China’s Softer Foreign Policy

The first paragraph is from a note I wrote in April, 2016; the second paragraph my addendum as of today:

The Wall Street Journal has a fairly long article today on China’s efforts to claim the Scarborough Shoal — rocks, reefs, and such much closer to the Philippines than to China.  Such a claim would be a major hindrance to maritime shipping in the South China Sea.  The Journal reports — delicately — that we have approached the issue “with caution,” but are starting to step up our response.  My interpretation:  President Xi smiles a lot, but I think he’s the most dangerous man to our interests in the world [Mr. Putin would like to be, but he’s got too many other problems  ;)] … and I candidly think Mr. Xi’s decided to grab as much as he can while President Obama is in power, since the going will likely be rougher when dealing either with Ms. Clinton (has expertise and guts) or Mr. Trump (probably crazily unpredictable).

I haven’t seen anything to discredit my comments about Mr. Xi’s intentions almost two years ago, and Mr. Xi continued to push while Mr. Obama was in office (although Mr. Obama, to his credit, did somewhat overcome his second term gingerliness in foreign affairs and pushed back to a degree in the South China Sea).  However, I now add this qualifier: I think China’s efforts to push for strategic advantage have taken a slightly different tack – become more subtle during the last year – once Mr. Xi recognized that Mr. Trump is, by accident or design, reducing America’s leadership role and influence in world affairs (what Richard Haass has somewhat pejoratively termed our “abdication”).  Why should China act provocatively when current American foreign policy is creating a vacuum it’s ready to fill?

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