I will never understand your tenderness—
During his May 23 visit to Vietnam, President Obama declared that he would lift an arms embargo against Vietnam that has been in effect for over 30 years. When this news broke, it dropped the jaw of the American media.
No matter how shocked the American media may be, Obama is quite calm. He has also specifically emphasized that “this policy is not directed at China.” Nevertheless, one of the most important goals of this journey has been to persuade Vietnam to enter the TPP as soon as possible. This “grand gift” of lifting the arms embargo will undoubtedly make Vietnam feel a not insignificant amount of gratitude. Additionally, one must not forget that when America established the TPP, it said that the TPP will not “invite China to play.” The man who said this was Barack Obama.
Thus, saying that this action was not taken against China is a clear and blatant lie.
An Old Fashioned Trick
In truth, this kind of matter will not always be obvious, but looking closely at the precise mechanisms that have been at work for quite some time in America’s “rebalance to Asia,” we can see that this is something that would happen sooner or later.
Early on in 2012, the U.S. Secretary of Defense at the time, Leon Panetta, formally put forth the idea of the “rebalance to Asia” at the Shangri-La Dialogue. At the time, several Western scholars recognized that were America to provide some Southeast Asian countries with promises of its military capabilities, it might have the effect of encouraging these countries to unite against China, leading to an increase of tensions and confrontation within the region.
The way things have played out in reality has been exactly like this.
The South China Sea disputes have continued to heat up in recent days, with the most vigorous of these being [with] the Philippines’ former President, Benigno Aquino III. At the beginning of his time in office, Aquino’s attitude to China was moderate, expressing multiple times that the South China Sea dispute ought to be resolved through friendly consultations. Yet in 2012, due to receiving several warships from the United States, his attitude changed rapidly.
In the past few years of contest, the actions taken by the Philippines have truly given China a great deal of bother. It has gotten so bad that it has forced China to have no other choice than to respond to the current situation, casting in a great deal of effort into construction in the South China Sea.
Yet even though “the godfather” the United States has continued to involve itself personally in other’s conflicts, dispatching ships and planes into the area surrounding islands in the South China Sea to “proclaim freedom of navigation”, in its conflicts with China, the Philippines has still felt a great deal of pressure, as it is “difficult to dismount when riding a tiger.” Thus, the new president-elect, Duterte, has expressed a relaxed attitude towards China.
This is a rational decision.
The great weight of China is present in the South China Sea, no matter how these neighboring countries might be, they have no means of hiding from the past. Without a doubt, a Vietnam that has been the most frequent invader of China’s islands, regardless of the feeling of fear that it has obtained from historical lessons, or even the feeling of crisis in the development of future trends, still insists on being the primary aggressor. Thus, in the eyes of the United States, the next “little partner” up to its standards would naturally be Vietnam.
But will Vietnam really become the next Philippines? It is not that simple.
When it comes to Vietnam, figuring out how to solidify the majority of islands it already controls is clearly its number one priority. China has unceasingly displayed goodwill in its requests that all sides need not intensify conflicts, but “with a gun in hand, one need not fear anything.” The most effective means of reducing the sense of fear is without a doubt to strengthen one’s military presence.
To tell the truth, the standards for Vietnam’s military equipment are not great, but due to solid trends in domestic economic growth over the past few years, revenue has been relatively high. Thus, there is no shortage of money for the task of expanding the nation’s naval and air forces and carrying out upgrades to arms and equipment. Additionally, Vietnam’s industrial foundation is extremely weak and will be unable to complete this mission by relying on its own strength in the short term. Thus it must “buy, buy, buy.”
Over the last 10 years, Vietnam has on average purchased over $1 billion in arms per year from Russia. Presently, it has already surpassed China as Russia’s third largest client in the arms trade. Although the technological standards for the arms purchased from Russia are not deficient, Vietnam is still nervous that over 90 percent of its weapons come from Russia. The old matter of the Falklands War has undoubtedly forced Vietnam to take stock. When conflict breaks out, will China use some means to cut off Vietnam’s primary supply of arms?
Thus, how would someone crafty enough to have several contingency plans be dumb enough to put all their eggs in one basket?
From the perspective of America, no matter how many ships and plans it dispatches to the South China Sea to “proclaim freedom of navigation,” were it to lack sufficient footholds in the surrounding area, it would be difficult to affect a deciding influence on situations there. Besides, according to the present state of development in trends, if the United States wants to obtain a position of overwhelming dominance over China in the Asia-Pacific region, it must bear the risk of abandoning its control over other areas in the world.
