Speaking as former Secretary General of the Council of Europe on de-escalation on the Korean Peninsula, on peace and security in Eastern Asia is a real challenge. For millenniums Europe itself was far away from forming unity and providing peace. On the contrary, the smallest of all continents has been the scene of many wars, some of them called the “100 years war” or the “30 years war”.
The latter involved most of the European countries and was one of the most destructive armed conflicts in history.
Between 1618 and 1648 more than half of the European population died because of direct or indirect consequences of the fighting. In the 20th century this history of bloody conflicts culminated once again in conflicts which became global, 100 years ago Europeans started World War I and 75 years ago World War II. Many historians dealt this year of centenary of WWI with its causes.
I dare to say that there are always the same threats to peace and security: lack of communication, stereotypes and prejudices and ignorance.
Current conflicts, in the Middle East, in Africa, but also in Eastern Europe may persuade us to repeat the saying that history gives lessons all the time, but nobody is learning them.
However there are examples where the lessons of history were not only listened to but were transformed into dialogue, mutual understanding, and at the end to friendship. One example is the process of European unification including the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin Wall. But there are other, in my view exiting examples too.
E.g. South Africa, which was also divided, not in a territorial sense but inside the nation. In all these positive examples you will see three key words and principles: dialogue, reconciliation and truth.
While after World War I it were only a few people who were ready to learn the lessons, during the World War II people started to prepare the new after-war-Europe based on a common cultural and spiritual heritage. It was in the middle of World War II, in 1943, when the famous British statesman Sir Winston Churchill surprised the listeners of his weekly radio address.
He suggested that after the war all nations of Europe including the current enemies should form a “Council of Europe” to unite the continent in peace and through cooperation.
In the aftermath of the horrors of the Second World War, the main concern of the founding fathers of the European unification was to create a system that would ensure lasting peaceful co-operation between all European nations based on common values. Unfortunately the post-war period in Europe was also marked by the political and material division of Europe with the emergence of the iron curtain.
The division, which has had a deep and traumatic impact on Europe, was characterized by an ideological confrontation between two political systems. Europe was breathing, to quote Pope John Paul II, only with one lung.
But beside this deep ideological and military rift Europe could avoid direct military confrontation, I would like to say, also because of the remembrance of the horrors of the WWII.
And in this context I have to pay tribute and bend my knees in front of the victims of the nuclear tragedies of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Their unimaginable suffering saved the world from further tragic nuclear experiences. And the legacy of the dead or livelong suffering and handicapped people from Hiroshima and Nagasaki must be nuclear disarmament, in particular in Eastern Asia!
But before turning to East Asia and the Korean Peninsula, let me return to the European example.
An important step to overcome the rift in the common home of Europe was the conference on security and cooperation in Europe with the Helsinki accord of 1975 signed by 35 countries including the U.S. and the Soviet Union, that promotes human rights as well as cooperation in economic, social, and cultural progress. The Helsinki accord proved that Europe had still much more in common than what could divide the continent.
The OSCE – Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe – emerged from the Helsinki Conference.
It plays an important role up to today and is covering Europe, Central Asia and North America except Mexico. Currently the OSCE is monitoring the Ukrainian crisis. The OSCE is not unknown in East Asia as three countries of the region – Japan, Mongolia and South Korea are already partners for cooperation of the OSCE.
14 years later, 1989/1990 dramatic political but peaceful changes swept through Europe as consequence of several factors.
Michael Gorbachev’s perestroika was one of them, the collapse of centrally planned economy in the communist countries was another one. But in my view the most important factor was the people. The peoples of the countries separated from the other part of Europe by the Iron Curtain wanted to choose their governments themselves like in the Western part of Europe.
In my view it was not the end of history as proclaimed by Francis Fukuyama, no, it was the return to the better part of European history.
Central, Eastern and South-eastern Europe could join the path of peace and reconciliation which was chosen by the Western European democracies in the late 40ies and early 50ies of the last century when the Council of Europe and the European Communities were created. The Council of Europe goes back to the already mentioned courageous idea of Winston Churchill and the European Union, former the European Communities, goes back to the idea of French foreign minister Robert Schuman.
The enemies of yesterday should administrate the main resources of armament, coal and steel, together in order to make wars between them impossible.
