CHINA’S ONE INESCAPABLE WEAKNESS IN CHALLENGING AMERICA
The second US-China Diplomatic and Security Dialogue was held in Washington on November 9. The US was represented by Secretaries of State and Defense—Mike Pompeo and Jim Mattis, respectively—and China by their counterparts Yang Jiechi and General Wei Fenghe.
The meeting was the second time the heads of the State and Defense Departments met with their Chinese counterparts for the Dialogue, which Donald Trump and Xi Jinping had agreed to set up last April.
This time around the Dialogue was marked by restrained remarks by Pompeo, who said that the US “is not pursuing a cold war or a containment policy with China” despite significant differences, and by Yang, who replied that China is committed to “staying on the road to reform and peaceful development.” These remarks indicate that both sides are making efforts to not undermine the existing bilateral relationship, smoothing things over while attempting to find out more about each other’s intentions. But a closer examination of what was discussed during the session plainly reveals the harshness of the current relations between the world’s two largest economies.
The obvious points of contention were the South China Sea, Taiwan, human rights in China, and North Korea. As regards the South China Sea, the US actually voiced strong concern over China’s rampant militarization of the islands, which are also claimed by a multitude of other Asian countries.
In a media briefing, the State Department stated: “The US called on China to withdraw its missile systems from disputed features in the Spratly Islands, and reaffirmed that all countries should avoid addressing disputes through coercion or intimidation.”
It was probably the first time since China started constructing military strongholds on the islands it had wrested away from the Philippines and other neighboring nations that the US specifically demanded that China remove the missile systems. It would be safe to say that the Trump administration has finally taken a firm step forward to press its demand.
Further, the US declared that it will continue to conduct “freedom of navigation” operations in the South China Sea and its air space based on international law as before.
Blatantly asserting that most of the facilities built on the islands are strictly for private use, Yang in turn demanded that the US stop sending ships and aircraft close to “Chinese islands” in the South China Sea under the pretext of “freedom of navigation” operations.
Abnormal Proportion of Baby Boys in China
As regards Taiwan, the US criticized China for stripping away Taiwan’s diplomatic allies one after another in an effort to isolate it from the international community. But Yang maintained that Taiwan is “an inalienable part of Chinese territory,” while Wei sternly declared China would “reunify with Taiwan at any cost, just as the US did (with the South) in the Civil War.”
The Civil War (1861-65), which claimed more 600,000 lives, was one of the hardest-fought civil wars in history. China is in essence warning that it is committed to sacrificing that many lives in order to block Taiwan’s independence.
The US and China have so far completely failed to bridge the gap over China’s suppression and slaughter of Muslim Uyghurs. Regarding plans for North Korea’s denuclearization, there was little chance for the two nations to reach full agreement. While the US is adamant about not relaxing rigid sanctions against North Korea until it verifiably and irreversibly disposes of all of its nuclear stockpiles, China is advocating a “synchronous” approach in which sanctions are relaxed in stages as North Korea’s denuclearization progresses.
This month’s Dialogue was supposed to be preparation for another Trump-Xi summit slated for later this month, but there is no indication that the basic differences between the two nations will be resolved anytime soon.
Xi has set the stage for remaining China’s president for life, as long as he remains mentally and physically fit. He may be tempted to think he has a far greater advantage over his counterparts in democracies, as they are elected. Trump’s power may have waned somewhat as a result of the Republican loss in the House in the US midterm elections, but the Democrats are far more protectionist about trade and tougher when it comes to human rights issues. It would be premature to hang one’s hope on the administration after Trump.
In this column dated October 18th, I noted how severe Vice President Mike Pence’s criticism of China was in addressing US-China relations at the Hudson Institute on October 4. Xi’s proud pronouncement in May 2015 of the “Made in China 2025” initiative has prompted irate bipartisan forces in the US to band together against it. This program is a comprehensive industrial upgrading strategy aimed at shifting China’s economy into higher value-added manufacturing sectors, including robotics, aerospace and energy-saving vehicles.
China has vowed to become the world’s strongest economic and military power and secure a superior position in all fields of science and technology. The problem lies with its sinister means of achieving the goal—intellectual property theft, deception, and intimidation. China’s unfair modus operandi has stirred up the combative spirit of Americans, who pledge not to cede America’s standing as the world’s strongest nation to such an unjust nation.
We Japanese certainly do not want China to replace the US as the world leader and incorporate Japan and the rest of the international community into its sphere of control. Such an era is unlikely to come, however.
Well-known French historian/demographer Emanuel Todd offered enlightening views on China’s future when he flew to Tokyo last May to deliver the keynote address at the 10th anniversary symposium of the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals, a privately financed think tank that I head.
Due to China’s long-standing one-child policy and traditional values favoring baby boys at birth, Todd noted, there are 118 baby boys born today per every 100 baby girls—an abnormally higher rate of baby boys than the acceptable 105~106 to 100 boy-girl ratio. A demographic imbalance has ensued, with nearly 30 million Chinese men of marriageable age unable to find their spouses today.
China: Extremely Fragile “Giant”
Meanwhile, China’s education standards are generally low, with only 6% of the younger generation pursuing higher education—extremely low compared with Japan and other advanced nations such as the US and those in Europe.
In terms of the trends in population, Japan and most European nation see a larger inflow than outflow. But not China. Chinese statistics are not always trustworthy, but according to frequently cited numbers, an estimated 1.5 million Chinese leave China every year and most of them will not return. The sad thing for China is that these are among the most vigorous and enlightened citizens in China.
“Viewed this way, one cannot but realize that China is a big and very fragile giant. I consider it a nation that will be unable to avoid a major crisis in the future.”
Last week, I came across an intriguing dispatch from Beijing in the influential economic journal Nihon Keizai Shimbun. Written by staff writer Issaku Harada, the report in the journal’s November 10 edition said the Chinese government is considering scrapping the limits on the number of children families can have. According to sources, if China’s current 1.3 birthrate prevails, the total Chinese population (more than 1.3 billion now) will drop by 50% to an estimated 600 million by the end of this century. Meanwhile, the US population, which now stands at 320 million, is expected to increase to 450 million.
That is to say that, even if China were to overtake the US as the world’s greatest economic power in Gross Domestic Products (GDP) by sometime around 2030, as Xi has boasted, the US would likely have a chance to reverse those positions by the end of this century.
Japan must cope with a new confrontation between the US and China—a “new cold war”—by thinking that far ahead. Its short-term foreign policy options are limited to maintaining its present relationship with the US based on a cooperative alliance. As for its mid- to long-term foreign policy, Japan’s options will be just the same.
As long as the Communists maintain their one-party rule in China, Japan must exercise maximum caution in all its dealings with its recalcitrant neighbor.
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 828 in the November 22, 2018 issue of The Weekly Shincho)