The many myths that Yang shattered

In claiming the South China Sea, China destroys warm fuzzy feelings. Good.

Some, like ‘peaceful rise’ are of China’s own creation. Others like ‘G-2’ are outputs of wishful thinking in the United States. Still others, like ASEAN being a coherent geo-political entity are indulgences of the Southeast Asian elite.

These myths never stood up to scrutiny. But a few days ago they were all shattered by China’s foreign minister. Spectacularly so.

Image: 'BBC'

We are, of course, referring to the dust-up between the United States, Viet Nam and some ASEAN countries in the blue corner, and the China in the red at the ASEAN Regional Forum meeting in Ha Noi. [See John Pomfret’s article in the Washington Post, Minxin Pei in The Diplomat and this editorial in the Global Times for the background]

This year, China moved from drawing maps claiming the South China Sea as its own to announcing that it considers that piece of maritime real-estate as much a core interest as Tibet and Tibet. Since it will unambiguously use force to retain and annex these territories respectively, Beijing has just threatened to use force to settle the maritime boundary dispute. Lest people not take the hint, it has let it be known, through its media mouthpiece, that “China will never waive its right to protect its core interest with military means.” Did we mention that all this is after it pledged to use only peaceful means in an agreement with ASEAN nations in 2002? There goes ‘peaceful rise’.

Now consider the extraordinary statement issued by China’s foreign ministry after the ARF meeting. Consider also, that not only has China protected North Korea after the latter sank a South Korean naval ship, it even deterred the United States from conducting a punitive show of force against Pyongyang. And some people thought the two countries can solve the world’s problems?

Yang Jiechi, China’s foreign minister, explicitly tore ASEAN’s geopolitical pretenses to shreds, by noting that the non-claimants to the South China Sea dispute were on its side. It is for ASEAN now to decide to unite on behalf of some of its members or let China dictate terms to them, individually, through bilateral negotiations. The outcome of the ARF suggests that each ASEAN country is looking out for itself, even after the United States threw its hat in the ring.

The shattering of these myths is a good thing—even if the implications are not. Even so, it is better for the world to engage China in a clear-eyed manner, rather than under some political correct subterfuge. What does this mean for India? Read my Pax Indica column tomorrow.

Kim crosses China’s line

Brinkmanship does not work beyond the brink.

“Either a nuclear-equipped DPRK or a collapsed DPRK,” Wu Chaofan concludes, “would cause disastrous interruption of the process of China’s peaceful development.” As long as the North Korean regime was playing inside these boundaries it was possible for China to use the situation to apply strategic pressure on the United States, Japan and South Korea. The threat from North Korea prevents the United States from concentrating its resources on Taiwan, and to that extent, reduces China’s cost of maintaining a balance of power across the Taiwan straits.

So it would be terrible for China if North Korea crossed those boundaries.

…many Chinese experts and advisors are more concerned with the threat Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons poses to China’s security. After adoption of Resolution 1874, the DPRK responded with a big rally in its capital. Its leaders announced that the country would stick to its own path, regardless of whether friendly countries sided with it and the effect on international aid. Such an attitude on the part of Pyongyang is a warning that China should reconsider its national interests.

Pyongyang’s nuclear tests, which took place only tens of kilometers from the Chinese border, might cause an environmental catastrophe in a densely populated area, not to speak of the threat it is to peace and stability in East Asia and the world as a whole. Any deadly accident following Pyongyang’s nuclear tests would not only inflict enormous losses on the Korean people but also seriously damage the environment in Northeast China and the surrounding region. [China Daily]

Mr Wu quotes two Chinese scholars who essentially warn North Korea’s neighbours to be prepared for the worst. China has been unable to persuade North Korea to stand down. Meanwhile Japan and South Korea have not only taken a hard line against Pyongyang, but have—in the delicate style of East Asian diplomacy—asked China to deliver. More than the US airstrikes that the Chinese scholars warn about, the real threat to China comes from the prospect of both Japan and South Korea developing their own nuclear deterrents.

