An important new report co-authored by respected Chinese and U.S. scholars and authorities, the “U.S.-China Security Perceptions Survey: Findings and Implications” from the Carnegie Endowment for Peace, Washington D.C. underestimates, no, eliminates from consideration, the power of working-class public opinion. When mated with random incidents, it disrupts expert assumptions.
Graphs and tables in the report purport to consider credible poll results from Pew Research Centre, Research Centre for Contemporary China at Peking University, and the China Strategic Culture Promotion Association. All include “public” response sectors in addition to “elites” (military, government, business, scholars, and news media). A perfect one-for-one correspondence in poll samples is impossible and this is taken under consideration. But China’s “public” utterly excludes non-urban publics. In fact, one panellist dismissed opinions of China’s rural population as those of citizens preoccupied with weather and farm commodity prices, not politics.
This is a mistake since internal public opinion can vector the range of options available to government and national elites in reaction to incidents such as the recent close encounter between the USS Cowpens and the escorts of China’s carrier Liaoning in international waters. A miscalculation during such an incident could ignite dangerous overreaction. Citizen-level communications today can spread inflammatory feelings that elites and governments cannot temper. Piled upon military and political posturing, a surge in public opinion could well force governments to act unwisely.
“The day of snowballing riots and violence that culminated in President Kurmanbek Bakiyev‘s fleeing his capital Wednesday evening is the worst nightmare of every despot in Central Asia and beyond. A government that thought it had secured itself against opposition by increasingly brutal police methods suddenly found a people rising in anger, besieging ministries, beating up the interior minister and finally forcing the president to scuttle to a private jet.” (Khanna, Parag. The Second World, Empires & Influence in the New Global Order 2008. New York: Random House, 2008.)
Tensions in disputed spheres of influence and territories such as those between China and Japan over the Senkaku (Diaoyu) Islands, coupled with rising nationalism create a potential for domestic political stresses that can get out of control. This is inflamed further by an uptick in military posturing such as Japan’s military upgrades and China’s bellicose naval moves.
Domestic violence such as China’s simmering Kashgar rebellion (officially spun as a religious minority Uighur protest) but asserted locally as actually about political repression clearly illustrates forces that can flash into wider conflicts. Tensions over regional water supplies are another issue than could conflate national policy and internal nationalistic feelings.
The mutual defence pacts (U.S.-Japan. U.S.-Republic of Korea, U.S. –Taiwan) are one axis in the region. Vietnam, the Philippines, in fact all the nations of Southeast Asia, too are deeply vested in asserting access to resources such as energy, fishing grounds, and commercial development in this congested (and contested) region.
Given the mixed alliances and complex geographical dynamics in the far Western Pacific, the scene is set for something like the sparking of World War I, a time of similar tension and national rivalries that quickly spun into extreme catastrophe.
- Russian expert: China to defeat broke America by 2020 (chinadailymail.com)
- China’s hypocrisy, shamelessness and paranoia (chinadailymail.com)
- China’s behaviour in South China Sea ship encounter is irresponsible says U.S. (chinadailymail.com)
- US defies China by flying over East China Sea without notification (chinadailymail.com)
- China’s Growing Military Power Raising Tension Levels in East Asia (matthewaid.com)
- Guess What? The U.S. and China Don’t Trust Each Other Much (businessweek.com)
- China’s military presence is growing. Does a superpower collision loom? (theguardian.com)
- China Air Zone Seen Step to West Pacific Access as Navy Expands – Bloomberg (bloomberg.com)
- China’s Near-Seas Challenges (server1.nationalinterest.org)
- For Doomsday Cyberattack, China has Options (theepochtimes.com)