Thursday, November 19, 2009

President Barack Obama dodges Chinese missiles

Over the past few days, the big blue 747 known as Air Force One with United States President Barack Obama on board crisscrossed the South China Sea from Tokyo to Singapore, and then Singapore to Shanghai. Flying high over the most disputed sea in East Asia today - at least as far as the US and China are concerned - Obama has been shuttled from one Asian metropolis to the next.

What Obama needed to write on the lower part of his palm before he departed the US was one word - "missiles" - because while there are many important economic and even environmental issues that Obama wants to address, nothing except North Korea is more important than China's military buildup, its military intentions, and its deployment of new missiles.

At the same time, nothing that Obama said on this trip was likely to fundamentally alter China's view of the US. Some Chinese see the US as an unwanted intruder in the region in general, and in the South China Sea in specific. The ongoing dialogue aimed at resolving any differences surrounding the South China Sea - the so-called Military Maritime Consultative Agreement discussions between the two countries - is scheduled to resume next month.

Thus far on this trip, Obama has remained silent when it comes to important military issues involving China.

By stressing that China and the US are not destined to be adversaries, Obama is trying to send what he sees as the right message. During the brief town hall session in Shanghai on Monday, for example, he was asked these questions by one Chinese student, "In your opinion, what's the main reason that you were honored [with] the Nobel Prize for Peace? And will it give you more responsibility and pressure to - more pressure and the responsibility to promote world peace? And will it bring you - will it influence your ideas while dealing with the international affairs?"

Aside from another question about Afghanistan, this provided the sole opportunity for Obama to speak frankly about where things stand between the two countries.

Among other things, Obama said, "Although I don't think that we can ever completely eliminate violence between nations or between peoples, I think that we can definitely reduce the violence between peoples - through dialogue, through the exchange of ideas, through greater understanding between peoples and between cultures."

"I'm hopeful that in my meetings with President Hu [Jintao] and on an ongoing basis, both the US and China can work together to try to reduce conflicts that are taking place," Obama continued. "We have to do so, though, also keeping in mind that when we use our military, because we're such big and strong countries, that we have to be self-reflective about what we do; that we have to examine our own motives and our own interests to make sure that we are not simply using our military forces because nobody can stop us. That's a burden that great countries, great powers, have, is to act responsibly in the community of nations. And my hope is, is that the United States and China together can help to create an international norms that reduce conflict around the world."

When he said "we have to examine our own motives and our own interests to make sure that we are not simply using our military forces because nobody can stop us", you have to wonder if Obama really wanted to suddenly hold up a big poster-sized picture of China's massive missile display during the huge 60th anniversary parade last month in Beijing.

A bit of background is in order. Obama accepted Hu's invitation to visit China at their meeting on the sidelines of the Group of 20 financial summit in London. On April 1, both leaders announced the visit and that the two nations had agreed "to build a positive, cooperative and comprehensive US-China relationship for the 21st century and to maintain and strengthen exchanges at all levels".

"Both sides share a commitment to military-to-military relations and will work for their continued improvement and development," the joint announcement stated, "The two sides agreed to maintain close communication and coordination and to work together for the settlement of conflicts and reduction of tensions that contribute to global and regional instability, including the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, the Iranian nuclear issue, Sudan humanitarian issues, and the situation in South Asia."

What went completely unmentioned there was that only a few days earlier, the US Department of Defense had issued its latest "Report to Congress on the Military Power of the People's Republic of China" which is required each year by the National Defense Authorization Act of 2000.

China is deeply offended by this annual report by the US, and finds its content and its menacing tone unacceptable.

"Beijing publicly asserts that China's military modernization is 'purely defensive in nature', and aimed solely at protecting China's security and interests. Over the past several years, China has begun a new phase of military development by beginning to articulate roles and missions for the PLA [People's Liberation Army] that go beyond China's immediate territorial interests, but has left unclear to the international community the purposes and objectives of the PLA's evolving doctrine and capabilities," said the report on page 5.

"Moreover, China continues to promulgate incomplete defense expenditure figures and engage in actions that appear inconsistent with its declaratory policies. The limited transparency in China's military and security affairs poses risks to stability by creating uncertainty and increasing the potential for misunderstanding and miscalculation. The US continues to work with our allies and friends in the region to monitor these developments and adjust our policies accordingly."

Missiles were constantly mentioned. On page 33 for example, the report's authors, which included Abraham Denmark, director of the Asia-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security in Washington, DC, outlined the kinds of missiles the US might encounter one day on the South China Sea:

One area of investment involves combining conventionally-armed anti-ship ballistic missiles [ASBMs] based on the CSS-5 [DF-21] airframe, C4ISR for geo-location and tracking of targets, and onboard guidance systems for terminal homing to strike surface ships.

