China, Japan and Multipolarity
All Chinese media is state-influenced and in favor of the Communist Party’s stated multipolar vision. There is no realistic possibility of this ever changing, though the proliferation of VPN technology does make it possible that average Chinese could be exposed to unipolar “democratic”, separatist, and/or terrorist propaganda (oftentimes one in the same). Despite that, Beijing still commands control over the country’s information services and has a monopoly on messaging, making it unlikely that the scant unipolar information attacks that occasionally filter through the “Great Firewall of China” or illegally evade it can make much of a difference in the general discourse, though they could inspire lone wolf terrorist attacks.
The research has gone to great lengths to emphasize that it’s alright for multipolar states to have pragmatic win-win cooperation with unipolar ones, and the China-US trade nexus is a perfect example of that. Beijing exports over $400 billion worth of goods to the US every year while importing $134 billion from it. These are astronomical trade numbers and verify the claim that multipolar states can remain true to their geopolitical principles despite having strong economic ties with unipolar states. Of course, China is somewhat of an exceptional case because it’s strong enough in its other spheres to resist the US’ economic hegemony games, but the point is still valid for all other countries, though of course adjusted to their specific situations.
Where China truly shines, however, is through its enhanced global network of prospective partners as manifested in the One Belt One Road vision. China already has strong trade ties with just about every single country on earth, but it wants to now connect them all together in a multilateral format using the platform of transnational connective infrastructure projects, or New Silk Roads, to do so. The US is fiercely opposed to this in all of its manifestations and is poised to wage a series of vicious Hybrid Wars against these projects wherever it can in order to offset or control them. Washington is keenly aware that the fulfillment of Beijing’s One Belt One Road network would finally displace the US and solidify China as the world’s indisputable global economic leader, with the Chinese then being able to convert their premier economic position with their partners into more tangible multipolar geopolitical gains.
To simplify everything, the One Belt One Road series of projects will guarantee a global future of multipolarity with time, while the US’ frenzied efforts to offset and/or control parts of it will stymie this reality and prolong the unipolar moment in decisive areas across the globe.
Just like with its economic position in pragmatically interacting with unipolar global forces, China is also involved in some institutions which used to be seen as the exclusive domain of American hegemony, namely the WTO, IMF, and Asian Development Bank (ADB). It’s no longer the case that they’re fully controlled by Washington anymore, despite the US still retaining leading hegemony over each of them, and China and others have found ways to work within the system to their own relative benefit. One of the manners in which this occurred has been through China’s absorption of critical operational experience through its cooperation with these institutions, which endowed it with the knowledge that it needed in order to go out and create its own de-facto rival organizations. While “officially” stating that the BRICS New Development Bank, BRICS currency reserve pool, and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank are ‘complementary’ to and not in competition with the World Bank, IMF, and ADB, the reality is that they are meant to function as multipolar replacements for their unipolar-originated predecessors.
By taking the leading role in constructing these alternative institutional architectures, China is showing the rest of the world that it’s serious about reengineering the global system in accordance with equitable multipolar values, and that its prior and even current time as a member in those aforesaid unipolar organizations was a positive investment in learning the ins and outs of how such structures operate prior to embarking on the creation of new ones.
The Chinese population is united behind their Communist Party leadership in charting a global multipolar future. It’s very helpful that the media is totally aligned with this objective as well, as it prevents the emergence of any sense of confusion around the Chinese civilization’s unprecedented ambitions. It’s been properly communicated to the masses that the One Belt One Road project is essential in order to maintain the country’s growth well into the future and open up countless opportunities for what their media has termed “going out” (or outbound investment, sometimes manifested as outsourcing). The Chinese economy is depending on foreign markets to absorb their unceasing exports and thereby maintain domestic stability on the home front, which is yet another reason why the US is so focused on undermining these projects in order to foment destabilization inside the People’s Republic. The Chinese are well aware of this and are harnessing their entire effort towards making this vision a reality in order in order to safeguard the future sovereignty of their civilization.
