August 24, 2019
“Two elements must normally be present for negotiation to take place: there must be both common interests and issues of conflict. Without common interests there is nothing to negotiate for; without conflict there is nothing to negotiate about.”
Thus did defense expert and author Fred Ikle sum up the underlying reason for nations to negotiate and discuss their differences. He wrote those words in his book, How Nations Negotiate (New York, 1964).
Fred Iklé was a Swiss-born sociologist and defense expert, who became a significant part of the US defense policy establishment. Iklé’s expertise was in defense and foreign policy, nuclear strategy, and the role of technology in the emerging international order.
There is much for the Philippines and China to talk about when President Rodrigo Duterte journeys to Beijing on Monday, August 26, for his fifth visit to China during his term.
During my stint as policy research director in one Philippine administration, part of my work in preparation for presidential state visits was to assemble some readings that could prove useful in the preparations and envisioned discussions. High on my list usually were contemporary books and articles on various topics and some writing by important world leaders on their experiences in high-level conferences and negotiations.
I thought of this past chapter in my life, as I contemplated the President‘s coming visit to China.
What, I wondered, would I recommend that the President‘s party study in preparation for the visit and the discussions to come?
I would break up my recommended readings into the following topics, each of which is important as background and pertinent to the discussions to come.
1. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos). The treaty is fundamental in framing China-Philippine relations in the South China Sea. Filipino officials must be conversant on Unclos and its major provisions
2. The ruling of the UN Permanent Court of Arbitration at the Hague on the Philippine compliant against china in the South China Sea. The ruling, which was released in July 2016, has become critical to the discussions between Chinese president Xi Jinping and Duterte in Beijing.
3. The consensus view of analysts and experts that 2019 is turning out to be a bad year for President Xi. Agence France Presse issued a report this August titled, “A bad year for Xi clouds Communist China’s 70th birthday celebrations.”
4. A report from Washington that the White House has accused China of ‘bullying tactics’ in the South China Sea, and declared that it would resist China on the dispute. Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton led the way. He said: “China’s recent escalation of efforts to intimidate others out of developing resources in the South China Sea is disturbing…The United States stands firmly with those who oppose coercive behavior and bullying tactics which threaten regional peace and security.” This suggests a higher level of concern by the US about the South China Sea, beyond just the issue of freedom of navigation in the waters.
5. On China’s militarization of the South China Sea, a Foreign Policy Journal article reports that China’s military buildup on its artificial islands in the SCS appears to be reaching a peak. The key reason is that the backlash and counterbalancing its militarization encourages from the United States and other countries threaten the islands’ usefulness.
Xi’s bad year
AFP’s report on President Xi’s bad year suggests that China’s current difficulties are a direct result of Xi’s policies.
In its 70th anniversary on October 1, when it should be marking the triumph of Communism in China and President Xi’s rise as the country’s undisputed leader, the Chinese president is battling threats on multiple fronts, the report said.
From a biting US trade war to relentless protests in Hong Kong challenging his rule, to international condemnation of Beijing’s treatment of Uighur minorities in Xinjiang, to the thorny problems in the South China Sea, Xi is having a very bad year, in the view of analysts.
“Xi Jinping has had the toughest year since he came to power,” said Eleanor Olcott, China policy analyst at research firm TS Lombard, as quoted in the AFP report.
“‘Not only is he facing unrest on China’s peripheries in Hong Kong and Xinjiang but the trade war is weighing on an already slowing domestic economy,’ Olcott said.
The AFP report further said:
“‘Few expected things to turn out this way.
“‘The Xi Jinping of Davos 2017, who emerged on the world stage as defender of the liberal global economic order, is unrecognizable today,’ Olcott said.
“By the time he secured his second term as the Communist Party’s general secretary in October 2017, Xi was at the center of a cult of personality built by the state.
“Last year, he enshrined ‘Xi Jinping Thought’ in China’s constitution and, in a shock move, removed term limits on individuals — overturning an orderly system of succession put in place to prevent the return of another all-powerful strongman like Mao Zedong.
“Xi has used crackdowns on corruption and calls for a revitalized party to become the most powerful Chinese leader in decades, and the constitutional changes mean he can rule for as long as he wishes, but stamping his personal brand on the government, Xi’s leadership has become directly intertwined with the current headwinds.
“‘Xi largely created the problems that are now major challenges for him and for China,” says Steve Tsang, a China-Taiwan relations expert at the School of Oriental and African Studies.
“‘They are all products of Xi’s policies.’
“The biggest challenge to Xi’s authority has come from the semi-autonomous hub of Hong Kong and it appears to have caught him off-guard.”
Despite all the problems, the embattled leader’s hold on China remains firm — for now.
None of the challenges has ‘blown up’ sufficiently for anyone within the top leadership to openly challenge him.
Folly of fortifications
In an article on PJ Media online published on August 22, analyst Stephen Green suggests that China may have come to realize the folly of fortifications.
“More than a century before France built the ill-fated Maginot Line, Napoleon Bonaparte supposedly was presented with a similar fortification plan, and his response (perhaps apocryphal) was, ‘What are you trying to defend me against, smugglers?’ American General George S. Patton is on the record saying, ‘Fixed fortifications are monuments to man’s stupidity.’ More broadly, from the SWAT team preparing to bring in a criminal holed up in a bank, to a bunker-buster bomb crippling the best-engineered underground fortress, if there’s one thing governments know how to do, it’s how to bring overwhelming force down on a known location.
“That’s been my line of thinking while most everyone else has been fretting about China’s unprecedented fortification of the South China Sea (SCS) — and now it seems that even Beijing has caught on to their error.
“It might also be that Beijing has finally noticed the geopolitical costs of its military buildup in the SCS. When Beijing revealed its ‘nine-dash line,’ disregarding international law and claiming almost the entire SCS as its own, let’s just say that the other countries in the area (including Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan and Malaysia) weren’t exactly thrilled.
“The ongoing fuss, combined with China’s neoimperialist ‘Belt and Road Action Plan,’ has finally awakened US planners to Beijing’s ambitions.
President Duterte and his party will be visiting a different China when they land in Beijing next week.
The perspective on problems has changed.
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