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Belmont Club

The subject: China.

I attended a debate on the question of whether “The US Alliance is our [Australia's] best defence” at the City Recital Hall in Sydney. For the affirmative were US Ambassador Jeffrey Bleich and Katherine Ziesing, the editor of the Australian Defence Force Magazine. Facing them were Professor Zhu Feng, Deputy Director of the Centre for International and Strategic Studies at Peking University and — the big surprise — retired Major General Jim Molan for the negative. Molan was the Chief of Operations in Iraq during 2004 and 2005. Molan is rumored to have the ear of the opposition, who are tipped to defeat Kevin Rudd when elections are held in a few month’s time.

Molan was the surprise advocate for the negative. I knew him to be, from having attended a dinner at which he spoke, a passionate believer in the positive nature of the United States and an unabashed admirer of the US armed forces, many of whom served under him in his Iraq coalition position. My surmise about his presentation proved correct, as will later be described.

The debate was recorded by the BBC and readers can probably watch it in its entirety when it is presented in the coming weeks. The moderator announced the pre-debate poll of the audience, which packed the auditorium. The numbers going in were 36% for, 30% against and the balance undecided. Yes and No were roughly tied. Could the debaters alter the audience’s perceptions?

The opening was delivered by Ambassador Jeffrey Bleich who was every inch the charming advocate for United States. He was funny and eloquent and thus armed almost managed to pull off depicting the situation in the Pacific as if there were no tensions with China worth mentioning. The main problems, Bleich said, were fundamentally ones of growth arising from increased resource competition, driven by a burgeoning prosperity and threats from non-state actors who were intent on harm “because they hate our way of life”. But where Beijing was concerned, Bleich emphasized, there was no rivalry as such.

Unfortunately for Bleich this sunny impression was rudely shattered by Professor Zhu Feng, who when his turn came to speak described his nervousness at having to fly over so many US military bases ringing China on his way to Sydney. He described without hesitation or equivocation the deep suspicion in China at what he perceived was the military buildup in the Pacific which many Chinese saw as “containment”. In stark contrast to Bleich’s humorous delivery, the Professor warned that Beijing would take a dim view of any attempts to reopen US bases in the Philippines and indeed, any further attempt to add to the cordon of steel that the Chinese leadership felt was stifling them.

He pointedly told the Australian audience that China was that country’s biggest trading partner. Would it not be better, he asked, if Australia put aside the strategy of alliance and relied upon trade? Was it not better after all, to be China’s friend?

The next speaker for the affirmative, Katherine Ziesing, was the first to emphasize that Australia was wholly dependent on sea lanes of communication which it was powerless to secure. That — and she looked at Zhu — was why defense was not provocation. She reeled off statistics describing the vast tonnages that flowed through the South China Sea and the straits between China and Japan and noted that without the United States, Australia would not have a snowball’s chance in hell of guaranteeing its own security. Hence, she closed, an alliance with America is Australia’s best defense.

But her presentation, though eloquent, reasoned and factual was the undercard. Everyone was waiting for Molan to answer the persuasive Bleich.

Molan, as I knew, could be as good a speaker as Bleich. And he was. He began by demolishing every Leftist characterization of America; he described the US Armed Forces as the finest and most moral fighting force on the face of the planet. And having cleared the underbrush with fire and scythe he delivered his punchline: in all this — through the Cold War to the Present — Australia had been a free rider and every prospect of remaining a free rider. Turning to the audience he said isn’t that what most of the world wants to do? Fight to the last American soldier? You know it’s true, he said. You could hear a pin drop. And this attitude is not worthy of Australia, he added.

Because the day comes, Molan argued, as it came when an earlier generation relied on Britain in the 1940s — when the moocher can’t mooch any more. When he has to buy his own drinks. And history teaches that sooner or later the day comes. The long dolorous annals of mankind show that “peace is just the interval when governments are busy reloading”. Hence the only safe bet is to shift for yourself. Or be ready to.

You can fight alongside America, he said, without being a moocher. And far better to enter an alliance with something in hand, rather than show up expecting to come along for the ride. Hence he closed, “America is not Australia’s best defense. Australia is Australia’s best defense.” Let us fight alongside America for preference, he said, but at all events be ready to fight alone. On that note, he closed.

