China’s Military Living in “Parallel Universe” – Ford

As more evidence of the monstrous disconnect between China and the rest of the planet, a new commentary by Christopher Ford, senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, indicates China’s military lives in a “parallel universe of competing facts and historical claims.”

The report, Sinocentrism for the Information Age: Comments on the 4th Xiangshan Forum, is based on Ford’s experience at the event held in Beijing from November 15-18, 2012. The meeting was sponsored by the International Military Branch of the China Association for Military Science of the Academy of Military Science of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

This commentary is a must read.

See also Information-based
Arms Control and Sino-American Trust

Excepts from his commentary:

“In particular, the Chinese and non-Chinese participants seemed to start from radically different starting points on surprisingly basic matters of fact (e.g., about what did or did not happen in the South China Sea in 2012, who started the Korean War, or whether or not Japanese history textbooks acknowledge that country’s invasion of China in the 1930s). In principle, these questions were objectively ‘knowable,’ yet our hosts were not interested in empirical evaluation.”

“Significantly, no non-Chinese participant in our Roundtable presumed to tell the Chinese participants what China’s strategic intentions are. Instead, non-Chinese participants explicitly referred to foreign concerns rooted in perceptions of Beijing’s intentions, and asked about how it might be possible to lessen foreign misperceptions that might exist in this regard if indeed the PRC’s rise is as benign as its leaders claim. The PLA participants, however, were quite comfortable telling non-Chinese what their various governments’ intentions are. We were told, for instance, that Japan wishes to return to imperialist adventurism of the sort that it displayed during the Second World War. The United States, we were further told, wishes to “contain” China and obstruct its rise. These Chinese assumptions were not depicted as mere perceptions, but instead as matters of inarguable fact that we non-Chinese must accept – and thereafter atone for – in order to make future trust possible.”

“For those PLA participants, therefore, achieving strategic trust required that the non-Chinese world undertake something somewhat akin to a Maoist self-criticism session. The various presumptive malefactors who were declared to wish to harm China needed, in effect, to confess their sins and denounce themselves with sufficient intensity, consistency, and sincerity that Chinese would be willing to conclude that we had forever put aside all such deviations from proper behavior. For this group, apparently, having trust required eliciting the other side’s acceptance of one’s own characterizations of history and endorsement of key elements of one’s own world view.”

“These differences were striking. Rather than being about adjudication between or management of competing claims in a pluralist world, the PLA participants seemed to view preventing international conflict and ensuring future ‘trust’ as aiming principally at keeping competing claims from being conceived or asserted in the first place – specifically, by obtaining others’ validation of and agreement with China’s own claims, and its narrative of itself in the world.”

“My dealings with PLA officials at the Xiangshan Forum, however, suggest a possible (and more interesting) alternative explanation. Beijing’s various idiosyncrasies in these regards may be, in meaningful part, the relatively coherent and consistent outgrowths of a conceptual framework – an Information Age twist, if you will, on much older themes of Sinocentric moralism – in which the emerging Chinese superpower hungers to control other peoples’ narrative of China.”

“To be sure, perhaps I am reading too much into a few days’ discussions. On the other hand, perhaps these encounters at the 4th Xiangshan Forum really do offer insight into an idiosyncratic Chinese approach to global order, highlighting a sort of politico-moral imperialism that has few obvious precedents outside the historical Sinosphere. Chinese leaders appear to be strongly invested in other countries’ narratives of China – seeing this as critical terrain for international competition (i.e., advantage or vulnerability) – and they seem to claim the right to control everyone else’s interpretations. If this is so, there may be important policy implications for the United States, and for China’s increasingly nervous neighbors, both about what to expect from Beijing in the years ahead, and about additional ways in which we might perhaps be able to develop effective competitive strategies vis-à-vis the PRC.”