Ukraine (Russia), South Korea, India and, as usual, Japan attracted keen attention for their potential to alter the geopolitical environment in Asia. Ukraine’s significance is its impact on Russian relations with both the United States and China. In the case of South Korea its tensions with Japan and forward-looking diplomacy with China led to questions about the strength of its alliance with the United States. Anticipating that Narenda Modi would bring new vigor to Indian foreign policy, Chinese focused on the “Look East” policy. Coverage did not forget Japan, whose image as a danger to regional stability continued to make it a convenient whipping boy. A positive Russia and a negative Japan stood as book ends in analyses of South Korea and India being torn between clashing appeals in the realignment under way in regional security.
Russia and Ukraine
An article by Bi Hongye in Guoji guancha, No. 3, characterizes Ukraine’s strategic location between two civilizations as the cause of the difficult choice it faces. The notion that civilizations are led by states that have strategic interests is taken for granted. If a state’s population lacks a collective consciousness—in this case split between Russia and the West—, then a civilizational divide can undercut domestic stability, which is compounded by economic deterioration.
Bi considers a country that allows its civilizational sphere to atrophy as in danger, equating this sphere with its strategic space. Having lost its East European buffer with the end of the Warsaw Pact and been unable to prevent the entry of the three Baltic states formerly part of the Soviet Union into NATO, Russia would be left after the loss of Ukraine fully exposed to the threat of NATO and as only a regional power with uncertain access to the Mediterranean Sea, readers are informed.
The driving force in the crisis over Ukraine is US foreign policy, Bi argues. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the United States devoted its energy to preventing its revival—ensuring that the CIS would not work, expanding NATO to contain Russia, and encouraging “color revolutions,” such as the “Orange Revolution” in Ukraine, to widen the civilizational divide. Ukraine is seen as the key to whether Russia revives as an “empire” or is kept in check. It was targeted for NATO entry, and even after its 2010 election led to a more balanced approach to Russia and the West, the Obama administration was keen on NATO cooperation. In 2013, the Ukrainian people made it clear that they were not in favor of joining NATO, but a slim majority did want to join the EU. Putin repeatedly warned of Russian interests, but the West completely disregarded this. Russians saw arrogance and disrespect for Russia in this attitude and in the West’s support for a rebel force seizing power. Although the recent crisis has its roots in a civilizational divide and in the failure in the 1990s to resolve the strategic questions left from the end of the Cold War and collapse of the Soviet Union, the West bears the main responsibility for the crisis in Ukraine due to NATO expansion, insistence on an EU partnership, color revolutions, and other measures that have been squeezing Russia’s strategic space and often crossed its red lines.
Putin’s plans for a Eurasian Union are endorsed with the inclusion of Ukraine seen as a big breakthrough in increasing the scale of its market and its foreign influence. His tactics, such as using natural gas supplies as a political tool, are not criticized.
Bi depicts a fortunate situation for Russia: Ukraine is extremely dependent on it for energy supplies and its market; with more than one-quarter of Ukraine’s population Russian, no domestic stability can be achieved without good relations with Russia; Putin has demonstrated over the years that applying pressure on Ukraine can work; under Putin Russia has built sufficient economic, political, and military power to resist the West; and Ukraine is a core interest for Russia and not for the West, which means that the West will lack the appetite to keep pursuing this issue. The United States needs Russia in Syria, Iran, and elsewhere. The EU needs Russian energy. In light of the patriotic upsurge in Russia, there is no prospect of getting Russia to back down in contrast to divisions in the West that will lead to less determination. Yet, in the process, Bi expects a new cold war since the West will not take Russia’s interests into account and Russia will be able to pressure Ukraine in many ways that the West will eventually have to accept. Parallel arguments can be made about the interests of China, the deepening struggle over its civilizational sphere or sphere of influence, and the relative determination of its aroused population and the divided opposition.
Bi concludes by equating China’s situation with Russia’s. It too faces an irreversible threat from the West of containment and conflict over its civilizational sphere. In the East and South China seas, which are China’s priority, the US has drawn red lines based on arguments of inviolable sovereignty. Obama’s “rebalance to Asia” is against China’s core interests, just as he has interfered in Russia’s core interests. After the US departure from Afghanistan, there is likely to be a “Central Asian Spring,” which both China and Russia fear will be used by the West to cause instability in their countries—in the case of China leading to combined pressure from the east and the west. Bi also calls for strengthening relations with Russia. China can use its isolation to secure energy and weapons deals, anticipating that for the next three decades a deep strategic overlap will exist furthering all-around strategic cooperation. As the confidence of Russia has grown, it has become a global force, speeding the shift from a unipolar to a multipolar world and making US hegemonism increasingly hard. The case of Ukraine is primarily about Western interventionism, which China must firmly oppose. Ukraine tried to be a bridge between two civilizations. It did not want to choose, but the West pressured it, and Russia was right to recognize that the split with the West is unavoidable.
