China and the USA – the phoney war

States so often behave badly. They pick fights or provoke each other. They often boss or abuse their citizens. If they were people we would get fed up with them, send them to coventry, seek to change them or even put them in detention.

The next few years are likely to see a continuing struggle between the USA and China. Mr Obama’s “new” jaw jaw rather than war war approach to dealing with the world neighbours has broken down in the sands of Afghanistan, and is now having a bad time along the Great Wall of China. This week-end there is sabre rattling over Taiwan. Mr Obama intends to sell them lots of armaments for “defensive” purposes. China sees such an act as one of provocation, as she thinks Taiwan is part of greater China and does not want more military hardware in the way of her ultimate “settlement” of the Taiwanese issue. The USA needs to export more whilst also still needing to borrow too much money from the Chinese. China cannot afford to overreach herself and lose face at this sensitive time in her climb to world significance.

I have always thought that one of the most important moments in the evolution of China as the other great power of the world will be the moment when China demands Taiwan. If she tries too soon the USA could well rush to Taiwan’s defence. If China judges it correctly and has prepared the ground the USA will back off and we will know there are two super powers in the world. Meanwhile many in Taiwan will be seeking to keep the USA strong and on side.

I don’t think this week-end’s sabre rattling is the start of the denouement of this long running issue. I expect China to complain, impose sanctions, cool relations but not to force any military action. The oral spat is unpleasant but I hope and expect it will not bring the world to the brink of disaster. It is important that Mr Obama is very clear about his intentions, as indecisiveness or hints of a change of position could be dangerous in such a situaiton. Mr Obama needs to remember he does still run the only world superpower when it comes to the ability to project force beyond the homeland, even if he does need to borrow a lot of money from China to pay for it all.

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11 Comments

  1. Javelin
    Posted January 31, 2010 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    The Chinese economy will collapse, just like the others. They will over reach themselves. They have a VERY young state system on top of a very old culture.

    The issue is whether their very new state/society is stable enough to withstand a shock to the system not whether their economy will grow. Plastic returns to it's original form after being heated up. China is an unstable society because it is being controlled by a state closely coupled to an economic growth pattern that always goes through massive shocks. The lack of seperation between state and economy is a toxic mix.

  2. Mark
    Posted January 31, 2010 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

    China has already politely called the West's bluff over the climate change scam – not that it made any real sense as an attempt to restrain Chinese ambitions on competition for resources, let alone provide a mechanism to recycle Chinese financial surpluses. That the Chinese are now sufficiently sure of themselves to start this sort of shadow boxing over Taiwan will lead to uncertainties in markets and recalculations in departments of foreign affairs around the globe. It may change the nature and existence of several alliances – how will the Russians who have fairly recent history of fighting over territory with China take it, for instance? It is as if Samson has one arm wrapped around a pillar of the temple and is thinking about whether to bring the whole edifice crashing down. For the Chinese, paper tigers are part of their cultural perceptions.

  3. Alan Wheatley
    Posted January 31, 2010 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

    At heart this is an issue of the self determination of peoples.

    China's attitude on this has been very unimpressive for a long time. She would do well to learn from how Britain responded to calls from her colonies for independence, and note the friendly Commonwealth that resulted.

    If push comes to shove the rest of the world should ask themselves who would they rather have as the World's only (or top) super power. For my money the USA is the best on offer, and likely to remain so for the foreseeable future.

  4. Neil Craig
    Posted January 31, 2010 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

    Taiwan is probably capable of standing off any invasion China could manage. It is a developed country, far richer per capita than China. My guess/hope is that when China succesfully puts a man on the Moon the Taiwanese people will fell themselves Chinese & a Hong Kong style cession of sovereignty will be possible.

  5. david b
    Posted January 31, 2010 at 10:37 pm | Permalink

    It isn't in China's interest to invade Taiwan at present. Taiwan is a major investor in China. Any invasion would damage China economically. They could have marched into Hong Kong or Macau at any time, but waited patiently to have both given back without a shot. Taiwan will probably be the same. In the end China may become a democracy and the unification will be voluntary. Growing middle classes eventually desire a say in their lives. China will eventually get there.

