Wednesday 2014-12-17

Asia's Cauldron by Robert Kaplan

Kaplan thinks the South China Sea will be a huge problem.

The changes that Kaplan sees outside Mainland China are mirrored by changes within. The Communist Party is having problems managing itself (succession, relative power rankings changing), and "managing" the changes in Mainland China.

The contention for resources ( South China Seas claims ) is only one part of the picture. Kaplan's analysis has room to expand to cover all the resource issues and their geopolitical ramifications.

Squeezed between the Central Highlands and the sea, with numerous rivers and natural harbors at their disposal, with woods, spices, textiles, honey, wax, and metals to trade, the Chams were well placed to benefit from the commerce between the Indian Ocean and the Western Pacific. The French had it right when they designated this region not Southeast Asia, but Indochina.
In the eighth century, says Hubert, Champa stretched from the Gate of Annam in the north to the Donnai basin in the south, that is, from just north of the former demilitarized zone (DMZ) southward to Saigon. So Huberts medieval map suggests a Cold War one.
The most vivid bas-reliefs from a temple at My Son, moved here by the French, recall the German-Jewish intellectual Walter Benjamins famous vision of history as a vast heap of wreckage of incidents and events that keeps piling higher and higher into infinity, with progress signifying merely more wreckage waiting to happen.
The South China Sea functions as the throat of the Western Pacific and Indian oceansthe mass of connective economic tissue where global sea routes coalesce. Here is the heart of Eurasias navigable rimland, punctuated by the Malacca, Sunda, Lombok, and Makassar straits. More than half of the worlds annual merchant fleet tonnage passes through these choke points, and a third of all maritime traffic worldwide.2 The oil transported through the Malacca Strait from the Indian Ocean, en route to East Asia through the South China Sea, is triple the amount that passes through the Suez Canal and fifteen times the amount that transits the Panama Canal.
Roughly two thirds of South Koreas energy supplies, nearly 60 percent of Japans and Taiwans energy supplies, and 80 percent of Chinas crude oil imports come through the South China Sea.
In the interim, the South China Sea has become an armed camp, even as the scramble for reefs is mostly over. China has confiscated twelve geographical features, Taiwan one, the Vietnamese twenty-one, the Malaysians five, and the Philippines nine.
The size of the U.S. Navy has come down from almost six hundred warships in the Reagan era, to the mid-three hundreds during the Clinton era, to under three hundred now.
The separation of geopolitics from human rights issues, which were conjoined in the twentieth century in Europe, plus the degree of abstraction that surrounds the naval domain in any case, will help make the South China Sea the realm of policy and defense analysts, rather than of the intellectuals and the media elite.
Whereas World War II was a moral struggle against fascism, the Cold War a moral struggle against communism, the post-Cold War a moral struggle against genocide in the Balkans, Africa, and the Levant, as well as a moral struggle against terrorism and in support of democracy, the South China Sea shows us a twenty-first-century world void of moral struggles, with all of their attendant fascination for humanists and intellectuals.
Their defense budgets have increased by about a third in the past decade, even as European defense budgets have declined. Arms imports to Indonesia, Singapore, and Malaysia have gone up by 84 percent, 146 percent, and 722 percent respectively since 2000. The spending is on naval and air platforms: surface warships, submarines with advanced missile systems, and long-range fighter jets.
This time the pleas are subtle and quiet, and no ground troops are being asked for. This time it is not a war that they want America to fight: it is only the balance of power that they want America to maintain.
In all, given military modernization programs under way in South Korea and Japan, Asian nations are expected to purchase as many as 111 subs by 2030, according to AMI International, which provides market research to governments and ship-builders.
Asias arms race may be one of the most underreported stories in the elite media in decades.
Vietnam had invaded Cambodia in 1978, liberating that country from the genocidal madness of Pol Pots Khmer Rouge regime.
In 1979, China itself invaded Vietnam, in order to keep Vietnam from marching through Cambodia to Thailand.
Visiting Hanoi in the 1970s, Singapores then prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew, writes that he found the Vietnamese leaders insufferable, priding themselves as the Prussians of Southeast Asia.
The Vietnamese have not forgotten that 20 percent of their country is uninhabitable because of unexploded American ordnance; or, because of the effect of the defoliant Agent Orange, nothing will ever grow on significant parts of the landscape.
They were upset that America had not intervened against China in the 1990s when Beijing challenged the Philippines ownership of Mischief Reef, part of the Spratly Islands group in the South China Sea; and that America had not engaged economically and diplomatically more with Burma prior to 2011, so as to prevent that country from becoming a satellite of Beijing.
they had put the war behind them in a way that many Americans hadnt. Their hospitals werent full of veterans with postcombat trauma, and they had no national mourning memorials like the Vietnam Wall in Washington. They didnt write books about the war.
Vietnamese harbor relatively few sensitivities about the American War precisely because they won it.
Cam Ranh Bay plays perfectly into the Pentagons places not bases strategy, whereby American ships and planes can regularly visit foreign military outposts for repairs and resupply without the need for formal, politically sensitive basing arrangements.
