Divisions In China

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on June 3, 2010

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The following tidbit, found in a story concerning Defense Secretary Robert Gates’s inability to get a meeting in China during his Asia tour, is of interest:

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates on Thursday accused China’s military of impeding relations with the Pentagon, taking exception to its unwillingness to invite him to Beijing during his trip to Asia this week.

Shortly before he arrived in Singapore for a regional security conference, Gates told reporters there was a clear split between China’s political leaders, whom he said want stronger military ties with Washington, and the People’s Liberation Army, which he said does not.

“I think they are reluctant to engage with us on a broad level,” he said. “The PLA is significantly less interested in this relationship than the political leadership of China.”

Of course, it is inconceivable for Americans to think that the Pentagon would act to impede a meeting between American diplomatic officials and a visiting dignitary, but the PLA appears to be doing this kind of thing a fair amount in the course of making its voice heard in Chinese foreign and national security policy circles. I am certainly not the first person to think this up, but perhaps the Obama Administration will want to craft and implement a divide-and-conquer strategy in which it plays the Chinese civilian leadership and the PLA off against one another, the better to prevent the Chinese leadership from pursuing policies that may be antithetical to American interests. No one doubts that this may be a difficult task to undertake, but the Obama Administration did promise us a smarter foreign policy. Here is their chance to deliver. Is the Chinese civilian leadership perhaps sensitive to suggestions that it is being played and manipulated by the military? Will the civilian leadership respond to any such suggestions by acting to rein in the military so that the outside world does not think that the civilian leadership is in control? Let’s find out by having the Administration explore ways in which it can use the apparent divisions in the Chinese leadership to its advantage.

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