The rest of the debate was anti-climatic, expended in watching the speakers, including Professor Zhu, fend off the strange and bizarre questions put to the panel by the World Socialist Alliance or the Free Julian Assange movement some of whom refused to shift from the microphone when their time was up. There was a moment of comic relief when Professor Zhu was asked who China was relying on to stop North Korea and he readily answered, “the United States.” Everybody relied on the United States, he said, adding that even China prospered under its benign hegemony. But the time had come, Zhu reiterated, to give China its due, a message he emphasized over and over again.

Jeffrey Bleich, a lawyer in his past life, was worth every penny as an advocate. He was adept at parrying the wilder suggestions from the audience, including allegations from one who believed that 9/11 was faked like the moon landing. He was masterful at reminding the audience of how much Australians shared with America. As a pitchman Bleich is exemplary. But his basic policy position, which was to completely downplay the rivalry with China, proved his undoing. The urgency with which Molan urged an Australian buildup and the frank expression of China’s suspicion was too strong to be wholly dispelled by the Ambassador’s manner.

There was a problem and Jeffrey Bleich for all his charm wasn’t facing it, rather doing his level best to draw attention away from it.

At the conclusion of the debate a repolling showed a dramatic shift. The “Nos” had grown from 30% to over 50%. From rough equality the negative had swept the field. In the post debate analysis among friends it was remarked that most people understood that Molan wasn’t really arguing against a US alliance. Rather he was arguing for Australia’s participation as an adult, which meant in terms Molan described in the debate, spending at least 2% of its GDP on defense.

If this debate is any bellweather of public opinion, the probable conclusion to draw is that the region fears that America can no longer hold the ring. The moderator asked Molan if he considered Japan a free rider. The retired general offered if you consider the relevant aspects of the Japanese military, such as the airforce, the BMD and its Navy, it’s quite big. It is not clear that Japan is a free rider in that context. But when you look at Australia’s unbalanced force mix, there is no other conclusion one can reach except that it is. This suggests that if Tony Abbott defeats Labor in the next elections, there could be a chance that Australia will up its military expenditures. That is after all, what other countries in the region have been doing. By following suit, Australia will not be doing anything new. It is just late to the party.

But that’s a contingency predicated on a possibility. Remember that the World Socialist Alliance the Free Julian Assange movement can vote too.

(For a backgrounder into the regional strategic situation, read my pamphlet Storm Over the South China Sea $0.99)


Did you know that you can purchase some of these books and pamphlets by Richard Fernandez and share them with you friends? They will receive a link in their email and it will automatically give them access to a Kindle reader on their smartphone, computer or even as a web-readable document.

The War of the Words for $3.99, Understanding the crisis of the early 21st century in terms of information corruption in the financial, security and political spheres
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Storming the Castle at Amazon Kindle for $3.99, why government should get small
No Way In at Amazon Kindle $8.95, print $9.99
Storm Over the South China Sea $0.99, how China is restarting history in the Pacific
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Top Rated Comments   
The only answers to these rhetorical questions are: a) the administration is covering because it was doing something flagrantly illegal; or b) the administration is burying a catastrophic policy failure or c) both of the above.
51 weeks ago
51 weeks ago Link To Comment
Well, China's well-rehearsed complaints about being encircled are simple rehashing of the Kruschev-Brezhnev malarkey about U.S. encirclement during the Cold War. While having bases near a foreign power helps to gather intelligence and can help logistically if forces deploy, the threat they pose to the Chinese territory is not significant. This line of argument has traction only because of the myths about the U.S. military which arise in the mind-set built on leftist propaganda (such as many popular Hollywood movies which depict the U.S. military as evil). This mind-set is common even in the U.S. due to the penetration of our educational institutions by its leftist promoters. I would wager it is prominent in Australia as well (I know it is the default mind-set for most Europeans from personal experience).