However, there was also still mistrust among nations in the after-war-decade. And the ideas were not totally new. The Austrian aristocrat with a Japanese mother, Richard Coudenhove-Calerghi, created after the WWI the Paneuropa-movement and proposed United States of Europe.
A programme of European Christian-Democratic Parties in the 30ies spoke about a common market, a term which is familiar to the European Union.
What was essential for the success of these ideas in the aftermath of WWII was that they were accompanied by a large movement of reconciliation or you may call it also spirit of reconciliation. Reconciliation of former enemies has been seen throughout Europe, for example between France and Germany, Austria and Italy, Germany and Poland, Russia and Germany.
This reconciliation is at the same time a prerequisite of European unification as well as a result of it. I do not dare to answer the famous question who was first the chicken or the egg. Reconciliation is taking place also in South Eastern Europe. The enemies of yesterday are sitting together in a Regional Council and are co-operating in a free trade area. I do not want to hide that there are still problems, like the functioning and complicated structures of the common state institutions in Bosnia-Herzegovina and a fair and just solution for all inhabitants of Kosovo.
There are still problems in the Caucasus and the already mentioned Ukrainian and Crimean crisis. But in the spirit of the new Europe dialogue and mutual understanding should help to solve these problems too.
What was decisive that reconciliation could take place, became reality in every day’s live of the nations concerned? These were of course several and different aspects. It needed politicians who were convinced that they couldn’t do more for the security and a live in peace for their nations than to reconcile with the neighbours and enemies of the past.
E.g. it was important for German-Polish and perhaps even more for German-Jewish reconciliation when German Chancellor Willy Brandt fell on Dec.7, 1970 on his knees in front of the monument of the heroes of the Warsaw Ghetto. And it fostered without any doubt the French-German reconciliation when President Charles de Gaulle and Bundeskanzler Konrad Adenauer met on the battle fields of WWI and when the two old men embraced each other after signing the Treaty of Elysee between their countries.
But the sustainable reconciliation happened at grass root level, when more than 8 million young Germans and French participated in the youth exchange or when Italians and Austrians worked together in the mountains of Northern Italy, 2000 to 4000 meters above sea level, to turn the trenches and shelters of WWI into mountain trails.
One may ask whether this concept can be exported or better to say, imported? The African Union, for example, followed already the model of the Council of Europe but with the goal to reach the level of integration of the European Union.
This will of course be not very easy due to different political systems in the member countries and they still face serious conflicts to overcome, may I just refer to Congo and Sudan. But the vision is already there.
The Americans have their Organisation of American states and NAFTA, the free trade zone of USA, Canada and Mexico, South America has Mercosur. In East Asia and the Pacific you will find several attempts to enhanced cooperation, from the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (without Japan), the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (with Japan as observer), to ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and Asian+3, with again Japan, China and South Korea on board.
To some extent these cooperation organisations or entities are still a mirror of political and ideological rifts and differences, some are already crossing ideological dividing lines, some still need some deepening of trustful cooperation.
As East and South East Asia has a history of conflicts like Europe and is still facing ideological rifts, reconciliation of former enemies and rivals should play a similar role like in Europe in order to achieve peace, stability and security for all.
When Willy Brandt fell on his knees in Warsaw in 1970 Europe was still divided, the Federal Republic of Germany belonged to the democratic West and NATO, and Poland belonged to the Communist Bloc and the Warsaw Pact.
This did not hinder Willy Brandt to apologize for the crimes and atrocities carried out by Nazi-Germany. He demonstrated that reconciliation is possible across political and ideological boundaries.
To achieve, what is the aim of today’s conference, de-escalation in Eastern Asia and in particular on the Korean Peninsula, you need the same spirit and readiness for dialogue and reconciliation.
On all sides you need the cognition that across existing boundaries and rifts there is much more people have in common than what could divide them. So, where to should such a cognition or recognition lead?
First of all, continue and develop what is already there, e.g. the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership which is in the state of promising negotiations between the member countries of ASEAN, the three additional members of ASEAN Plus Three, i.e. China, Japan and South Korea, and Australia, India and New Zealand. These 16 countries should not form an exclusive club.
