Could China Be Planning Something?

Putin’s invasion of the Crimea reportedly caught the White House, the Pentagon, the CIA, and the State Department off guard. It is a good time to ask, “What else might be in the pipeline?”

Think about it. We have an ostentatiously weak President, who seems to be intent on harming our friends and helping our enemies, and he is too vain to be able to admit — even to himself — that he has made a series of egregious foreign-policy mistakes and that the world does not work in the fashion in which he thinks it does.

Putin thumped him but good on Syria and did a little victory dance on the op-ed page of The New York Times. Now, thinking — as Nikita Khrushchev did with regard to John F. Kennedy — that he is dealing with a total wimp, he has decided to do to the Ukraine what Hitler did to Czechoslovakia in 1938, which is to say: carve off an ethnic conclave and swallow it down. The difference is that Hitler acted like a gentleman and sought permission first, which suggests a certain respect on his part for Neville Chamberlain, while Vlad the Impaler has opted for open thuggery and a public display of contempt, and he has simply whipped out his carving knife and begun doing the job. Obama was apparently not even worthy of consultation.

But this is all obvious. The next move is not. A former student of mine is willing to hazard a guess. After reading the piece I posted a few days ago, he wrote to me the following:

I did read you on Ukraine with interest, as always.  But notice China’s silence….   I’m sure Putin worked things out in advance with the Chinese.  They can expand into the Pacific, while Putin expands into the Ukraine.  Ukraine sets a precedent of sorts for a Pacific expansion by the Chinese.  Those Chinese living up in Siberia make for a very long term issue when compared with the amazing opportunities in far more important parts of the world that are offered by three more years of the current American administration.  That’s my take on things.

He is right about one thing. The Chinese are on board:

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov discussed Ukraine by telephone with his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, on Monday, and claimed they had “broadly coinciding points of view” on the situation there, according to a ministry statement.

Speaking at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva later, Mr Lavrov said Russian troops were necessary in Ukraine “until the normalisation of the political situation” and dismissed threats of sanctions and boycotts.

He added: “We call for a responsible approach, to put aside geopolitical calculations, and above all to put the interests of the Ukrainian people first.”

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang said: “China has always upheld the principles of diplomacy and the fundamental norms of international relations.

“At the same time we also take into consideration the history and the current complexities of the Ukrainian issue.”

My former student may also be right about the rest. If China were to seize Taiwan, I can imagine the Russian foreign ministry spokesman saying, “Russia has always upheld the principles of diplomacy and the fundamental norms of international relations. At the same time we also take into consideration the history and the current complexities of the Taiwan issue.”

I could easily imagine Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping doing a Hitler-Stalin tango. Folks, this will not be over before the fat lady sings.

Sarah Palin saw all of this coming in 2008. Mitt Romney saw it in 2012. We ought to be asking ourselves, “What next?”

  1. Derek Simmons

    President Obama has already said Moscow was “on the wrong side of history”. Come on: don’t you think he will step up to the plate and say Beijing is likewise on the wrong side of history? Or do you fear POTUS will just take a (S)prat(ly)fall?

  2. Majestyk

    We’re doomed.

    With Obama in charge the territorial ambitions of these neo-Fascist autocrats are basically going to go unchecked.

    The Crimea is the Sudetenland, Czechoslovakia, Manchuria, Poland… you name it.

  3. billy

    I think concerns over a Chinese takeover of Taiwan are a little overwrought. Not that I have faith in the Chinese, but because they have no experience in amphibious and/or airborne operations on anywhere near necessary to overwhelm Taiwan.

    Call it the”million man swim.” 

  4. The Mugwump

    If I’m not mistaken, a Chinese invasion of Taiwan requires a U.S. response by law.  I think the legislation was passed during the Truman administration.  The president would not have discretion in the matter.  Perhaps the Chinese are betting Obama would simply ignore the rule of law as he so frequently does in domestic matters. 

