Posts Tagged ‘Qing dynasty’

Why China Is Brutally Suppressing Muslims

September 18, 2018

The assault on the Uighurs serves Beijing’s imperial ambitions, which require stable land borders.

Outside a mosque in China’s Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, 2017.
Outside a mosque in China’s Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, 2017. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGE

The repression of the Turkic Uighur Muslim community in western China—including the reported internment of up to a million people in secret camps—is a key part of Beijing’s new imperial policy. Only by understanding the dynamics of Chinese empire can one grasp this brutal campaign.

Xinjiang, a province home to millions of Uighurs, translates to “New Dominion.” The area has been historically and geographically known as East Turkestan. Though the Chinese state has existed for more than 3,500 years, Xinjiang first became part of China’s Qing Dynasty only in the mid-18th century. Since then it has often been in a condition the British explorer Fitzroy Maclean labeled as “sustained turbulence.”



When I first traveled through Xinjiang and interviewed Uighurs in 1994, their hatred of what they considered ethnic Han Chinese occupiers was complete. “This is Turkestan, not China. Chinese don’t learn our language, and many of us don’t learn theirs. Even on a personal level, relations are bad,” one young Uighur man told me.

Relations have worsened since. A deep, unspoken reason why China has never liberalized is its authoritarian leadership fears ethnic rebellion. Uprisings of this sort happened in the outer reaches of the Soviet Union after it liberalized in the 1980s. So China has kept its political system closed, while simultaneously pushing into Central Asia through diplomacy and economic interventions. It is building vast infrastructure projects in the region to ally with the Turkic Muslims of the former Soviet Union and deny China’s own Muslims a friendly rear base for future rebellion. China’s push beyond its borders ultimately has to do with demons within.

Because China historically has never been secure on land, particularly in this western region, it has not had the luxury of going to sea. Except for the Indian Ocean exploits of Adm. Zheng He during the early Ming Dynasty, China has had a demonstrably weak naval tradition. Yet China, mostly secure on land today, aims to posses the world’s largest navy. The intensifying suppression of the Uighur Muslims is the final act in this process. The Belt and Road Initiative—forging transportation corridors by land and sea across Eurasia—requires the complete subjugation of the Uighur population.

The heart of this 21st-century Silk Route is Central Asia. By building roads, railways and energy pipelines across the former Soviet Turkic republics, China will connect with Iran. A Chinese-Iranian economic and infrastructure alliance has the potential to dominate Eurasia, sidelining Russia. But this requires a compliant Uighur population, since all these road and energy pathways between coastal China and the Middle East must pass through Xinjiang.

The Chinese plan is to dilute traditional Uighur culture by forcing people into regimented apartment blocks and modernizing folkloric markets. They also seek to connect towns with new highways and high-speed rail, as I saw on a return visit to Xinjiang in 2015. And they are placing many thousands of Uighurs in internment camps while raising living standards for others—classic carrot-and-stick tactics. All this is designed to end Uighur Muslim culture as it exists today, to complete the Han Chinese domination of its most contentious borderland.

The media have focused on China drowning countries like Pakistan and Sri Lanka in debt, so that it is awarded control of the ports and highways it builds there. Undercovered is the ethnic dimension of Chinese grand strategy across Eurasia. It deserves more attention: The desert home of the Uighur is the potential weak link in China’s Silk Route nexus.

Don’t underestimate national pride and resentment in this process. Hong Kong and Macao have been taken back from the European colonialists, formally ending an era of humiliating foreign intrusion in China’s core. Outer Mongolia’s sovereignty has been undermined significantly by Chinese economic interests. Tibet has been subjugated. Xinjiang now looms as the last holdout before Greater China is truly realized on land, allowing China to concentrate fully on dominating the East and South China seas. In turn this will open up the Indian Ocean, where China has been building and helping develop new ports between Myanmar and Djibouti. Who says that the age of empire has passed?

Because the U.S. is located half a world away, it is at a distinct disadvantage in thwarting this new imperial rise. Washington still has a geopolitical interest in making sure no individual state holds sway over the Eastern Hemisphere as the U.S. once influenced the Western Hemisphere. A Chinese Silk Route that runs through Iran and beyond, with a naval presence over the navigable southern rimland of Eurasia, would do that.

A policy of zero-sum bilateralism—the current American approach—forfeits the strongest asset the U.S. has in this struggle: a system of alliances undergirded by the American ideals of free markets, civil society and human rights. In this competition, holding China to account for its human-rights violations against the Uighurs is a component in a realist approach that also seeks to limit the Chinese navy in the South China Sea. Just as China’s suppression of the Uighurs is part of its grand strategy, America’s commitment to human rights in China should be part of its own approach.

Mr. Kaplan is author of “The Return of Marco Polo’s World: War, Strategy, and American Interests in the Twenty-First Century” (Random House, 2018). He is a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security and a senior adviser at Eurasia Group.


America, China and the route to all-out trade war

September 10, 2018

For political reasons, Trump and Xi will find it hard to back away from this fight

While US president Donald Trump, left, could accept a symbolic victory in a trade war with China, president Xi Jinping could not afford a symbolic defeat © AP

By Gideon Rachman

Trade wars are good, and easy to win.” Donald Trump’s breezy tweet of last March may go down in history as the economic equivalent of prediction in Britain, in August 1914, that the first world war would “all be over by Christmas”.

The US president’s initial tariffs, imposed on $50bn worth of Chinese exports in June, did not bring swift victory. Instead, they were met with Chinese retaliation. Now Mr Trump is preparing to impose tariffs on a further $200bn worth of imports from China, which will probably be met, once again, by a tit-for-tat response from Beijing. The world is on the very brink of a major trade war between the US and China, and it is unlikely to end quickly.

To date, markets have been oddly relaxed about all this. Perhaps they have assumed that a last-minute deal would be reached between the US and China? But that is far too complacent. Instead, there are political, economic and strategic reasons that are pushing the two sides towards prolonged confrontation.

If both sides proceed as threatened, they will soon have covered more than half of their bilateral trade — with Mr Trump threatening even further tariffs after that, which would essentially cover all Chinese exports to the US.

America’s biggest companies and products are already in the line of fire. Apple warned last week that the cost of its products will rise if the next round of proposed tariffs are imposed. It was met with a presidential suggestion that they relocate production to the US. American farmers, hit by Chinese tariffs on soyabeans, have been offered government subsidies and appeals to their patriotism.

For political reasons, both Mr Trump and President Xi Jinping of China will find it very hard to back away from this fight. It is possible that Mr Trump would accept a symbolic victory. But Mr Xi cannot afford a symbolic defeat. The Chinese people have been taught that their “century of humiliation” began when Britain forced the Qing dynasty to make concessions on trade in the 19th century. Mr Xi has promised a “great resurgence of the Chinese people” that will ensure that such humiliations never occur again.

There is also reason for doubt that, when it comes to China, the Trump administration would settle for minor concessions — such as Chinese promises to buy more American goods or to change rules on joint ventures. The protectionists at the heart of the administration — in particular Robert Lighthizer, the US trade representative, and Peter Navarro, policy adviser on trade and manufacturing in the White House — have long regarded China as the core of America’s trade problems.

Optimists will take heart from the fact that Mr Trump has backed off, possibly temporarily, from the dire trade threats he was aiming at Mexico and the EU. The Mexicans have promised to restructure automobile supply-chains, and the EU has pledged to buy more American soyabeans and gas, and to open discussions about a free-trade pact.

But the US’s complaints about China are much more far-reaching than its concerns about the EU or Mexico. They relate not just to specific protected industries, but to the entire structure of the Chinese economy.

In particular, the US objects to the way China plans to use industrial policy to create national champions in the industries of the future, such as self-driving vehicles or artificial intelligence. But the kinds of changes that the US wants to see in Beijing’s “Made in China 2025” programme would require profound changes in the relationship between the Chinese state and industry that have political, as well as economic, implications.

Seen from Beijing, it looks as though the US is trying to prevent China moving into the industries of the future so as to ensure continued American dominance of the most profitable sectors of the global economy, and the most strategically-significant technologies. No Chinese government is likely to accept limiting the country’s ambitions in that way.

The contest over future technologies also underlines the fact that there is a strategic aspect to this trade rivalry — something that is completely lacking in the Trump administration’s confrontations with Mexico, Canada or even the EU.

China is the only plausible rival to the US as the dominant power of the 21st century. So while Mr Trump’s trade tariffs reflect his own personal quirks — in particular, his longstanding protectionism — they are also part of a broader mood-shift within the US.

Large parts of the US establishment, well beyond the Trump administration, have soured on the idea that economic engagement is the best way to deal with a rising China. Instead, the appetite for confrontation is growing. Prominent Democrats are now as vocal in their calls for tariffs and trade sanctions on China as Mr Trump.

The dangers of US-Chinese confrontation over trade are amplified by the fact that both sides seem to believe that they will ultimately prevail. The Americans think that because China enjoys a massive trade surplus with the US, it is bound to suffer most and blink first. The Chinese are conscious of the political turmoil in Washington and the sensitivity of American voters to price rises.

Both sides are preparing for a trial of strength. It is unlikely to be over by Christmas.

The art of the North Korean deal

February 21, 2017

SEOUL • United States President Donald Trump’s surprisingly restrained reaction to North Korea’s latest ballistic missile test has left many observers wondering what his next move will be.

Mr Trump has publicly declared that North Korea’s goal of developing a nuclear-capable missile that can reach the US “won’t happen”. But what, specifically, will he do to prevent it?

Some might advise the Trump administration to launch pre-emptive strikes on North Korea’s nuclear facilities.

But this is a dangerous and ineffective option, because North Korea would then likely retaliate against South Korea. South Koreans do not want to risk a war, so a US-provoked attack by North Korea would be catastrophic for the US-South Korean alliance.