If the North Koreans don’t oblige, then China will be, well, in a soup.

New Zealand’s misplaced opposition at the NSG

Neither India’s nuclear weapons programme nor its nuclear power projects will be to New Zealand’s detriment

Regarding the proceedings at the Nuclear Suppliers Group where small states like New Zealand have shown reluctance to admit India into the nuclear mainstream, here’s what an astute and knowledgeable person said in an email:

A broad stance against testing nuclear weapons is central to nonproliferation, however India already has a voluntary moratorium in place. As long as India perceives no immediate deterioration in its local nuclear security environment the moratorium should hold. By contrast a multilateralised commitment on testing might mislead the Pakistanis and elements of the proliferation underworld that provocative behaviour will go without a response from the Indian side. The Nuclear Supplier Group’s history of failures when it comes to checking Pakistani proliferation little by way of comfort to anyone in India.

It is difficult to imagine parallels between New Zealand’s opposition to French nuclear testing and India’s posture on nuclear testing. India has not tested any nuclear weapons in waters off New Zealand’s coast and nor does it intend to. If India does decide to conduct an atmospheric test, it would need to first withdraw from the Partial Test Ban Treaty. Such a withdrawal requires a three months notice be given to the depository countries and that should allow for enough time for New Zealand to take steps to ensure that India doesn’t just drop 20 MT on some atoll in the Southern Pacific. So what is the point of putting 50 conditions on India right now, when all New Zealand should be interested in is one condition when the time comes.

While one can argue that ensuring visible compliance of norms is the key to ensure the spread of non-proliferation ideology—one can also examine any gains on this front against losses from criminalising routine commerce. India’s energy needs are well known at this stage and every nuclear energy company in the world wants to access that market. By keeping the barriers at the Nuclear Suppliers Group artificially high—a large volume of trade is forced underground. In light of the peculiar auditing practices followed by NSG members states when keeping track of the A Q Khan network, one might ask if excessive regulation created circumstances ideal for putting nuclear weapons into the hands of terrorists?

With an increased dependence on carbon fuels in India will produce enough greenhouse gases to make nightmare scenarios on global warming a reality. Blocking India’s path to nuclear energy seems like sensible alternative to some non-proliferation pundits, but then most of them live in countries with plenty of high ground. Surely, a small country like New Zealand can be expected to take a different view the perils of rising water levels.

Concerning Australia’s uranium sales

The Rudd government would do well to climb out of an unnecessary hole it has dug for Australia

Greg Sheridan has a very insightful piece on the India-US nuclear deal and the stakes for Australia (linkthanks V Anantha Nageswaran). He gets it right when he argues that Australia can’t hope to enjoy a close relationship with India if it maintains a discriminatory policy on uranium sales.

Then the deal must be approved by the Nuclear Suppliers Group. Here’s where Australia comes in. With something like 40 per cent of the world’s known uranium reserves, Australia is a key member of the NSG. So far, the Rudd Government has not said whether it will support the US-India deal at the NSG or oppose it.

It has however hinted that it would support the deal at the NSG, a hint Foreign Minister Stephen Smith repeated yesterday. Certainly Australia could kiss goodbye forever the idea of any decent relationship with India if it opposes the deal at the NSG.

Accepting the deal at the NSG would not commit Australia to supplying uranium to India. However, that will be the next big question…

Opposition foreign affairs spokesman Andrew Robb has effectively homed in on the contradiction between the Rudd Government selling uranium to China – which has a terrible, though not recent, record of nuclear proliferation – while refusing to sell uranium to India, which has never passed on nuclear technology to anyone.

..the Rudd Government will face a deep contradiction between supporting the US-India deal in the NSG, then saying it will not sell uranium to India. It will face an even bigger contradiction between its concern with greenhouse gas emissions and taking action, by refusing uranium to India, that impedes the development of clean energy. [The Australian]