Alongside Russia, there is no other country better positioned than China is in fueling the global drive towards a multipolar world order. The People’s Republic has the demographic, military, and most importantly in this case, the economic potential to push through an alternative vision and break through the US’ unipolar stranglehold. Being right next to Russia and Kazakhstan, China is able to conveniently run rail routes to the EU and securitize its energy shipments. Its presence in the Western Pacific is the reason why it became a global center of trade and commerce, and it also affords it with the military potential of exerting counterbalancing influence against the US and its allies in this broader theater through its A2/AD strategy. China’s access to global waterways in the Northern Pacific also puts it within distance of the resource-rich Arctic, and Beijing can call upon its reliable Moscow ally in gaining access to many of the energy deposits that Russia claims as its own.
Looking to the south, China’s dependence on the South China Sea for commercial and energy trade is unquestionably a vulnerability, but it also acquires a situational advantage by being right next to the bustling ASEAN marketplace and having generally positive economic relations with each of its members (despite some of their maritime territorial disagreements which have recently been enflamed by the US). Although right next to India, China has yet to tap the full economic potential of its neighbor because of New Delhi’s overall reluctance to have this happen, as was explained earlier in the strategic profile about that country. Still, for all the opportunities that have been lost with India, they’ve been more than made up for with the $46 billion China-Pakistani Economic Corridor that envisages turning Pakistan into the “zipper” of pan-Eurasian integration. Continuing along in a mainland clockwise direction, China plans to enhance its economic relations with Iran through the establishment of a trans-Central Asian railroad linking the two together. This will of course benefit all of the Central Asian transit states as well.
Moving off of the Eurasian landmass and looking further abroad, China wants to secure its Sea Lines Of Communication (SLOC) in the Indian Ocean in order to defend its position as Africa’s most important economic partner, and Beijing’s second policy paper on the continent elaborates more on the full set of ideas that it has in mind. Africa’s growth is becoming intimately linked with China’s own, and per the imperative of maintaining China’s domestic stability, it’s absolutely necessary that the People’s Republic be able to have unhindered economic access to the continent, thus explaining the importance that it attaches to the SLOC in the Indian Ocean.
The situation is slightly different regarding Chinese economic relations with Latin America, as it’s much more difficult to establish SLOC in the US- and French-dominated Eastern Pacific (recall the tiny but geographically sprawling French Polynesian archipelago). Beijing does, however, have the chance of doing this with Fiji and Papua New Guinea, but even then, the reach is geographically limited in crossing the broad Southern Pacific stretch of ocean to the South American landmass. What China aims to do in the Western Hemisphere, though, is construct the Twin Ocean Railway between Brazil and Peru and establish a trans-oceanic canal in Nicaragua, thus opening up the entire Caribbean to multipolar Chinese economic influence. Concurrent with this, it wants to use its positions in Venezuela, Ecuador, and Argentina (in terms of trade, investments, and loans) to establish firm outposts of influence that could eventually take on geopolitical contours with time.
The Chinese system is in no way representative of Western Democracy and can be seen as the total antithesis of that model. The reader shouldn’t take this to be understood as though China is a “dictatorship”, but just that it has its own form of Sovereign Democracy that is a lot different than the one that other multipolar states like Russia have. The Chinese political system is top-down and controlled by the Communist Party, evoking the superficial image of a “dictatorship” when compared to the Western model (as it commonly is in the never-ending information war against it) but actually being the most effective form of governance that’s socially suitable to the Chinese civilization. Still, because of the vast range of differentness that it has with its Western counterparts and the presence of over one billion people within the country, the possibility exists that some Chinese citizens might be influenced by these intelligence-concocted information campaigns in resisting the government under the pretense that it’s an “unrepresentative dictatorship”. There likely already are many anti-government cells spread throughout the country, but it’s just that they don’t openly make their positions known in order to avoid arrest and the subsequent neutralization of their cause.
What they’re doing is waiting for the opportune moment when the US gives them the signal in carrying out their “pro-democracy” demonstrations, be they an “occupying” ‘protest’ move like in Hong Kong, the atrocious self-immolation of Tibetan monks, or the terrorist attacks of Uighur militants. The centrality of purpose that each of these disparate destabilizations have is that the perpetrators are ostensibly waging them in the name of “democracy”, however perversely they self-define it as, and that they’re under the direct or indirect informational and possibly even operational influence of US intelligence. Therefore, for as effective and well-suited as the Chinese system of governance may be for to the state’s civilizational characteristics, it can and always will be manipulated to varying extents by the US and other unipolar enemies as a means of rallying fringe individuals against the government and linking together terrorist and regime change groups that would otherwise be unrelated to one another. Ironically, just as China’s Sovereign Democracy unites its law-abiding citizens, it also unites its law-breaking ones a well, albeit only as a result of the US’ interfering coordinative measures in bringing this about.