Incidentally, the link to a Stratfor report on the Australian Conservative website [http://australianconservative.com/2013/07/recognising-the-end-of-the-chinese-economic-miracle/] that Wretchard provided in an earlier post held pretty much an irenic position about China:

"The major shift in the international order will be the decline of China’s role in the region. China’s ability to project military power in Asia has been substantially overestimated. Its geography limits its ability to project power in Eurasia, an endeavor that would require logistics far beyond China’s capacity. Its naval capacity is still limited compared with the United States. The idea that it will compensate for internal economic problems by genuine (as opposed to rhetorical) military action is therefore unlikely. China has a genuine internal security problem that will suck the military, which remains a domestic security force, into actions of little value. In our view, the most important shift will be the re-emergence of Japan as the dominant economic and political power in East Asia in a slow process neither will really want."

In any case I think Major General Jim Molan (ret.) had the most persuasive points. The audience's shift had most to do with his points and not with Chinese handwringing over their "encirclement". That's why you'll find another story at theAustralian Conservative [http://australianconservative.com/2013/04/collision-course-australian-defence-strategy-must-not-ignore-the-lessons-of-history/] reinforcing what he said.
51 weeks ago
51 weeks ago Link To Comment
The problem isn't just the size and ability of a military force, it must be coupled with the will to use it. It seems to me that will is more and more lacking here in the US and with our allies...in countries like China and Iran it seems to be growing, as well as with the re-emerging Russian bear.
51 weeks ago
51 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (85)
All Comments   (85)
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"If this debate is any bellweather of public opinion, the probable conclusion to draw is that the region fears that America can no longer hold the ring.'

That it can't or that it won't. America is drawing back from its involvement except occasionally against allies or in favor of foes. It seems nobody in the world, in any region, is missing Obama's signals. Obama is saying loud and clear that no ally of the US can trust the US anymore. Everyone, friend or foe, draw their own conclusions and act accordingly.
51 weeks ago
51 weeks ago Link To Comment
If there is anything the LIVs will believe, it something they have seen in the movies.

Dems "soft on defense" and trying to divert attention away from their scandals (BENGHAZI!).

Wag the Dog

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0120885/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1

And the re-make

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1742222/?ref_=fn_al_tt_2

Hillary dodging bullets...

http://voices.washingtonpost.com/fact-checker/2008/03/hillarys_balkan_adventures_par.html

"I remember landing under sniper fire. There was supposed to be some kind of a greeting ceremony at the airport, but instead we just ran with our heads down to get into the vehicles to get to our base."

And she's the Democrats' Great White Hope for 2016?

Caspar the Ghost would scare her sh*tless.



51 weeks ago
51 weeks ago Link To Comment
Unfortunately for all of us, the 51% who elected Obama twice have decided it is way past time to give Hillary her due, and the US its first femaie potus.

No logic or 'What.Difference.Does.It.Make"; will sway their conviction.
51 weeks ago
51 weeks ago Link To Comment
Geoffrey Britain:

Interesting and informative post, thanks. But, concerning the Chinese perception of their society as homogenous: are there not more than 100 million non-Han peoples in China? Not sure of the figure--it may be higher, much higher. How does the presence of so-many non-Han square with their perception of homogeneity? Is this a problem?
51 weeks ago
51 weeks ago Link To Comment
From what I have heard, their attitude toward the non-Han is simple: They are not there. They don't count.

In Feb 1996 a Long March space booster failed and impacted near a heavily populated area. The PRC reported that "Four Chinese were killed." Those 4 were all launch base employees.

But the people in the village were not Han. We don't know how many people were killed, but the blast caused enormous damage and the toxic propellants also would have caused casualties. So their claim of "Only 4 were killed" was true if you don't count the casualties among the non-Han population.
51 weeks ago
51 weeks ago Link To Comment
I remember hearing protesters in the aftermath of the Tiananmen Square massacre claiming that the assault troops used to clear the square non-Han soldiers. This assertion struck me as racist for a couple of reasons::

1. The protesters actually seemed insulted that non-Han troops were used against them, as if they deserved to be massacred by Han troops only;

2. The protesters also seemed to expect that non-Han troops would relish the opportunity to massacre them, given that the non-Han were ignorant barbarians;

3. The protesters disdained the non-Han troops because they were non-Han, and never mind that they were very effectively massacring the protesters.
51 weeks ago
51 weeks ago Link To Comment
One should not assume that the Soviet Union was invulnerable and unconquerable during World War II. It had a huge vulnerability – Stalin. Russia's strategic depth was no more a barrier to conquest than the Inca Empire's strategic depth four centuries earlier. If Nazi Germany had discovered some way to capture Joseph Stalin alive, they would have had a Russian (or Georgian) Atahualpa in their hands. However, if Joseph Stalin had been killed, the result would have been the equivalent of the Fourth Crusade at best – conquerors occupying a restive capital as rival warlords fight for the mantle of the dead emperor outside the city gates.

