US at odds with China, US at odds with Russia – More Ed Snowden fallout

It’s an interesting moment just now, as the White House remains guarded about Obama’s travel plans to Russia during the G20 in September in light of the Snowden affair. Across Eurasia, the departing top US official to Hong Kong makes it clear that, post-Snowden, things have changed between the US and Hong Kong.

The general consul to Hong Kong, Stephen M. Young, said the decision to let Snowden leave Hong Kong for Moscow had “damaged the very high level of trust” and raised questions about how autonomous Hong Kong was from China.

Among the choice quotes from the NYTimes:

“There was a China factor here,” he said in suggesting that the Chinese government steered Hong Kong into letting Mr. Snowden flee to Russia on June 23. “China let us down.”

During an hourlong news conference, Mr. Young occasionally directed pointed words at Beijing’s influence here, and at one point upbraided a reporter from a mainland Chinese newspaper, saying, “I wish you would be more objective,” adding, “but you have your masters in Beijing.”

Consul General Stephen M. Young (State Dept.)

(Pictured: Stephen Young, outgoing US General Consul to Hong Kong – photo US State Dept)

In the US’s eyes, Hong Kong takes a step closer to China, as the city’s reasoning for letting Snowden go appears to be ‘Made In China.’ Russia shows its willingness to stymie the US in at least apprehending a guy who might hold details of the very architecture of the NSA.

Domestically, Congress is fuming at the NSA over the revelations kicked up by Snowden. Courts are questioning the Obama administration’s assertions on the killing of US citizen/terrorists as well. More oversight of the intelligence services is in the air – which all reminds me of the post-Vietnam, post-Watergate era.

What’s clear – possibly even to the American people – is that Russia and China will collaborate when they need to, if there is an opportunity to set the US back. It should help put to bed this globalization-era idea that China, the US (and supposedly Russia) share the same basic goals.

Whatever the outcome of the Snowden affair, the posture of the US to China and US to Russia will be more suspicious, less optimistic, possibly less collaborative.

Hopefully, it’s becoming clear to the US that it is not dealing with the China and Russia Washington wishes exist but the ones that do exist. The high-minded experts in DC can come to this realization as more reforms are made in America’s intelligence communities to make their domestic programs constitutional again. 

Beijing and Snowden

The SCMP piece highlights the options China has over Snowden and without saying it, the limited options for Snowden.

Basically, China doesn’t want to be seen “as directly meddling in the affair” while extracting as much information from Snowden as possible.

The nub of it is this…

“The most effective way is through Hong Kong because this will avoid Beijing being seen as directly meddling in the affair, which would upset the US,” said Professor He Qisong , a defence policy analyst at Shanghai University of Political Science and Law.


Beijing would prefer to extract as much information from Snowden as it could, as early as possible, and then leave the matter to be settled through Hong Kong’s judicial system, He said. Peking University international relations professor Jia Qingguo said Beijing would prefer that Snowden stay in Hong Kong for the time being, so that it could verify his intelligence and determine whether it posed a threat to China’s national security.

As Hong Kong is part of China (albiet with a separate government), I’m not sure what bargaining power Snowden has. He is essentially a guest of Hong Kong. What this means is that if Snowden does get extradited to the US (and I’m still not convinced he won’t just stay abroad), he will have a difficult time shaking the “defector/traitor” label. And yes, it’s possible to be an idealist, who does a service for his country, while also betraying it.

I note the article ends a Renmin University professor predicting that China now has the upper hand on the US concerning cyber security discussions to begin next month.

Japanese, Chinese speakers clash at Hong Kong forum

According to the SCMP, Japan’s top foreign policy minister had a speech delivered (not in person) at an annual regional forum which was met with outrage with a Chinese participant. The speech was penned by Yachi Shotaro, who is understood to be the architect of the new Japanese prime minister’s more nationalist foreign policy. Retired PLA major general Pan Zhenqiang refuted the premise of the speech, which he described as “very rude and arrogant.”

Basically, Yachi made the point that China had not contested the ownership of the Senkaku-Diaoyu Islands after WWII or in 1997 when China and Japan normalised ties. Yachi’s speech went on to say China is “asserting claim by force.” Essentially, Yachi has charged China with revisionism about their territorial claims.

“One must say that the act alone is breaching the rule of international order,” he said. “I should like to ask you: is this a China you want to show to the world? Is this a China that your children will be proud of?

(An aside: China “resents” the current global order created by Allies after WWII, according to ex-PM of Australia Kevin Rudd.)

General Pan drew a parallel between Japan’s attitude today and when Japan invaded China. “this was the kind of attitude they showed to Chinese people: you can only enjoy peace and prosperity if you listen to our command. Do they still want to send that message to [the] Chinese today?”

From the article:

Pan called Japan Asia’s revisionist power, as Abe’s government was trying to change the international order established after the second world war, which imposed a peaceful constitution on Japan and banned it from full-fledged militarisation.

So there you have it, on full display. Both sides accuse the other of revisionism with history, which points to a competing, conflicting view of history, around the islands, from both nations. But it’s emblematic difference in how they view themselves and history.

It’s almost like two tectonic plates rubbing up against each other. Physics dictate that the space can only be occupied by one.

But it’s worth noting that only 25-30 years ago, fears of an ascendant Japan dominated thinking in the US. Then for reasons that had a lot to do with the very specific cultural, societal and economic realities of Japan, it began to recede to the point it finds itself today.

The US, with its problems, is largely in the same spot as it was back then. It’s still the undisputed superpower of the world in part because it doesn’t seek to be a superpower.

The political history of the US aligns with the modern world. It has a mutable strength and can achieve change as it does today. But I believe the deeper integration of China’s culture, history and society with modernity will result in a country that is unable to achieve its ambitions both at home and abroad. I don’t know if the historical power structures of China that remain in place today can cope with modernity. And perhaps in the numerous island disputes we’re seeing examples of that.