They should express from the very beginning the openness for others, in particular for North Korea. It will demonstrate that economic cooperation is bringing many more advantages than military confrontation.
The same applies to already existing areas of economic cooperation between North and South Korea, e.g. the Kaesong North-South Korean industrial complex.
But there are other modalities too such as traditional arm’s-length trade and investment and processing on commission (POC) trade.
Despite all difficulties and backlashes one shouldn’t underestimate the contribution of economic cooperation to de-escalation. It was also one of the European experiences during the time of the so-called Cold War when Western and Eastern Germany developed economic ties.
Another option at East Asian multilateral level would be to follow the European example of the Helsinki process. As already mentioned it was an important contribution to security and cooperation in Europe when in 1975 35 countries from both sides of the Iron Curtain including the U.S. and the Soviet Union met for a conference.
The aim was promoting human rights as well as cooperation in economic, social, and cultural fields. Like the OSCE a Conference and in consequence an Organization for Security and Cooperation in East Asia (OSCEA) of all countries of the region including of course Russia but also the “trans-pacific” USA could be a platform for de-escalation and prevention of conflicts. The OSCE participating states Russia and USA as well as the East Asian partners for cooperation of the OSCE could certainly help with their know-how. The organization itself will for sure assist too.
Looking to the map, OSCE and a new OSCEA would cover the northern and central part of Asia, Europe and North America, forming a kind of belt of security and cooperation.
I could also imagine that either some East Asian states bilaterally or international organisations of East Asia could organize even multilaterally youth exchange following the very successful French-German example. I am afraid that such a proposal is coming too early for North and South Korea, but I would see another opportunity that is a pressing issue for many Koreans at the same time.
Millions of families were separated following the division of the Korean peninsula in 1945 and the 1950-53 Korean War. There have been family reunification events in the past on a relatively small scale. But many more separated families who had no contacts at all for more than 60 years are desperately waiting to see their relatives. Reassuming family reunification talks and programs would certainly be a way to better mutual understanding.
Let me come to my last proposal in a very sensitive area.
You remember that I mentioned the Schuman-Plan that stood at the cradle of the European Union, avoiding future wars by common administration of the resources of conventional warfare, coal and steel. Today’s challenge is not the resources of traditional warfare but the threat of nuclear war.
I repeat that the legacy of the dead or livelong suffering and handicapped people from Hiroshima and Nagasaki m be non-proliferation of nuclear arms and disarmament, in particular in East Asia.
On the other hand, still some countries including North and South Korea want to use atomic energy peacefully. But it’s well known, it is not a very big step from nuclear power plant to the production of atomic bombs. The best way to overcome the mutual mistrust would be to form a nuclear community on the Korean Peninsula, administrating peaceful atomic energy together and holding the peninsula free from nuclear bombs.
Coming to the end of my intervention I would like to summarize.
It is worth to follow the European example how to create an area of peace and stability. Courageous leaders have to admit wrongdoings and crimes of the past and should see reconciliation with former enemies as the best way to provide peace and security for the own nation. Overcoming the threats of non-communication, stereotypes and prejudices as well as ignorance and based on a spirit of truth, dialogue and reconciliation inclusive cooperation on a regional level regarding economy as well as security should be intensified.
On the Korean Peninsula existing economic cooperation should be intensified with a very special solution for the nuclear power.
At grass root level the spirit of reconciliation shall be implemented through a wide program of youth exchange and on the Korean Peninsula more separated families should have the opportunity to meet. May be all this sounds like a dream.
But let me by concluding modify a word of Vaclav Havel, who said, if we don’t dream of a better Europe, we will never get a better Europe.
If you don’t dream of East Asia in peace and prosperity, of a Korean Peninsula without confrontation, you will never get it.
Chinese Game: U.S. Losing Asia and Africa
As the US sanction pressure on Russia intensifies, the US economic and political competition with their most important economic partner, China, is noticeably getting more fierce. Simultaneously, Washington has been exchanging direct and indirect economic strikes with Turkey and the EU. (In the case of the European Union, an exchange of blows occurs in connection with Washington’s threat to punish European companies that are set to ignore the US ban on cooperation with Iran.)