  6. JohnRS
    Posted February 1, 2010 at 12:04 am | Permalink

    You expect a lot of a US President who has basically failed at every task he set himself for his first year in office.

    You said: "It is important that Mr Obama is very clear about his intentions, as indecisiveness or hints of a change of position could be dangerous in such a situaiton."

    I think you're indulging in a lot of wishful thinking here. He's not exactly demonstrated decisiveness over Afghanistan. Taking weeks to decide about troop levels and then coming out with a fudge that didnt please his supporters or his military commanders doesn't send the right signals overseas.

  7. Mike Stallard
    Posted February 1, 2010 at 8:56 am | Permalink

    Super thought today! I am with david b myself.

  8. Bob
    Posted February 1, 2010 at 10:40 am | Permalink

    My instinct is that the PRC would do better to expand trade, tourism and diplomatic links with Taiwan ROC and allow a gradual warming in the relationship, and then, when the time is right by osmosis the two economies will come together and everything else will follow due to the shared cultural heritage.

    Trying to force nations together usually ends in tears, ask the Scots, the Irish and the Welsh (and even the Cornish), and that's just the UK, the are plenty more examples internationally like Yugoslavia the USSR and the coming soon the E.U.

    Remember the old saying, "Good fences make good neighbours".

  9. Steve Cox
    Posted February 1, 2010 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

    I also don't see China trying to take over Taiwan in the foreseeable future. There are far too many reasons to go into here, and I admit that I may be completely wrong. However, for an alternative view on China's inevitable rise to domination, try reading this article by Gordon Chang:
    http://www.bangkokpost.com/news/local/31997/await

  10. Lindsay McDougall
    Posted February 2, 2010 at 3:39 am | Permalink

    Am I the only person who believes that one superpower is one too many? Obama's partial policy reversal is expected. America rules the world and the Pentagon rules America, so the Pentagon rules the world. If an American president doesn't find conflicts in which to use the expensive toys of the US military/industrial complex, he won't be re-elected. If only America financed its wars by special taxes, the American people might wake up to how much war is costing.

    China can not yet be considered a superpower because its GDP per capita is not that large. In spite of the Communist label, wealth is polarised. Perhaps if the Chinese elite stopped buying US bonds and spent more on their own people, America would be forced to deal with its thoroughly unhealthy deficit.

    As for Taiwan, has everybody forgotton that its population does not consist only of people who regard themselves as Chinese? Taiwan was populated long before Chang-kai-Sheck's exile.

  11. Tawarish
    Posted February 9, 2010 at 5:23 am | Permalink

    I agree with this topic of phoney war between PRC and USA from Mr John Redwood.

    according to my view PRC will never use the military option to re-occupy the Formosa island, Taiwanese is their own blood brother. She don't need 600's of warhead to strike that small island, even the leaders noted it's one of the option.

    Other points:

    The PRC is not an aggressor like the west done along of the history. Chinese people is a friendly people until they got attacked. So the military war between PRC and USA only be happened if the USA president doing a panic decision and secretly order the army to start to fire the missile as preemptive strike toward China.

    And what will be happened? Maybe before the missiles come to China, USA had been devastated.

    May be it's the real situation has been settled in the PRC's policy in her relation with USA and other countries. If we carefully observed some military incident from Beograd, Hainan, and the recent pacific sea, we can catch what I said here.

    I do hope PRC will be save by the gospel as American. Chinese descendant was came from Abraham's wife whom separated from his descendant from Sarai. According to the book of Genesis Chapter 25 we'll find they were moved to the east land.

    And if we think about the promise of God "YHWH" to Abraham, that his descendant will be as the sea sand, then we will find the Chinese represent the prophecy number. And if we brightly take the string we will accept that America and Chinese people was came from Abraham.

    So there is no reason for the American and Chinese people to be enemy.

  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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