National Security

Engaging China: Biden-Style

    First, the good news: it appears that the Trump administration's pivot from President Obama's unsuccessful focus on the Middle East to a focus on a rivalry with China will have some legs with the Biden administration. At least there are some indicators:

        - Biden's first week in office began with a minor test by the Chinese - an unusually agressive incursion by nuclear-capable bombers into Taiwan's Air Defense Identification Zone.  We responded with the deployment of two carrier strike groups to the South China Sea, a destroyer transit of the Taiwan Straights, and the deployment of four B-52 bombers to Guam.  Message received. 

        - Days before leaving office, Secretary Pompeo's State Department formally designated Chinese actions against the Uighurs as "genocide" - "the forced assimilation and eventual erasure of a vulnerable ethnic and religious minority group.” Biden's Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken supported the designation during his confirmation hearings. 

        -  Long-time Biden staffer Ely Ratner has been designated to lead a four month Defense Department study of strategy and operations in Asia, including techology, force posture, intelligence, and the role of allies. No major changes are anticipated, except perhaps some impacts of climate change which are popular in Biden-think, but were largely ignored by Trump. 

        -  Biden administration nominees have echoed Trump criticisms of China's trade practices, with Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen telling the Senate Finance Committee "China is undercutting American companies by dumping products, erecting trade barriers, and giving away subsidies to corporations."  Tariffs will be kept in place as details of the economic policy are redfined. 

        - Biden's February 9 phone call with Xi Jinping at least addressed  the Uighurs, Hong Kong, and Taiwan which are considered off limits by Xi as matters of Chinese sovereignty and territorial integrity. They agreee to work together on health security, climate change, and weapons proliferation. 

    The second piece of good news is that our fate relative to China is in our hands. While the Chinese GDP could match that of the United states in a few years, and  they hold over $1 trillion of the $7 trillion of our debt held by foreign governments, we are self sufficient in agriculture and energy, and lead the world in military force and technological innovation.  This could change with continuing trillion dollar deficits, and neither the Treasury Secretary nor the Federal Reserve Chair are concerned, but a substantial majority of voters are significantly concerned about the national debt, and an optimist would believe that eventually the politicians will reflect that. (At least the Senate Republicans would like to slow down the Covid give-aways.) 

    We - with a little help from our Post-WWII friends - invented the current world order - the United Nations; the World Bank; the International Monetary Fund; the World Trade Organization; the World Health Organization; the International Civil Aviation Organization; The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN);  the International Standards Organization; and on and on. The Chinese would like to play a leading role in telecommunications standards with Huawei's 5G architecture, but Trump raised the alarm, and they face a steep hill.  

    The primary goal of Xi Jinping and his Communist Party allies - the consolidation of power - will have adverse effects.  The forced integration of Hong Kong will constrict China's largest point of interaction with global financial markets. The forced assimilation of the Uighurs will play poorly in the neighboring Muslim countries of Indonesia, Pakistan, and central Asia. Measures to bring Jack Ma's social media empire to heel through regulation, jailings, and intimidation will result in less creativity and reduced ability to compete with Western internet companies. 

    While the Belt and Road largesse is attractive to third world countries seeking infrastructure development, there is plenty of reason for China's neighbors to be wary of China's heavy hand, with border skirmishes within the memory of leaders from India, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Russia.  

    So, how could a Biden administration build on what they inherited? 

    1. They should rejoin the renovated Trans Pacific Partnership with New Zealand, Australia, Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, Japan, Canada, Mexico, Peru, and Chile. (Britain, free of the European Union, applied for membership last week.)  Biden would have to negotiate domestic labor and environmental objections as well as Trump's aversion to multinational dispute adjudication procedures, but an extensive alliance of countries seeking an alternative to Chinese domination is waiting for us. China's alternative proposition - the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership -  will grow if we do not move. 

    2. Biden's team should build on the recently activated Quadrilateral Security Dialogue with the navies of Japan, Australia, and India to manage ocean transit among the countries of the Indian Ocean and the southwest Pacific. This is a step out for Australia, whose largest trading partner is China, but a multi-national approach is called for as China expands their ambitions in international coastal waters. 