  5. Black Prince
    billy: I think concerns over a Chinese takeover of Taiwan are a little overwrought. Not that I have faith in the Chinese, but because they have no experience in amphibious and/or airborne operations on anywhere near necessary to overwhelm Taiwan.

    Call it the”million man swim.”

    We underestimate the Chinese and their capabilities at our own risk.

  6. Black Prince
    The Mugwump: Perhaps the Chinese are betting Obama would simply ignore the rule of law as he so frequently does in domestic matters. 

    Exactly.

  7. Paul A. Rahe
    C
    Aaron Miller: First, if President Obama’s impotence is truly a major factor in Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine, is it likely that he will rush any further invasion plans (Estonia, for example) to take advantage of that narrowing window — Obama’s term?

    Second, if Hillary is the next President, how might that affect the behavior of would-be conquerors? Clinton is no Obama, but she’s no Reagan either. If Hillary would be little threat to their aims, what might Putin and fellow expansionists say or do to influence American elections in their favor?

    Third, would Western leaders not be less likely to counter such conquests, militarily or otherwise, if Putin was not the only aggressor? If they can scatter our focus and our resources, does that not improve their own odds of success? If China does intend to seize territories, now seems an ideal time. Are there any other covetous regimes we should be watching? · in 4 minutes

    Your third set of questions is especially apt.

  8. PHCheese

    It is already happening, we are being invaded by Mexico. Oh that’s right they didn’t need Putin’s permission they  have Obama”s

  9. Aaron Miller

    First, if President Obama’s impotence is truly a major factor in Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine, is it likely that he will rush any further invasion plans (Estonia, for example) to take advantage of that narrowing window — Obama’s term?

    Second, if Hillary is the next President, how might that affect the behavior of would-be conquerors? Clinton is no Obama, but she’s no Reagan either. If Hillary would be little threat to their aims, what might Putin and fellow expansionists say or do to influence American elections in their favor?

    Third, would Western leaders not be less likely to counter such conquests, militarily or otherwise, if Putin was not the only aggressor? If they can scatter our focus and our resources, does that not improve their own odds of success? If China does intend to seize territories, now seems an ideal time. Are there any other covetous regimes we should be watching?

  10. Paul A. Rahe
    C
    billy: I think concerns over a Chinese takeover of Taiwan are a little overwrought. Not that I have faith in the Chinese, but because they have no experience in amphibious and/or airborne operations on anywhere near necessary to overwhelm Taiwan.

    Call it the”million man swim.”  · 36 minutes ago

    My former student writes in response to your comment: “Sure, maybe not Taiwan. But ratcheting up things? China’s already been doing that: airspace, the Philippines…  Why not make another move now?  Or…  See how Ukraine turns out and then take a turn using whatever precedent has been set. ”

  11. Dan Hanson

    I don’t think Taiwan would be China’s target – it’s a mighty hard target, even without U.S. support.  But China is currently engaged in territorial disputes with Japan in the South China Sea, and they have other interests elsewhere.  I wouldn’t be surprised at all if there was a pre-planned arrangement between Russia and China to split Western attention.

    Think about what an opportunistic time this is for them:  The west has the weakest leadership in decades, and the old alliances are crumbling and broke.   In the meantime, Japan’s economy is reeling, the yen is falling, and they are awash in debt thanks to trillions of dollars in useless ‘stimulus’ spending.  America seems to have had its martial spirit broken after a decade of involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the support for foreign intervention is as low as I’ve seen it in a very long time.

    If I were a dictatorial thug,  I’d be looking at this moment as perhaps the biggest opportunity for adventurism since the fall of the Iron Curtain.

  12. Richard Fulmer

    I’ve often wondered why so many people assume that Hillary is more competent than Obama.  She accomplished little as Senator after which Obama soundly beat her in the 2008 primaries.  She later proved to be an incompetent Secretary of State.  And although she rolled the House Republicans in the subsequent hearings, they’ve been rolled over so many times they’ve got tire tracks in their scalps.

