China Goes from Mono to Surround Sound

It seems like only last year that we were hearing warnings about how the state-capitalist model made possible by power concentrated at the top in places like China and Russia would ultimately make liberal economies a quaint artifact of the past. Now, it seems, China is increasingly going from mono to surround sound, as a marketplace of ideas emerges in its highest decision-making levels, at least when it comes to foreign policy and national security. It’s hard to imagine that this sort of policy-jockeying won’t also begin to characterize domestic economic policy, especially as the need to develop the vast interior begins to infringe on the coastal export-belt’s prerogatives.

This will obviously complicate the lives of U.S. strategists and policymakers, so while it’s a bit ironic to see them lamenting the good old days when one man in Beijing spoke for all of the country’s various interest groups, it’s not very surprising. As for the phenomenon itself, it’s not only unavoidable but perfectly normal, as Bob Woodward has made a fortune documenting.

For that matter, the same kind of polarization exists within U.S. strategic and policymaking circles regarding China, and it becomes more prominent on both sides every time one of these incidents at sea takes place. Adding yet another level of irony to the entire episode is the fact that U.S. war planning in Asia is almost entirely based on one of two scenarios: a conflict on the Korean Peninsula, and one in the Taiwan Straits. But in the case of the China-Japan dispute in the East China Sea, Taiwan is on Beijing’s side.