To conquer Russia, there are three objectives – Moscow, St. Petersburg, and the emperor. Of these three, the emperor is the most important. Nazi Germany failed in conquering any of these three objectives. It failed to keep solid supply lines, it failed to plan for cold weather, and it put its soldiers into vulnerable positions that could not be easily defended – all leading to catastrophe at Stalingrad.

Yet, one should not assume that Hitler's strategic decision to invade the Soviet Union was a mistake. The timing was a mistake. The execution was a mistake. The decision to invade was not a mistake. Despite their truce, Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin did not trust each other. It was only a matter of time until one side would betray the other. The real question was which man would strike first.
51 weeks ago
51 weeks ago Link To Comment
I mostly agree with BC Alexis. The Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact was made with the unspoken assumption that both sides were building up buffer states in anticipation of the inevitable war that was certain to follow. The Nazis and German Communists (with Soviet funding) fought like cats and dogs during the collapse of the Weimar Republic. The Nazis had a cold hatred for the Soviet Union. BC Alexis was correct that the timing for Barbarossa was wrong. Hitler originally intended to launch Barbarossa after conquering England. However the conquest of England did not occur due to England's survival of the "Battle of Britain". Hitler's critical strategic error was to launch Barbarossa without first finishing off England. To have initiated a two front war against two imperial powers like England and the Soviet Union was simple insanity. Hitler was deceived by his own delusion of German invincibility. That error was all the more surprising given his own experiences in the trenches of World War One.
51 weeks ago
51 weeks ago Link To Comment
As well--and, as mentioned previously--the Germans never articulated a coherent strategic vision for conquering the Soviet Union. A coherent strategy would have meant, among other things: defeating Britain first; coordinating their efforts with that the Japanese (there were powerful and influential elements in the army leadership who favored a "western" approach over the southern approach); gearing up the German economy in general and the building the industrial base in particular to fight what they should have recognized was going to be a lengthy war; and, perhaps most crucially, entering the non-Russian Soviet states (the Baltics, Belrus, Poland, Ukraine) as liberators rather than genoicidal oppressors.

What's more, a military strategy focused on the Soviet center of gravity was needed, but not formulated. The German strategic plan amounted to destroying the Red Army in the field, and doing it swiftly, before reserve armies could be formed with newly conscripted young men. In other words, their strategy was to fight and win battles, as many as possible and as fast as possible. That's not a strategy, that's an operational plan. Once again, as always, the Germans confused strategy with the operational level of war. The Soviet center of gravity was NOT the Red Army, as events were to prove in the Barbarossa campaign. Above and beyond all else, the Germans should have made the taking of Moscow their primary objective. I'm not saying that taking Moscow would have resulted in victory for Germany; but it would made the defeat of the Soviet Union less problematic, if not a certainty.

The Germans simply did not have the manpower nor the material resources to fight a long war with the Soviets. The Japanese might have been persuaded to engage the Soviet Union in the Far East, but even simple demonstrations in that direction would have frozen the Soviet armies in that region. But losing the support of Belorussians and Ukrainians was, in my opinion, the worst and most consequential of Germany's strategic mistakes. That support was there for the taking. And, had the Germans made clear that they had come as liberators, the Russians themselves might have welcomed them as well. The Soviet peoples hated the Stalinist regime, the Russians just as much as all the rest.
51 weeks ago
51 weeks ago Link To Comment
Actually, I would argue that the Germans should have first focused their efforts on the Middle East before invading either Britain or the Soviet Union. A German invasion and occupation of Egypt, the Levant, and the rest of the Near East--especially oil-rich Iraq--would have been a strategic catastrophe for the Brits and the Soviets. Among other outcomes, it might have obviated the need for an invasion of Britain; it might have persuaded Turkey to enter the war on the side of the Axis. When the Germans invaded the Balkans and took Crete, they should have coordinated follow-on efforts with Axis forces in the Western Desert to conquer the Middle East, which was ripe for the taking.
51 weeks ago
51 weeks ago Link To Comment
OMG!! Look at Drudge headlines this morning! When CNN (Clinton News Network) headlines Tapper's breaking news re Bengazi/CIA/dozens of operatives on ground/intimidation of covert agents/closure of embassies/etc/etc, we can be sure that the "narrative is going down in flames.