Moreover, North Korea recently developed missiles with solid-fuel engines, which can be stowed away until just before they are launched, making it technically difficult to identify the right targets – and the right times to strike them.

Another possible response to the North Korean threat is tougher international sanctions, including secondary boycotts. But sanctions that are strong enough to make North Korea’s “Young General” Kim Jong Un think twice about his latest provocations will require China’s cooperation, and securing it will not be easy.

Earlier this month, North Korea tested a new ballistic missile.

North Korea’s latest ballistic missile is an ICBM. AFP photo


Chinese leaders might interpret overly aggressive secondary boycotts as being aimed not only at North Korea, but at China, too. And with the Communist Party of China’s 19th National Congress looming later this year, President Xi Jinping will not want to be perceived as giving in to US pressure.

We know from more than two decades of nuclear diplomacy with North Korea that, to achieve a positive outcome, the Trump administration will have to resolve two fundamental dilemmas.

And while past political leaders have preferred to sweep them under the carpet, Mr Trump’s unique, untraditional leadership and negotiating style could enable him to make progress where his predecessors did not.

The first dilemma concerns China. Any diplomatic effort to denuclearise North Korea must also alleviate China’s geostrategic concerns about the future of the Korean peninsula. For centuries, China has feared that the peninsula could become part of a chain of encirclement, or serve as an invasion route. In 1592, Japanese general Toyotomi Hideyoshi invaded the Korean kingdom to establish a beachhead for invading China. In response, China, under the Ming Dynasty, fought alongside Korea against the Japanese army.

Three centuries later, China’s Qing Dynasty fought the Sino-Japanese War of 1894 to prevent Japan from dominating Korea. And again, in the winter of 1950-1951, Chinese Communist Party chairman Mao Zedong intervened in the Korean War when the US Army crossed the 38th Parallel and advanced towards China’s border.

China’s current leaders share their forbears’ strategic concerns about the Korean peninsula, which explains their unwillingness to fully meet US demands for action against North Korea.

China simply does not want to run the risk of its North Korean buffer state imploding as a result of sanctions. And, because they understand China’s strategic imperative, North Korea’s leaders have felt free to develop their country’s nuclear programme.

Mr Trump and Mr Xi have had their first phone conversation, and may soon meet in person. My hope is that Mr Trump will live up to his reputation for boldness, and propose a grand bargain with China that alleviates its geostrategic worries about the Korean peninsula.

Unless the North Korea problem is separated from the strategic competition between the US and China, diplomatic efforts will continue to fail. So, Mr Trump could promise China that his administration will not seek regime change in North Korea, and instead offer security guarantees if North Korea denuclearises.

Alternatively, he could offer to withdraw the US’ new Thaad (Terminal High Altitude Area Defence) anti-missile system – to which China has objected – from South Korea as soon as North Korea scraps its nuclear programme.

Mr Trump could then demand that, in exchange, China cooperate wholeheartedly on sanctions and other efforts to persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear ambitions. With such a deal in place, China’s existing proposal – denuclearisation alongside a peace treaty to bring a formal end to the Korean War – would become achievable.

But assuaging China’s strategic concerns brings us to the second dilemma at the heart of the current impasse: North Korea’s own security. In the brutal world of international relations, a small, weak and isolated country like North Korea can feel threatened by its neighbours even when they mean it no harm. To compensate for its perceived vulnerability, it strengthens its military and acquires powerful deterrents such as nuclear weapons. But this becomes a vicious circle, because its neighbours interpret its actions as a provocation, and start to feel threatened themselves.

Former US president Bill Clinton acknowledged this problem and tried to address it. Under the 1994 Geneva Agreed Framework, the Clinton administration succeeded in freezing North Korea’s nuclear activities for several years, by promising to improve US-North Korea relations. And although Mr George W. Bush’s administration consigned North Korea to its “Axis of Evil”, it also recognised the North’s security dilemma and tried to address it through the Six-Party Agreement on Sept 19, 2005.

Critics of this approach think that the US has bought the same horse twice and should focus on sanctions, while waiting for North Korea to make the next move.

But sanctions are not effective without robust Chinese support. And North Korea has taken advantage of the diplomatic pause in recent years to develop its nuclear and missile technologies. As a result, we are in a worse place now than when we started.

During his presidential campaign, Mr Trump said he would “have no problem” speaking to Mr Kim. He now has a chance to do just that, by exploring the possibility of a comprehensive deal with North Korea, based on a US security guarantee and economic incentives.

But Mr Trump should go down this road only if he is also willing to address China’s strategic concerns.

If he can strike simultaneous deals with China and North Korea, even his harshest critics will recognise his masterstroke.


•Yoon Young Kwan, South Korea’s former foreign minister, is Professor Emeritus of international relations at Seoul National University.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 21, 2017, with the headline ‘The art of the North Korean deal’.

Why China still can’t make sense of the Cultural Revolution

May 29, 2016

By Kerry Brown
Hong Kong Free Press

If there is one certainty in contemporary Chinese politics, it’s that any mention of the Cultural Revolution, which began half a century ago in May 1966, must always be negative.

The “turbulent decade” of the Cultural Revolution, as it is called by many within China, is regarded as an unmitigated disaster, an event that weakened and destroyed the country and the Communist Party, in which a group of radicals ultimately to be known as the “Gang of Four” bamboozled, misled and humiliated the country’s beloved chairman, Mao Zedong.

Mausoleum of Mao Zedong

This historiography has a convenient neatness about it. It means that after a sentence or two, an event which lasted a decade and which overshadows the lives of almost everyone over 60 in the current political elite, can be – to use imagery popular during the Cultural Revolution itself – “consigned to the dustbin of history”. In that spirit, this year’s anniversary was acknowledged with a taut statement decrying the revolution as “entirely wrong in both theory and practice”.

In a country where the merest pretext is used to celebrate anniversaries (witness the jamboree marking the120th anniversary of Mao’s birth in 2013) it seems odd that such a huge event should get only the barest mention in the state media in China, and zero reference from any senior leaders. Why the coyness, especially given that half a century is such a natural marker?

Ever since the central government came to a rapid, highly abstract consensus on the Cultural Revolution in the 1981 Resolution on certain questions in the history of our party since the founding of the People’s Republic of China, the discourse has been set in stone: the Cultural Revolution was a disaster, full stop. It’s time to move on.

mao cultural revolution

Over the years, public traces of the revolution have grown fainter. The once-ubiquitous Mao sayings scrawled on urban walls are now few and far between. The poor-quality stencilled pamphlets which attacked revisionists and “capitalist roaders” were once a staple of any second-hand shop, but are now hard to find – and usually very expensive, counterfeit, or both. Mao memorabilia survives, but generally in the form of cute iconography that gives the late dictator an avuncular, harmless sheen.

Most striking of all, Chinese bookshops now offer almost no accounts of the era by current Chinese writers. In the 1990s, at least there were some books you could pick up, even in provincial bookstores, that offered some version of the Cultural Revolution’s history. Granted, their accounts invariably blamed everyone except Mao for the events back then, but at least they outlined some of the chronology, the victims and the key events.

Denounced people cultural revolution

There are many reasons for this amnesia, but the most powerful is that the Cultural Revolution remains both an extreme anomaly and a profound embarrassment. It’s utterly unlike any other event in Chinese history, before or since.

A very Chinese trauma

In the past, Chinese analysts tried to make sense of it by drawing parallels with the Literary Inquisition under the Qianlong emperor of the late 18th century, in which cultural figures were herded up and cowed into submission. They referred to the ways the Cultural Revolution “borrowed” (probably unintentionally) from the iconography of imperial China, from forcing victims to wear dunce’s caps to their being hanging placards around their necks with their names crossed through in red to show their political annihilation.

But while they’re important in themselves, all these parallels are ultimately peripheral. The Cultural Revolution was a public trauma, a purge, and a movement with particularly Chinese characteristics: the deification of Mao, the mass hysteria, and the deep, bitter divisions that gripped the whole society. It’s hard to imagine it happening anywhere else.

As a result, historians inside and outside China find the event very hard to interpret and explain. There are debates still raging about why it happened at all – suggested culprits include Mao’s personal political ambition, fear of the Soviet Union, or unhealed and unresolved issues from the civil war and the foundation of the People’s Republic two decades earlier.

Cultural Revolution.

For a fair number of Chinese people old enough to remember them first hand, the events of 50 years ago are still live ones to them. Writers who wrestled with the meaning of the revolution decades later, such as Ba Jin, have argued that part of the trauma and pain of the decade after 1966 was that the division between victim and protagonist blurred. In many ways, people at the time often functioned as both as the event developed and changed. It complexity evaded any easy moral narratives.

The Chinese Communist Party of the 21st century likes its history simple, its heroes and villains clear cut and its messages direct and unambiguous. The Cultural Revolution, by contrast, is a mess of unwelcome contradictions and paradoxes. That is why it has not, and will not, feature prominently in Chinese political life any time soon.

Kerry Brown is a Professor of Chinese Politics and Director of the Lau China Institute at King’s College London. This article was first published on the Conversation and can be found here.



China Marks 50th Anniversary of Cultural Revolution — Xi Embraces Mao’s Radical Legacy

May 14, 2016

The Cultural Revolution is no longer just an ugly chapter in China’s past. Its brutal legacy forms a key part of President Xi Jinping’s ‘China dream’


An independent Hong Kong might be in Beijing’s best interests

April 13, 2016


By Hong Kong Economic Journal

Hong Kong officials have toned down their rhetoric against an emerging pro-independence mindset.

Recently, Leung Chun-ying smilingly said that his administration puts local interests first and that Hong Kong does not need independence to protect its own well-being.

Leung Chun-ying

In a previous column, I said that Hongkongers should respond positively to Beijing’s dovish approach to the issue.

Moreover, an independent Hong Kong might be in Beijing’s best interest and a peaceful divorce is not implausible and would be a win-win situation.