    Perhaps the Hillary Papers show her true forte.  She ably managed Bill’s serial bimbo eruptions and smeared the women that he used and abused along with anyone who objected to the White House being used as a brothel.  While I’m not sure that these skills qualify her to be president, at this point I’m grateful for any glimmers of competence emanating from our nation’s capitol.

  13. Dan Hanson

    As an aside, this is exactly why U.S. military doctrine called for the ability to fight a two front war.   If you don’t have that capability, then every time you get involved in a major conflict it leaves your flank exposed and encourages other foes to open up a second front.  That’s how regional conflicts become world wars.

  14. David Williamson

    I have been to Taiwan, and couldn’t help noticing the concrete blocks on the beaches to deter amphibious assault vehicles. Plus the US military is there in force, with, er, our Commander in Chief, in, err, command.

    More likely the Chinese will go for those small islands in dispute with Japan. If that goes well, then they may try Taiwan. But Japan will develop nuclear weapons in a coupla weeks – what could go wrong? 

    Anyway, not to worry, the Security Council will put a stop to things – oh, wait, China and Russia have veto power ;-)

  15. Larry3435
    The Mugwump: If I’m not mistaken, a Chinese invasion of Taiwan requires a U.S. response by law.  I think the legislation was passed during the Truman administration.  The president would not have discretion in the matter.  Perhaps the Chinese are betting Obama would simply ignore the rule of law as he so frequently does in domestic matters.  · 12 hours ago

    I don’t think so.  My understanding is that the U.S. has long maintained a policy of “deliberate ambiguity” about the use of military force in response to a mainland invasion of Taiwan.  But even if the U.S. was legally obliged to respond (as it would with a NATO country), that obligation would arise by treaty and I don’t believe there could be any sanction if the President were to disregard a treaty obligation.  As Bush did with the ATM treaty.

  16. Chris O.

    One positive: just before Bush left office there was a major arms sale to Taiwan. Then Senator Obama praised the sale. That was his last public comment, so far as I can find, in support of an independent Taiwan.

    In fact, he issued a joint statement with Chinese leaders about a year later that could easily be construed, particularly in East Asia, as support for the return of Taiwan to the PRC fold.

    I doubt he understood how that statement might be interpreted. There seem to be no statements on the issue since.

    The times just weren’t interesting enough for the president, I guess. They are now and may be a whole lot more soon. My guess is he’ll be overwhelmed, short-tempered and will not handle things well. If he flies off the cuff, look for more damage rather than damage control.

  17. Schrodinger

    For China the low hanging fruit would be Philippine and Vietnamese islands. Neither has the military to stop China.

    Note: Both Russia and China are picking on countries too weak to respond militarily. But, they may regret waking up neighboring countries that could rapidly develop military muscle. For China, Japan is awakening. Putin’s Ukraine gambit may just wake up Poland and Czech Republic.

  18. Mike LaRoche

    Putin better watch out, or he’ll get a sternly-worded letter from Hans Blix.

  19. billy
    Paul A. Rahe

    billy: I think concerns over a Chinese takeover of Taiwan are a little overwrought. Not that I have faith in the Chinese, but because they have no experience in amphibious and/or airborne operations on anywhere near necessary to overwhelm Taiwan.

    Call it the”million man swim.”  · 36 minutes ago

    My former student writes in response to your comment: “Sure, maybe not Taiwan. But ratcheting up things? China’s already been doing that: airspace, the Philippines…  Why not make another move now?  Or…  See how Ukraine turns out and then take a turn using whatever precedent has been set. ” · 32 minutes ago

    I am not trying to minimize Chinese bellicosity by any means, just that particular fear, the armed takeover of Taiwan.

     I should have been more clear.

  20. Quinn the Eskimo

    I think the problem is not simply what China might do.  Every bad actor in the world sees that the remaining years of Obama’s term are a free for all.  If everything goes at once, I doubt anyone could do anything to stop it.

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