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The Weak US Response to China's Aggression in the Skies

On August 19th, a Chinese J-11 fighter intercepted a US Navy P-8 reconnaissance plane in international airspace, 137 miles southeast of Hainan Island in the South China Sea.

Three times, China’s jet crossed directly under the slow-moving P-8, once coming perhaps as close as 50 feet. The J-11 also passed in front of the American craft “with its belly toward the P-8 to show its weapons loadout,” according to Pentagon spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Jeff Pool. “In doing so, the pilot was unable to see the P-8, further increasing the potential for a collision.”

Next, the Chinese pilot flew under the P-8 and then came alongside, bringing his wingtip within 20 feet of the Navy plane. Finally, the J-11 conducted a barrel roll over the P-8, passing within 45 feet. “The intercept was aggressive and demonstrated a lack of due regard for the safety and well-being of the US and Chinese aircrews and aircraft,” said Pool.

China Policy as Cliché

“President Obama has made it clear that the United States welcomes the rise of a peaceful, prosperous, and stable China—one that plays a responsible role in Asia and the world and supports rules and norms on economic and security issues,” said Secretary of State John Kerry in Hawaii last week, in a major policy address. “The president has been clear, as have I, that we are committed to avoiding the trap of strategic rivalry and intent on forging a relationship in which we can broaden our cooperation on common interests and constructively manage our differences and disagreements.” 

Some observers marveled at how many clichés and abstractions America’s top diplomat was able to insert into just one speech. Said Peter Jennings of the Canberra-based Australian Strategic Policy Institute, “Countries will be a little disappointed that after the secretary’s six visits to the region, US policy seems to be still largely aspirational but lacking detail on how to achieve these aims.”

China's Latest Attempt to Co-opt Christianity

Last Thursday, China Daily reported that Beijing plans to “establish a Chinese Christian theology.”

The new theology “should adapt to China’s national condition and integrate with Chinese culture,” said Wang Zuoan, director of the State Administration for Religious Affairs, at a seminar in Shanghai on the “Sinicization of Christianity.” In the words of the official paper, Wang believes that “Chinese Christian theology should be compatible with the country’s path of socialism.” 

China’s socialist path is atheistic, so Wang is attempting something that is theoretically impossible. Impossible attempts, however, are nothing new when it comes to China’s Communist Party and religion. Mao Zedong, the founder of the People’s Republic, had a simple solution to Christianity and all other forms of religion: he persecuted and banned them.

China's Militarist General Liu Yuan Promoted

Reuters reports that General Liu Yuan will be promoted to the Communist Party’s 11-member Central Military Commission in October. Liu, 62, could even be given one of the two vice-chairman slots when the Central Committee meets, sources state. His elevation is a certain sign that hard-line elements are fast gaining power in Beijing.

Liu, the political commissar of the General Logistics Department of the People’s Liberation Army, ostensibly earned the move up for his role in bringing down Lieutenant General Gu Junshan. The investigation of Gu, in turn, led to the dramatic detention of Xu Caihou, a former vice-chairman of the military commission and former Politburo member. Both Xu and Gu have been ensnared in what the party has termed “anti-corruption” probes.

Xi Jinping: The Putin of Asia

On Friday, Beijing marked the 120th anniversary of the start of the first Sino-Japanese War, which ended in a crushing defeat of China. This year—once in February and then in June—Xi Jinping referred to this anniversary, mentioning how the conflict resulted in Japan taking Taiwan from the Chinese state. China’s leader, who believes he must “reunify” his country, remembers 19th century grievances as if they arose yesterday.

Nobody tops Xi when it comes to irredentism, not even the fellow who called the breakup of the Soviet Union “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe” of the 20th century and who is now doing all he can to reacquire former Soviet lands. Vladimir Putin is roiling one country—Ukraine—but China’s supremo is now destabilizing an entire region, in a sweeping arc spanning China’s south to its northeast.

The Second Cold War?

“Do you believe that the US-Russian relations are now at Cold War levels?” CNN’s Candy Crowley asked Dianne Feinstein on Sunday. “Yes,” replied the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

During the same interview, on the State of the Union program, Feinstein hinted at the problems of imposing sanctions on Moscow, even in the aftermath of the murderous downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 last week with a missile almost certainly of Russian origin. “It’s difficult, because you need Russian help in so many things,” she said to Crowley. “The P5+1, Syria, and it goes on and on.”

The list was not always so long.

Russia and China Shun Iranian Nuclear Talks

The big story from Vienna is not that discussions this week with Iran over its enrichment of uranium are not going well. Such a failure was virtually inevitable. The big story is who is not in town for the ill-fated proceedings, an effort to stop what many suspect is a disguised nuclear weapons program. 

US Secretary of State John Kerry, British Foreign Secretary William Hague, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier are all in Vienna for talks with their Iranian counterpart. The top diplomats of the remaining two members of the P5+1, the five permanent members of the Security Council and Germany, are no-shows, however. The foreign ministers of Russia and China, Sergey Lavrov and Wang Yi, are nowhere to be seen in the picturesque Austrian capital. Instead, Moscow and Beijing sent note-takers.