Is Hong Kong independence legally possible?

Despite its iron rule, the Communist Party respects contracts and, and to a certain extent, it lives up to its word.

How, then can independence be legal?

One scenario is that the Communist Party collapses and China plunges into anarchy. Hong Kong could justifiably secede for its own sake.

Another is if the governing authority falls apart and causes the constitution to cease functioning. That would leave the constitutionality of an independent Hong Kong academic.

Hong Kong should be prepared for any such eventuality.

Some might think these scenarios are remote but I suggest they study history.

In 1911, a handful of provinces including Guangdong, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Shandong and Sichuan revolted against a weakened Qing dynasty and declared independence.

The uprising came to be known as the Xinhai Revolution.

Xinhai Revolution

Fast forward 105 years and we have a China that spends more money on internal security than national defense and a Communist Party that keeps warning about its imminent collapse from corruption.

These are signs the communist infrastructure is not impregnable.

Even in the present circumstances, Beijing might decide to let go if it thinks the split will do more good than harm to its own interests.

But it could just as well keep its iron grip on Hong Kong and refuse to compromise on its territorial integrity.

Again, there are historical precedents.

For centuries, China had no central authority and had different rulers such as during the Three Kingdoms (220–280 A.D.) or the Northern and Southern dynasties (420 to 589).

These were independent kingdoms which lasted longer than some dynasties that controlled China — the Qin dynasty (221 B.C.–206 B.C.) and Yuan dynasty (1271–1368).

Mao Zedong spearheaded a split in 1931 when he proclaimed the Chinese Soviet Republic in Jiangxi province.

That led to the two Chinas we know today — the communist-ruled mainland and the Kuomintang-ruled Taiwan, also called Republic of China.

How would a Republic of Hong Kong sit in this equation?

Beijing resolutely insists that Hong Kong has been part part of China since the Qin dynasty, although many Hong Kong people would disagree.

Records of the Grand Historian, a monumental history book on ancient China,  says Hong Kong was annexed by Qin Shi Huang (秦始皇).

Qin Shi Huang

He sent convicts to the new territory and subsequently began establishing settlements, in the same way European settlers colonized many parts of Asia and Africa.

These aside, Hong Kong independence could be legally invoked under the concept of “material non-compliance” which treats the constitution as a contract.

If one party is in breach of the contract, the other could rescind it.

In the context of the Basic Law, that concept would apply to clauses relating to Hong Kong’s autonomy and the promise of “Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong” which have been flouted by Beijing.

That would invalidate the constitution in its entirety including Article 1 which stipulates that Hong Kong is an inalienable part of the People’s Republic of China.

Beijing’s “material non-compliance”  is the basis of calls for self-determination from newly formed political groups.

Hong Kong independence is an interesting topic for study.

In the 1950s and 1960s, at the height of a crackdown on communist propaganda, the British colonial administration allowed a number of leftist groups to operate in the name of academic research.

Can Beijing and Hong Kong show that kind of accommodation?

We are reminded of the US Civil War when southern states fought to secede from the union.

In Japan, Okinawa and some northeast prefectures wanted to be independent nations.

We have learned enough from history to confidently say that a free society like Hong Kong should allow discussion of such a sensitive subject that diverges from the official line.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Apr. 11.

Translation by Frank Chen

[Chinese version 中文版]

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China Working To Make Xinjiang Contribute More Economically — But Muslim Uighurs Seethe Under Chinese Rule

January 3, 2016


Location of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in China. Source: Wikipedia Commons.

By Altay Atli*

The Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region is territorially the largest administrative unit of China1, covering around one sixth of the country’s total area, and neighboring eight independent countries (Afghanistan, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan). The region was under the spotlight of the world during the summer of 2009 when clashes between the two major ethnic groups, Uyghurs and the Han Chinese, left around 200 people dead in Urumqi. In their attempts to explain the violence in Xinjiang, most analysts overplayed the ethnic factor, largely ignoring the socio-economic context within which the ethnic structure of the region should be evaluated. Evidence suggests that the leading cause of the instability in Xinjiang is not the failure of different ethnic groups to coexist, but mainly the relative economic backwardness of the region, which results in large income disparities between these groups, creating a fertile ground for unrest, one that is further worsened by the ethnic policies adopted by the central government in Beijing.
At the same time, it has to be admitted that the central government has been heavily investing in Xinjiang’s development over the past decade. There are continued economic reforms accompanied by limited cultural and political openings, and as David Gosset argues, “in a fragile macro-region, Xinjiang stands, by sharp contrast, as a pole of stability and economic development.”2

The main question addressed in this article is why the economic development of Xinjiang is a priority for the Beijing government. As will be discussed below, most scholars and China-watchers approach this issue by emphasizing the intention of Beijing to keep ethnic separatism at bay. The situation is often portrayed as a Faustian bargain, in which Beijing provides the ethnic groups with greater welfare, asking them in return to give up their demands for political freedom. However, this line of reasoning leads to a serious dilemma: If this is the primary motivation of the government, how can we explain the fact that Beijing’s investment in Xinjiang is much higher than its investment in other regions populated by predominantly non- Han Chinese population?3

In order to understand Beijing’s determination in economically developing Xinjiang, we need to go beyond the ethnic issues and consider the case of Xinjiang within the larger framework of China’s economic security. The Chinese economy is growing rapidly and so are its requirements and needs, including but not limited to raw materials and resources. Xinjiang’s geographical position as China’s gateway to Central Asia and its endowment of natural resources make it an important actor in this respect. In order to illustrate this argument, this article will first discuss what economic security means in the Chinese context, provide brief background information on Xinjiang’s economic development, and then proceed to evaluate the region within the Chinese context in order to assess to what extent Xinjiang contributes to the overall economic security of China. In this way, this article hopes to shed light on the motivation behind the Chinese government’s intensive efforts for developing this region.

  • The question is, why does Beijing invest in Xinjiang?
  • Is it because Beijing wants to improve the living standards of the people living in Xinjiang?
  • Is it because Beijing wants to prevent ethnic separatism in Xinjiang?
  • Is it because Beijing wants to establish a buffer against Central Asia?
  • Is it because Beijing wants to source raw materials from Xinjiang for the rest of the country?

Whereas all of these questions can be responded to in the affirmative, Beijing’s motivation for investing in Xinjiang should be evaluated within the larger framework of the “economic security” concept. This paper argues that Xinjiang’s development is of vital importance for the central government because this region is playing a key role vis-à-vis the economic security of China. Before moving to elucidate this argument, we will first discuss what economic security means in the Chinese context.

1. China and the Concept of Economic Security

The current era of globalization, marked by growing economic interdependence among countries, has given rise to the necessity of redefining the concept of “security”. As greater openness and interconnectedness brought about higher degrees of economic volatility, uncertainty, and vulnerability, traditional security perceptions such as interstate military conflict came to be replaced by not only non-conventional forms of violence such as global terrorism, but also by economic security concerns. As a result, scholars began to pay greater attention on issues related to economic security. In one of the groundbreaking studies in this field, Barry Buzan looked at the main features of new patterns of global security relations. Accordingly, the changes in security relations between the center and the periphery were happening in five sectors: political, military, economic, societal and environmental.4 Buzan defined economic security as being “about access to resources, finance and markets necessary to sustain acceptable levels of welfare and state power.”5

Another development with regard to the literature on economic security was the diversification of regions analyzed. Whereas in past decades scholars mostly dealt with developed countries and particularly the United States, there emerged lately a greater interest in the developing parts of the world, where globalization and the challenges it brought led to a redefinition of the economic security concept in an on-going process. China is one of the countries where this redefinition has been most dramatic, since in China globalization has coincided with the opening up of a socialist economy and the consequent rapid growth. China’s economic growth is remarkably impressive by any measure and it is fair to say that China’s growth is one of the most important factors shaping today’s global economy. However, on the other side of the coin, the issue of economic security raised by China’s rapid growth remains as a major concern, both for the government and the academia.

Several scholars have discussed the economic security dimension of China’s rapid growth. Wang Zhengyi, for one, argued that the evolution of the relationship between economic growth and national security since the opening up of China in 1978 can be divided in two stages. They were first regarded to as two separate logics; however from the mid-1990s on, especially after the Asian financial crisis and China’s accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO), they came to be viewed as constituting one single domain.6 According to Zhenyi, three features of the economic growth in China, i.e. incomplete transformation of the economic structure, increasing dependence on the world economy and intensifying socio- economic polarization, led to this reconceptualization of the linkage between economic growth and security.7 Zhenyi further stated that the economic insecurities resulting from the above mentioned features of Chinese economic growth are:

i) Rising unemployment;

ii) Severe economic disparities between coastal and interior regions, as well as between urban and rural areas;

iii) Decentralization of authority in the Chinese economy and society.8

Similarly, in a volume of essays edited by Werner Draguhn and Robert Ash, the following were addressed as the most crucial determinants of China’s economic insecurity: regional disparities, rural-urban migration, unemployment, food supply, energy supply and environmental protection.9

Another scholar from China, Jiang Yong, evaluated economic security in the Chinese context as “the ability to provide a steady increase in the standard of living for the whole population through national economic development while maintaining economic independence.”10 Accordingly, in order to ensure economic security, China should adopt a policy of “balanced opening”, i.e. while increasing its competitiveness, it should also safeguard the independence of sovereignty over the economy, particularly against foreign capital.11

A remarkable point related to the literature on Chinese economic security is that a significant portion of it is dealing empirically with what Vincent Cable labeled as “security of supply”.12 Economic interdependence is inescapable in the era of globalization, and depending on other countries for means of supply. Cable saw two separate problems here: First, interruptions in import supply can severely disrupt the national economy, and second, overseas suppliers can acquire a monopoly position turning the terms of trade against the importer. Cable argues that these two arguments usually went together, and they were especially evident in the areas of food, strategic minerals (those used in industries regarded as strategic such as aircraft manufacture), energy (esp. oil and gas) and advanced technology.13 In China’s case, since its rapid growth requires a constant supply of raw materials of which the prices are on the rise in the world markets, security of supply and especially the security of energy supply began to top the agenda. For instance, Linda Jakobson and Zha Daojiong, in their study of the motivations behind China’s pursuit of offshore oil supplies, defined the concept of security of supply as the “availability of oil, reliability in delivery and reasonability in prices.”14 The authors suggested that under current circumstances, it would be in the interest of China as well as the established economies to collaborate with rather than confront each other in shaping a new global structure for oil trade.15 Within this framework of collaboration in oil trade, one of the most important aspects is the pipeline transportation, which was examined in the Chinese context by Pak K. Lee, who drew a rather pessimistic picture arguing that possibilities of bilateral or multilateral energy cooperation were rather remote.16

In sum, it can be argued that for China and its rapidly growing economy, economic security means sustaining its growth rate, welfare, and economic power. This is to be achieved by ensuring access to export markets, securing sources of raw materials, especially strategic minerals and hydrocarbons, keeping the import routes open, and preserving macroeconomic stability. The question is then to what extent Xinjiang contributes to this picture, however, before dealing with this question this region’s economic development needs to be evaluated within a historical perspective.