     3. At a minimum, Biden's team should require closer monitoring of the Chinese Communist government relationships on US campuses. During his term, Trump eliminated half of the 100  Confucius Institutes - Chinese government funded cultural centers on US college campuses. Of the FBIs 5000 active intellectual property theft cases, half involve China, including prominent professors at Harvard and MIT who were paid by China while receiving grant money from the National Institute of Health or the Defense Department.  With 300,000 Chinese students in the United States, the task may be impossible.  

    4.  Chinese pressure on North Korea is a must. There should also be pressure for Xi to join nuclear non-proliferation agreements with Russia, and to support measures to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power. While the most important, this is probably the least likely. 

    5. A few bargaining chips will be used on global warming, where China accounts for 28% of global CO2 emissions compared to our 15%, and they espouse goals without plans to stop increasing in a decade and become "carbon neutral" by 2060. For the zealots who would destroy our economy, where emissions are decreasing, a bit of intellectual rigor is needed. 

    And then there is the Hunter Biden factor: appointed to the Burisma board in the Ukraine; Joe brags about getting the Burisma investigator fired; Chinese agents notice; Hunter and Joe fly off together to Beijing on Air Force 2; Hunter returns with lucrative investment banking connections and a gift of a large diamond, discussing allocation of shares to, among others, "the big guy";   Hunter publishes his memoirs to the gushing praise of the New York Times. Maybe it is best if Joe is just a figurehead. 

bill bowen - 2/11/21


Engaging China - Background

    The history, culture, and world view of China are very different from that of Europe and North America. Some background refreshment is needed before assessing current events and suggesting policy positions. 

    Important guidance is contained in Sun Tzu's Taoist classic, The Art of War. Written some 2500 years ago during a period of warfare between competing Chinese kingdoms, the short book is a staple of Chinese education and American business schools.  Two themes recur throughout the short 13 chapters: the importance of profound knowledge about yourself, your adversary, and the terrain in which you are engaged; and the goal of winning through maneuver, with conflict a last resort.  Consider the advantage of having over 300,000 Chinese students in the United States, up from 100,000 a decade ago.  Consider the advantage of broad  English language proficiency on the one hand, and the lack of Westerners' ability to read Chinese newspapers on the other.  Consider the 2014 Chinese hacking of the the US Office of Personnel Management's records of some 22 million Americans, including sensitive background check information - who can be blackmailed?; who can be recruited? Consider Chinese government-connected telecommunications manufacturer Huawei which has been banned by the US and  intelligence-sharing allies.  We start with a major disadvantage in the "profound knowledge" dimension. 

    A brief Chinese history is also enlightening: 

        - 1839-1860: The Opium Wars with England and France which resulted in ceding territory (Hong Kong), legal rights over foreign nationals, commercial concessions, freedom of navigation on Chinese waterways, and unfettered prosteletyzing by foreign missionaries. 

        - 1850-1864: The Taiping Rebellion, led by Christian millenarian Hong Xiuquan. Millions killed.  

        - 1862 - 1877:  The Dungan "Muslim Rebellion" in western China. Millions killed; survivors moved to Russia.  

        - 1911:  The collapse of the Qing Dynasty, with the eventual emergence of the Koumintang  party under Sun Yat-Sen, and the Chinese Communist Party. 

        - 1927-1949:  Civil war between the Koumintang under Chiang Kai-Shek and the Chinese Communist Party under Mao Zedong, with an interruption for World War II. Communists win; Koumintang retreats to Taiwan. Millions killed. 

        - 1942-1945: World War II. Japanese occupation of northern and coastal China. Millions killed. 

        - 1950 - 1953:  The Korean War. 180,000 Chinese soldiers killed. 

        - 1958-1962:  The Great Leap Forward. Forced collectivization of agriculture. Some 30 million died, largely of starvation. 

