Tuesday, June 14, 2011

From Their Lips To God's Ears

China has ratcheted down the rhetoric in its dispute with Vietnam.

BEIJING — China on Tuesday pledged not to resort to the use of force in the tense South China Sea, as neighbours with rival border claims stepped up their complaints over Beijing's assertive maritime posture.

Beijing called for more dialogue to resolve the long-standing territorial disputes in the area after the Philippines sought help from the United States and Vietnam staged live-fire military exercises in a show of military strength.

"We will not resort to the use of force or the threat of force," Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters.

Now, either they learned from recent history, or they've decided its not worth the bother getting their military entangled in these dire economic times.
Which sort of flies in the face of history. Wars are always about improving the economy of the aggressor (and protecting the economy of the attacked).
There are no other reasons for war, even terrorism. Al Qaeda didn't attack America because of some ideological dispute. Al Qaeda attacked America (and bin Laden admitted this at one point) because "western infidels were exploiting Muslim resources" (e.g. oil).
Or words to that effect. I'll leave it to the reader to find what he exactly said amidst the dross that passes for ideological nonsense.
America has not been and is not immune to this form of economic advancement. Surely, the entire Iraq debacle was based on the resources under Iraq and the opportunity to divest our interests in the Middle East away from Saudi Arabia, where 16 of the nineteen Al Qaeda attackers hailed from. In addition, we hedged our bets in this: not only did we establish a fealty among some sectors of Iraqi society (which now includes many westerners who are there specifically to exploit the oil wells), we also provided the Saudis protection from Saddam Hussein, who has in the past turned an eye towards the Arab peninsula. Anyone remember the first Gulf War?
It's kind of a win-win for us, lose-lose for everyone else (or at the very most, "win some, lose some".)
China's statement, assuming we can accept it at face value, is intriguing and needs to be dissected a little. First, understand that the part of the China Sea that is under dispute may contain large petroleum reserves. Given China's late entry into the fossil fuel markets, it's understandable that they would prefer to keep their money in their own bank, so to speak: rather than rely on uncertain sources like the Muslim world-- China's track records with the Uighurs is not a good one-- if they can develop domestic sources, or at least close-by sources that they can exert direct control over, they're ahead of the game.
The issues with Vietnam stem from what they term aggressive incursions into territorial waters by Chinese vessels, and the cutting of electric cables that Vietnam has laid in its own waters. China counters that Vietnamese boats have harassed Chinese fishing vessels and that the cables laid are in Chinese waters.
This raises the interesting spectre for the United States, if I may digress, of siding with Vietnam. After all, enemy of your enemy, and all that.
Right now, China's economic influence exceeds its military influence. That's a given, especially as it is that economic influence that is their strongest argument for keeping the US at bay in this dispute. There really is no need to deploy a naval fleet (altho my suspicion is both sides here are masking a truth, that little of this dispute involves commercial boats.)
The Chinese may be engaging in a brand new kind of warfare, the kind I advocated back in the days when the drumbeats for war with Iraq were pounding: economic warfare. Bleed a nation dry of its ability to have a GDP and you effectively have beaten their military without firing a shot.
Hm. Perhaps they really have been studying history!