2. Economic Development of Xinjiang in Historical Context

Throughout history, Xinjiang’s economic development has been shaped by a strong confluence of environmental and socio-political factors.17 On the environmental side, the remote and land-locked position of Xinjiang and its inhospitable environmental features emerged as significant obstacles against the economic development of the region.18 However, offsetting these disadvantages, the region is rich in natural resources, including hydrocarbons. The socio-political side, on the other hand, is more complex, and it is related to the complex ethnic composition of Xinjiang. The single largest ethnic group in Xinjiang is the Uyghurs whereas other major non-Han ethnic groups include the Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, Uzbeks and Tajiks, all of whom have kinsmen in the neighboring Central Asian republics of the former Soviet Union.19 As a matter of fact, economic development of Xinjiang cannot be evaluated separately from the ethnic issues involved.

The discussion of economic development in Xinjiang should begin with the Qing Dynasty period. After incorporating Xinjiang as a province into the Chinese empire in 1884, the Qing Dynasty embarked upon an aggressive program of economic development. Agriculture began to be commercialized with a significant expansion of cultivation throughout the region, and there was also progress in other areas of the economy, such as the rise of handicrafts, coal and oil extraction (with Russian assistance) and flourishing foreign trade, which also benefited from the British-Russian imperial rivalry in Central Asia.

The political and social turmoil that followed the collapse of the Qing Dynasty in 1911 negatively influenced the economy of Xinjiang. Carla Wiemer distinguishes four different periods of volatility associated with four consecutive warlords who governed Xinjiang during the republican era. Accordingly, the reign of Yang Zengxin (1911-1928) was a period of “healthy recovery” during which agricultural development was prioritized and Xinjiang exported agricultural commodities in return for imports of industrial products. This was followed by the reign of Jin Shuren (1928-1933) marked by corruption and economic slowdown. Sheng Shicai (1933-1942) brought back recovery to the economy of Xinjiang through liberal reforms and the assistance of the Soviet Union, which was particularly crucial in the revival of extractive industries. The period after Shicai, under the leadership of Zhang Zhizong (1942-1949), was influenced by the civil war and the world war in China, as well as by souring of relations with the Soviet Union, resulting in an economic decline.20

In the 1940s, Uyghurs and other non-Han Chinese in certain parts of Xinjiang experienced a brief period of independence. In what the Chinese official histories call “Three Districts Revolution”, as an uprising against the nationalist central government, the Eastern Turkistan Republic was founded in 1944 with Soviet backing,.21 However, after the People’s Republic was founded in 1949, Xinjiang had to surrender to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and the Eastern Turkistan Republic was absorbed into the communist rule through what Chinese official histories call, the “peaceful liberation”.22

Soon after the establishment of the People’s Republic, the central government in Beijing launched two initiatives to consolidate its control over the economy of Xinjiang. The first was the settlement of Han Chinese to the region in order to strengthen the links between the region and the central government. This was important, because the Muslim Uyghur population’s loyalty to the new regime in Beijing was highly suspicious since they were neither pro-Chinese nor pro- Communist.23 Whereas in 1952 only 7.1% of Xinjiang’s population were Han Chinese, this ratio rose to 40.1% as of 1971 and remained almost unchanged ever since. Second was the establishment of the centrally managed Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps. This enterprise was composed of demobilized PLA soldiers, and had a significant economic presence in several fields, such as agriculture, steel, minerals, electricity, water, education, etc. Its share in Xinjiang’s GDP reached a peak level of 31.3% in 1971, later gradually fading down to 16.6% as of 2000.24

The Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution periods under Mao Zedong were marked by what Michael Clarke called a “contradiction created by the policy directives from Beijing and what was actually practicable in Xinjiang’s conditions”.25 Policies were implemented and targets were set without regard for the local conditions of Xinjiang and they were characterized by ideological influence that took mainly anti-Islam and anti-Soviet forms in Xinjiang. There was, however, some economic progress, albeit limited. In 1977, Jack Chen argued that China was industrializing without an exodus from the farms to big cities. He compared the rural population ratio of 87% in the unindustrialized China of 1949 with 80% in 1977. Chen was also pointing of a modernization of the economy, stating that the share of modern industry in the total value of industrial production in Xinjiang had risen from 2.9% in 1949 to 78% in 1977.26 As Chen was writing these lines, Deng Xiaoping rose as the leader of the post-Mao China, bringing greater liberalization to Xinjiang. What was remarkable in this period was China embarked on a series of market-oriented economic reforms within the framework of what is called the “socialist market economy”, a system where the state owns a large part of the economy and at the same time allows all entities to participate within a market economy.

At the outset of the reforms, Chinese authorities in Beijing concentrated on the development of the eastern parts of the country, hoping that the positive effects of the development would spill over to the rest of China. However, this plan turned out to be miscalculated, and the outcome was a rapid widening of regional disparities, with the western part of the country significantly remaining behind the eastern belt, and, in contrast with what Chen had written, a massive exodus occurring from rural China to metropolitan areas.27

The central government’s response to the growing disparities during the 1990s took the form of “preferential policies”, a series of privileges and incentives provided for western regions, such as economic zones and tax-sharing arrangements. However, while doing this, Beijing has also recentralized fiscal and decision making powers, keeping much of Xinjiang’s economy under the control of the state.28 There were disparities not only between Xinjiang (or the western part of China in general) and the coastal belt of the country, but also within Xinjiang itself, since the government was investing more in the northern part of Xinjiang, which was heavily colonized by Han Chinese. This was a major reason behind the rise of ethnic minority opposition to Chinese control of Xinjiang and unrest in the region during the 1990s.29

It has also to be remarked that during the 1990s, the central government’s economic strategy for Xinjiang was based on two pillars, “one black, one white”, referring to the priority given to oil extraction and cotton cultivation. While oil was seen as an important source of revenue for the region, the ultimate justification of the emphasis on cotton was the opening up of new land through reclamation, a key element in bringing in large numbers of Han settlers.30 Beijing’s overriding aim in Xinjiang during the decade was to integrate Xinjiang to the rest of China, and this was to be achieved not only by speeding up Han migration, but also by developing communication links, reinforcing military presence in Xinjiang and neutralizing the impact of the neighboring Central Asian states.31

The latter element deserves greater attention here. It was not Deng’s reforms per se that triggered Xinjiang’s opening up to the rest of the world in the economic and commercial sense, but rather the fact these reforms coincided with the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the resulting emergence of independent Central Asian republics neighboring Xinjiang. This opening up brought risks and benefits at the same time. There were risks, because Beijing feared that these republics, whose people share a common heritage and same ethnic roots with the non-Han in Xinjiang, would support the then emerging reassertions of the ethnic minority opposition to Chinese rule within the region. On the other hand, there were the economic prospects as well. Already before the Soviet collapse, Deng had initiated the “double opening” policy, implying the simultaneous orientation of the region’s economy towards both China and the then Soviet Central Asia.32

After 1991, liberalization of China’s foreign trade regime that coincided with the independence of the Central Asian republics led to a rapid growth in trade between China and Central Asia. This growth was not limited to the bilateral state level, but there was also growth in local trade between Xinjiang and the Central Asian republics in the form of border trade, border residents markets and tourist purchases.33 In sum, China’s strategy was to establish a buffer, while at the same time to benefit from larger amounts of cross border commerce.

As the 1990s were coming to a close, regional income disparities that arose as a result of China’s uneven growth remained a concern for the Beijing government. The most profound policy response came in the form of the “Great Western Development Strategy” launched in January 2000 as an attempt to alleviate the obstacles to development in the western regions of China34, by channeling China’s government spending from the coastal provinces to the west. The strategy focused on the following areas:

  • Infrastructure development (focusing on expanding the highway network and building more railway tracks, airports, gas pipelines, power grids, telecommunications networks).
  • Environment (projects to protect natural forests along the upper Yangtze River and the upper and middle reaches of the Yellow River).
  • Local industry (encouraging different regions to develop industries that maximize local comparative advantages in geography, climate, resources and other conditions; capitalizing on high-tech industries).
  • Investment environment (taking steps to attract more foreign investment, capital, technology and managerial expertise by improving industrial structure and reforming state-owned enterprises).
  • Science, technology and education.35

Within the framework of this strategy, cumulative fixed investments in Xinjiang totaled 1.4 trillion yuan36 over the period between 2000 and 2009, more than 80% of which coming from the central government.37 During this period, Xinjiang received four times as much investment as it had during the 1990’s, and investments were mainly made in infrastructure projects in agriculture, forestry, energy and transportation sectors.

