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Wilhelmine China and the ECSADIZ

A decade or so ago I had a line about how there were three big potential storm clouds on the horizon--clouds that would probably dissipate, but that we should all fear. They were the (then distant, and now thankfully still distant) possibilities of:

  • Weimar Russia (ex-superpower that thought it had been snookered by the west at the end of a struggle),
  • National Hinduist India (casting Muslims in the historical role traditionally reserved for the Jews), and
  • Wilhelmine China--a rising economic superpower, ruled by a class that had lost its social role, and that contemplated busying giddy minds with foreign quarrels as a way to distract popular attention from internal problems and debates.

Now I find Martin Wolf is also worrying about Wilhelmine China:

Martin Wolf: [China must not copy the Kaiser’s errors]():

Will we sustain an open global economy while also managing tensions between a rising autocracy and democracies in relative economic decline? That was the question posed by the arrival of imperial Germany as Europe’s leading economic and military power in the late 19th century. It is the question posed today by the rise of communist China.... We know how this story ended in 1914. How will the new one end, a century later? China’s decision to create an “East China Sea air defence identification zone” that covers uninhabited islands currently under the control of Japan (called Senkaku by Japan and Diaoyu by China) is evidently provocative: the two countries’ air defence zones now overlap. Neither Japan nor South Korea recognises the new zone, which China seems prepared to defend. The US does not recognise the zone either, and is bound by treaty to support Japan....

Today, with China under the leadership of Xi Jinping, an assertive nationalist, Japan under the leadership of Shinzo Abe, a no less assertive nationalist, and the US committed by treaty to defending Japan against attack, the risk of a ruinous conflict again exists. Such an event is far from inevitable. It is not even likely. But it is not impossible, and it is more likely than it was a month ago....

Why would the Chinese president take such a provocative action?... This was just the question raised by Norman Angell, the English liberal, in his 1909 book The Great Illusion. Angell did not argue, as some allege, that war among the European great powers was inconceivable.... He argued instead that a war would be fruitless, even for the victors.... Today, again, one wonders why the Chinese leadership thinks asserting sovereignty over a few rocks worth the risk....

Nationalist ambitions and resentment over past wrongs are all too human. But this game is just too risky. For the sake of the longer-term interests of the Chinese people, Mr Xi should think again--and halt.

The problem is that a social class that has lost its role--whether it is the Prussian aristocracy before 1914 or the cadres of the CCP today--knows that it has lost its role, and fears what the future brings. The task of United States (and Japanese, and Korean) foreign policy has to be to persuade the cadres of the CCP that they have much more to gain from an Eastern Pacific that lives up to its name rather than from a new cold war in Asia--or a hot one.

How ought this to be done? I don't have a clue. But I do want some experts to tell me, please...