Two Lines of Confrontation
The aggravation of the US-Chinese rivalry proceeds along two lines: first, the rates in the “tariff war” between the two countries are rising; second, the struggle between Washington and Beijing for lucrative markets in Asia and Africa is intensifying. Both these processes are interrelated, but in the current circumstances the main focus of the second line is the fight for markets.
In the first place, I would like to talk briefly about the “tariff war” between the US and China as an important element in relations between the two countries, without which it is impossible to understand all the subtleties of competition between these two countries in Asia and Africa. As is known, the “tariff war” worsened after the US president first introduced a 25-percent duty on the import of 818 products from China, the total value of which was estimated at 34 billion dollars a year. Then came the even more threatening statement of the US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer: “On July 18, the President instructed me to compile the list of Chinese goods worth 200 billion dollars for imposing additional duties of 10 percent … The President ordered me to consider an increase in the proposed level from 10 to 25 percent “. After China responded with a 25-percent duty on 34 billion dollars’ worth of American goods, Trump did not rule out the possibility of raising duties on all Chinese imports in the US. The total value of Chinese commodities in the US is currently estimated at about $ 500 billion.
Simultaneously, the United States has loudly announced its intention to compete with China in influencing countries that participate in the Chinese transport project “One Belt, One Road”, which is designed to revive the Great Silk Road, which ran throughout the whole of Eurasia in the Middle Ages. As he set off for the Regional Cooperation Forum in Singapore in July this year, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced his intention to counteract China’s so-called “silk” influence. According to Pompeo’s plans, the appropriate measures should cost the US budget a trifling $ 113 million against China’s hundreds of billions which is exactly the amount Beijing is planning to allocate for the implementation of “One Belt, One Road” project.
Influence at Low Cost
If the United States intends to squeeze China out of Asia at such miniscule costs, they obviously underestimate the rival. At least two factors work for Beijing: first of all, China is one of the region’s oldest “aborigines”; besides, Washington, waging a “tariff” war against Beijing, can thus deprive itself of a part of the Chinese oil market, making China even more attractive for oil traders from Iran and Russia – the key players in the project “One Belt, One Road”.
The American Oil Price news site has described the impact of the US-China “tariff war” on the Asian oil players as follows: “China has threatened to impose a 25- percent import tariff on crude oil and oil products from the United States. If this threat comes into effect, crude oil from the US can become non-competitive in terms of value. Such a tariff from China will not only reduce the income of oil exporters from the US, forcing them to look for new markets … it can become a source of additional revenues for the OPEC countries. And the OPEC countries are the suppliers that the US has pushed into the background in recent years”, says Oil Price researcher Irina Slav. oilprice.com
Considering that for the American oil industry China is the largest export market after Canada, it becomes clear that this matter is fraught with so huge losses, billions in fact, that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo with his 113 million dollars sounds ridiculous.
Judging by Pompeo’s statements, Americans are committing a psychological mistake in Asia. This is the mistake that led to China pushing the US to the sidelines in many countries of Africa. The matter is that the US is trying to replace genuine assistance by self-praise, flaunting any of its measures as valuable and corruption-free, alleging that whatever it does is a good example to follow. “The world knows that with American companies you get what you see. Honest contracts, honest conditions, there is no need for behind-the-scenes machinations. Decency in business is the pillar of our economic vision in the Indo-Pacific Region”, the Secretary of State told CNN.
Meanwhile, South-East Asian nations know only too well about the US policy in this region. Alas, it is simply impossible to describe this policy as ever humanistic, open and devoid of corruption – it would mean contradicting the historical truth. The brutal war in Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s, the support of the dictatorial and corrupt regime of Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines (1965-1986), the “secret wars” of the CIA in Laos and Cambodia during military operations in Vietnam – the memory of all these is still fresh in the region. All the countries affected (Vietnam, the Philippines, Laos, Cambodia) are members of ASEAN. In such circumstances, the self-praising speeches by American officials at ASEAN forums trigger a skeptical attitude, to say the least. And although many ASEAN countries may feel wary of China and are unlikely to have cloudless relations with Beijing in the near future, the US’ psychologically wrong tactics have already antagonized many of these states pushing them toward Russia and China. This is proved by the recent attempts by Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte to diversify the traditionally pro-American policy of his country, enlisting the support of Russia and even China, a long-term rival. Duterte’s historic visit to China in 2016 showed who had actually won the fight for the “heart and mind” of the Philippine leader – a struggle in which the United States initially had very strong positions. aljazeera.com
The anti-Duterte media campaign, which was launched in the US and the EU soon afterwards, has no direct consequences so far. American accusations against Duterte in connection with an excessively fierce fight against the drug mafia sounded hypocritical amid the “war on drugs” which was imposed by the United States on Mexico and Colombia in the 2000s and in which at least 45,000 people were killed.
