China’s mixed messages

by Chris Zappone

China’s foreign minister called on Japan’s newly elected PM Shinzo Abe to meet Beijing “halfway” and improve relations which have been damaged by the Senkaku-Diaoyu island dispute.

“We hope the new Japanese administration will meet the Chinese side halfway and make concrete efforts to overcome difficulties in bilateral relations,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters, according to AFP.

This would all be well and good if China itself had not sent a plane over the disputed islands three days before the December election in Japan. It was first such incursion by a Chinese state plane into Japanese airspace in the modern era.  

If China was serious about improved relations, why would China do anything to further aggrevate the already tense relationship? Plainly there are conflicting authorities within China, sending out highly contradictory messages to Japan.

The military is its own political power within China, and operates more or less independently of the Communist Party of China for any matters related to China’s disputed borders.

And so a vision of China emerges of a country that has undergone tremendous growth, while the fiefdoms within -the CPC and the military along with all the other internal poles of power – have maintained their own autonomy from each other. That’s true even with Xi Jinping taking the reins of the military. 

So the CPC and military can’t coordinate a consistent message between each other. In this way China is, in the words of Edward Luttwak, “autistic.” He believes there is “no strategy at all” underpinning China’s rise. Recent events suggest that is the case.

To extend Hugh White’s phrasing about the risk of misunderstandings between nations, one of the greatest ongoing “misunderstandings” may be between China’s communist party leadership and its military leaders.