China’s political and economic elite are in favor of their government’s multipolar venture, but it must be said that there are some unreliable elements within it that are biased towards unipolarity. This isn’t necessarily an urgent problem so long as these forces do not interfere with the government’s policy, but the moment that they start actively obstructing it through their rampant corruption or outright subterfuge, then the authorities are compelled to respond. President Xi’s anti-corruption drive is a proactive campaign meant to root out the negative influences within the political and economic elite and call all of the country’s hierarchy to account before the people. This is becoming increasingly important as the proliferation of social media and other information-communication technologies enables the US to work within the (tightly controlled) system in China in sparking unrest every time yet another official is outed as corrupt.
Some segments of the population are beginning to lose the hitherto unquestionable support that they used to lend to the Communist Party after such a string of embarrassing incidents, and they need to see that Beijing is officially responding to this corruption plague in order to continue shoring up their support in the long run. Left unchecked, corruption can corrode society’s faith in the Communist Party and till the social soil for regime change actors to one day reap more recruits. The elite responsible for managing China’s high-level political and economic affairs are ironically also the government’s most vulnerable Achilles’ heel, hence why it has enacted the anti-corruption campaign in order to root out the vile elements within them and show the people that they’re responding to this problem.
To reiterate, there is no plausible risk that the political and economic elite could reorient China towards the unipolar world (even though some members of this class are partial to the West, vacation there, and send their children to school there), but it’s just that some of these said individuals represent a national security threat whether they recognize it or not, and therefore must come under increased government checks as a proactive safeguarding measure in protecting against American regime change exploitation.
The Chinese military is an influential institution within the country and has been taking on a prime role over the past decade. The armed forces have always occupied a leading position in China’s history, but this time they’re directed more so abroad than they are internally, unlike what has usually been the case. China is not behaving in an “aggressive” manner like the US and its regional ASEAN proxies such as Vietnam and the Philippines accuse it of being, but is instead defending its SLOC and the wider One Belt One Road network. A convincing argument can be made that China’s development of “artificial islands” in the South China Sea was a masterstroke in preempting the US’ efforts to do the same via its Vietnamese and Philippine allies, but that the expected consequence of this strategic victory was to be forever painted as a “hostile” and “aggressor” state, just like Russia has been ever since the reunification with Crimea under similar pressures (e.g. to prevent it from suffering ethnic cleansing and becoming a post-Maidan US military base). As China’s international responsibilities proportionately increase with its growing global role, so too will the military’s in relation to China’s policies, though it will always remain loyal to the Communist Party and doesn’t show any signs whatsoever of being susceptible to any US-insinuated coup attempts (or even being able to succeed if certain elements decided to do this anyhow).
China is a rock-solid multipolar leader and is one of the main driver forces alongside Russia in charting a multipolar world future. Everything about its strategic situation is favorable towards these ends, and while there veritably exist manipulatable variables such as identity tension, social hostility to the elites’ corruption, workers’ strikes, and “pro-democracy” unrest, none of these on their own are capable of offsetting China in its globally transformative mission. The main risk is if these factors integrate together under a US-coordinated aegis and are simultaneously or procedurally activated to coincidence with a forthcoming undetermined but destabilizing geopolitical event. That nebulous threat is what China’s decision makers are continually trying to suppress, and they’ve done a fairly decent job of doing so over the past couple of years. The latest foreign NGO legislation is a confident step in the direction of combating Hybrid War threats by identifying, monitoring, and splitting up embedded cells within the country, and it testifies to the growing seriousness with which Beijing takes Washington’s persevered efforts to subvert it.
