Monday, February 18, 2013

Straight Shooter: Interview with Gordon Chang

Mr. Gordon Chang
     Years ago while browsing in the bookstore, I came across a book titled "The Coming Collapse of China" by Gordon Chang. As someone who has a deep interest in not only politics, but a particular one in the East Asian region, I could not resist opening it. I gave it my normal twenty second inspection test to see if it caught my attention enough to read it a bit longer; and perhaps even purchase it.  I turned to the first chapter and read the first few sentences, 

"They will move Mao Zedong's body soon; it lies on hallowed ground.  When the Communist Party of China falls, when the third Chinese revolution succeeds, they will move him from Tiananmen Square, the center of Beijing and the heart of China.  So much history has occurred in Tiananmen, and so much more has yet to happen."  

     Sold.  I plowed through the book in a mere two days and never looked at China the same again.  Although the collapse of China that Mr. Chang spoke about in the book has yet to occur, his reasoning behind his thinking  is still apparent today: Corruption within the government, The intermingling of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and business, the lack of transparency in the Chinese banking system,  the internet age, and the fact that communist ideology and its doctrine restrain social and political progress.

 While many in the media and government often  speak of China's ever-enlarging economic and military clout, Mr. Chang uses an alternative lens when viewing China.  A lens  that looks underneath its meticulously  crafted image of a politically stable state that desires a "peaceful rise" into the realm of global powers, and often reveals unpleasant truths that many would rather ignore or discard.  In this interview we discussed various aspects of China's foreign policy. 


What are your predictions on Chinese foreign policy during the first 5 years of Xi Jinping?
(Xi Jinping ascended to become the General Secretary of the Communist Party of China in November 2012, as well as the Chairman of the Party Central Military Commission.  He is expected to take the title of President (head of state) next month during the next session of the National People's Congress)
GC: "Chinese foreign policy will only become more aggressive under the nationalist Xi Jinping.  As it does so, China will lose even more friends.  Already, we see nations on its periphery begin to band together to protect themselves.  Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is a leader in this regard as he tries to stitch together a coalition of the region’s democracies.  The Ma administration should be fully supporting this effort, but of course it is not.
These days, Beijing seems aggressively determined to pursue self-marginalizing, self-containing, and ultimately self-defeating policies.  This suggests, at a minimum, that there is something very wrong in the Chinese capital.
 At this time, the most hardline elements in Beijing are now setting policy.  And in a time of political transition, it is difficult for Xi and other Chinese officials to climb down.  Therefore, it looks like Beijing in the near future will miscalculate and overstep.  The consequences could be historic."

 What are the diplomatic options for China and Japan over the Senkaku-Diaoyutai island dispute? 
GC: "China does not appear to be thinking of diplomatic options over the islands it calls the Diaoyus.  It might accept a Japanese rhetorical concession that there is in fact a dispute, but Beijing does not look like it will be happy to then drop the matter.  The Chinese leadership almost always presses an advantage and demands more.  This tendency, unfortunately, is part of the DNA of militant regimes."

How much autonomy do regional authorities in provinces (ie. Hainan province) have in authorizing vessels into intercepting foreign vessels in the South China Sea, and how much of their decision making actually comes from Beijing?

GC: "At the moment, it appears that important tactical decisions are being made at the fleet level.  Overall direction, of course, is set at the center.  Various sources say Xi Jinping is directing policy on the East China Sea dispute with Japan, and that means he is probably also making decisions on South China Sea matters."

What is the probability that China will allow full election in Hong Kong in 2020, as the CCP has previously stated that it would? 

GC: It is unlikely that Beijing will ever allow full elections in Hong Kong.  Beijing-backed candidates would not be assured of winning in open contests, and that would be considered unacceptable.  Hong Kong is becoming unmanageable from China’s perspective, so real elections look most unlikely.

Will there likely be any concrete actions taken by China towards curbing North Korea's nuclear and long range missile development? 

GC: "Beijing is unlikely to take strong measures to stop the North Korean missile and nuclear weapons programs.  It has not done so up to now, and there is no consensus in the Chinese capital to change long-held pro-Pyongyang policies.
 Most Chinese policymakers know that Beijing’s North Korean policy is not in China’s long-term interest—it is driving Japan and South Korea closer to the United States, for instance—but in the short-run Beijing derives much advantage from its support of the Kim regime.  Every time Kim engages in a provocation, Washington asks for Beijing’s help and Beijing extracts concessions from America.  Chinese leaders find this dynamic to their liking.  Why should Beijing give up such a good arrangement?"

  How does China plan to deal with an increasingly strong and overt Taiwanese self-identity? Does China still think that it can peacefully bring Taiwan into the PRC? 
GC: "Beijing has few options when it comes to growing Taiwan identity.  The more it presses, the more people push back and declare they are not “Chinese.”  We see the same dynamic in Hong Kong and even inside the People’s Republic, especially in Tibetan and Uighur areas.  The more Beijing demand conformity, the more people take refuge in what sets them apart from the Communist Party.