Lost In Asia – Will Lose In Africa
As far as Africa is concerned, in recent years China has outplayed not only the Americans, but the seemingly familiar with the local specifics former colonial masters of this region – the French and the British.
After the first Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) in 2000, the Chinese side found the right approach to its African partners – without instruction, without interference in internal affairs, with investment proposals supported by the banking sector of the Middle Kingdom. The first ministerial meeting of FOCAC attracted representatives of 44 countries from 53 states of the African continent. Fairly soon, China made these forums pan-African by removing Taiwan. Until the middle of the 2000s Taiwan had its diplomatic missions in several African countries (including Chad and Senegal), which excluded the possibility of communication between these countries and the PRC.
Orientation – Bandung
The African-Chinese “union of values” began with the Bandung Conference of 1955, during which 29 countries of Asia and Africa proclaimed the principles of non-interference, respect for each other’s sovereignty and comprehensive economic cooperation. The figures of the Indian Jewaharlal Nehru, the Egyptian Gamal-Abdel Nasser and the Chinese Zhou Enlai, which live in the memory of many in connection with their participation in the Bandung Conference, have ‘sanctified’ a new approach to China’s cooperation with Africa. All three became heroes in their countries, and the Chinese leadership, headed by the then Secretary-General Hu Jintao, was not mistaken in the choice of a model: in the coming years China will most likely gain an economic foothold in Angola, South Africa and the Congo-Brazzaville state. According to the long-term president of this country Denis Sassou Nguesso, “Africans for the first time do not expect foul play from people with a different skin color who build their roads and power lines.” (Source: the book by French journalists Serge Michel, Michel Beuret “Cinafrica, Pechino qalla conquista del continente nero” – “Beijing in the process of conquering the black continent.” Milano, 2009, p. 23)
At present, Africa’s trade with China amounts to 220 billion dollars, with the US – 37 billion. Foreign direct investment from China to African countries is estimated at $ 50 billion, although many experts claim that the real figure is higher: too much infrastructure, new plants and modern services have appeared in Africa for such “modest” Chinese money. (Source: book by French journalists Serge Michel, Michel Beuret “Cinafrica, Pechino qalla conquista del continente nero” – “Beijing in the process of conquering the black continent.” Milano, 2009, p. 22).
It should be noted that Africa did its best to repay all their benefactors with loyalty: together with China, leaders of the African Union reacted negatively to the armed, violent overthrow of the leader of the African Union – Libyan Muammar Gaddafi. China knows that it can count on the majority of African votes in the UN. But the main thing is gratitude, which in the case of Africa-China relations is absolutely sincere.
First published in our partner International Affairs
The Uyghur militant threat: China cracks down and mulls policy changes
China, responding to United Nations criticism, academic and media reports, and an embarrassing court case in Kazakhstan, has come closer to admitting that it has brutally cracked down on the strategic north-western province of Xinjiang in what it asserts is a bid to prevent the kind of mayhem that has wracked countries like Syria and Libya.
The Chinese Communist Party’s Global Times charged in its Chinese and English editions that the criticism and reports were aimed at stirring trouble and destroying hard-earned stability in Xinjiang, China’s gateway to Central Asia and home to its Turkic Uyghur and ethnic minority Central Asian Muslim communities.
The crackdown, involving introduction of the world’s most intrusive surveillance state and the indefinite internment of large numbers of Muslims in re-education camps, is designed to quell potential Uyghur nationalist and religious sentiment and prevent blowback from militants moving to Central Asia’s borders with China after the Islamic State and other jihadist groups lost most of their territorial base in Iraq and Syria.
