Friday, April 21, 2006

FYI: Chinese expansionism is not inexorable

A not insignificant number of Japanese policymakers and thinkers harbor a fear of a Chinese tsunami of economic, political and military influence sweeping the United States out of the Western Pacific--leaving Japan alone to face a new hemispheric hegemon. For these alarmists, Wen Jiabao's visit to Fiji to meet with the heads of seven Pacific island nations was wailing siren warning of a changing of the guard in the South Seas.

For the past two weeks I have been flogging a rather unfashionable contrary view. The PRC, rather than going from strength to strength in the Pacific, has been hitting a wall. Indeed, in terms of China's most important foreign policy initiative--the cutting off the diplomatic oxygen of the Taipei government--China is reeling from a series of reversals.

In 2003 in Kiribati, where China had one of its two overseas satellite tracking stations (the other is in Namibia), China backed the wrong sibling in a presidential election between two brothers. The new president upon taking office switched recognition back to the Taipei government. In 2005, Nauru annoyed that Chinese officials had made insufficient efforts to get Nauru's one passenger jet out of receivership in the United States, switched . Wen Jiabao's trip to Fiji, where he was greeted by such notables as the prime minister of the New Zealand dependency Niue (pop. 2166), was a confession that Chinese diplomats had lost control of relations with governments of the region.

In terms of the populations of the countries involved, this showcase event was the equivalent of flying across the ocean to visit a handful of Shanghai neighborhood associations.

Consider the gift exchange. Wen Jiabao brought promises of trade and investment credits with a total value of $374 million dollars. In return, Wen received:

A lei
A sip of kava
A slice of roast pork
A whale tooth

If the Beijing government is willing to be a party to deals like this one, Japan really has nothing to worry about.

In my analysis, however, I forgot a vital point: governments are not the only actors. The indigenous peoples of the Pacific also have a say in the game--and sometimes, as in the past few days in the Solomon Islands, the native peoples are not finding they can accept the new paradigm peddlers' meddling.

Fires raging out of control in the Chinatown section of Honiara, Solomon Islands. Source: AP.

Chinese-owned Pacific Hotel on fire. Honiara, Solomon Islands. Source: AP.

Remains of stores in Honiara's Chinatown. Source: Reuters.

For the record, the Solomon Islands recognize Taiwan. Many of the owners of the businesses burned down this week, however, hold PRC citizenship. Melanesian-ethnicity Solomon Islanders probably do not care: their view is that islands politics is polluted with donations from both the Taiwanese and PRC governments. The rioting, looting and burning are, in a sense, "a pox on both your 'Chinas'".

1 comment:

Robert Dujarric said...

Fascinating analysis, esp the end on the racism of the locals against Chinese.

What may be more dangerous for Japan is that the govt's strategic blindness in dealing with the history issue, the Liancourt Rocks (aka Tokdo/Takeshima), and other related issues is making it harder for pro-Japan ROKs to bring Seoul closer to Tokyo.