Believing that the relationship between the United States and China, with the two largest economies in the world, is the globe’s most important bi-lateral relationship, I read everything that I can get my hands in the popular press* about China. One of my favorite writers is the Wall Street Journal’s Shanghai-based senior correspondent, Andrew Browne.
A glance through Browne’s recent columns in the Journal turns up perceptive writing about the explosion of debt in China and China’s massive overbuilding spree, among many other subjects. The Journal has a paywall, but if you have a library card in your pocket, you likely have no-cost access to his stuff online.
Browne has been especially perceptive, in my view, in chronicling China’s increasing militancy under President Xi Jinping. In the Wall Street Journal December 21, he wrote that China’s neighbors fear that it walking away step by step from its prior assurances that it wants a “peaceful rise.”
For example, China promised last year not to militarize seven islands that it has built up from outcroppings in the South China Sea that are in disputed waters. But a Washington think tank, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, reports that the islands now are equipped with Chinese antiaircraft guns.
Browne writes that
During the Cold War, rules of the road, diligently adhered to, prevented accidents that might have brought the U.S. and the Soviet Union to war. China and the U.S. have been working on similar protocols. Last week’s apparently calculated act of lawlessness [seizure by the Chinese navy of a U.S. underwater drone], though, changes the game. Between [President-elect] Trump’s cavalier approach to China’s sacred cows [e.g., chatting on the phone with the president of democratic Taiwan, which China regards as a renegade province], and China’s new disdain for legal niceties, expect regular eruptions.
“China has crossed a threshold,” Browne writes. Armed conflict, Browne writes, is highly unlikely because the Peoples Liberation Army is far from ready to take on the globe’s sole superpower. But he writes as well that China is clearly testing U.S. resolve. “Mr. Xi’s navy has just literally and figuratively rocked by boat.” Indeed. Stay tuned.