Japanese mainstream media is unapologetically unipolar, feeding the over 100 million citizens that consume it with a non-stop diatribe of China bashing. As ubiquitous of a message as this may be, it hasn’t totally succeeded in snuffing out more pragmatic voices such as the alternative journalist Yoichi Shimatsu and others. The large-scale protests against Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his remilitarization policies, to say nothing of the anti-American ones in Okinawa, prove that the Japanese mainstream media doesn’t have full control over the national narrative and that a politically focused civil society does in fact exist in the island nation. While such sentiments are not representative of what the majority of the population has voted for, they provide hope for Japan’s long-term potential in the event that they can become more popularly known and accepted with time.
Japan’s trading network is balanced between China and the US, with its largest export destinations being China ($131 billion), the US ($128 billion), and South Korea ($52.5 billion), and its largest import ones being China ($166 billion), the US ($67.5 billion), Australia ($43.1 billion), and Saudi Arabia ($42.5 billion). To explain, the Chinese and American consumer markets are two of the world’s largest and most capable in terms of absorbing the high-level manufactured products that Japan regularly exports, while both countries are also sizeable exporters in their own rights of a variety of goods. Australia and Saudi Arabia are only included among Japan’s top import partners solely because of natural resources, with the island-continent primarily exporting raw minerals for use in Japan’s electronics and construction industries and the Arabian Kingdom being globally renowned for its oil.
Without any external interference, Japan would initially appear to be an economy which adroitly balances between the US and China, accepting the benefits of each while having the potential to play one off against the other if the circumstantial political will arose. However, the real-life situation is that the US is forcing the TPP onto Japan in order to capture its market and displace China. The implementation of this hegemonic trading agreement would lead to an expected decline in trade with China and Beijing’s progressive economic replacement with Washington, although of course not to Tokyo’s ultimate benefit. Objectively speaking, it’s best for the archipelago to maintain and enhance its substantial trading relations with its neighboring Asian partner, not work on cutting them back for a different partner halfway across the world. If the TPP enters into working force, then it would have the effect of substantially decreasing China’s trading relations with Japan and unraveling the complex economic interdependence that has largely kept the peace between these two rising powers.
Japan is a leading unipolar power when it comes to its institutional relationships, being nurtured for these positions by the US ever since the end of World War II and America’s occupation of the archipelago. Japan can thus be seen as an “Asian America” in terms of its institutional policies, aspiring to be the Asian leader in every large-scale organization that it enters into, be it the WTO, Asian Development Bank (ADB), or others. It’s also formally allied with the US through a mutual defense treaty and hosts thousands of American troops, thus intimately tying it in with the Pentagon’s grand strategy and making it a primary part of the US’ Pivot to Asia. Although Japan has joined the Chinese-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), it’s unclear what its objectives were in doing so and whether it was to pragmatically partake in the various projects associated with it or find a way to interfere with them from within. Additionally, Japan is clearly positioning itself as an “alternative” or “competitor” to China in the ASEAN theater, offering up $7 billion in development funding over the next three years to the Greater Mekong Subregion and instrumentally spearheading the East-West Corridor across southern Myanmar, northern Thailand, southern Laos, and central Vietnam.
From the looks of it, the Japanese mainstream media has scared most of the population into believing in the myth of the “Chinese threat”, working hand-in-hand with the military in order to expertly spin every one of Japan’s island provocations into a “Chinese” one. Still, the establishment’s power over the populace isn’t absolute, as can be seen by the thousands of people who have protested against Abe and his remilitarization program, showing that there still is a vocal (albeit numerically minor) segment of the population that is extremely distressed at what is happening to their country. For the most part, it can be said that the Japanese people are experiencing a revival of “imperial nostalgia”, although in a muted (though no less potentially dangerous) form.
Instead of the ethnic cleansing campaigns that it aggressively waged in the past against China, Japan is positioning itself to argue that it’s only reacting “defensively” in the face of “Chinese aggression”, ergo its enhanced military partnership with the Philippines and the loosened post-war military restraints that the Abe government has overseen in “reinterpreting” the constitution. Additionally, Tokyo is for now restricting its military forces to the global waterways and hasn’t established any mainland component to assist with its Chinese “containment” operations, though in the current global context, this is more than sufficient to interfere with China’s policies. The TPP has provided a simple platform for Japanese politicians to claim that their country is once more serving as the core of regional economic integration, or to put it into World War II-esque terms, another “East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere”, aimed this time against China instead of the US.