In Yazhou zongheng, No. 4 Chu Zhaogen also examined the impact of the Ukraine crisis with an eye to its relevance for China’s foreign policy. He argues that Russia acted defensively in response to security encirclement, that this crisis exposes the limits of US hegemonism, and that it offers lessons to China on how to break out of its encirclement as it too faces US hegemonism. Calling this the most important event since 1991 in altering Russia’s security environment and its balance versus the West, Chu finds much at stake in this crisis. Whereas the US strategy for the past decade has been to use Ukraine to squeeze Russia’s security space and prevent it from regaining its traditional sphere of influence—including the color revolution in 2004, NATO expansion plans in 2008, and the EU partnership plan in 2012—, the clash in 2014, which Chu covers in detail, involved US arousal of the opposition to the president to resist state authority, but this time Russia was strong enough to resist. After having supported the United States in its war against terror and being rewarded with the expansion of NATO to the east, color revolutions, and plans for an anti-missile system near its border, Putin finally counterattacked to prevent the fall of Ukraine to a rival bloc, and NATO lacked the force to alter the result in Crimea. After all, Chu remarks, Russia has international law on its side, since the United States is the one who violated Ukraine’s constitution and its sovereignty.
Chu’s image of Russia, as of China, is of country under siege, whose core national interests are disregarded. While these countries had sought peaceful cooperation, they awakened to a textbook case of hegemonism vs. anti-hegemonism. Illusions of compromise—in Ukraine or in joint development of maritime resources near China-—, are shattered by crises such as in Ukraine, where the United States or the West is behaving aggressively. Chu draws the following lessons: 1) where one country is battling for its core strategic interests and another for peripheral interests, the clash favors the former, and the latter is likely to back down without a cold war; 2) while Putin is willing to accept losses as more than compensated by the vital gains Russia secures, Obama and the EU are avoiding military and economic moves that could damage their economies and stop cooperation on Syria, Iran, and North Korea; 3) the established power needs to make room for the rising power or other reviving powers, but the United States is not doing so; 4) Russia’s success will force the United States to recognize the limitations of its power; 5) only the use of force and the ability to fight an economic war allows a state to defend its core interests and gain strategic benefits; and 6) Russia serves as a model for China, which is similarly being pushed around and has similar opportunities for gaining situational strategic superiority despite the overall US military advantage. Insisting that China has the military, economic, diplomatic, international law, and psychological conditions to challenge the United States and to protect its own security interests, Chu urges its leaders to figure out how to use these resources and the right timing for taking action, but he raises questions about whether too much pacifist thinking and going so long without a war may have undermined its spirit. Now that the United States has driven China and Russia together, China’s situation is further improved.
Gu Wei in Guoji zhengzhi yanjiu, No. 3 explains that with the Kosovo War Russia made it clear that after wavering on the correct balance between human rights and sovereignty, it prioritized the latter, and with the Iraq War it strongly opposed the US priority for the former coupled with “neo-interventionism.” Advancing the label “sovereign democracy,” Russia chose values consistent with its own tradition and its long-term interests. (Failing to do that over the previous decade is what Chinese authors find puzzling.) Tracing Russia’s changing attitudes in the war in Georgia, the Libyan intervention, and the Syrian crisis, the author concludes that Russia has shifted its position on interventionism to serve its own national interests.
In Guoji yanjiu cankao Han Jinjun analyzed the US-ROK relationship. Calling it a pillar of US-Asia Pacific relations, Han says that it is drawing close attention since Obama announced his rebalance to Asia. After all, it has long been used to contain China and Russia, while serving as the frontline in Washington’s Northeast Asian strategy. Yet, the asymmetrical nature of the alliance and the changing strategic environment in the region have led to questions about how sustainable the alliance would be. After the Cold War, outbursts of anti-American emotions added to the uncertainty. Han describes South Korean frustration with foreign relations revolving only around the United States and the quest for an independent foreign policy, while pointing to different strategic interests after the focus on containing communism had ended. Blame centers on the United States for using its asymmetrical advantage to serve US interests at the expense of South Korean ones, using the KORUS FTA to force open South Korea’s markets, limit its exports, and narrow the trade deficit or threatening to remove US troops. Yet, Han concludes that the United States has responded with sensitivity in working together to reduce asymmetry and accept greater autonomy. As a result, the alliance is growing closer, with more comprehensive relations beyond military ties. Despite a changing security environment in Northeast Asia, this alliance, readers are told, will have a wider range of functions and a broader regional and global role. Given the fact that the Korean Peninsula has high strategic value at the geographical center of Northeast Asia and at the intersection where the interests of four great powers are manifest, the alliance’s vitality is of considerable consequence. Han attributes this to a shared political system, a similar outlook on regional and global security issues, and mutual reinforcement of US soft power and South Korea cultural diplomacy. Leaving unclear whether South Korean national interests are well served, Han sees the United States simultaneously achieving many important objectives toward North Korea, Russia, China, and Japan, allowing it to sustain its leading role in the regional security system. No basis for optimism can be found here for those seeking to split the alliance or to draw the South into China’s civilizational orbit. Oddly, there is no discussion of Park Geun-hye or her ties to Xi.