        - 1962:  Brief war with India which secured Chinese position along mountainous border. Preceded Chinese support for Pakistan in the India-Pakistan War of 1965.  

        - 1966 - 1976:  The Cultural Revolution. Youthful Red Guard - led effort to exorcise remaining elements of pre-communist thought. Ended in 1976 with the death of Mao and the ascention of Deng Xiaoping. 1.5 million killed. 

        - 1969: Brief clashes with Russia in the Far East and in central Asia. 

        - 1979: China invades Vietnam in response to Vietnam's deposing the Chinese-aligned Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. Small clashed continue for a decade. 

        -  2001: China joins World Trade Organization as an advantaged "developing nation", with the US and Europe hoping to spread Western trading practices, including restrictions on state-owned or sponsored enterprises. By 2020, the global Chinese trade surplus was $535 billion - $317 billion with the United States. 

        - 2009: China issues extensive sovereignty claims to the South China Sea and begins to build military facilities in the Spratley and Paracel Islands. Minor skirmishes with Philippine and Vietnamese fishermen. 

        -  2012:  Xi Jinping (age 59) assumes leadership of Chinese Communist Party. Exempted from term limits in 2018.

        - 2013:  Belt and Road Initiative adopted by Chinese Communist Party to invest some trillion dollars in infrastructure projects in Asia, Africa, and Europe to create trading network, recruit allies, and employ Chinese labor and manufacturers.  

        - 2015:  Made in China 2025 Initiative adopted by the Chinese Communist Party to move manufacturing toward high technology with mostly domestic produced components in information technology, robotics, aerospace, pharmaceuticals, semiconductors, rail, agricultural equipment, new energy vehicles, advanced materials, and ocean shipping. Intellectual property targeted. 

        - 2017: Forced assimilation of Muslim population in western China begins with construction of concentraion camps for some 1,000,000 Uighurs.  

        - 2020:  New Hong Kong security law, which contravenes the 50 year "One Country, Two Systems" agreement which underpinned the turnover of the former British colony in 1997. 

        - 2020:  Amid the coronavirus disruptions, China surpasses the United States as a destination for foreign direct investment from other countries.  Based on current exchange rates, the US Gross Domestic Product is 50% greater than China's, but at projected growth rates, China will catch up by 2028. On a per capita basis we remain well ahead.  

    That is a lot to absorb. A few themes can guide next week's assessment of the Trump administration approach and the early indicators of the Biden administration approach:

        1. After centuries of carnage and humiliation, it is logical for the Chinese people to accept a trade-off between stability and growing prosperity on the one hand, and restrictions on individual liberty on the other. 

        2. The Chinese have a long history of  modest-sized military border disputes.  An American military presence is appreciated by many of China's neighbors.  

        3. A centrally planned, well disciplined industrial and financial system can achieve strong results (at least in the span of decades), particularly if trading partners and competitors are fragmented and undisciplined. The contrast with the decentralized, entrepreneural, capitalist system of the United States is intellectually interesting, and of global importance. 

        4. Up until 2016, American presidents were preoccupied with the Middle East while Chinese leaders laid out clear plans to surpass the United States economically, and to dominate their neighbors militarily.  Trump brought the focus of American foreign policy to China. 

   There is much to ponder in this most important relationship ... and whether ther Biden team will have the skill, interest, and fortutude to take it where it needs to go. 

bill bowen - 2/4/21

 


Biden's Establishment Team

      When Donald Trump entered American politics he blew up the Republican Establishment. One implication was that he wound up with a lot of third rate people briefly on his team - Paul Manafort; Steve Bannon; and Anthony Scaramucci to name a few.  Rience Priebus did bring the national Republican Party to the campaign and was briefly rewarded as Chief of Straff, and there were several qualified former generals who temporarily stepped up - John Kelly; James Mattis; HR McMaster -  but by and large this was deliberately not an administratiion for the Establishment. 

