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A few days ago, in the latest escalation over the its territorial dispute with Japan regarding several islands in the East China Sea, China unveiled a so-called “Air Defense Identification” zone, shown on the map below, which includes not only the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands in question, but stretches from South Korea all the way to Taiwan, and which requires that any overflights submit their plans to Beijing in advance.
The response by Japan and the US was immediate, with Japan blasting China’s retaliation to its own annexation of the Senkakus a year earlier and demonstratively neither Japan Airlines nor ANA complying with China’s demands, while the US, demonstrating its allegiance to Japan, flew B-52 bombersabove the Air Defense Zone.
China promptly responded to what it perceived was Western hypocrisy:
China’s announcement to establish an Air Defense Identification Zone in East China Sea has drawn criticism from the United States and Japan, yet their blame is wrong.
Their logic is simple: they can do it while China can not, which could be described with a Chinese saying, “the magistrates are free to burn down houses while the common people are forbidden even to light lamps.”
It is known to all that the United States is among the first to set up an air defense zone in 1950, and later more than 20 countries have followed suit, which Washington has taken for granted.
However, as soon as China started to do it, Washington immediately voiced various “concerns.” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Saturday voiced concerns over the zone, fearing it might “constitute an attempt to change the status quo in the East China Sea,” and a White House spokesman on Monday called the Chinese announcement over the weekend “unnecessarily inflammatory.”
Japan set up such a zone in the 1960s and it even one-sidedly allowed the zone to cover China’s Diaoyu Islands. But when China set up the zone covering the Diaoyu Islands, Tokyo immediately announced it “unacceptable” and Abe even called China’s move “dangerous.” It is totally absurd and unreasonable.
In one word, both Washington and Tokyo are pursuing double standards.
The latter should not come as a surprise to China, and the reason why such double standards are allowed to exist in a US superpower legacy world is because neither Japan nor the US believe China would actually dare to re-escalate further. However, in a world in which the US is no longer an undisputed superpower (especially in the aftermath of the Syrian debacle in which Putin schooled the Obama administration) that is changing.
The first clear indication that China would not just sit there and do nothing, came overnight when China’s first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, passed through the Taiwan Strait on Thursday morning on its way to a training mission in the South China Sea.
Naturally, the training mission is just the pretext. China’s long-running if dormant feud with Taiwan, officially the Republic of China, is perhaps the best proxy of US interests in the region, where thanks to the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979, the US sells arms and provides military training to the Taiwanese armed forces. China considers US involvement disruptive to the stability of the region, and made that quite clear in 2010 when Obama announced the decision to sell $6.4 billion in military hardware to the island leading to threats of economic sanctions from the mainland.
Which is why China crossing the Straits of Taiwan for the first time with its brand new aircraft carrier is nothing short of a message to Obama. From Xinhua:
It took about 10 hours for the carrier and its four escort ships to get through the strait separating the Chinese mainland and Taiwan.
The Liaoning entered the Taiwan Strait on Wednesday afternoon after it left its home port in Qingdao of east China’s Shandong Province on Tuesday for the South China Sea on a scientific and training mission.
It was escorted by two missile destroyers, the Shenyang and Shijiazhuang, and two missile frigates, the Yantai and Weifang.
The narrative gets scarier:
“During the voyage, the carrier has kept a high degree of vigilance against approaches from foreign warships and aircraft, according to Liaoning Captain Zhang Zheng. This is the first time the carrier has conducted a cross-sea training voyage and passed through the Taiwan Strait since it was commissioned into the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy in September last year, according to Zhang.”
But where it gets worst is that as BBC reported minutes ago, China has not only sent a symbolic message to the US, but a very literal one to Japan and everyone else who thought China would just sit there and do nothing, when it dispatched its own warplanes over the air defense zone.
China has sent warplanes to its newly declared air defence zone in the East China Sea, state media reports.
The vast zone, announced last week, covers territory claimed by China, Japan, Taiwan and South Korea.
China has said all planes transiting the zone must file flight plans and identify themselves, or face “defensive emergency measures”. But Japan, South Korea and the US have all since flown military aircraft through the area.
China’s state news agency Xinhua quoted an air force colonel as saying the the warplanes had carried out routine patrols. The zone includes islands known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, which are claimed by Japan, China and Taiwan.
What happens next: will Japan once again prod the not so sleeping dragon, and continue flying commercial (and military) airplanes over China’s expanded zone of control, without preclearance with Beijing, and will the US send some more strategic bombers just to prove that Obama didn’t win the Nobel peace prize for nothing?
And will then China once again re-escalate, perhaps through an “accidental” engagement with what it “vigilantly” thought was an offensive act by “foreign warships and aircraft?” resulting in a major diplomatic scandal or worse. Or will it simply, and more effectively, launch a salvo of a few hundred billion US Treasurys into the electronic ether, sending the 10 Year yield over 3% and the Fed scrambling to preserve its centrally-planned house of cards?
So, the ball is now in the court of Japan, which lately has been engaging in increasingly more desperate and irrational actions to preserve a sense of control over its imploding economy and the whole “Fukushima thing”, and which means that much more entertainment is imminent.