As described in an authoritative 2004 article for the Second Artillery Corps, the ASBM could employ 'terminal-sensitive penetrating sub-munitions' to 'destroy the enemy's carrier-borne planes, the control tower and other easily damaged and vital positions'. This capability would have particular significance, as it would provide China with preemptive and coercive options in a regional crisis.

Somehow, the hard language used in the 2009 report seems incompatible with the rosy language in the joint announcement which followed shortly thereafter in London.

Flash forward to China this week, and once again, another curious disconnect can be detected. This time it is the completion just days ago of the joint "Juniper Cobra" ballistic missile defense (BMD) exercise in Israel, which was described as the largest and most sophisticated BMD drill of its kind ever held. Hundreds of US military personnel along with US warships joined together with Israeli forces in order to fend off a wide range of simulated missile attacks.

Not once has Obama mentioned "Juniper Cobra" on his trip to Asia - at least not in public.

But Juniper Cobra is casting a shadow of war over Asia. Just as Obama was boarding Air Force One for the long flight to Tokyo, India's chief of staff, General Deepak Kapoor, was departing Israel after a four-day visit which included talks with Israel's chief of the general staff, Lieutenant General Gabi Ashkenazi, as Juniper Cobra was wrapping up. Israel, which has emerged as India's top supplier of military hardware, used the occasion of his visit to announce the sale of a US$1.1 billion upgraded tactical air defense system to India, among other things.
Obama must realize that his critics will pounce if he fails to show his national security colors, and that US allies all across Asia may be shaking their heads. Mere mention of the possible relocation of the US troop deployment on Okinawa and attempts to shore up the US-Japan relationship will not suffice. Juniper Cobra has relevance both to India and Japan as well, and yet Obama is not saying anything publicly about it.

"This is a very important visit both for the United States and China, and for President Obama personally, who has never been to China before. And this is really an opportunity for him to see China with his own eyes and to understand China's accomplishments and also understand its history," Bonnie Glaser, senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington DC, told China's state news agency, Xinhua, last week.

According to Glaser, "now it was time to 'operationalize the agenda' [set out in April] and identify areas where both countries could cooperate."
This could well end up being a masterful performance by Obama after all. Once again, there is an enormous sense of pride on display in China that cannot go unmentioned. And like it or not, Obama is proving to be the catalyst.

"No one can abuse China or treat China differently because our country has its dignity," Song Yang, a resident of Beijing, told the BBC.

Instead of risking a disaster on the diplomatic front by mentioning military or missile-related concerns, perhaps Obama is far wiser, even scoring numerous points on an entirely different front - the social networking domain. The comment section of one prominent Chinese blog site was buzzing, for example, as everyone shared thoughts about the town hall session which was aired live for Shanghai TV viewers.

"Chinese university students are all in the 'future' class. Some are future overseas students in America; some are future house slaves; today those at the town hall meeting are future officials," said one netizen.

"The first female student, Chen Xi, who asked a question to Obama is the deputy director of the research office of the Communist Youth League of Fudan University. The second male student who asked a question to Obama: Huang Lihe, the Communist Youth League secretary of foreign language school of Tongji University," said another.

So, add it all up and it looks like Obama put missiles aside and engaged China's Communist Youth League instead. But has his visit appeared too controlled and too phony as a result? Perhaps. Regardless, this trip and this chapter in Obama's Asian primer will not be ending on Thursday in Seoul as many expected. India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will be arriving at the White House early next week.

Peter J Brown is a freelance writer from the US state of Maine.


POUS isn't superglue.

We all have our shares of responsbility in world affairs.

"Beijing publicly asserts that China's military modernization is 'purely defensive in nature', and aimed solely at protecting China's security and interests.

Another big lie from china , chinese foreign / military policy is purely offensive on other countries

This comment has been removed by the author.

Chinese military is purely for saving selected people to the Ark in 2012.

Chinese military hasn't shown aggression for decades [partly because it didn't have the capability to]. That said, it doesn't means it can't or won't in foreseeable future.

Latest intel suggests that PLA's latest modernization roadmap has specific aim (namely, force projection) for specific scenarios.

Hi,I like this article but..Can someone tell me about Barack Obama?I know that he is a serious candidate for '08, but I would like to know where he stands on the issues. I checked his site but nowhere can I find the info. i am looking please tell me...

Κάρτες r4i

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