Recently the central government has adopted the idea of focusing on Xinjiang’s development in order to deepen the Great Western Development Strategy. This approach was explicitly declared when, on 17-19 May 2010, the government held a central work conference on Xinjiang’s development, the first of its kind in the history of the People’s Republic. At this conference, President Hu Jintao announced the goals of the new approach, which are establishing a basic public health system by 2012; leveling the region’s per capita income with the Chinese average by 2015; and eliminating absolute poverty and achieving a “moderately prosperous” society by 2020. In order to attain these goals, fixed assets investment in Xinjiang over the period 2011-2015 will double that of the previous five-year period, income tax levels will be reduced, undeveloped land will be made available for construction, and access requirements to industries related to resources and/or those with high market demand will be relaxed.38

Although the central government is heavily funding the Great Western Development Strategy, and several important projects have already been brought to life in the region, there are two crucial points that have to be made. First, the western regions of China (including Xinjiang) exhibit a great diversity in terms of ethnic composition and despite denials by the Chinese government, there is an almost consensus among scholars that the Great Western Development Strategy is aimed at increasing material wealth of the people in order to ensure greater minority cooperation, which would lead to their integration with the Han Chinese and help silence the separatist movements. As Michael Clarke argues, the Great Western Development Strategy suggested that “while the state continues to stress the need to address the problems of uneven development in ethnic minority regions, it nonetheless maintains that this will be done on the basis of preserving ‘national unity’ and ‘social stability’ with the dominant ethnic group –the Han– as the leading agents of modernization”.39 Second, there is another influential opinion among scholars that the richer eastern parts of China are benefiting more from the Great Western Development Strategy than the western regions, because this strategy focuses on infrastructure, energy and natural resource extraction, instead of directly addressing the social issues in the western regions. It is argued that the western regions would have benefited more if the campaign had focused more on poverty relief, improvement in education and health care.40

Despite its problems and setbacks, Xinjiang is currently on a development path. The next section of the article will examine what this development means for China’s economic security.

3. The Role of Xinjiang in China’s Economic Security

Given its radical transformation and rapid growth rate, China is obliged to take the necessary measures to deal with collateral macroeconomic disturbances (such as unemployment, income equality, etc), and to ensure its continued access to world markets where it can sell its products. Since it relies to a great extent on imports of raw materials to fuel its economic growth, China has to ensure continued inflow of such supplies as well, while at the same time maintaining its economic independence, which is achieved by avoiding excessive reliance on a single source of imports and diversifying the sources instead. In this part of the article, we will discuss to what extent Xinjiang contributes to China’s economic security in the each of the areas mentioned above.

3.1. Macroeconomic Indicators

Macroeconomic disturbances threaten a country’s economic security. In China’s case, such disturbances emerge as a result of the country’s rapid growth and transformation, and appear in the form of rising unemployment; severe economic disparities between coastal and interior regions, as well as between urban and rural areas; and decentralization of authority in the Chinese economy and society. In order to deal with these insecurities, China has embarked on a series of adjustments since the mid-1990s, especially gradual institutional adjustments, establishing a social security system and coordinating the development of the regional economy.41

Xinjiang remains far behind the eastern provinces of China in terms of average incomes. In 2009, when Chinese GDP grew by 8.7% and most central and western provinces of the country achieved double-digit growth rates thanks to the stimulus package launched by the government as a measure against the effects of the global crisis, Xinjiang’s GDP rose by only 8.1%.

During the same year, average annual disposable income was 12,258 yuan for urban households, and 4,005 yuan for rural households in Xinjiang.42 Both figures were below the national averages, which are 17,175 yuan and 5,153 yuan, for urban and rural households respectively However, it has to be noted that the income gap between Xinjiang and the rest of China has begun to narrow, mainly because of rising employment in the region. Until 2008, Xinjiang’s employment rate was increasing slower than the China average. In 2009, however, total employment rose by 0.7% in China, whereas the increase in Xinjiang was 2.3%.43

On the negative side, however, inflation is rising faster in Xinjiang compared to the rest of China. In August 2010, while the consumer price index (CPI) increased by 2.8% on a year-on-year basis in China, this increase was 3.8% in Xinjiang, which is influenced by high levels of rural inflation.44
In sum, from a macroeconomic perspective, Xinjiang has a negative yet improving position as far as China’s economic security is concerned. Its economic backwardness relative to the more developed provinces can be regarded as major concern, whereas unemployment and rising inflation continue to pose a problem.

3.2. Security of Supply

Economic interdependence means that all countries are dependent on others to some extent for one kind of supplies or another. This implies that interruptions in imports of the supply can severely disrupt the national economy and also overseas suppliers can acquire a monopoly position turning the terms of trade against the importer. Vincent Cable argues that these two arguments usually go together and they are especially evident in the areas of food, strategic minerals (those used in industries regarded strategic such as aircraft production), energy (esp. oil and gas) and advanced technology.45 Food supply and energy supply are often defined as the most crucial determinants of China’s economic security, together with the macroeconomic disturbances discussed above. As the economy of China grows, so does its need for supplies of raw materials and resources, and security of supply becomes an increasing concern for the decision makers in Beijing. This part of the article will start with two areas of supply security, namely energy security and food security, the first associated with the needs of a growing economy and the latter with the needs of a growing population. Additionally, a third area will be discussed, which is of vital importance for China’s textile industry, namely cotton.

Energy. Due to the high rate of economic growth in China, demand for energy outstrips local supply and there is an increasing reliance on imports, although China is the world’s fifth largest oil producer with a production volume of 189 million tons in 2009.46 After 1978, as the oil consumption of the major economic powerhouses in the world (United States, Europe and Japan) almost remained constant, China’s consumption nearly quadrupled.

Dependence on imports is by itself an economic security concern, which is further heightened by the volatilities in global energy markets and political instability in the world’s energy producing regions. China is currently dependent on imported oil. Until 1993, it had been self-sufficient in this respect, even producing a surplus. However, after this year consumption increased faster than local production and the resulting gap is widening every year. The local production/consumption ratio, which was 120.8% in 1992, declined below the self- sufficiency line in 1993 with 98.8% and continued to decrease, to 72.7% in 2000 and to 46.7% in 2009.47 This means that today China is producing less than half of the oil it consumes and for the rest it depends on imports.48 As this ratio falls, imports increase (in 2009, China’s imports of crude oil rose by 13.8%), and so do the economic security concerns.

China’s approach to energy security is “evolving from a vision of tight government control and self-reliance to a more liberal outlook that accepts market forces and diversified energy types and sources”.49 Within this framework, China is establishing energy supply relations with countries all around the world. In 2009, the Middle East supplied 50.7% of China’s total oil imports, Africa 20.5%, Southeast Asia 13.5% and Russia 13.1%.50 Furthermore, in another attempt to ensure its economic security, China is purchasing stakes in foreign oil companies. For instance, the acquisition of PetroKazakhstan by China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC), in October 2005 is considered a landmark in China’s overseas oil development.51

There is, however, a different picture as far as other energy sources, i.e. natural gas and coal, are concerned. China consumes gas and coal as much as it produces them, not more. In other words, China is self-sufficient in gas and coal.

Table 1. Distribution of China’s Oil Production by Regions

As a region within China, Xinjiang’s contribution to the country’s energy supply security takes two forms; first as a producer of energy resources, and second as a transit route of energy resources imported from abroad.

Xinjiang is a part of China’s quest to diversify its oil resources and this can be traced back to 1991 when the Chinese government granted the development rights of the Tarim Basin to Japan National Oil Corporation. Following this initial opening, Xinjiang’s oil output gradually increased. In 2009, Xinjiang produced 25.1 million tons of crude oil52, and, as seen in Table 1, Xinjiang is the third largest oil-producing region in the country. Yet the region can be expected to climb to higher ranks in the near future. Only 33% of China’s oil reserves are estimated to have been discovered so far and Xinjiang hosts large amounts of undiscovered oil reserves, particularly in Tarim Basin53, which is estimated to contain 10 billion tons of oil. CNPC is known to have plans to develop Xinjiang as a major oil and production center. Having invested over 300 billion yuan in the region so far, the company aims to increase annual production to 50 million tons by 2015, and to 60 million tons by 2020.54

Xinjiang has a key position in China’s oil supply security, not only because it is the third largest producer of oil among China’s provinces, but also because it functions as a transit route. Due to its strategic concerns over relying too heavily on maritime imports of oil, China has a significant interest in securing oil supplies through pipelines from Central Asia. Since Xinjiang is the only region in China that is neighboring the Central Asian republics, Central Asian oil (and a large proportion of Russian oil) has to enter the Chinese pipeline network from Xinjiang. The first transnational oil pipeline built for this purpose was that of the Sino-Kazakh Oil Pipeline Co. Ltd.55 which began pumping oil in July 2006. This pipeline starts in Atasu in northwestern Kazakhstan, enters Xinjiang territory at Alashankou on the Kazakh-Chinese border, and terminates at PetroChina Dushanzi Petrochemical Company. Half of the oil transported through this pipeline is Kazakh oil and the other half is Russian oil. When this pipeline reaches its full capacity of 20 million tones per year, it will account for around 15% of China’s oil imports. In the mean time, the oil extracted in or imported through Xinjiang is distributed to the rest of China through the Urumqi-Lanzhou oil product pipeline and the Shanshan-Lanzhou crude oil pipeline.

Table 2. Distribution of China’s Gas Production by RegionsAs far as the supplies of natural gas are concerned, Xinjiang is singled out as the largest producer region in China (see Table 2). Xinjiang’s gas output has been growing rapidly since the West-East Gas Pipeline started operation in December 2004. In 2005, the region produced 10.6 billion cubic meters of gas, and this figure rose to 24.5 billion cubic meters in 2009.56 According to the calculations of CNPC, Xinjiang holds 490 billion cubic meters of proven gas reserves, about 20% of the Chinese total.57

Although China is to a great extent self-sufficient in terms of natural gas, the government is planning to import Central Asian gas in order to ensure long term economic security and meet the rapidly increasing demand for cleaner burning fuel.