Beijing is trying to absorb Taiwan through economic ties, but that shows how little Chinese leaders understand human nature.  Culture and identity almost always trump economics, but it is hard for Marxists to understand that."

If Taiwan is becoming too dependent on China in terms of intertwining economic ties, what are Taiwan's alternatives? 

GC: "Taiwan should be looking to sign free-trade agreements with the United States and others.  It should, for instance, be working hard to get into the Trans-Pacific Partnership.  Taiwan in general should be trying to promote more consumer spending because its export-driven growth model is unsustainable in the current global environment.  Both Japan and South Korea, which are heavily dependent on sales abroad, are experiencing declining growth at this moment.  Not every country can expect to achieve export glory in the years ahead."

Let's play out a scenario.  Could you describe in detail what would take place if the following happend: 2016.  The DPP candidate wins the Presidential election in Taiwan, along with a majority of seats in the Legislative Yuan.  China sees its carefully plotted economic maneuvers towards Taiwan going to waste, as the country becomes increasingly wary of its ties with China.  Under a conjured threat of Taiwan preparing to declare its "de jure" independence, the PRC issues a naval blockade, along with a series of missile salvos at Taiwan, and with out American military support, Taiwan surrenders.  What would happen in the daily lives of Taiwanese citizens under this scenario, or a similar scenario in which the PRC is able to economically strangle Taiwan into forcing it into the PRC? 

GC: "The surrender scenario is most unlikely.  But if it were to happen, Beijing would probably have to face a hostile population and perhaps a guerilla war for as long as it rules the island.  Its victory will, at best, be temporary.  Just look at what is happening in Hong Kong these days."

What would the global implications be under one of these scenarios? 

GC: "Beijing will feel emboldened if it were to absorb Taiwan, just like Hitler felt after he took Austria.  The Chinese navy, from its bases in Taiwan, would be able to cut off Japan and South Korea, and the region would be plunged into turmoil.  Aggressors are never satisfied with their conquests."

Have you read the "Taiwan 21" proposal by Scott Bates, and if so what are your feelings on it? 
(The "Taiwan 21" Proposal is a series of ideas proposed by the president for National Policy, Scott Bates.  Among some of his proposals include  Taiwan renouncing the use of force on China's shores, even in the event of Chinese military action, reducing its armed forces from 130,000 to 65,000; and changing its primary mission towards becoming a regional disaster response team. The primary objective would be to give Taiwan a "moral high ground in any confrontation" with China. 
GC: "Scott Bates's proposals are based on the false premise that the People's Republic is gaining strength.  On the contrary, it is getting weaker."

What is your opinion about the possibility of  Taiwan acquiring submarines from the United States, either by sale or  American logistical and technological support? Should anything be read into a Congressional delegation, led by House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce making  a stop in the southern Taiwanese Naval harbor of Tsouying during their visit?

GC: "There is a growing appreciation of the danger China poses to the stability of East Asia.  And more policymakers are beginning to see Beijing’s threat to the United States itself.  As China acts in more assertive and belligerent ways, Washington will react. 

At this moment, there is still no consensus in the American capital to change long-held “engagement” policies, and it is unlikely we will see across-the-board American support for Taiwan’s submarine program in the immediate future.  Yet as China continues to threaten its neighbors, eventually the United States will react positively to Taiwan’s hardware requests, including its request for submarines.  In short, Beijing is creating the conditions for the submarine sales.

Representative Royce’s tour of a Taiwanese submarine yard last month shows that at least some in Washington are thinking about the issue.  More will do so soon."

 Gordon G. Chang is the author of Nuclear Showdown: North Korea Takes On the World, released by Random House in January 2006.  Showdown focuses on nuclear proliferation in general and the North Korean crisis in particular.  His first book is The Coming Collapse of China (Random House, August 2001). He is a columnist at and blogs at World Affairs Journal.

He has spoken at Columbia, Cornell, Harvard, Penn, Princeton, Yale, and other universities, and at The Brookings Institution, The Heritage Foundation, the Cato Institute, RAND, the American Enterprise Institute, the Council on Foreign Relations, and other institutions.  He has given briefings at the National Intelligence Council, the Central Intelligence Agency, the State Department, and the Pentagon.  He has also spoken before industry and investor groups including Bloomberg, Sanford Bernstein, Royal Bank of Scotland, and Credit Lyonnais Securities Asia.  Chang has appeared before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission.

 His writings on China and North Korea have appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, the Far Eastern Economic Review, the International Herald Tribune, Commentary, The Weekly Standard, National Review, and Barron's.

 He has appeared on CNN, Fox News Channel, Fox Business Network, CNBC, MSNBC, PBS, the BBC, and Bloomberg Television. He has appeared on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and is a frequent co-host and guest on The John Batchelor Show. Outside the United States he has spoken in Beijing, Shanghai, Taipei, Hong Kong, Seoul, Singapore, Tokyo, The Hague, London, Ottawa, Toronto, and Vancouver.

You can read more from Gordon Chang at:
You can also follow him on Twitter at: @GordonGChang

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