    Joe Biden is the polar opposite. After 47 years in Washington, and eight near the pinnacle of the last Democratic administration which ended just four years ago (is that even possible?), he is the ultimate candidate of the Democratic Establishment, pulled out of the dust bin when it looked like Bernie Sanders might sink them all. His personnel selections go to the Establishment - for better when it means that most are qualified and experienced; for worse when it means that they may well be prisoners of past failed policies or just adept at currying bureaucratic favor. 

    First, the domestic crew, where like it or not, they will do their best to implement the policies which they believe got them (oops, him) elected: expansion of public medical coverage; phasing out carbon based energy; somehow stimulating the economy; making it easier for illegal immigrants;  restricting charter schools; protecting abortion; not being Donald Trump. For most of these things, the department head doesn't much matter. The Congress may provide a check - assuming a Republican Senate - but the executive branch will march to the Left. 

    Some thoughts on key players who might make a difference: 

        - Janet Yellen: As Treasury Secretary, perhaps a lateral transfer or demotion from her time as Federal Reserve Chair.  She is well qualified in terms of both technical knowledge, and experience working in the politics of Washington.  One concern: she has a long history of wanting low interest rates to help the economy in the short term. With 27 trillion of debt and ongoing trillion dollar deficits, we will be entering a period where fiscal prudence is demanded. Federal Reserve Chair Powell is committed to low interest rates for years. The Senate can only do so much. 

    - Prospective Chief of Staff Ron Klain has been  with Biden since the 80's, most recently as Vice President Biden's Chief of Staff, with a focus on the 2009 Recovery Act (among the slowest in history), and the administration's Ebola czar. While the Obama administration's Ebola response was not impressive, Klain knows all of the domestic and international agencies and should be helpful in the next phase of the coronavirus response. 

    - The announced candidate for head of the White House's Office of Management and Budget, Neera Tanden, whose role involves negotiating the many trade-offs that have to be made, was a Hillary confidant, helped write the Affordable Care Act, and most recently has headed the uber-liberal Center for American Progress. She tweets more than Trump and has recently gone out of her way to insult Trump, his supporters, and Lindsey Graham. (And that's the Washington Post biography.) Senate confirmation is uncertain.   

     Second, the international crew, where Biden has more latitude to act, and where he is committed to reverse Trump's emphasis on what is best for America. 

    - John Kerry is a "twofer": 

        As President Biden's Special Envoy for Climate, he will be empowered to bring the United States back into the Paris Climate Agreement which he helped to create as President Obama's Secretary of State, and which President Trump left in 2017. He will be asked to implement Biden's commitment to spend 2 trillion dollars to transform the transportation and power sectors of the economy. For what it is worth, the stark change of policy with each administration change shows the folly of making major changes by executive order rather than by treaty, which would require building national consensus, as was most recently done on the North American free trade agreement.    

    Most troubling about Kerry, Biden has placed the climate czar on the National Security Council with  the Secretaries of State, Defense, and Treasury and the Director of National Intelligence.  It is hard to believe that Kerry will stay in his lane amid discussions about the Iran nuclear deal, which he also negotiated.  That he (illegally, but openly)  had discussion with Iranian and European leaders in the early years of the Trump administration suggests Biden may not be in charge of this most important risk.  

   - The rest of the national security team  include some with experience on VP Biden's staff (Anthony Blinken as Secretary of State and Jake Sullivan as National Security Advisor); some with significant Obama Administration experience (Alejandro Mayorkas -who led DACA implementation - as Homeland Security Secretary); and some careerists (Avril Haines as Director of National Intelligence, and Linda Thomas-Greenfield as UN Ambassador.)  The Secretary of Defense position remains open, with Michele Flourney the most qualified  to make the difficiult financial prioritizations which are to come - but while she would check the female box, she would continue Biden's failure to appoint Blacks to senior positions.  Like Biden, the group has a history of being wrong on Afghanistan, Libya, Iraq, Syria, and ISIS, and none posesses significant experience with China, which outgoing Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe emphatically calls the greatest threat  to democracy and freedom since World War II. 

    Don't look for any carry-overs.  Searching for middle ground is a good campaign slogan.  

 

bill bowen - 12/4/20