Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Reports Show Evolving View of China


Reports Show Evolving View of China

By Gopal Ratnam, Washington and Wendell Minnick, Taipei.

Two recent reports — one from Washington, one from Taipei — display an evolving understanding of Beijing’s drive for global influence, noting that it involves efforts to sway public perception just as much as military might.

Taiwan’s first National Security Report dubs it a “Triple Warfare” strategy: a legal, media and psychological campaign.

One senior Taiwan military intelligence officer said the media aspect is going particularly well. He pointed to the United States’ 2001 offer to sell advanced arms to Taipei, now stalled in Taiwan’s legislature, and the seductive promotion of one “Great China” as an alternative to independence for the island of 23 million people.

“The image of China is just too good in Taiwan that it’s hard for the Taiwanese to think of it as an enemy. This is what I think is a most serious threat,” the officer said. “Taiwan is losing the media warfare, and the Americans are influenced as well.”

He said the consensus in Taipei is that Washington’s view of China is too simplistically focused on military power.

Yet the latest installment of the Pentagon’s annual “Military Power of the People’s Republic of China” report takes new note of other aspects of China’s quest for influence.

“It engages in key issues in almost all international security and economic institutions, including the U.N. and the WTO,” the World Trade Organization, the May 23 report said. “Its decision to deploy peacekeepers to several African countries and to Haiti and its growing economic ties to Latin America reflect this new global role.”

The U.S. report also shows how Washington’s response to China is changing. Instead of mere “transparency,” or openness about military modernization and intentions, Washington wants Beijing to act as a “responsible international stakeholder.”

This is a formula advanced a year ago by Robert Zoellick, the U.S. deputy secretary of state. Its proponents say it presents Beijing with a more positive role to play, rather than arbitrary demands for access by Washington, said retired Lt. Col. Roy Kamphausen, who once served in the Pentagon’s China-affairs office and now directs national security affairs at the National Bureau of Research, a think tank in Washington.

“You could argue that transparency is another example of playing by international rules,” Peter Rodman, U.S. assistant secretary of defense for international security, said at a May 23 media briefing.

Still, the U.S. report is largely focused on China’s growing military reach.

“There are indications that they are thinking very broadly and beginning development of power projection capabilities,” Rodman said. Pentagon officials have noted “the beginning of a serious modernization of their strategic forces both qualitatively and quantitatively.” But Rodman added that Beijing was “improving incrementally” in its transparency in dealings with U.S. officials.

Michael Pillsbury, a Pentagon adviser who has contributed to this year’s effort, said the report draws attention to China’s evolving special operations forces, anti-satellite and power projection capabilities, new interest in maritime reach extending to nearly 1,000 nautical miles from China’s coast, and continuing debate over whether a former Russian aircraft carrier constitutes a threat.

Longtime China watchers called the report credible.

“This report is a realistic assessment of the PLA’s strengths, weaknesses, strategy and doctrine. The report seems to draw on better and more explicit intelligence than have previous reports,” said Larry Wortzel, the chairman of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission.

China’s official Xinhua news agency called the Pentagon report “subjective” and that “by painting China’s normal military development as a threat to the region and the U.S., is another example of Cold War thinking and a logic based on power,” it was reported on May 24. It also accused the United States of “continuing to peddle the so-called ‘China threat.’”