exploration and achievement. Threat of armed conflict is right up there with sex as a way to sell newspapers. Still, we survived William Randolph Hearst and yellow journalism a century ago and can hope to get past our current media-driven responses to foreign actions once again.

    Reply
  3. Apr 3 2009

    Thanks for your kind comments on my last post. As for the Russian flag planting incident at the North Pole it made huge headlines where I currently live (Canada) as it came as a bit of a shock to both our politicians and media. Many Canadians, our Prime Minister included, have always looked at much of the Arctic waters as belonging to Canada – well, at least the part that runs along our northern coasts which obviously include our many Arctic islands. You’re probably better positioned than I to get into the legalities of the “Law of the Sea” as it applies to continental shelves and “Arctic Nations” such as Canada, Russia, US, Norway or Denmark/Greenland but as a political story it didn’t at all sit well with most of our population who saw the flag incident as yet another case of a major power throwing around their weight.With my limited knowledge on such matters I think a major boiling point of contention for Canada is that it sees much of the Northwest Passage as being part of internal Canadian waters whereas just about everyone else looks at it as an International passage. Canada is obviously a middle power that lacks a sufficient military or economic backbone to properly police its portion of the Arctic. Whatever military assets we have are currently tied up in various peacekeeping missions around the world not to mention as well as in Khandahar, Afghanistan supporting the NATO mission. We don’t have any sort of major deep-sea port up there and of course lack the raw equipment such as a large enough icebreaker to venture deep into thick ice floes. If memory serves the ones we do have are not particularly modern and are certified to only sail around the weaker edges of the icepack. As such, many citizens were aghast at this incident as just another example of being bullied by a larger power much like you mentioned that some of the other nations in the South China Sea feel threatened by China’s increasing naval reach. I must say though that living in a middle power such as Canada there’s a real sense of palpable frustration whenever these sorts of incidents occur regardless of legality but it’s followed by a wave of resignation that there’s not much we can really do about it but pursue diplomacy. However, that’s not always such a bad thing as diplomacy should always trump military involvement. Besides, incidents like this actually have a positive side effect in that it started and/or re-energized the population to look into this certain topic. Now we have politicians and citizens who actually are beginning to look into this issue with much more clarity and a sense of purpose. There are now serious talks about constructing the proper icebreakers and gathering some concrete plans in place for an expanded port at Nanisivik on Baffin Island. The Prime Minister also announced to beef up our small military training base at Resolute. While Canada has basically relied on our Inuit population in the North to bolster our claim there’s at least some rumbling going on to further increase aid to them or to make more permanent settlements. Of course, this is all just talk but that’s a start. As for China and her neighbors there are still a lot of potential problems that could arise such as the Spratly Islands or the Diaoyu Islands. In the later case at least Japan and China seem to be talking about joint development although who knows where that will lead. Then again, open dialogue is going on so we might as well look at that as a positive. However, the Spratly Island situation has always been contentious as just about every country around them has made a claim. In the past China and other nations such as Malaysia have been doing some funky things like erecting makeshift structures and such to boost their claim but it looks to me that hopefully China’s recent rumblings to somehow create some sort of free trade zone amongst the various claimants will pan out. Maybe this concept of joint development by all involved so that they can all have a slice of the pie is the way to go. I sincerely hope all those negotiators from those various countries are working together and burning the midnight oil to strike some sort of framework to resolve the issue as no one really wants to see instability in that part of the world.I totally agree with your insight into “yellow journalism” and can’t help but lament that such sensationalist mumbo-jumbo excites a huge swath of the global population as it almost always leads to people having skewed or misinformed views. First impressions mean a lot to most people and if their first experience with something new is presented as wholly negative with a large dose of fear mongering added to the mix it will unfortunately “poison” and influence them in their future musings. Like I alluded to in my post I’ll cringe if the front page of USA Today proclaims in bold letters, “Chinese Spy Ship Sitting off the coast of Norfolk, Virginia!” as most people will just read the headline and think the sky is falling or that an invasion is imminent without bothering to investigate deeper that it is no big deal and that a US coast guard ship was basically sitting right next to it shadowing all its movements.

    Reply
  4. evie
    Apr 3 2009

    The m;sians are too funny! They put up makeshift structures on the island to make a claim on it?!! *lol* Lame!! But I really shouldn’t complain about them too much. ;-))How do we draw lines on the ocean?? It’s Not enough that we’re fighting for land, we’re fighting to claim oceans and unclaimed islands as well? It’s all so Political! eeewww.

    Reply

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