Intelligencer Journal/Lancaster New Era
A focus on China
In our view
As John Kerry ascends to Secretary of State, we wish him well. And we ask that he keep his focus on essentials (as he often didn't during his presidential campaign).
And we would appoint a Cato to stand beside him every day and remind him, "China must be watched."
China management will require Kerry's considerable skill in intellectual complexities and his experience in social graces. That country is on a determined path, but it also is liable to radical change.
For now, at least, the path is likely to continue. China's broad goal is to assert its hegemony over Asia and the nearby Pacific nations. It sees this as a return to a natural glory as old as the ages, which was temporarily eclipsed by European colonialism.
Obama's foreign policy "pivot" toward Asia was the right move in his first term, but it is only partially accomplished. Ties with old regional allies such as Japan, Singapore and Thailand are stronger. Countries with no history as our friends, such as Vietnam and Myanmar, now welcome our presence as a counterbalance to Chinese pressure.
But this dispute expresses itself in exactly the kind of foreign entanglement Americans rightly detest: shooting matches over uninhabitable ocean rocks nobody can pronounce or find on a map. Part of Kerry's job will be to use statesmanship where we are unwilling to use battleships.
A real military showdown ought to be avoidable. But China already is ringed by an invisible battle map of economic, diplomatic and technological conflicts. What looks like a fight over rocks in the sea is much more.
China feels it is big enough (and probably it is big enough), to be its own world. It is building its own space program, its own navy, even its own version of the Internet.
A sound China policy would not be much different from the policy that subsisted through the 1990s. But during the decade-long distraction caused by Islamist terrorism, China has kept moving while we were distracted.
Mao rattled nuclear sabres to bring Taiwan back to China, but the modern People's Republic is slowly buying up that country. It doesn't recognize Taiwan, but it extends large business loans to Taiwanese companies to open and expand business on the mainland.
Along the way, China establishes partner company to learn the technology and business practices of the Taiwanese ones -- state-sponsored entities that can grow larger than the parent companies over time.
Even the evolution of the Internet, while it escapes Beijing's control, risks putting more and more social media throughout Asia under the influence or control of sites run from China.
Much of the force driving the ongoing Chinese economic boom is the sort of reckless greed that drove the Wall Street collapse here. And behind it is an old-style Cold War authoritarianism that has learned to change with the times without losing its grip. The combined tendencies bear close attention from the State Department.