Table 3. Distribution of China’s Coal Production by RegionsTo that end, China inked a 30-year deal with Turkmenistan in 2006 for 10 billion cubic meters of gas per year, rising to 30 billion by 2012. The Kazakh part of the pipeline, which will carry the gas coming from Turkmenistan via Uzbekistan will link Shymkent on Uzbek-Kazakh border to Khorgos in Xinjiang, and will have a capacity of 40 billion cubic meters per year.

The gas arriving in Xinjiang will be distributed to the rest of China through the 4,200-kilometer West-East Pipeline linking Xinjiang to Shanghai in the east and a second line of 4,843 kilometers that connects Xinjiang with Guangzhou in the southeast.

Gas is important for China’s economic security, because abundant supplies of natural gas will help to overcome China’s dependence on coal. Coal is a basic energy source in China making up 70% of the country’s total primary energy consumption,58 and as discussed above, China is self-sufficient in terms of coal supplies. China is the largest coal producer in the world, with a share of 45.6% in the world’s total production as of 2009, and at the same also the largest consumer, with 46.9%.59 In other words, almost the half of the world’s coal is produced and consumed in China.

Although Xinjiang is not one of the major coal producing regions in China (see Table 3), it is rapidly growing its coal industry and making preparations for exploration of large- scaled coalmines.

Table 4. Distribution of China’s Farming Output by RegionsCurrently, coal resources already utilized only account for 13% of total deposits. An important portion of the unutilized resources is to be found in Xinjiang.

Whereas Xinjiang’s annual coal output amounts for the time being to around 50 million tons, the region’s coal production is expected to rise to 1 billion tones and account for more than 20% of the total output in China until 2020.60

Food. Food security should be dealt with within the larger framework of agriculture in Xinjiang. Stockbreeding and pastoralism dominate the region’s economy, however it is not possible to argue that agriculture is well developed in Xinjiang, mainly due to climatic and geographical problems.

There are severe irrigation problems in grasslands and deserts, as well as occasional droughts, which seriously undermine the agricultural output.

As a result, although its economy is dominated by agriculture, Xinjiang is not one of the leading producers in China, and therefore its contribution to China’s food security is minimal.

Table 5. Distribution of China’s Animal Husbandry Output by RegionsIn 2007, the total value of China’s farming output was 2.15 trillion yuan, whereas Xinjiang share in this was 2.97% with 63.9 billion yuan.

Similarly, in China’s total animal husbandry output value of 1.36 trillion yuan, Xinjiang’s share was only 1.39% with 18.9 billion yuan (See Tables 4 and 5).

Fruit, especially melons and grapes, are often regarded as the most important farming product in Xinjiang.

A closer look at production levels of various farming products reveals that although this is true, Xinjiang is still not one of the major producers of fruit in China.

The data in Table 6 suggests that Xinjiang’s share in China’s production of farming commodities exceeded 3% only in fruit and sugar crops.


Cotton. Another agricultural product, which is not related to food security but still important in terms of China’s security of supply, is cotton.

The textile industry is one of the major engines of China’s export growth and until recently it has been growing at a rate that exceeded the overall economic growth of China. The recent global economic downturn has negatively affected the Chinese textile industry and in 2009, and the industry experienced its largest decline in exports volume over the past three decades.61 Despite this drawback, China’s textile industry continues to increase its output. In 2009, China produced about 24 million tons of yarn, an increase of 12.7% year on year, and the amount of clothes produced was up from 6.9% to 23.75 billion units.62

Table 7. Distribution of China’s Cotton Output by Regions

China’s competitiveness in the textile industry is derived from its low cost base. While labor costs are crucial in this respect, there is also the need for low-cost raw materials, in this case cotton. As discussed earlier, cotton is one of the two pillars on which the Xinjiang economy is based. Indeed, Xinjiang is the leading cotton producer in China on a regional basis, accounting to around 40% of the total output (see Table 7). In 2009, the region produced 2.5 million tons of cotton, ensuring the supply security of China’s rapidly growing textile industry.

3.3. Access to Markets

In an age of growing economic interdependence, security in the economic realm is ensured not only by securing the supplies to be used for production, but also by ensuring access to markets where the output is to be sold. Export growth is an important engine of economic growth and increasing the exports requires access to markets in a sustainable manner. In our case, China can be said to capitalize on a significant level of market access and therefore economic security. This argument is supported by the fact that China’s export growth goes parallel to the growth in output, meaning that as China produces more, it also exports more, because it has sufficient access to markets. Moreover, China’s market access was consolidated after it joined the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001, which eliminated certain barriers to trade for China.

Market access can take two forms. The first is related to the level of trade barriers such as quotas and tariffs a country is facing. The second form is the physical one, which refers to logistical and geographical issues. Since the unit of analysis of this article is the regional level, this section will be only dealing with the latter, by analyzing Xinjiang’s place in China’s foreign trade, both in terms of volume and logistics.

Table 8. Regions’ Share in China’s Foreign Trade

Xinjiang has only a minimal share in China’s total foreign trade. In 2009, while China’s foreign trade totaled US$ 2.21 trillion (exports US$ 1.20 trillion, imports US$ 1.01 trillion), Xinjiang’s foreign trade volume was only US$ 13.8 billion (exports US$ 10.8 billion, imports US$ 3.0 billion). This is not surprising, because, as seen in Table 8, coastal provinces of China are accounting for the bulk of China’s foreign trade.63 However, two points should be made here. First, Xinjiang has by far the largest foreign trade volume among the western provinces of China (almost 50 times greater than Tibet’s trading volume).

Second, and more importantly, until the recent global economic crisis, Xinjiang has been rapidly increasing its foreign trade volume. Xinjiang’s foreign trade expanded by 50.7% in 2007 and by a massive 62% in 2008, before declining by 37.8% in 2009.64 A rapid recovery is on the way in Xinjiang, and it is safe to argue that Xinjiang is increasingly getting more assertive in foreign trade.

This increasing role of Xinjiang within China’s foreign trade is a result of the government’s policies to diversify China’s trading partners and there are several factors behind this. There is the intention to increase cost efficiency. Currently, China executes a substantial portion of its foreign trade through maritime routes.65 Although this is a natural result of China’s geographic position, it also leads to high logistics costs. Chinese logistics costs are already at 18.5% of the GDP, nearly double that of more developed countries, and this is a threat against Chinese exports’ competitiveness.66

Land transportation to and/or through Central Asian republics neighboring Xinjiang offers low-cost trading opportunities and this is why the Chinese government is heavily investing in the linkages between Xinjiang and Central Asian republics with the aim of turning the region into a transport and trading hub. For this purpose, the current railroad network, connecting Xinjiang with Kazakhstan, will be increased from 3,600 kilometers to 12,000 kilometers by 2020, with the addition of new lines linking Xinjiang with Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan. In addition, 12 new highway projects with a total length of 7,155 kilometers are included in the development plans.67

Greater trade with Central Asian republics brings about significant prospects for China. Trade between China and Central Asian republics has advantages, not only due to geographical proximity, but also due to the common cultural values of Xinjiang and these republics, which make it easier to establish communication, mutual understanding and trust, as well as the complementary nature of the economies of Xinjiang and Central Asian republics.68 In the meantime, trade opportunities are not limited to bilateral trade with Central Asian republics, but also include trade with Europe. Railway transportation through Xinjiang and Central Asia to Europe is a cost-efficient alternative for maritime transportation, which halves current traveling time.69 In sum, Xinjiang is on its way to become China’s gateway opening to the west, first to Central Asia and then to Europe. Railways, highways, pipelines and trade routes are passing through Xinjiang and connecting China to the rest of the world in a more time and cost efficient manner
than the traditional maritime routes departing from the country’s east coast.


The empirical evidence analyzed in this paper suggests that Xinjiang is playing a vital and strategic role in China’s economic security, because:

It is the single largest contributor to China’s self-sufficiency in natural gas. It is also a major domestic producer of oil, while production of coal is expected to increase drastically in a decade. Furthermore, it is the transit route of energy resources imported from abroad, which will play an increasingly crucial role in China’s supply security.

As China’s gateway to Central Asia and beyond, its strategic importance vis-à- vis China’s foreign trade is rising. It is becoming the largest hub for foreign trade with reduced logistics costs. It is the single largest raw material supplier of China’s booming textile industry.

Although Xinjiang is behind most of the rest of China in terms of its share from the national income (and likely to remain so for years to come) the rest of China owes a great deal for its economic growth to Xinjiang. Apparently, Xinjiang’s economic structure fits the picture of the periphery, of which the main function is to provide the core with energy supplies and raw materials. This is precisely why the Chinese government focuses on the economic development of the region. A developed and stable Xinjiang is one of the keys of ensuring China’s economic security in the long term. Beijing cannot take the risk of instability in a region, which produces its energy supplies and cotton, serves as a major foreign trade hub, and hosts important transportation routes connecting China with the rest of the world are passing.

Beijing’s reliance on economic development as a strategy to deal with ethnic problems cannot be denied. However, the ethnic issue is rapidly becoming a sub- component of the economic security issue in this high-growth opening-up era of the Chinese economy. In other words, Beijing wants ethnic stability in Xinjiang not only for political reasons, but mainly for a stable, and problem-free Xinjiang that is required for China’s economic security. As economic pragmatism undermines all kinds of political ideologies in today’s globalizing world, ethnic issues such as those in Xinjiang cannot be understood without incorporating the matter of economy in the larger picture.