Over the past year, pictures of China’s unprecedented air pollution have been seen around the world (for a sample seehere and here), Chinese smog has been exported to Japan, and there is even a dedicated hourly twitter update looking at the quality, or lack thereof, of Beijing air. As such, it was only a matter of time before the tragic consequences of China’s unprecedented and unplanned scramble to industrialize started manifesting themselves. This happened overnight when an eight-year-old girl has become China’s youngest lung cancer patient, reports said, with doctors blaming pollution as the direct cause of her illness. The girl, whose name was not given, lives near a major road in the eastern province of Jiangsu, said Xinhuanet, the website of China’s official news agency.
Since this is just what is officially reported, one can only imagine just how bad the reality is behind the Ministry of Truth firewall, but at least China is finally starting to come clean on its pollution problem, in what one can only hope is an attempt to remedy it. However, if that means even slower growth and a less furious scramble to industrialize through the construction of ghost cities, this will likely mean even slower economic growth, even less of an inflation tolerance by the premier and the PBOC, and even more animosity toward Bernanke’s QE, which as we reported earlier is the main reason for today’s reddish tint in the equity futures.
AFP reports that according to a doctor at Jiangsu Cancer Hospital in Nanjing, the 8-year old girl had been exposed to harmful particles and dust over a long period of time.
Lung cancer cases among children are extremely rare, with the average age for diagnosis at about 70, according to the American Cancer Society.
But the incidence of the disease has skyrocketed in China as the country’s rapid development has brought with it deteriorating air quality, particularly in urban areas.
Lung cancer deaths in China have multiplied more than four times over the past 30 years, according to Beijing’s health ministry. Cancer is now the leading cause of death in the smog-ridden capital.
The report of the eight-year-old girl’s diagnosis comes after choking smog enveloped the northeastern city of Harbin two weeks ago, bringing flights and ground transport to a standstill and forcing schools to shut for several days, with visibility in some areas reduced to less than 50 metres.
At the height of the smog, the city’s levels of PM2.5 — the smallest, most dangerous type of airborne particle — reached 1,000 micrograms per cubic metre, 40 times the World Health Organization’s recommended standard.
High levels of PM2.5 have been linked to health problems including lung cancer and heart disease.
And now with China finally admitting it has a health hazard problem, one wonders how long until Japan does the same with the even greater environmental catastrophe that is Fukushima, or will Abe continue to hide the disastrous health consequences of the worst nuclear catastrophe since Chernobyl until his entire economic revitalization house of cards comes tumbling down and he is once again escorted out of the building in yet another epic case of diarrhea?
- 8-year-old Chinese girl contracts lung cancer, smog might be to blame (voiceofrussia.com)
- China: Smog blamed as girl, 8, becomes youngest lung cancer patient (crofsblogs.typepad.com)
- Girl, 8, is China’s youngest lung cancer case; doctors say pollution the cause (straitstimes.com)
- Chinese girl, eight, has lung cancer (skynews.com.au)
While the submarines displayed on Sunday were the older generation of nuclear vessels that are part of China’s northern fleet – and not the more advanced Jin-class based at the southern Chinese island of Hainan – the display in the domestic media nonetheless reflects the Chinese military’s growing confidence.
“It is still the first time that the Xia class has been discussed in such detail in China’s state-run media,” said Taylor Fravel, an expert on Chinese security at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the US. “As China’s military modernisation continues to advance, the PLA has become more willing to discuss its capabilities.”
In recent years, the People’s Liberation Army Navy has become increasingly active in the Pacific, particularly in staking Chinese claims to disputed maritime territory in the South China Sea.
Chinese ships and aircraft have also become more aggressive in challenging Japanese control of the Senkaku Islands – which China calls the Diaoyu – in the East China Sea.Japan has administered the uninhabited group for decades, but China and Taiwan both claim sovereignty.
Excuse the Chinese government for not caring who in the U.S. is responsible for the debt-ceiling impasse. Democrats and Republicans have their reasons for doing what they do, but from Beijing or Shanghai’s perspective, the potential results are the same: a default on about$1.28 trillion of Chinese-owned debt and a global recession to boot. The U.S. promised to make good on the debt when it bought it, and that promise seems dangerously close to being broken. For China, that’s a huge economic risk — and a tremendous public-relations opportunity.
In recent days, it’s become clear that China’s state-owned newspaper editorialists — all of whom take their cue, at some level, from the Communist Party — view the American crisis as a teaching moment. It’s traditional for Chinese news media to play this role. Senior Communist Party officials rarely make statements on contemporary events (especially crises), and the debt-ceiling impasse is no exception.
High-ranking government officials, perhaps wary of spooking already rattled markets at home and abroad, have said little or spoken in generalities. Last week, Premier Li Keqiang voiced concern about the debt-ceiling issue in a conversation with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, according to the state-owned Xinhua News Agency. The highest-ranking Chinese official to comment publicly on the Washington stalemate in recent days was probably Zhu Guangyao, the country’s vice minister of finance, and his finely crafted words are nearly void of content. On Tuesday in Beijing, he offered mereplatitudes: “In the long run, the United States must address the fiscal stalemate, must raise the cap of the debt limit soon as to keep the promise of no default of its Treasury bonds and keep the sound momentum of the U.S. economy and avoid dragging down the world economy.”
