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China’s Rogue Fireworks

Yu MaochunYu Maochun is a professor of East Asia and Military History at the US Naval Academy. Views expressed here are his own. This is his first piece to be published on Webdiary.

by Yu Maochun

China’s president, Hu Jintao, is currently touring Africa, seeking to secure dependable sources of natural resources, but also to promote China’s “peaceful rise.” Such tours are designed to give notice that China is emerging on the world stage, as well as to make it look respectable as a major world power. But China’s quest for international respect is not well served by its embrace of rogue nations like Sudan, Venezuela, and Burma, much less by its secretive military build-up and its recent adventure in outer space.

Indeed, when the Chinese military secretly and recklessly fired a land-based missile into outer space in mid-January and shattered one of China’s aging satellites, the government caused outrage from London to Tokyo to Washington. After several days of silence in the face of incontrovertible evidence of the launch, China’s leaders reluctantly admitted what China had done, but claimed that the “test was not directed at any country and does not constitute a threat to any country.”

Such denials are becoming unconvincing. In fact, this dangerous and irresponsible action is yet another key sign that China’s rise as a global power lacks any guarantee that it will be a peaceful nation once it grows strong. It flatly contradicts the repeated assurances of China’s leaders that China’s rise will bring only “harmony” and peace to the international community.

Lurking behind China’s ambition in space is the spirit of the Cold War, which continues to permeate the inner circles of the military high command, whose adversary is unmistakably the United States. With the collapse of the Soviet communist regime, the US continues to enjoy a dominant role in space exploration for peaceful and scientific development. But since the 1980’s, the US has been ambivalent about the ultimate military and civilian utility of its space efforts.

This ambivalence has now been greatly reduced because of China’s recent action, which could precipitate a race to militarize and weaponize outer space. Should this happen, China would share a large part of the blame.

China’s adventurism and its blithe assumption that it can deal with any international dictator it wishes and disturb the delicate military balance in outer space is emblematic of something sinister and dangerous. Partly because of the patronizing pampering afforded the Chinese by the developed world, and partly because of China’s relentless, but successful, manipulation of world opinion, China has long been treated as being ”exceptional” when it comes to its international behavior.

As a result, in venues like the United Nations, China enjoys a degree of immunity from criticism for its egregious human rights abuses, as well as for its massive military build-up, one that is unparalleled in recent experience. Likewise, China’s relations with authoritarian regimes, or even its responsibility for preserving the global environment, are rarely mentioned. Indeed, China was not asked to bear anything like its rightful share of the burden in curbing carbon emissions under the Kyoto Protocol.

Unsurprisingly, China’s pampered leadership now acts as if the country actually is exceptional and can get away with polluting outer space without rebuke. The destruction of the Chinese satellite produced roughly 300,000 pieces of debris, causing severe pollution and putting many other spacecraft in the Earth’s orbit in grave danger. We know this because the last and only time anybody “killed” a satellite with a land-based missile was in 1985, when the US destroyed one of its own satellites, creating a slick of debris that took the American government 17 years to clean up.

There is a danger, given China’s size, that this peculiar “Chinese Exceptionalism” could turn into something truly alarming: a global norm. For China’s effort to make Internet giants like Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft kowtow to its domestic political controls, and its push in Africa and Latin America to create blocs of nations that pursue economic development while ignoring human rights and environmental conservation, is a poor model for the developing world.

In fact, China’s courtship of resource-rich Third World tyrannies and its recent step toward the weaponization of outer space undermines its carefully crafted new image as a paragon of “harmonious” social development. So to continue to give China “exceptional” treatment given today’s Chinese behavior will undermine its ability to become a nation capable of exercising responsible global leadership. 

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2007.

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Fair trade

A brief comment on the first issue. Polluting the satellite belt with junk seems a pretty good way of putting star wars on hold.

Closer to home, The Australian had articles by Rowan Callick on China's predatory actions in PNG, from Chinese mine treating PNG workers 'like slaves'

The Ramu mine is China's first big project in Australia's neighbourhood. The way in which it is developed is being closely watched, with landowners expressing concern that the Chinese Government-owned Metallurgical Group Corporation (known as MCC) would bring in a large labour force from China.

In a companion article published Feb 12th, 'China's neo-colonial slavery in PNG', (not available online) Callick writes:

Now, the hasty start to construction appears set to rebound on the Government, unless it's seen to impose the same standards on the Chinese as on Western firms that have developed PNG's other great ore bodies. What would have been the response in Australia if the developers damned by Tibu had been BHP, say, or Rio Tinto? The outcry would have been enormous. But the loose coalition of organisations that did, in fact, damn BHP over Ok Tedi and Rio Tinto over Bougainville have been ominously silent about Ramu. Why? One has to presume it's because the prime target of the coalition is Western capitalism, with Papua-Niuginians incidental to that cause.

On the author, a blogger (Mad Minerva) has some good notes taken at a talk titled "Will China Attack Taiwan? Calculating the risk for war."

On military capability, perhaps Dr Nelson could buy some new J10s, since the Pentagon will not let him have the F22 Raptor. From China adds jet fighter that rivals world best

However, while acknowledging the technical advances China has made over that period, most experts believe the J-10 has relied heavily on technology transferred from Israel's aborted Lavi fighter project.

Prototypes of the Lavi, which was similar in capability to the F-16, had performed well in tests but Israel canceled the project in the late 1980s after the United States withdrew financial support.

Elements of its design are evident in the size and shape of the new Chinese fighter.

Fisher and other experts suggest that Israel also supplied the so-called fly- by-wire computer software that controls the aircraft in flight.

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