About the author:
*Altay Atli, PhD Candidate, Boğaziçi University, Department of Political Science and International Relations. E- mail:


Xinjiang Seethes Under Chinese Crackdown

KASHGAR, China — Families sundered by a wave of detentions. Mosques barred from broadcasting the call to prayer. Restrictions on the movements of laborers that have wreaked havoc on local agriculture. And a battery of ever more intrusive ways to monitor the communications of citizens for possible threats to public security.

A recent 10-day journey across the Xinjiang region in the far west of China revealed a society seething with anger and trepidation as the government, alarmed by a slow-boil insurgency that has claimed hundreds of lives, has introduced unprecedented measures aimed at shaping the behavior and beliefs of China’s 10 million Uighurs, a Turkic-speaking Muslim minority that considers this region its homeland.

Driving these policies is the government’s view that tougher security and tighter restraints on the practice of Islam are the best way to stem a wave of violence that included a knife attack at a coal mine that killed dozens of people in September.

The tough security measures are on full view for travelers as they stop at the ubiquitous highway checkpoints that slow movement across this rugged expanse of deserts and snowy peaks.

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Criticism of China’s Leaders Not Welcome — Even By Former Leaders

August 10, 2015


Article comes as serving and retired state leaders gather at Beidaihe resort for informal meeting to set the policy tone for the coming year

By Zhuang Pinghui and Andrea Chen
South China Morning Post

A signed commentary in the official Communist Party newspaper People’s Daily has criticised retired officials who continue to exert their influence in government departments.

The article comes as serving and retired state leaders gather at the Hebei resort of Beidaihe for an informal meeting, where they will set the policy tone for the coming year.

The event is also an occasion during which retired leaders can extend their influence.

The commentary did not specify which former leaders were continuing to wield influence, but observers said it indicated the top party leadership want to minimise the impact cast by retired officials.

Some retired officials were using their influence with former subordinates to intervene in crucial decisions long after they had retired, the commentary said.

“They not only installed their associates to create conditions for them to exert influence in future, … but are also not willing to keep their hands off major issues of the organisation they previously worked for even many years after stepping down,” it said.

When decisions were made against their wishes, they would accuse serving officials of being superior and aloof, the article said, adding that such lingering influence put their successors in an awkward position and weakened party cohesion.

The mainland’s opaque political system has long allowed retired leaders to continue to wield significant power,  which the leadership found displeasing, said Beijing-based political observer Zhang Lifan.

“The message is that the retired elders should stop interfering,” he said, adding that the leadership was aware of challenges to their authority amid the forming of political factions with the support of former leaders.

“The current leadership is facing a lot of resistance, and now it wants to put a stop on retired people pointing fingers.”

The People’s Daily commentary was published days after state-owned magazine Economy and Nation Weekly, under Xinhua, claimed that party leaders were in Beidaihe mainly to visit experts and model workers on holiday there. It said many policy issues had been settled prior to the gathering.

A retired professor of the Central Party School said the Beidaihe summit was not necessary as President Xi Jinping’s  consolidated power gave him final say in important issues.

Beijing Institute of Technology economics professor Hu Xingdou  said the commentary indicated that “party elders intervening in administration” was coming to an end.

Nanjing University political philosophy professor Gu Su  said the delicately written commentary was referring to both local officials and the central leadership.


In this March 11, 2012 file photo, Ling Jihua, top left, a loyal aide and confidante to President Hu Jintao, bottom right, sits behind Premier Wen Jiabao, bottom left, and Hu as they attend a plenary session of the National People’s Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. The top aide to former Chinese President Hu Jintao has been placed under investigation for disciplinary violations, the official Xinhua News Agency said Monday, Dec. 22, 2014. The evening announcement came two years after Ling Jihua fell out of political favor when a lurid scandal involving his alleged cover-up of his son’s death in a speeding Ferrari disrupted his political ascent. (AP Photo/Andy Wong, File) (The Associated Press)

Former Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s extended family has controlled assets worth at least $2.7 billion, the New York Times reported, citing corporate and regulatory records and unidentified people familiar with the family’s investments.

 (By David Shambaugh, The Wall Street Journal)

Criticism of China’s Retired Leaders Gets Unusual Attention

August 10, 2015


Chinese President Hu Jintao and former President Jiang Zemin raise their hands during the closing session of the 18th National Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing in November 2012. | BLOOMBERG

The mouthpiece of China’s ruling Communist Party on Monday carried a rare denunciation of retired leaders’ continued influence, fueling speculation over how far President Xi Jinping’s anti-graft campaign could go.

Xi’s much-publicized drive against corruption has ensnared a long list of senior and junior officials including the country’s former security czar Zhou Yongkang, who was sentenced to life in jail in June.

Zhou is regarded as an ally of former President Jiang Zemin, who ruled from 1989 until 2002 but is believed to have retained significant power throughout the following decade, when Hu Jintao was president.

Jiang Zemin answers a question during a visit to the U.S. in October 2002. Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

Speculation has circulated over whether Jiang could be targeted by Xi and the party’s internal investigation branch, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI).

In February the CCDI posted an article online about princely corruption during the Qing dynasty, seen as alluding to Zeng Qinghong, a former vice president and Jiang’s right-hand man.

Monday’s People’s Daily commentary lambasted unnamed “retired leaders” for clinging to power and causing rifts within the party.

“Some leaders not only installed their cronies (in key positions) to create conditions for them to wield influence in future, but also wanted to intervene in the major issues of the organization they formerly worked for, even many years after they retired,” it said.

Such actions made new leaders feel that their “hands and feet” were fettered by having to work within “unnecessary concerns,” it added.

They “also has made some organizations . . . split up into groups and become demoralized . . . undermining the party’s cohesion and capabilities,” said the commentary, written by Gu Bochong.

Gu is an officer with the Chinese military’s General Political Department, according to the website of the China Writers’ Association, of which he is a member.

The People’s Daily did not provide of description of Gu, although it did so for all the other contributors to its “Theory” page, which appears every weekday.

The article compared a leader’s retirement to the waning temperature of a hot drink.

“The tea must cool after the guest left, otherwise it will go bad,” it said. “It should become a norm that when you leave office, you leave your opinions behind.”

The metaphor sparked a wave of allusions on China’s Twitter-like Sina Weibo.

“What if the ginger tea just wants to stay as hot as before?” asked one poster. “In that case, it has to be poured away!”

In Mandarin Chinese, ginger is pronounced “jiang.”


In this March 11, 2012 file photo, Ling Jihua, top left, a loyal aide and confidante to President Hu Jintao, bottom right, sits behind Premier Wen Jiabao, bottom left, and Hu as they attend a plenary session of the National People’s Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. The top aide to former Chinese President Hu Jintao has been placed under investigation for disciplinary violations, the official Xinhua News Agency said Monday, Dec. 22, 2014. The evening announcement came two years after Ling Jihua fell out of political favor when a lurid scandal involving his alleged cover-up of his son’s death in a speeding Ferrari disrupted his political ascent. (AP Photo/Andy Wong, File) (The Associated Press)

Former Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s extended family has controlled assets worth at least $2.7 billion, the New York Times reported, citing corporate and regulatory records and unidentified people familiar with the family’s investments.

 (By David Shambaugh, The Wall Street Journal)

Can China Be Contained?

June 12, 2015


As tensions with China rise, U.S. foreign policy thinkers are dusting off ideas from the Cold War—and questioning the long-standing consensus for engagement with Beijing

For many Americans today, the promise of being diplomatic partners with China seems more remote than ever before.
For many Americans today, the promise of being diplomatic partners with China seems more remote than ever before. PHOTO: PABLO MARTINEZ MONSIVAIS/ASSOCIATED PRESS

The Wall Street Journal
June 12, 2015

Writing in 1967, at the height of the Cold War, Richard Nixon proclaimed a new American ambition: to “persuade China that it must change.”

“Taking the long view,” he wrote, “we simply cannot afford to leave China forever outside the family of nations, there to nurture its fantasies, cherish its hates and threaten its neighbors.” Four years later, having ascended to the White House, Nixon engineered an “opening to China” that promised to turn the communist giant into a diplomatic partner, one that would adopt America’s values and maybe even its system of democracy.

For many Americans today, watching the administration of President Xi Jinping crack down hard on internal dissent while challenging the U.S. for leadership in Asia, that promise seems more remote than ever before. In his recently published book “The Hundred-Year Marathon,” Michael Pillsbury—an Asia specialist and Pentagon official under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush—writes that China “has failed to meet nearly all of our rosy expectations.”
U.S. foreign policy has reached a turning point, as analysts from across the political spectrum have started to dust off Cold War-era arguments and to speak of the need for a policy of containment against China. The once solid Washington consensus behind the benefits of “constructive engagement” with Beijing has fallen apart.

The conviction that engagement is the only realistic way to encourage liberalization in China has persisted across eight U.S. administrations, Republican and Democratic alike. Jimmy Carter bequeathed Nixon’s policy to Ronald Reagan; George W. Bush to Barack Obama.

The turmoil in U.S. policy has been especially evident in recent months. An unprecedented stream of advisory reports from leading academic centers and think tanks has proposed everything from military pushback against China to sweeping concessions. The prescriptions vary, but their starting point is the same: pessimism about the present course of U.S.-Chinese relations.
The mood shift in Washington may end up being every bit as consequential as the one that came over the U.S. immediately after World War II, when it dawned on America that the Soviet Union wasn’t going to continue to be an ally. That is when the legendary U.S. diplomat and policy thinker George F. Kennan formulated his plan for containment.

In a 1947 article in Foreign Affairs, he wrote that the U.S. “has it in its power to increase enormously the strains under which Soviet policy must operate, to force upon the Kremlin a far greater degree of moderation and circumspection than it has had to observe in recent years, and in this way to promote tendencies which must eventually find their outlet in either the breakup or the gradual mellowing of Soviet power.” Kennan’s strategy—to bleed the Soviet Union through nonprovocative resistance—offered comfort to Europeans who feared that they faced a stark choice between war and capitulation.