Hu Erjie in Heping yu fazhan, No. 3, suggests that China and India are ideal partners for a “new type of major power relations,” in which both of them believe. Strategic trust is continuously deepening, Hu insists. While acknowledging that the triangles of Sino-India-Pakistan relations and US-Japan-India relations still limit Sino-India relations. Hu proposes that together these two rising developing countries could do a lot to change the global system, putting pressure on the US-led Western system while showing that a transfer of power need not lead to global conflict and that their combined weight can bring stability to Asia. This appeal makes no mention of what China can do to reassure India, suggesting instead that India should trust China.
In issue no. 4 of Yafei zongheng, Xu Ke looks at the intersection of Indo-US relations in Southeast Asia, as the one pursues its “Look East” policy and the other Obama’s “rebalance” policy. While finding some overlap in seeking to contain China, Xu is rather sanguine about the limitations in this partnership and China’s mechanisms to get around it. Xu makes clear that these are both hegemonic countries—the United States on a global scale and India in South Asia. Xu explains why many countries in Southeast Asia welcome the “Look East” policy, seeking economic benefits, a political partner, and strategic support from a state with its own border conflict with China. In turn, the United States and India seek to use each other to balance China, Xu adds. Given new troubles since the United States announced its rebalance—a worsening financial situation, Russia’s hardline posture to the West, etc.—, it is looking to India with its naval power in the Indian Ocean to help bear the burden of containing China. Also adding India to the mix of outside great powers with a voice in Southeast Asia, states in the region are likely to look at ASEAN with a less exclusive outlook, and involving India in the Strait of Malacca helps to break the monopoly of the three bordering states to allow the United States to realize its aspirations to play a naval role there. Yet, the fundamental interests of India and the United States diverge, we are told. From India’s perspective, it seeks to use the United States vs. China, but at the same time to keep its distance. It wants to become a world pole, it cannot stand becoming a pawn of any great power, it seeks to build a security curtain out of a crisis mentality, and it is unwilling to follow the United States. When Washington asks Delhi to bear greater responsibility in the Asia-Pacific region, Delhi responds that it wants clearer support for becoming a permanent member of the Security Council. When Washington asks for more support in the war against terror, Delhi seeks more support against Pakistan “the greatest terrorist threat.” Thus, despite overall mutual support, on specifics the two countries are not drawing close.
Xu clearly states that both the rebalance and “Look East” policies are unwelcome by China, but that it lacks the power for now to do more than to reduce the pressure. It faces a situation in Southeast Asia where a country will, on the one hand, seek to gain economic benefits from China, and, on the other, seek strategic support from the United States and India, which puts pressure on China. To free itself of this unfortunate situation China, Xu argues, must play on Indo-US contradictions as well as, increasingly in the Indian Ocean seek economic, political, and security benefits, which India does not have the resources to restrain. Such pressure will stretch it thin, and oblige it to pull back in Southeast Asia. Southeast Asian states keep outside powers at some distance, even perceiving China as an outside power. China needs to go along with this openness, while still insisting on its bottom line or core interests.
In a Huanqiuwang editorial of September 1, Long Xingchun expressed confidence that the visit by Modi to Japan would thwart Abe’s effort to swing India to Japan’s side in opposition to China—cited as both the most important reason for Japan’s overtures and as welcomed by the United States in its rebalance policy. Modi seeks to take advantage of US and Japanese interest in using India against China, and he is also hoping, as a result, to increase China’s interest in India, but he recognizes that India’s interest is development, not joining an east-west pincer against China.