Concern that national and religious sentiment and/or militancy could challenge China’s grip on Xinjiang, home to 15 percent of its proven oil reserves, 22 per cent of its gas reserves, and 115 of the 147 raw materials found in the People’s Republic as well as part of its nuclear arsenal, has prompted Beijing to consider a more interventionist policy in the Middle East and Central and South Asia in contradiction to its principle of non-interference in the affairs of others.
The Global Times asserted that the security situation in Xinjiang had been “turned around and terror threats spreading from there to other provinces of China are also being eliminated. Peaceful and stable life has been witnessed again in all of Xinjiang… Xinjiang has been salvaged from the verge of massive turmoil. It has avoided the fate of becoming ‘China’s Syria’ or ‘China’s Libya,’” the paper said.
Five Chinese mining engineers were wounded last week in a suicide attack in the troubled Pakistan province of Balochistan, a key node in the US$ 50 billion plus China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) intended to link the strategic port of Gwadar with Xinjiang and fuel economic development in the Chinese region. The attack was claimed by the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) rather than Uyghurs.
The Global Times admitted that the Chinese effort to ensure security had “come at a price that is being shouldered by people of all ethnicities in Xinjiang.”
China has not acknowledged the existence of re-education camps but the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination said last week that it had credible reports that one million Uyghurs, were being held in what resembled a “massive internment camp that is shrouded in secrecy.”
The UN assertion of the existence of the camps is corroborated by academic research and media reports based on interviews with former camp inmates and relatives of prisoners, testimony to a US Congressional committee, and recent testimony in a Kazakh court by a former employee in one of the camps.
Writing in The Wall Street Journal, US Republican Senator Marco Rubio, the chair of the congressional committee, called for the sanctioning of Xinjiang Communist Party Secretary and Politburo member Chen Quanguo and “all government officials and business entities assisting the mass detentions and surveillance”. He also demanded that Chinese security agencies be added “to a restricted end-user list to ensure that American companies don’t aid Chinese human-rights abuses.”
Stymying the international criticism and demands for action before they gain further momentum is imperative if China wants to ensure that the Muslim world continues to remain silent about what amounts to a Chinese effort, partly through indoctrination in its re-education camps, to encourage the emergence of what it would call an Islam with Chinese characteristics. China is pushing other faiths to adopt a similar approach.
Concern that Uighur militants exiting Syria and Iraq will again target Xinjiang is likely one reason why Chinese officials suggested that despite their adherence to the principle of non-interference in the affairs of others China might join the Syrian army in taking on militants in the northern Syrian province of Idlib.
Syrian forces have bombarded Idlib, a dumping ground for militants evacuated from other parts of the country captured by the Syrian military and the country’s last major rebel stronghold, in advance of an expected offensive.
Speaking to Syrian pro-government daily Al-Watan, China’s ambassador to Syria, Qi Qianjin, said that China was ‘following the situation in Syria, in particular after the victory in southern (Syria), and its military is willing to participate in some way alongside the Syrian army that is fighting the terrorists in Idlib and in any other part of Syria.”
Chinese participation in a campaign in Idlib would be China’s first major engagement in foreign battle in decades.
China has similarly sought to mediate a reduction of tension between Pakistan and Afghanistan in an effort to get them to cooperate in the fight against militants and ensure that Uyghur jihadists are denied the ability to operate on China’s borders. It has also sought to facilitate peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban.
Chinese officials told a recent gathering in Beijing of the Afghan-Pakistan-China Trilateral Counter-Terrorism dialogue that militant cross-border mobility represented a major threat that needed to be countered by an integrated regional approach.
Potentially, there’s a significant economic upside to facilitating regional cooperation in South Asia and military intervention in Syria. Post-conflict, both countries offer enormous reconstruction opportunities.
Said Middle East scholar Randa Slim discussing possible Chinese involvement in the clearing of Idlib: “You have to think about this in terms of the larger negotiations over Chinese assistance to reconstruction. Syria doesn’t have the money, Russia doesn’t have the money. China has a stake in the fighting.” It also has the money.
Sino-American Strategic Rivalry
From a strategy point of view, Clausewitz and Sun Tzu are similar in least in one respect: Sun Tzu’s idea of moving swiftly to overcome resistance is similar to the one endorsed by Clausewitz and practiced by Napoleon.
