INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS: by Ian H. McDougallNews Weekly
The Chinese president goes to Washington
, February 5, 2011
All the parades, salutes and one-on-one chats during Hu Jintao's recent visit to Washington couldn't paper over the cracks in the relationship between the United States and China. Unless Beijing changes course, conflict between the US and its allies and China is inevitable.
Those who accept Beijing's propaganda line of "China's peaceful rise" misunderstand the nature of China's governance. China is too big, too diverse and too turbulent to be governed by a Stalinist dictatorship.
Among the Communist Party members, military personnel and the people, no modern leader has the authority or charisma of the old revolutionary leaders such as Mao Zedong or Deng Xiao-ping. Chinese governance has now become a balancing act between bureaucratic factions.
Of these factions, the People's Liberation Army, with its peasant army mythology, is one of the most assertive and is seen as "the defender of the country". The Communist Party now admits into its ranks businessmen, who are becoming increasingly influential.
Certain givens remain unchallenged. Primary among them is the leading role of the Communist Party. China's 80 million communists must pass exams to enter the Party.
Although they are cultivated from childhood, most enter in their early 20s for careerist reasons. Membership determines promotion in government, the army, education, the media and, increasingly, business.
The Communist Party mantra is still "to build socialism with Chinese characteristics". What Lenin described as the "commanding heights" of the economy remain in Communist Party hands. Top leaders shuffle back and forth interchangeably between government, the party and big business.
China will not surrender what it defines as Chinese territory. "China" includes Tibet, Taiwan and also Taiwan's surrounding islands, including the Diaoyu islands, also claimed by Japan.
China also has unsettled claims to parts of northern India. Beijing also claims as its territory the entire South China Sea, putting it into conflict with most of its Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) neighbours, which reject China's territorial claims.
In contradiction to international maritime law, Beijing also claims as its exclusive territorial waters its zone of economic exploitation. The PLA Navy regularly harasses ships of other countries in what it describes as its territory, including the South China Sea. These incidents will increase as the PLA becomes more assertive. China regards all these "occupied" territories as parts of the Motherland which must be regained.
America has its problems, but China's President Hu knows that in things that matter the United States will be top dog for a long time yet. For Hu, in his first state visit to Washington, the honours, pomp and ceremony will give him enormous face at home. As Hu plainly stated, China is still a poor country and, for the average Chinese, the United States is still the promised land.
Take, for example, their economies. If current trends continue - and remember, the United States is only slowly emerging from its most severe economic downturn since the 1930s - the Chinese economy will overtake the United States as the world's largest economy in 15 years.
The United States will have a population in excess of 300 million. Shortly after that, China's population will peak at around 1.5 billion.
In other words, the average American will still be five times better off than the average Chinese. What's more, America's population will continue to grow, while China's population, as a legacy of the one-child policy, will begin to decline sharply. As it stands, the United States economy is still three times larger than China's.
The last bastion of China's revolutionaries is the PLA. Mao said, "The Party rules the gun"; but among China's competing power centres, the PLA has a great deal of leverage. Its old guard leaders have refused recent offers for formal dialogue with the US military, which the Pentagon sees as a way of minimising incidents based on misunderstanding and mistrust.
The PLA knows it will be no match for the US for decades. The US Navy has 11 aircraft-carriers. No Chinese ships can match them.
In aircraft stealth technology, despite recent advances, China still lags far behind. The PLA is still a continental army, relying more on massed manpower than high tech.