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"U.S. Hegemony Ends" By: William R. Hawkins
FrontPageMagazine.com | Monday, March 09, 2009


The United States and the People’s Republic of China resumed military-to-military talks February 27-28 in Beijing. The tone of the Defense Policy Coordination Talks (DPCT) showed the same American desire to accommodate China’s rise to peer power status that was shown a week earlier by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s trip to the Chinese capital.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense David Sedney, a hold over from the Bush Administration, led the U.S. delegation that included officials from the Defense Department, the State Department, the Pacific Command and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Among the Chinese participants were mid-level officers from the People’s Liberation Army, navy and air force as well as some civilians termed “military scholars.” Sedney held 13 hours of talks on Feb. 27 with a delegation led by Maj. Gen. Qian Lihua, the Chinese Defense Ministry's head of foreign affairs. A shorter meeting took place the next morning with Lt. Gen. Ma Xiaotian, deputy chief of the General Staff for the PLA.

This was the fifth meeting of the DPTT since its inception in 2005. China had suspended most military contacts last October over Washington's agreement to sell $6.5 billion in advanced weaponry to Taiwan, the self-governing island democracy that the mainland Communist regime claims is a renegade province. When Sedney journeyed to Beijing last December to ask that the DPCT meetings resume, he was turned down. China’s leaders were clearly waiting for the Obama Administration to take office.

Beijing took a hard line towards the talks. China’s state-run news agency Xinhua quoted Maj. Gen. Qian as saying that contacts would remain tenuous unless the U.S. removes remaining obstacles to improvement. “China-U.S. military relations still stay at a difficult period. We expect the U.S. side to take concrete measures for the resumption and development of our military ties,” said Qian.

The Obama administration seems in the mood to make concessions. After the DPCT meeting, Sedney told a news conference, “The focus was not at all on obstacles. The focus was on how we can move forward, how we can make progress, and how we can try to make joint efforts...to achieve common goals.” On major points, it was Beijing’s goals of expanding its influence in key regions that were advanced with American blessings.

Sedney thanked Beijing for hosting the Six Party Talks on North Korea, as had Secretary Clinton during her visit. Yet, two days before the DPCT, China had hosted a delegation from North Korea as part of the celebration of 2009 as the “Year of China-DPRK Friendship” marking 60 years of their alliance. Just as China sent the PLA to fight against the U.S.-led UN forces during the Korean War, China has used the Six Party Talks to diplomatically protect the Pyongyang regime from any concerted action that could endanger its rule. According to the official newspaper The People’s Daily, “Jia Qinglin, chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), told a delegation from the Workers' Party of Korea (WPK) that Sino-DPRK relations, fostered by leaders of older generations, had been continuously developed…but also looking into the future.”

Sedney praised China's contribution to the anti-piracy flotilla patrolling the Gulf of Aden off the Somali coast. Beijing sent two destroyers and a supply ship to the region in December. This naval deployment into the Indian Ocean marks a significant projection of Chinese influence towards East Africa where Beijing has been supporting the Sudan regime’s genocidal rule in exchange for control of its oil fields. The deployment also puts Chinese forces closer to the Persian Gulf and its ally Pakistan as tensions increase in Afghanistan and with India.

Sedney said he discussed possible Chinese contributions to non-military programs in Afghanistan. For what possible reason would the U.S. want to encourage any direct Chinese participation in Afghanistan? When the U.S. invaded Afghanistan, China was working with the Taliban regime building its infrastructure and an air-defense system.

The Taliban was the creation of Pakistan in an attempt to conquer Afghanistan so as to cover its western flank in its confrontation with India to the east. China supported its ally because of its own strategic rivalry with India. As the U.S. has tried to exert more pressure on Islamabad to take action against Taliban sanctuaries on its soil, Beijing has stepped up its diplomatic support for Pakistan, along with investment funds and arms.

President Barack Obama warned Islamabad that it would he held accountable for security along the Pakistan-Afghan border on February 10. The next day, Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi reaffirmed his country’s "all weather" alliance with China. Last October, newly elected Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari made as his first foreign trip a pilgrimage to Beijing. Just before he left, he told a press conference, "China is the future of the world. A strong China means a strong Pakistan.”

In a February 23 editorial, The People’s Daily addressed U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, with a focus on improving Pakistan’s position against India. “It is clear that without Pakistan's cooperation, the US cannot win the war on terror. Therefore, to safeguard its own interests in the fight against terrorism in South Asia, the US must ensure a stable domestic and international environment for Pakistan and ease the tension between Pakistan and India.” This means supporting Pakistan’s position on Kashmir, the Indian province against which Pakistan-based terrorists have operated for decades. India-Pakistan tensions have been high since the November 26 terrorist attacks in Mumbai which killed 179 people.

Afghanistan's foreign minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta said on January 21 that India and Afghanistan were both victims of terrorism. “Afghanistan believes there are some entities in our region that are using terrorism as a tool for foreign policy. We have to end this. We share your pain, the pain of the Indian people because Afghanistan is the victim of same terror with same sources," Spanta said after a meeting with Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee in Kabul.

China, of course, does not want the U.S. to take this view of the situation, as it would further what Beijing fears most; closer U.S.-Indian ties against a common threat from the Pakistani-Chinese alignment. The Chinese line is that Washington must support Pakistan against India in order to win Islamabad’s cooperation against the Taliban. This would isolate India, a primary goal of Chinese strategy.  

The editorial declared, “the US must make sure that Russia is appeased. The Central Asia region, where Afghanistan lies, used to be Russia's backyard. Following the September 11 terrorist attacks, the US raised its anti-terrorism war banner to move deep into this region and revoked the color revolution in Kyrgyzstan. To Russia, all this feels just like a thorn in the flesh.” The editorial noted that Kyrgyzstan has expelled the U.S. from its Manas air base.  

So, again, why would the Obama administration want China to become more involved in Afghanistan? Larry Wortzel, Vice-Chairman of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, a bipartisan panel of experts created by Congress, asked Sedney this question at a hearing on March 4. Sedney’s response was that the U.S-NATO mission in Afghanistan is short on resources, and the Chinese could help by providing economic assistance and expanded trade. The Chinese model of trade would not help the Afghans, and any economic assistance would be used to buy influence with government and tribal elites that would undermine American objectives. Inviting China into Afghanistan is an act of desperation that has not been thought through.  

The day after the Afghanistan editorial (and two days after Secretary Clinton left China), The People’s Daily ran another opinion piece entitled,” The U.S. Hegemony ends, the era of global multipolarity enters.” It started by reveling in the economic crisis that has swept America and “signals a swift reduction of U.S. strength as a unipolar power.” Its conclusion was stark. “Does the decline of U.S. geopolitical hegemony make multilateral global governance more likely? Perhaps it is still too early to rush any conclusion, but at least one thing is certain: the U.S. strength is declining at a speed so fantastic that it is far beyond anticipation. The U.S. is no longer 'King of the hill,' as a new phase of multipolar world power structure will come into being in 2009, and the international order will be correspondingly reshuffled.”  

The opening hands played by the Obama administration with China would indicate that Washington agrees with Beijing’s assessment.


William Hawkins is a consultant on international economics and national security issues.


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