The modern day example can be traced to the 2003 “shock and awe” campaign by the U.S. in Iraq and the Iraqi reliance on a strategy similar to Russian defense against Napoleon’s attack in his Russian Campaign of 1812. Napoleon’s invasion of Russia was the beginning of the end of his ambition. He won many battles but lost the war.
And America is suffering from the same fate as the struggle for a new Iraqi political identity is not going to go the American way. The same can be said about Afghanistan.
This is precisely why discussions on war must be assessed from a geopolitical point of view as Clausewitz has noted that “war is an extension of politics”. And the reverse is also true, one may add.
A quick tour of modern history reveals the true winners and losers of wars, by comparing a country’s power before and after a war. The United Kingdom and Germany were both losers of the two World Wars. And the difference of losses between them is a matter of degree.
But the U.K. suffered greater and irreversible losses than Germany. The British ceded its number one geopolitical leadership position in the world to the United States. But Germany has been able to regain its position as Europe’s great economic and political power, while the prospects of the U.K. taking back the world leadership position from the U.S. are next to none.
America has been a geopolitical winner overall since the two World Wars. But its power has been in relative decline. It has failed to advance its power after the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and most recently Syria. It has failed so far to advance the momentum created by the Arab Spring as it has since become the Arab Winter, or to make much headway in Latin America, in Ukraine, and in Africa.
America’s key failures in the past decade are failures in being able to offer tangible economic benefits to target countries while expanding its military involvements. The country can win military battles because of its overwhelming fire power but has not been successful in its after-war “nation building” efforts.
Despite China’s numerous shortcomings, many developing countries quietly wish they could become a mini-China economically. They want to live better with more consumption but they probably want to do it by being able to build up their country’s infrastructure and an industrial base.
America’s recent announcement that it will invest $113 million in technology, energy and infrastructure initiatives in the Indo-Pacific as part of a new strategy to deepen ties with the region has received jaw-dropping reception – sarcastically speaking.
As an example, a survey of North American light rail projects shows that costs of most LRT systems range from $15 million to over $100 million per mile. So how far $113 million or even $1.13 billion can go even if one is to factor in some discounts if projects are implemented in lower cost Indo-Pacific countries? Remember, $113 million is for countries as in plural!
This pales in comparison to China’s Belt and Road initiative (BRI) that ranges between $1 trillion and $8 trillion. BRI is not without its problems and critics. Concerns have been raised about increases in some participating countries’ level of national debt as a result of massive infrastructure building. But because of the scale of the initiative, even if it could only succeed at the lowest end of the range, would offer some real and substantial benefits to countries that can benefit from it.
While freedom and democracy are ideals that have universal support in the abstract – the key words here are “in the abstract” – successful nation-building efforts are realized in the nitty-gritty of people’s everyday economic well-being. This is particularly true among developing countries.
Cheap Chinese smart phones have enabled Africans to get market information to transact with one another more beneficially, to acquire news and information, to lower transaction costs through mobile payments. Inexpensive Chinese motor bikes have become life-saving vehicles for rural populations carrying goods to markets as well as the sick to clinics or hospitals many miles away that they previously could not do.
While the U.S. is no doubt keen on promoting democracy, it is the Chinese that provide affordable smart phones to the masses that allow the spread of information.
While some of the best and the brightest, the elites, the upper middle class in developing countries may desire to have an opportunity to earn an Ivey League degree, to emigrate to the U.S. for better opportunities, to acquire an American passport as an insurance policy, it’s the Chinese that are doing the grunt work of building and training local personnel to conduct trains, to train electrical power linemen to install and repair of overhead or underground power lines as well as to maintain and repair of other electrical and hydro-electrical subsystems and components.
Regardless of how one’s view of China’s strategic intents in its international involvements, the strategies between the U.S. and China cannot be more different. China builds and America destroys.
But many countries especially in the Indo-Pacific region are taking advantage of the rivalry between these two powers to extract the best deals for themselves and you can’t blame them. Economically they want to cooperate with China but militarily they want to get a free ride from the U.S. and the U.S. does not mind that as long as it falls within America’s China Containment strategy.
And time will tell which strategy will work better – economic cooperation or military encirclement?
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