Monday, April 14, 2014

About that Russian gambit in Crimea, the word 'balancer', and an awakened China...

Crimea is back in the spotlight. And a Russian professor teaching in a Japanese university has written a persuasively argued geopolitically-centred commentary for an American think tank!

Here it is:

Russia's annexation of Crimea and its implications for East Asia: A Russian perspective

I felt this extract below was the most interesting:

It all happened suddenly.  Hundreds of burning tires on TV screens, classic pictures from a revolutionary coup, as well as the speeches of new Ukrainian  leaders who, as in medieval times, were appointed by the approval of the crowd (though many of them were decent people absolutely right to overthrow a decayed regime).

Putin is very pragmatic and the ideology of nationalism is not his strong point. Though he addresses it from time to time, he is a pragmatist and he knows and even sometimes admits that behind the “Great Russia” slogan there is not much substance, save for great territory, a classic culture, and nuclear weapons.

My sense is that he made a dramatic decision prompted by despair rather than by ambition, courage, or resolve: in other words he was driven into a corner. His concern was simple: who could he rely upon to ensure that the coup didn’t change Ukraine into an anti-Russian entity with NATO fighters coming to Kiev and Kharkov’s airfields as they are now doing in Eastern Europe and the Baltic states. Who could keep Sebastopol Navy port from being transformed into a NATO base hosting a US 6th Fleet aircraft carrier and warships of another NATO member – Turkey – taking Russia 300 years back in time? 


Academically, the arguments above are robust -- countries' actions are driven above all by leaders' perception of the defence of state interests, with geopolitics a primary consideration. One may, of course, agree or disagree with the assessment above, based on one's own beliefs about human behaviour in the political realm. But there should be agreement on the definition of key terms.

Balancer: A precise word in political science

This Straits Times editorial (ST, April 14) appeared robust -- until it started using a precise academic term, balancer, loosely...

The US is not Asia's primary security balancer! It has a vested interest in ensuring -- or at least trying to ensure -- that it has (together with its treaty allies and perhaps its strategic partners) a preponderance in the region's balance of power.

And while it is correct to say that "a balancer by definition must not tilt the balance", this applies only if the US is not obliged to go to the defence of its treaty allies and is only interested (in its own self-interest) to ensure that no single regional state or coalition of states emerge preponderantly. ST's logic implies that, if say, China were to become weaker relative to a bloc comprising the other East Asian states, including the US' treaty allies, the US would help China beef up its capabilities!  

On both counts, the ST editorial misunderstood the term balancer.


China: sleeping dragon or sleeping lion that has awakened?

Napoleon reported once said, "Let China sleep. When it awakes, it will shake the world". I've heard one variation in which "dragon" is substituted for "China". So I was surprised to find in an ST correspondent's report (April 14, "Xi still needs Deng's way") yet another imagery: the lion...

From my checks, both variations appear to be correct. Along the way, I came across this excellent commentary piece in The Telegraph:

Why China won't conquer the world

Here's the article's concluding lines:

But are we really the next superpower? Can we really interact with the most developed countries when our free market economy is only 30 years old?

Even if we do become a superpower, will it be one that is firmly under central government control? Will we lose our identity – our family values and our culture – until we can no longer tell the difference between the Chinese dragon (how the Chinese think of themselves) and the Chinese lion (how the West thinks of us)? China, this sleeping lion is now awake, and you must find a way to feed it, and to keep it alive.

Back in Shanghai, our epic 10-hour journey between Shanghai and Suzhou finally over, my husband, Toby, cried out: I won’t get in the car in China again.

But we knew we would. It is a country that is far too exciting and colourful to give up on and most exciting of all, its story is still being written. 

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