There will be a race to see what journalist/news agency will be the new "Woodward/Bernstein" of the 21st century. My bet is on Tapper as he, alone at CNN, has been dogged about following this story.
51 weeks ago
51 weeks ago Link To Comment
Three letter agency bootlickers are losing control of the Narrative: Jake Tapper suggests Sen. Rand Paul may have been right to ask Hillary about Benghazi arms smuggling by CIA from the 'annex':

http://twitchy.com/2013/08/01/jake-tapper-remember-when-rand-paul-asked-hillary-about-gun-running-in-libya/#comment-985370886

Naturally the usual suspects filled with rage, want to accuse Tapper of 'aiding the enemy'. I think Yglesias meant it as a joke though. But by enemy he really meant Paultard/Paulbot Republicans.
51 weeks ago
51 weeks ago Link To Comment
It sounds like the protection of Australia's ability to export production from its mining sector was a key point for both sides of the argument.

On actually changing Australian military policy Wretchard writes "But that’s a contingency predicated on a possibility. Remember that the World Socialist Alliance the Free Julian Assange movement can vote too."

Australiia suffers from the same progressive hordes that we have in N. America and so does Australian mining. Paradoxically the Australian mining industry itself may be bogged down with the same attitudes that hinder a new military policy.

The West Australian July 25 reported some comments from Alan Cransberg about the Australian mining industry. "The head of Alcoa's Australian operations has bluntly said what most believe is at the core of the mining sector's productivity woes, describing Australia's industry as having become "fat, lazy and happy" and in real danger of losing out to projects in developing countries."

Speaking yesterday at a corporate breakfast in Perth which explored the impact of the resources sector on WA's economy, Alcoa of Australia chief executive Alan Cransberg said the increasing high cost of doing business in the country was a constant sticking point.

"I think we've become fat, lazy and happy about the fact that we're good at digging holes," he said.

"As people go into Africa, as China explores more, as Russia opens up different territories, some of those raw material markets for us that we've taken for granted may not be there."

A few days later, in a letter to the West Australian (I think). One John Kirkpatrick agreed with Cransberg and expanded on his comments as follows:

"Alan Cransberg's summary of Australian industry as "fat, lazy and happy" is correct (Alcoa boss fires a broadside over costs, Business 25/7). But he failed to define the problem or say where it started. The problem is founded in legislation for duty of care and occupational health and safety Duty of care destroyed the mateship that existed in the workplace; workers are now frightened to help a mate in case of contravention.

Occupational health and safety legislation has been hijacked into an industry that tries to find a way not to do a job. It has little to do with safety but a lot to do with insurance premiums. Look at the three growth industries in the State at the moment; traffic management, which can cost as much as 25 per cent of a project, where
needed; training, which is producing many people who are almost unemployable and a liability to employers, and occupational health and safety, which has large empires that can stop work and simply justify their position.

They have destroyed the gold and nickel industries and just about crippled the liquefied natural gas industry to a point where large floating plants are being built overseas to develop our gas reserves.

I have worked in the mining and construction industries since 1969 and watched them go down in productivity, even with bigger and better equipment. "

The sad point is that, across the entire industrialized West, progressive notions and narratives seep into all corners of society including major industries and military policies. Because of that, shooting ourselves in the foot repeatedly, has become the new norm.




51 weeks ago
51 weeks ago Link To Comment
AMEN!

The source of all this bother is the European "Precautionary Principle".

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Precautionary_principle

The EU adopted it into law and you can see what it has done to the Euro!!!!!