A similar anxiety about China’s actions and intentions has now taken hold among many Asians. U.S. friends and allies in the region are flocking to America’s side to seek protection as Mr. Xi’s China builds up its navy, pushes its fleets farther into the blue ocean and presses its territorial claims. In what is just the latest assertive move to alarm the region, China is now dredging tiny coral reefs in the South China Sea to create runways, apparently for military jets.

The U.S. is resisting. President Obama’s signature “pivot” to Asia—designed both to calm anxious U.S. friends and to recognize the region’s vast strategic importance in the 21st century—is bringing advanced American combat ships to Singapore, Marines to Australia and military advisers to the Philippines. Japan, America’s key ally in Asia, is rearming and has adjusted its pacifist postwar constitution to allow its forces to play a wider role in the region. The purpose of much of this activity is to preserve the independence of smaller Asian nations who fear they might otherwise have no choice but to fall into China’s orbit and yield to its territorial ambitions—in other words, to capitulate.

For its part, China is utterly convinced that the U.S. is pursuing a policy of containment. Kevin Rudd, the former Australian prime minister (and himself a China expert), summarized Beijing’s perception of U.S. goals in five bullet points in a recent Harvard study: to isolate China, contain it, diminish it, internally divide it and sabotage its political leadership.

To be sure, the new tension in U.S.-China relations is not anything like the Cold War stare-down that preoccupied Europe for decades, when NATO and Warsaw Pact tanks faced each other across lines that neither side dared to cross. But in one important respect, history is repeating itself: Both China and the U.S. have started to view each other not as partners, competitors or rivals but as adversaries.

China’s missile and naval buildup, as well as its development of new cyber- and space-warfare capabilities, are aimed squarely at deterring the U.S. military from intervening in any conflict in Asia. Meanwhile, many of the Pentagon’s pet projects—Star Wars technologies such as lasers and advanced weapons systems such as a long-range bomber—are being developed with China in mind.

So what, specifically, should America do? In one of the most hawkish of the recent think-tank reports, Robert D. Blackwill, a former U.S. deputy national security adviser and ambassador to India under President George W. Bush, and Ashley J. Tellis, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace who also served on the National Security Council staff under President Bush, write that engagement with China has served to strengthen a competitor.

It is time, they declare, for a new grand strategy: less engagement and more “balancing” to ensure the “central objective” of continued U.S. global primacy. Among other things, America should beef up its military in Asia, choke off China’s access to military technology, accelerate missile-defense deployments and increase U.S. offensive cyber capabilities.

For Michael D. Swaine, also of the Carnegie Endowment, this is a certain recipe for another Cold War, or worse. He outlines a sweeping settlement under which America would concede its primacy in East Asia, turning much of the region into a buffer zone policed by a balance of forces, including those from a strengthened Japan. All foreign forces would withdraw from Korea. And China would offer assurances that it wouldn’t launch hostilities against Taiwan, which it regards as a renegade province.

Such arrangements, even if possible, would take decades to sort out. Meanwhile, warns David M. Lampton, a professor at the Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, U.S.-China ties have reached a tipping point. “Our respective fears are nearer to outweighing our hopes than at any time since normalization,” he said in a recent speech.

The West has been in this position before. Optimism about the prospects of transforming an ancient civilization through engagement, followed by deep disillusion, has been the pattern ever since early Jesuit missionaries sought to convert the Chinese to Christianity. Those envoys adopted the gowns of the Mandarin class, grew long beards and even couched their gospel message in Confucian terms to make it more palatable. The 17th-century German priest Adam Schall got as far as becoming the chief astronomer of the Qing dynasty. But he fell from favor, and the Jesuits were later expelled.

The disappointment in the U.S. today is heightened by the fact that engagement with China has promised so much and progressed so far. Trade and technology have transformed China beyond anything that Nixon could have imaged, and the two countries are each other’s second-largest trading partners. China is America’s biggest creditor. More than a quarter million Chinese students study at U.S. universities.

But the ideological gap hasn’t narrowed at all—and now Mr. Xi has taken a sharp anti-Western turn. Mao Zedong made the bold decision to cut a deal with Nixon, confident enough to embrace American capitalists even while pressing the radical agenda of his Cultural Revolution. Later, Deng Xiaoping struck a pragmatic balance between the opportunities of economic engagement with the West and the dangers posed by an influx of Western ideas. “When you open the window, flies and mosquitoes come in,” he shrugged.
Today, Mr. Xi is furiously zapping the bugs. A newly proposed law would put the entire foreign nonprofit sector under police administration, effectively treating such groups as potential enemies of the state. State newspapers rail against “hostile foreign forces” and their local sympathizers. The Chinese Communist Party’s “Document No. 9” prohibits discussion of Western democracy on college campuses. And as Mr. Xi champions traditional Chinese culture, authorities in Wenzhou, a heavily Christian coastal city dubbed China’s “New Jerusalem,” tear down crosses atop churches as unwanted symbols of Western influence.

The backlash against the West extends well beyond China’s borders. For decades, China accepted America’s role as a regional policeman to maintain the peace and keep sea lanes open. But in Shanghai last year, Mr. Xi declared that “it is for the people of Asia to run the affairs of Asia, solve the problems of Asia and uphold the security of Asia.”

Washington feels a certain sense of betrayal. America’s open markets, after all, smoothed China’s export-led rise to become the world’s second-largest economy, and the two economies are now thoroughly enmeshed.

Still, it would be a mistake to assume that mutual dependence will necessarily prevent conflict. Pre-World War I Europe was also closely entwined through trade and investment.

Even the U.S. business community, once Beijing’s staunchest advocate in Washington, has lost some of its enthusiasm for engagement. James McGregor, a former chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce in China and now the China chairman of APCO Worldwide, a business consultancy, recalls helping to persuade U.S. trade associations to lobby for China’s admission to the World Trade Organization, which happened in 2001.

That unity of purpose, he says “has been splintering ever since.” Today, “they all believe that China is out to screw them.”

China’s fears notwithstanding, the Obama administration remains very much in favor of engagement. Last year’s high-profile deal on climate change showed that cooperation is still possible. Ahead of a planned summit in the U.S. in September, the two countries are hammering out an ambitious bilateral trade agreement. And it is often pointed out that not a single problem in the world, from piracy to pollution, can be solved without their joint efforts.

In an increasingly awkward dance, however, the Obama administration is trying to sustain this policy of engagement while also ramping up its military options in Asia. China is playing a similar game. And it is not clear how long both sides will be able to continue before there is a clash, by accident or design.

Mr. Obama himself sometimes strikes adversarial postures on China. In trying to push a massive Asia-Pacific free-trade zone through a resistant Congress, he has been invoking a China threat. “If we don’t write the rules, China will write the rules out in that region,” he told The Wall Street Journal in April.

He also has pursued a campaign—ultimately futile—to prevent allies such as Britain and Australia from signing on to a Chinese regional development bank. Although the bank will help deliver much-needed infrastructure, the White House interpreted it as part of a bid to undermine America’s leadership in global finance.

For its part, China believes that the U.S. will never accept the legitimacy of a communist government.

Mr. Xi has proposed a “new model of great-power relations,” designed to break a pattern of wars through the ages that occur when a rising power challenges the incumbent one. But America has turned him down, unwilling to accept a formula that not only assumes that the two countries are peers but seems to place them on the same moral plane.

Appropriately, perhaps, tensions are coming to a head in the Spratly Islands, an archipelago of reefs and sandbars in the South China Sea so hazardous that old British Admiralty sailing charts marked the entire area as “Dangerous Ground.”

In this mariners’ graveyard, China has massively expanded several reefs through dredging; one boasts a runway long enough to land China’s largest military planes. China’s neighbors regard them as outposts for an eventual Chinese takeover of the whole South China Sea. The Pentagon presents them as a threat to the U.S. Navy’s unchallenged right to sail the oceans.

U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter is considering a show of force—and is under political pressure to do so. Last month, Sen. Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, complained that the U.S. response to the island-building has been too passive. “I see no price whatsoever that China is paying for their activities in the South and East China Seas,” Mr. Corker said. “None. In fact, I see us paying a price.”

Neither side wants a war. Mr. Xi is not anti-West in the manner of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and so far, he has not acted rashly, as Mr. Putin has by grabbing territory in Ukraine. China still needs U.S. markets and know-how to rise. A war against America would be an economic catastrophe for China.

The U.S.-China relationship has weathered storms before. Recall the days following the Chinese army’s 1989 assault on pro-democracy students in Tiananmen Square, when cooperation between the countries went into a deep freeze. But President George H.W. Bush calculated that the U.S.-China relationship was too important to sacrifice, and he quickly sent emissaries to Beijing to ensure that it remained intact.

Today, surely, that calculation carries no less weight. Moreover, trying to contain China would be immensely costly: Neither country can succeed economically without the other. Kennan’s containment strategy worked against the Soviet Union because it was economically weak, with almost no commercial ties to America. But today’s China is an economic powerhouse, and its double-digit military budgets are supported by a deep and diversified industrial base.

Set against these realities, however, is the fact that the U.S.-China relationship has lost its strategic raison d’être: the Soviet Union, the common threat that brought the two countries together.

Opposition to Moscow was the logic that drove Nixon’s opening to China. But even Nixon, a tough-minded realist who was focused on the balance of power, wasn’t sure how his opening to China would ultimately play out. As he told the late New York Times columnist William Safire not long before Nixon’s death in 1994, “We may have created a Frankenstein.”


 (By David Shambaugh, The Wall Street Journal)


Mr. Xi at the Schloss Bellevue presidential residency during his visit to fellow export powerhouse Germany in Berlin on March 28, 2014.  
Mr. Xi at the Schloss Bellevue presidential residency during his visit to fellow export powerhouse Germany in Berlin on March 28, 2014.Photo:Agence France-Presse/Getty Images