China’s leaders are certainly interested in commenting on the situation in Washington; they just prefer to do it through state-owned media outlets. Two editorials published in recent days by two of China’s most powerful (and distinct) news organizations exemplify a quiet cop/loud cop approach.
Xinhua was first, with a Sunday editorial in the English-language edition of the hard-line Global Times. The message of the editorial — which carried the headline “US fiscal failure warrants a de-Americanized world” — is that the debt stalemate should rally the global community to build a post-Pax Americana world order. The piece reads like the primal scream of a fed-up hegemonist-to-be: “Such alarming days when the destinies of others are in the hands of a hypocritical nation have to be terminated, and a new world order should be put in place, according to which all nations, big or small, poor or rich, can have their key interests respected and protected on an equal footing.”
Among these interests, the editorial lists respect for national sovereignty (a particularly sensitive issue in China, in light of its relationship with Taiwan) and a commitment not to interfere in others’ domestic affairs. The editorial also suggests that the world financial system needs to be reformed. A new international currency may need to replace the dollar, “so that the international community could permanently stay away from the spillover of the intensifying domestic political turmoil in the United States.”
These are provocative words of the sort that China’s cautious leadership would never dare utter. Indeed, Xinhua’s editorial appears to have been issued in English only, its call for a “de-Americanized” world absent from Chinese news or social media, where the editorial hasn’t generated any noticeable discussion (perhaps because it’s in English).
Why this move? For starters, an English-language editorial allows Xinhua to distance the Chinese leadership — whether or not it helped conceive of the piece — from the written sentiments while maintaining the imprimatur of an “official” editorial. Whose piece is it? As with almost any unsigned editorial in the state-run Chinese media, the lack of a straightforward answer gives everyone — Party leadership, Xinhua, whoever wrote the editorial — plausible deniability in the event someone suggests they believe the piece’s message. This is exactly what the New York Times did when it claimed, based on the editorial, that “Chinese leaders” were calling for the consideration of a de-Americanized world. Objectively viewed, the leadership did no such thing (though the article subsequently attributes quotes from the editorial to Xinhua). Perhaps fighting back against such broad characterizations, on Wednesday the English-language China Daily ran the editorial bearing the byline of Liu Chang.
An English-only editorial also highlights the fact that Xinhua wanted its message heard by a foreign audience (all the while neglecting a Chinese audience that hasn’t, so far, seemed very engaged with the issue, at least on Chinese microblogs). And judging from the outpouring of references to a “de-Americanized world” since Sunday, Xinhua succeeded spectacularly.
What was the message, then, for the Chinese-speaking world? On Monday, the People’s Daily newspaper, the self-proclaimed mouthpiece of the Communist Party (and the most reliable indicator of party leadership’s opinion), offered a low-key editorial with a simple message: “It’s obvious that the U.S. political system has a problem.” The nature of that problem, as analyzed by the paper, is that the U.S. system has stagnated in the face of a polarized society and is unable to adapt to new realities. “Advocates for the U.S. political system argue that its checks and balances give it the ability to self-correct and helps to stem large political errors,” the paper explained. “However, when such a system exacerbates social rifts, party opposition, and even disrupts the normal life of the country, rational reflection is necessary.”
This Chinese-language editorial’s call for reflection isn’t directed at just Americans. The piece is also a not-so-subtle call for Chinese to reflect on whether they want such a troubled system adapted to their country. The answer, from the editorial’s perspective, is left to the reader.
Even before the People’s Daily editorial, there was plenty of evidence on Chinese microblogs that readers didn’t buy the argument. In fact, some netizens are actually suggesting that the impasse demonstrates the strength of the U.S. political system. That’s an interesting contention — perhaps even a powerful one, so long as those in Washington find a last-minute way for the U.S. to meet its debt obligations. But as the U.S. creeps closer to defaulting, the arguments about the relative merits of the American political system start to tilt in favor of China’s unfriendly critiques.
(Adam Minter, the Shanghai correspondent for the World View blog, is the author of “Junkyard Planet,” a book on the global recycling industry that will be published in November.)
- Xinhua calling to end the US dollar as the international reserve currency (adrianrowles.com)
- China Calls for World to Be ‘De-Americanised’ (forum.prisonplanet.com)
- These statements from China confirm what many suspect, they have over 5,000 tonnes of Gold and can afford to talk like this. (maxkeiser.com)
- China, the US Government Shutdown and the “End of the Pax-Americana” (peterslarson.com)
- Chinese rating agency downgraded United States debt (chasvoice.blogspot.com)
- Debt Ceiling: China Calls for World to Be ‘De-Americanised’ (philosophers-stone.co.uk)
- Is This The End of China’s Economic Miracle? (econmatters.com)
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