China’s Collision Course with Itself

Shi Yinhong, an international relations professor at Beijing’s Renmin University, has just issued a warning that Chinese leaders will not be deterred from engaging in increasingly provocative conduct. “There could be some tactical change in the direction of moderation but I cannot see any fundamental change in strategic orientation,” he told John Garnaut of the Sydney Morning Herald.

As Garnaut noted in messages to me this month, Beijing tells the world that “we will keep going and we will win.” Shi, however, has been saying that what the Chinese really mean is, in Garnaut’s words, that “we will keep going even though we cannot succeed.”

“How many times have you heard the Chinese described as pragmatists?” Arthur Waldron asked me this week. “They’re not.” At this moment, the University of Pennsylvania historian of China has put his finger on something especially distressing. Chinese policymakers work under a political system that now does not permit them to act pragmatically, cooperatively, or sensibly.

North Korea to Counter China’s Bold Play for Seoul

Xi Jinping arrived in Seoul today on a groundbreaking trip.

Analysts in Asia, where symbolism is closely watched, invest the visit with great significance. Xi, after all, is the first Chinese leader to travel to the South Korean capital before going to Pyongyang. “The message,” says John Delury of Yonsei University in Seoul, “is that if North Korea continues to keep Beijing at a distance and not work harder to keep China happy, then China will tilt towards South Korea.”

The oft-quoted Delury is undoubtedly correct, and his remark suggests that China thinks it can ultimately shape events to its liking. Most everyone outside the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, as the North calls itself, agrees, believing Beijing to be the main actor on the Korean peninsula.

Study Finds Chinese Economy a Third Smaller Than Claimed

In a report released on June 20th, the business research organization Conference Board recalculates Chinese gross domestic product going back to 1952. Economist Harry Wu estimates that China from 1978 to 2012 grew an average of 7.2 percent a year. Beijing’s National Bureau of Statistics reports 9.8 percent average annual growth during that period.

Wu believes that official numbers for 1952 to 1977 are generally accurate, at least when considered over the period as a whole. China’s figures, therefore, have become less reliable over time.

The discrepancy in the 1978–2012 period, which roughly conforms to the so-called “reform” era, is largely the result of Beijing’s inadequate adjustment of nominal results to account for price changes. Recently, many economists, most notably Christopher Balding of Peking University, have come to similar conclusions, that Beijing underestimates inflation when it calculates what is known as “real”—i.e., price-adjusted—GDP.

Beijing Redefines Hong Kong's Autonomy

On June 10th, China’s State Council issued its first white paper on Hong Kong since the city was handed from Britain to Beijing on July 1, 1997. The document, titled “The Practice of the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ Policy in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region,” is a heavy-handed attempt to sway public opinion that is sure to backfire.

In the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration, China promised Hong Kong, then a colony, a “high degree of autonomy.” At the time, Chinese officials sought to put the hearts of their Hong Kong compatriots “at ease,” as they said, by providing guarantees.

China's Unusual Outreach to India's New Leadership

On Monday, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi paid a visit to the newly installed prime minister of India, Narendra Modi, at his official residence in New Delhi. On the day before, Wang met his Indian counterpart, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, in a session lasting more than three hours.

The meeting with Swaraj, perhaps the more important of the two, covered most topics of interest between the two giants. The discussions, according to External Affairs spokesman Syed Akbaruddin, were “productive and substantive.”

Chinese Generals Lash Out at America, Japan

Lieutenant General Wang Guanzhong, the deputy chief of general staff of China’s People’s Liberation Army, attacked the US and Japan on Sunday, charging them with conspiring against his country. Speaking on the final day of the Shangri-La Dialogue, the Asian regional security forum in Singapore, the general displayed, among other things, how out of touch the Chinese leadership has become.

The dialogue occurred at a time of tensions off China’s coast. In the South China Sea, China and Vietnam remained locked in an escalating dispute over the placement of a Chinese oil drilling platform near Vietnam’s shoreline and in waters surely within Vietnam’s Exclusive Economic Zone. Beijing, with its infamous nine-dash line on official maps, claims 90 percent of the South China Sea as its own. Over the East China Sea, Chinese jets dangerously buzzed Japanese reconnaissance planes operating in international airspace.

Chinese Fighter Jet in Near Miss With Japanese Recon Planes

On Monday, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters that his government had lodged a protest with Beijing for Chinese jets closing within meters of Japanese reconnaissance planes over the East China Sea. Tokyo has every right to be upset. Beijing, from all indications, looks like it was trying to create incidents by flying too close for safety.

On Saturday, Chinese Su-27 jets flew within 50 meters of a Japanese OP-3C and within 30 meters of a Japanese YS-11EB, both propeller-driven reconnaissance craft. “This is a close encounter that is outright over the top,” said Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera on Sunday. At no other time since World War II have Chinese and Japanese military planes come into such close proximity.

US Indicts Chinese Military Officers for Cyber Spying

On Monday, US Attorney General Eric Holder announced the indictments of five officers of China’s People’s Liberation Army for “serious cybersecurity breaches against six American victim entities.” The significance? “These represent the first ever charges against known state actors for infiltrating US commercial targets by cyber means,” the attorney general said at a press conference.

Every nation spies, but China, as a matter of state policy, collects information and passes it on to state enterprises to help them compete in the international marketplace. Washington has continually complained but gotten nowhere with Beijing. Exasperated, Holder on Monday said “enough is enough.” Hence the criminal charges.

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