In Aisixiang.com on September 16-19 new tendencies in the Sino-Indian-Japanese triangle are discussed following Xi’s visit to India and Modi’s visit to Japan. Concern is noted over Modi and Abe, both caught in territorial disputes with Xi, joining in a deeper relationship in light of alarm over China’s economic and military rise. Yet, Modi made sure to invite Xi to Delhi and demonstrate that India is the “winner” in the triangle with better relations with the other two sides. The uniqueness of this Asian great power triangle is stressed. Modi is seen as positioning India to secure considerable amounts of investment from both states with Japan also looking to offer its military technology. Yet, China offered three times what Japan did. Given the fact that India and China share interests as developing countries and as opponents of any interference with sovereignty, the article suggests that China does not need to be much concerned about the triangle tilting sharply toward an Indo-Japanese dyad.
In Yafei zongheng, No. 4, Wang Ping explains the reasons for and the results of the quest in Japan to reform the Constitution and to remove the restriction on collective self-defense. Wang declares that the July 1 cabinet agreement is aimed at making Japan a country that can go to war, overturning its peace constitution. It followed a fifty-year struggle in the Cold War era between conservatives and progressives over whether Japan would follow a peaceful path. With the United States focused only on maintaining its hegemonic position in the Asia-Pacific region, Japan had no choice but to follow whatever new policy its ally chose. In this context, observe or amend the Constitution became the unresolved dividing line. Japanese had felt that losing the right to defend themselves meant losing their sovereignty, but under Kishi Nobusuke they regained that and gained some measure of equality with their ally. The article briefly mentions Nakasone’s efforts, while jumping to Abe in his first term and now as the main figure in furthering his grandfather’s goals. Abe seeks to free Japan from its postwar system and from stressing the economy and slighting the military, emphasizing the twin objectives of ideology and security. The article finds that in his second term Abe is more mature, speaking less and doing more.
As prime minister this time, Wang explains, Abe is leading the third wave of moving Japan to the right. With Kishi leading the way in the late 50s and early 60s and then Nakasone striving in the 1980s for constitutional and textbook revision as well as shrine visits, Japan has seen two previous waves. Abe’s aim is to restore traditional Japanese culture and make Japan a military great power, following the first postwar focus on becoming an economic great power and later stress on becoming a political great power. Only by revising the Constitution will it be possible to instill an identity of confidence in the nation, after Japanese have lost their traditional culture and the state as a focus of identity. With the decision on the right of collective self-defense and the new defense guidelines with the United States, Wang sees an historic change in Japan. Looking back to the first half of the 1990s when Japan was striving to break free of US domination to become a political great power, Wang argues that in the 2000s as US concerns grew about being overextended, calls for burden sharing were more satisfying for Japan. As a result, there was no longer a need to draw a line with values espoused by the United States or declare an independent policy toward Asia. Trumpeting the China threat theme and striving to tighten containment of China—even provoking a territorial dispute—are seen as means to steer the US alliance in the desired direction and transform pacifist leanings still seen in Japanese thinking.
The Chinese case against Japan is that China’s behavior has not mattered. Japan is not driven by a need to defend its territory or any sense of threat. It is the one that is not the status quo power. This is because rightists are obsessed with making Japan a military great power with unknown ramifications reminiscent of Japan’s militarism of an earlier era. There is no give and take in discussions of Japanese policymaking. It is all unprompted, except in the case of US behavior that arouses a response in Japan. Articles such as Wang Ping’s fit into this carefully concocted explanation. The notion that Japan is striving to break out of the postwar system is interpreted as Japan is seeking to return to the prewar system or, at least, to an aggressive force for changing the regional order without any indication that China’s rise is changing that. The claim that accepting China’s behavior as is leads to a “win-win” situation, which is all that China desires, is unsupported by analysis that meets scholarly standards.
Not all was bleak in coverage of Japan. In Xiandai guoji guanxi No. 6, Hao Qunhuan wrote rather optimistically of improving Japan-North Korea relations, which would reduce tensions in Northeast Asia. Acknowledging that conditions are not ripe for normalization of relations, Hao already sees signs of a breakthrough. If the North relaxes its position on the abductees, Hao foresees Japan removing sanctions and offering economic assistance. Japan is motivated to increase its voice in Northeast Asia and in resolving the North Korean situation. Having been isolated by China and South Korea and drawn an expression of US dissatisfaction, Japan is eager to play the “North Korean card,” according to Hao. The impression is that this serves the interests of China, apart from the right wing drift of Abe, because Japan would be pressuring its allies and would be reducing North Korea’s isolation in line with the long-stated objective of China. While many are looking through a narrow lens at the goals asserted by Tokyo in its opening to Pyongyang, this article sees more at stake.