While all of this previous claims and angles seem to be the unofficial standpoint of the Japanese government, it’s not accurately known exactly how well they correspond with the organic wishes of the population or how much had to be invested in ‘perception management’ techniques in order to make them ‘acceptable’ to the assumed majority. Regardless, what’s important to realize is that these ideas are in fact the present zeitgeist in domestic Japanese politics, whether they’re directly admitted to and expressed or not, and that Japanese society is being prepared by their politicians for a prolonged asymmetrical struggle against China.
While similar traces of hostility can be seen in Tokyo’s approach towards Moscow as a result of the Kuril Islands spat, the Japanese population appears to be much less mobilized in opposing Russia than it is towards China, importantly offering a potential multipolar inroad through which the Kremlin could engage with Tokyo to the ultimate long-term benefit of the Russian-Chinese Strategic Partnership. Having said that, Russia should be cognizant of the fact that the Japanese mainstream media machine could decisively shift against its favor at any given time if Abe decides to give the signal, so it shouldn’t take its relatively more benign relations with Japan for granted and should hurry to capitalize on whatever lasting economic partnerships it can seal during this time.
There are two paradigms through which Japan can practice its foreign policy, and these are the World War II one and the multipolar one. As it stands, the former is in vogue under the Abe government, but it doesn’t mean that it’s indefinitely sustainable after an eventual change in administrations, despite the thousands of US troops that benefit from this arrangement. To explain, the World War II paradigm is expressly anti-Chinese and seeks to make Japan the US’ main “Lead From Behind” partner in the Pivot to Asia strategy, taking advantage of Tokyo’s economic and prospective military potential in order to “contain” and “compete” with China.
The simple concept is to have Japan repeat its World War II-era footsteps in turning Southeast Asia (nowadays ASEAN) into a proxy flashpoint of the Japan-China Cold War, exploiting the Philippines and Vietnam as the “frontline states” in this struggle as they receive joint US-Japanese support in staging their maritime anti-Chinese provocations. Connected with this policy of “encirclement”, Washington also wants to encourage Japan and South Korea to enter into a trilateral military framework with the US (despite their colonial- and World War II-era differences) under the ‘plausibly justifiable’ aegis of “responding to North Korea”. Should this policy be fulfilled in whole or in part, then Japan’s World War II strategy of using the Korean Peninsula and Southeast Asia as anti-Chinese springboards would have come full circle, with the only historical element that’s missing being the formal Japanese occupation of Chinese territory. In this sense, an intensified partnership with Taiwan (legally recognized by most of the world as part of mainland China) would somewhat suffice, thus giving Japan a three-front anti-Chinese position (South Korea, Taiwan, Southeast Asia) from which to project influence onto the mainland, backed up the entire time by the bilateral security treaty with the US.
On the other hand, an entirely different vision of the future awaits Japan, so long as its establishment chooses to embrace it. It doesn’t look too likely that the Abe administration will pursue the following in any considerable way aside from perhaps a mild embracement of the Russian vector, but the idea is to have Japan integrate into the emerging multipolar world order as a responsible balancing actor between Beijing/Moscow and Washington. The US military presence in Japan will likely not go away anytime soon, meaning that it’s a geopolitical fact that will have to be dealt with as it is. Therefore, the US will obviously put certain institutional constraints on its occupied Japanese partners to prevent their full inclusion into all multipolar processes, yet Washington is also constrained in what it can openly do if the right domestic political figures were motivated enough to actually make real progress towards multipolarity. With this in mind, Japan’s economic and technological prowess could be used for pragmatic, not provocative, purposes, thus reversing the World War II-era paradigm and seeing Japan coordinate its regional development projects with China.
While the last idea is admittedly farfetched at the moment, it’s much more realistic that Japan could exercise “restrained multipolarity” on a selective basis by helping Russia develop the Far East and thus acquire its own non-Chinese “Silk Road” access to the EU via the Eurasian-spanning Trans-Siberian Railway. Concurrent with that, pragmatic relations with Russia, whether or not the Kuril Islands dispute is ever resolved, could lead to Japan gaining access to some of Russia’s Arctic energy deposits to complement the LNG export from Sakhalin Island. From a pure geopolitical sense, this is a no-brainer for Russia and Japan, both of which would have much to gain from the other if Tokyo were able to at least partially unshackle itself from the US’ control.
