China-US-Vietnam: Defense Minister Liang Guanglie held talks with US Defense Secretary Gates in Hanoi on Monday on the sidelines of the 1st ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting Plus (ADMM-Plus) on bilateral military ties.
Defense Minister Liang invited Gates to visit China early next year, a Chinese official said. Gates accepted the invitation, according to the deputy head of external relations in the Chinese Defense Ministry.
The meeting in which the Chinese made the offer is the first meeting between the two senior defense officials in a year.
NIGHTWATCH Comment: The Chinese characterization of US ties bears attention. Liang said Sino-U.S. relations have maintained momentum of stable development in recent years as China and the United States have agreed to build a positive, cooperative and comprehensive relationship for the 21st century. China-U.S. relations are of increasing global influence, he added.
Liang said military relations constitute an important part of bilateral ties. Currently, the two countries are facing some obstacles in developing military relations, with the U.S. arm sales to Taiwan being the main reason.
NIGHTWATCH Comment: This part of Liang’s remarks glosses over the brittleness of the “obstacles” involving Taiwan. The opening part of the comment minimizes the extent of US concern about China’s lack of opacity and unwillingness to cooperate. The Chinese definition of a “positive, cooperative and comprehensive relationship” does not match the US definition. In the US definition, a positive, cooperative and comprehensive relationship does not yet exist. To try to develop such a relationship is the reason for Gates’ persistence in soliciting an invitation.
NIGHTWATCH Comment on perception management: The US media has made clear that the US is the supplicant seeking a Chinese invitation for the US Secretary, after several Chinese rejections, most sensationally in Singapore by a low ranking Chinese general. Ties were set back by a US decision to sell Taiwan $6.4 billion in defensive arms, to which the Chinese objected strongly and froze defense contacts.
The imagery in Asia is that the rulers of the Central Kingdom finally granted the request for an audience from a recalcitrant supplicant because of his persistence. This is a scenario out of Chinese folklore. The folklore imagery and analogy suggest the Secretary should expect little because he is a player in a modern version of an old folk tale whose primary purpose was to showcase the superiority of the Central KIngdom.
The US is prone to interpret an invitation as a small political breakthrough. That might be an exaggeration. The Chinese are more likely to interpret it as their politicial victory that requires kneeling, head knockings (the imperial kowtow ritual was 3 kneelings and nine knocking of the head) and gifts.
Regarding Southeast Asia, Defense Minister Liang played to the audience and was his most unctuous. His purpose was to reassure China’s Southeast Asian neighbors about China’ s peaceful intentions. A quick look at Chinese territorial sea claims in the South China Sea puts the lie to China’s peaceful intentions, but the Southeast Asian memory of resisting Chinese hegemony is long and fresh.
Phi Beta Iota: China is a perfect and worthy counter-part for thinking about Whole of Government and 21st Century Leadership, both of which escape the US Government and its two-party political monopoly. Strategic analytics is not something that CIA is capable of, nor is it something that the White House or Congress “compute” as essential to their still-imperial view of hegemony by right and ideological fantasy. Beyond Chna lie Brazil, India, Indonesia, Iran, Russia, and Wild Cards such as Turkey. The incapacity of the US Government to get its act together is brutally obvious and viscerally troubling.