Out of an abundance of caution, we and all sensible nations ought to reject the Precautionary Principle. It's just an excuse to "Lead From Behind".
51 weeks ago
51 weeks ago Link To Comment
Oops, make that the "Middle Kingdom Playbook". Sigh, what I wouldn't give for an edit function...
51 weeks ago
51 weeks ago Link To Comment
I think it a mistake to dismiss Chinese fears of encirclement. To understand China's motivations, it is necessary to consider what they believe, rather than our intentions.

Zhu's describing without hesitation or equivocation the deep suspicion in China of what many Chinese see as “containment”. That they view US bases as a 'cordon of steel' that the Chinese leadership feel is 'stifling' them. Zhu's emphasizeing "over and over again", that the time has come to give China it’s due is a message.

The word "stifling" and the phrase “the time has come to give China it’s due” are highly indicative of China's mind-set. All of this despite acknowledgment that even China prospers under America's benign hegemony. Of just such misunderstanding are wars stumbled into.

Commentor 11B40 is on to something when he speaks of the "Middle Eastern Playbook". Paraphrasing his words, he points out that, China has throughout its history, established some level of control over its near neighbors, whether by over-running them or by incorporating them or by merging with them, China always sought to be dominant.

China's long, essentially unbroken culture is testament to the effectiveness of that strategy, that is until late 18th century Europe arrived. But neither the European conquerors nor the communists destroyed every aspect of Chinese culture. Most relevantly, its xenophobic insecurity and compensating cultural superiority complex survived.

It's important to understand that China views the West today culturally, as it did in Marco Pollo's 13th century, as barbaric. America currently has a more powerful military and superior technology but the Chinese view their society as culturally superior. China sees that view being fully justified by its longevity, which in Chinese eyes, confers upon its culture an inherent superiority. In addition, China views America's cultural, racial and ethnic diversity as inherently inferior to its homogeneous society.

There is deep and unequivocal suspicion among the Chinese that America seeks to contain China so as to keep it vulnerable, ringing it in a cordon of steel and 'stifling' China while refusing to give China its 'due', its honorable status. The Chinese feel disrespected by American dominance because vulnerability equals insecurity in the Chinese mind and that is deeply disturbing to a basically xenophobic culture.

In the modern world, China's current borders are intuitively considered inadequate by the Chinese. Psychologically and sociologically, they need to expand their sphere of dominance in order to establish a sufficient comfort zone. That is why they are trying to establish dominance in the South China Sea and why China is disputing sovereignty over island groups with both Japan and the Philippines. That is why Taiwan's independence and American protection is a continual irritant to China.

There is great potential for 'accidental' conflict between China and the US.
51 weeks ago
51 weeks ago Link To Comment
the problem is the relationship between the PLA and the CPC. Their relationship is fluid. Any military victory the chinese achieve increases the power of the PLA domestically. This means that ever more solutions to problems--the PLA will want to solve militarily--so as to increase their power.

We have seen this play before with Japan at the turn of the 20th century.
51 weeks ago
51 weeks ago Link To Comment
Sounds analogous to the apologists for Russians controlling Eastern Europe. Phobia and insecurity driving aggressive arms buildup, all within a sense of entitlement or "destiny."
51 weeks ago
51 weeks ago Link To Comment
Explaining another culture's thinking and motivations is not 'apologizing' for them. But your mischaracterization of my motivation is a perfect example of the misunderstandings that lead nations into conflicts they'd prefer to avoid.
51 weeks ago
51 weeks ago Link To Comment
"Apologists" is a term of formal rhetoric and implies no value judgement. No need to be touchy - no insult intended.
51 weeks ago
51 weeks ago Link To Comment
This debate could have been fairer by allowing a Chinese general to stand-in for Katherine or Jeff, since it seems somewhat tilted having the Queen's army argue for my side teamed with the effete Zhu from Peking.

As for the W.S.A. or Julian's Movement, I harbor great doubts them. I suspect they are both sneaky gangs being underwritten by capitalists- not representing true leaks or maoism but trying to sabotage progress for money and jewels. Who knows.
51 weeks ago
51 weeks ago Link To Comment
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