While observers shouldn’t get their hopes up too much, it does look like some breakthroughs might be occurring behind the scenes as witnessed by Abe’s recent meeting with Putin in Sochi. The author did predict that something of this sort might happen this year in his 2016 forecast for The Saker, which, if actualized, would be a welcome note in buffeting multipolarity’s prospects in Northeast Asia. It must be cautioned, however, that even with prospectively pragmatic Russian-Japanese economic ties, this doesn’t mean that Tokyo will step away from its bilateral mutual security alliance with the US, and purportedly “anti-North Korean” “missile defense” infrastructure could still be deployed to the islands with the tangential purpose of eroding Russia and China’s nuclear second strike deterrent.
Japan’s post-war political system was constructed by the US and is thus a replica of the Western Democratic model. Accordingly, it’s also just as manipulatable, with the presence of an untold number of American intelligence agents obviously having an effect in shaping public perception and reinforcing the present government’s ardently pro-American geopolitical and geo-economic agenda. Likewise, considering the American occupation, it’s only logical that a substantial share of the Japanese elite would be in favor of enhanced relations with the US at the expense of China, though the rising share of China-friendly economic elite mustn’t be discounted at all.
These individuals are the ones who will have the most to directly lose if/when TPP is implemented, since as was already stated, the entire arrangement is just a massive way to economically “contain” China and reverse its position in each of the member states’ markets. The possibility might perhaps emerge that Japan’s China-friendly economic elite resists the TPP and pools their resources into informationally and politically confronting Abe, though such a move would definitely come a bit late and is long overdue if it is in fact even being planned at all. Taking stock of the Japanese strategic situation, it might be that the only thing which can avert the present government’s blind embrace of all things American is to have a few China-friendly elite throw their backing behind anti-Abe media and social movements, since nothing short of this would be viable enough to change the current trajectory, and even that might not achieve the desired ends.
Regarding the Japanese military, it used to be immensely influential before the American occupation, but the US cut it down to size and largely neutered it, though it now appears to have made an important strategic decision to have permitted it to remilitarize with the Pentagon’s full blessing. Obviously, the whole reason why this is happening is in order to “contain” China, but no matter how far this gets, it doesn’t seem at all reasonable that the Japanese Armed Forces would ever retain their World War II-era influence over domestic political processes, though it can be expected that new lobbying groups will inevitably be created and could grow to gain considerable (if still somewhat limited) sway.
Japan is one of the most firmly unipolar states in the world, standing at the forefront of the US’ “Chinese Containment Coalition” and being occupied by thousands of American troops. Still, for all of the hostile actions that the current Abe government has undertaken, the Prime Minister still took the surprising move of meeting with President Putin in Sochi recently, showing that American-enforced unipolarity has its limits everywhere, including in Japan. The pragmatic outreach that the Japanese leader made to his Russian counterpart proves that there’s a chance for both sides to engage in mutually beneficial cooperation in the Russian Far East, both in terms of energy and infrastructure, though it’s doubtful that such prospective ties would ever expand past that already far-reaching phase. The US simply wouldn’t allow Japan to slip out of its crucial military orbit, no matter if it does ‘loosen the reins’ a bit and permit Abe to profit from the Far East’s economic potential.
In the greater scheme of things, Japan will remain a unipolar state, albeit one which might possibly enter into limited pragmatic economic ties with Russia on a win-win basis. Also, the US might try to capitalize off of this by having its allied media outlets spin such a development as though Russia was “turning its back” on its Chinese ally by “embracing its arch-enemy”, a predictable narrative that would be right at home with the US’ divide-and-rule strategy. Beijing would foreseeably be unfazed by such propagandistic sensationalism because it knows full well that Moscow would never do anything to jeopardize the strategic partnership that means so much to each side. Looked at from another way, China might even tacitly welcome enhanced Russian-Japanese relations because it would allow at least one member of the Russian-Chinese Strategic Partnership to have the potential to positively influence Tokyo without resorting to potentially hostile economic action. This strategic foothold, however small, is still something better than what had previously been, thereby presenting a relative win for the multipolar world even if Japan remains by and large firmly tied to the unipolar one.