As the Chinese and the Americans sit down for the seventh of their annual two-day meeting [June 22-24], set up in 2009 to maintain bilateral cooperation despite growing differences, a major transformation of the Chinese regime is a new and worrying factor.
Secretary of State John Kerry and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew head the American delegation. The Chinese side is represented by State Councilor Yang Jiechi, a veteran diplomat and Kerry’s counterpart in Beijing, and a rising Communist Party star, Vice Premier Wang Yang, known as a major technocratic government reformer.
With growing criticism of the Obama Administration’s China strategy from the Congress, Daniel Russel, assistant secretary of state for East Asia and the Pacific, has said the U.S. agenda would include differences over the South China Sea, cyber security and human rights.
American-Chinese differences are growing in all these areas. A recent Beijing public statement on its construction of military-capable bases on shoals hundreds of miles south of Mainland China flatly rejected American and Southeast Asian countries’ protests. Massive cyber attacks within the last two weeks against the Office of Personnel Management are believed in professional IT quarters to be the work of the Chinese, whom the U.S. named in similar attacks last year. Washington will again bring up Beijing’s growing violations of human rights as Pres. Xi Jinping, now entering his third year continues to tighten the screws on China’s domestic scene.
Official Chinese documents are now calling publicly for a further integration of military strategic concepts in all infrastructure expansion and the direction of civilian enterprises.
This week’s conference is to prepare for Pres. Xi Jinping to make his first state visit to Washington. It becomes increasingly clear that when Pres. Obama welcomes his Chinese counterpart, a man with many titles, on his first state visit to Washington, if unsaid it will be as one only rarely mentioned, Chairman of the Central Military Commissions [CMC]. Given the growing trends in the People’s Republic, that may well be the most important in Xi’s official roster of names.
Xi comes, of course, after two years in office as Obama’s counterpart as President of China and with the full weight as the all-important General Secretary of the country’s monopoly political organization, the Communist Party of China.
But it is the head of the CMC that overseas Chinese growing military force of 2,285,000 actives and a half million reservists, with an estimated total published and hidden annual and rising budget with a purchasing power equivalent to $145 billion.
The two commissions – one Party and one government with the same members – set the policies, strategies and perhaps tactics of China’s growing military forces.
Their importance took on new meaning when on May 26 the State Council [China’s equivalent of a cabinet] issued for the first time its White Paper on China’s Military Strategy, calling for military integration into the civilian infrastructure. What apparently is intended is along with the other signs of a return to the Maoist era with old rhetoric and new repression, a return to earlier days when the Communist Party and its People’s Liberation Army leadership were identical. .
Xi reportedly already relies [rather than career foreign ministry officials] on the Communist Party’s Central Leading Group on Foreign Affairs, containing many “princeling generals”, offspring of Party leaders who though not all soldiers have served as military officials, for day to day advice on foreign policy. There is speculation among China-watchers that all this has led over the past two years to such aggressive stances as Beijing’s announcement of an Air Defense Identification Zone over the East China Sea, planting oilrigs within Vietnam’s Exclusive Economic Zone and the construction of airstrips in the Spratly Islands off the Philippines and Vietnam.
If these moves are considered with a rapidly improving military technology, especially on the sea – including a call in the same white paper for undisclosed increases in China’s military reserves – the public statements from military figures in the controlled media calling for China’s adherence to the military’s “charismatic culture”, the specter of an increasingly militarized China becomes more than worrisome and must take first place in any American strategy to deal with “a rising China”.