It is like a mantis stalking a cicada, while a sparrow lurks in the eves. International relations have always been made up of interlocking rings.
For example, Russia’s recent actions have revealed a trend of looking to once again expand the influence of ASEAN. The consequences of letting Russia run amok are unacceptable for the United States. It is entirely probable that Russia will rely on winning new markets and partners to expand its own power, turning this into the adoption of a hardened posture in Europe towards America and its allies there.
Thus, the two countries will hit it off.
Lifting the arms embargo on Vietnam in this time and place is equivalent to opening up a great door; in the coming days both parties can carry out military cooperation that will not just be limited to containing China, but also act to cut off Russia’s strategy of once again “moving south.”
Also, there is one thing that Obama will not mention, that America’s military technological cooperation has always been highly politicized — developing nations that want to procure American plans must dispatch personnel to undertake human rights classes. It is for this reason that when the Islamic State assaulted Baghdad in 2014, America was unable to provide its Iraqi ally with immediate aid. As to the attitude of the United States when it comes to Vietnam’s political system, one does not need to waste too many words. A big door has been opened. It is clear that all sorts of influence will be exerted in its wake as part of a plan to change things over there.
This is a clear barrier to cooperation between the United States and Vietnam that will be difficult to bridge. After all is said and done, America has for a long time been after peaceful transformation in Vietnam. On this point, the Vietnamese Communist Party is still incredibly clear.
The complication of the situation in the South China Sea is something China has been most unwilling to take note of, but that it must face regardless. Owing to historical reasons, China’s actual control over islands in the South China Sea has been the smallest, and its construction there has been the latest, meaning that the pressure it faces is the largest.
The Philippines has taken the South China Sea issue, “packaged it for market,” and pushed it into an international tribunal. This has clearly raised the question of how to use international law to protect our national sovereignty, while simultaneously avoiding turning the South China Sea into an arms race. Otherwise, we will hasten the ASEAN countries’ flight into the arms of America.
At present, America continues to have the absolute strategically advantageous position, but it will still not stop looking for opportunities to contain China’s rise. Such as inciting concerns towards China along our periphery, and even attempting to interfere with China’s national unity. If our extreme reactions cause surrounding countries to jump on America’s bandwagon out of their fear for China, then this will not only make the South China Sea problem more troublesome, the unity of our motherland will in the future face a severe challenge.
Even if it is our strategic partner, Russia still has its own unique national interests. In order to pursue these interests, its actions in this region will not entirely fall in line with China’s interests.
Thus, there are only two “allies” that China can truly rely and count on — our national power and wisdom.
Maintaining a stable and peaceful environment, ensuring that China’s national power will continue to see a trend of rising upwards. This will fundamentally guarantee that China can in the future resolve the issues it faces in the East-Asian region.
Think about it, 40 years ago we relied on our naval soldiers developing their bravery and tactics, using small boats to attack big ones in order to recapture the Xisha Islands (Paracel Islands). Roughly 30 years ago, we firmly seized back our islands that had been occupied, but were only able to build a few tall houses. Now, we have in a short while become capable of “moving the heavens and earth,” turning reefs into islands, and even constructing airfields that can land civilian aircraft with dancing stewardesses.
Others can gnash their teeth all they want. They must sit by angry, incapable of doing anything. This is true power!
How to prevent outside countries from deliberately utilizing the disputes in the South China Sea to break our steady development and peaceful environment? In this numerous and complicated environment, how to persist in the protection of legitimate interests, while at the same time avoiding the traps of others? This requires the wisdom of China.
The most direct embodiment of this wisdom is in our strategic focus, to pursue cooperation and conflict with the relevant parties, to remain rational and restrained, while not yielding, to fight without breaking. We can provide a firm response to the irrationality of our surrounding countries, but most also display our sincere willingness to pursue peaceful cooperation. When facing America, we can be even more confrontational, and even antagonistic, but we absolutely cannot affect a confrontation that is out of our best interest.
Obama wants to sell Vietnam weapons. This might make us uncomfortable, but let us allow them to make their sale. If we only immerse ourselves in carrying out what is best for ourselves, there will be a day in the end when history will carry out a judgment of the rights and wrongs of each country.