Chinas proximity and the fact that the United States is half a world away means that the Vietnamese have to put up with an indignity such as the environmental destruction that comes with Chinese bauxite mining of Vietnams lush Central Highlands, a project that like others around the country employs Chinese workers rather than Vietnamese ones.
To wit, as economic growth here registered 25 percent between the late 1950s and 1970, Chinese and Indian incomes rose faster than those of the Malays, one reason for the intercommunal riots of that era.
In 1969, as Tong told me, Kuala Lumpur was an ethnic Chinese city; the still rural Malays would come only later as a form of affirmative action took hold. The Malays that were in Kuala Lumpur back then often lived in slums, out of sight of the Chinese middle class. But by the second decade of the twenty-first century, 70 percent of Malaysias population was urban, 50 percent were under twenty-five years of age, and Malaysia boasted one of the highest percentages of Facebook users in the world.
In the 1970s, men began wearing Arab robes and headgear. Arabic vocabulary took root, especially in formal greetings, like as-salamu alaykum.
Malaysias Chinese community is arguably the most authentic in the world, without the deracination that accompanied the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in China itself; and without the fierce Westernization pursued by the Chinese community in Singapore.
As a boy, Muslims always came to my house, one Chinese scholar in Kuala Lumpur told me. Now it is rare to host Muslims in a Chinese home. Even if your dishes and silverware are clean, they contain the residue of pork and thus are not halal, and this contaminates your entire house in Muslim eyes. I heard a variation of this story throughout my stay in Malaysia.
The late Barry Wain, a former editor of The Wall Street Journal Asia Edition, writes in his scrupulously objective biography of Mahathir, Malaysian Maverick, With a combination of ruthlessness and dexterity, Mahathir as prime minister delivered social peace and sustained economic growth, introducing increasing numbers of Malaysians to middle-class comforts, even as significant numbers of non-Muslims (Chinese, in particular) opted to emigrate.
In the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Arabs, Armenians, Hokkien Chinese, Indians from Gujarat, and Malays from Aceh on Sumatra were drawn to this island off the northwest of the Malay Peninsula, on account of the free trade policy of the British, coupled with the security that they provided.
Singapore is the only place in the Indo-Pacific, other than Japan, where traffic stops voluntarily for pedestrians.
In fact, no foreign policy and security elite in the world struck me as quite so cold-blooded as that of Singapores. Example: though the Philippines, like Singapore, is enthusiastic about countering Chinese power, the Filipinos, in the Singaporean view, are emotional and unstable and thereby make the security situation worse.
Lees two-volume set, The Singapore Story and From Third World to First: Singapore and the Asian Economic Boom, are contenders for inclusion in Plutarchs early-second-century AD The Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans
Indeed, as I indicated at the start of this chapter, probably one of the most morally vexing realizations in the field of international politics is that Deng Xiaoping, by dramatically raising the living standard of hundreds of millions of Chinese in such a comparatively short space of timewhich, likewise, led to an unforeseen explosion in personal (if not political) freedoms across Chinawas, despite the atrocity of Tiananmen Square that he helped perpetrate, one of the great men of the twentieth century.
What you have, he went on, is admittedly steady economic growth, lately over 6 percent per year, undermined by population growth of 1.7 percent, unlike other Pacific Rim economies that have churned ahead by almost a third higher that amount for decades, and without commensurate increases in population. Crucially, a staggering 76.5 percent of that GDP growth in recent years went to the forty richest Filipino families.
And yet, despite a centurys worth of vast annual outlays of American aid, the Philippines has remained among the most corrupt, dysfunctional, intractable, and poverty-stricken societies in maritime Asia, with Africa-like slums and Latin America-style fatalism and class divides.
The Scarborough Shoal affair made it obvious to the Filipinosif it wasnt obvious by thenthat they needed a substantial military alliance with the United States.
When the Americans rushed the decommissioned 1960s U.S. Coast Guard cutter to be converted to the pride of the Philippine navy, much of the world laughed. But the Americans were dead serious. As one told me: We just raised the Filipinos from a World War II navy to a 1960s one. Thats progress. The Americans had thought of selling the Filipinos a late-1980s frigate, but with a turbine engine it was judged to be too complex for them to maintain.
Seventy percent of modern Taiwanese have aboriginal blood, which is ethnic Malay in origin.
yet Chiangs Guomindang army failed utterly to meet Stilwells expectations, and thus remained the corrupt, inefficient force that went on to be vanquished by Mao. Barbara Tuchman, Stilwells sympathetic biographer, may have caught the imperfections of Chiang best by labeling him a master of plots who governed for survival, rather than for social change,
To wit, in 1754, the king of Java, well beyond the southern extremity of the South China Sea, requested that his lands be formally incorporated into those of China and its population entered into the Qing dynasty registers. But the Qing emperor, Qianlong, replied that this was not necessary, becauseat least in his eyesthe lands and people of Java were already within the compass of Our enlightened government.5 Thus, from a Chinese historical vantage point, Beijings dominance of the South China Sea and even the Java Sea is altogether natural.
In 2011, the Chinese made a submission to the United Nations actually making a claim of a full two hundred nautical miles around each of the Spratly Islands.16