HEADQUARTERS ARMY UNIVERSITY–OFFICE OF THE PROVOST, FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kansas— The Command and General Staff College Cultural and Area Studies Office hosted a panel presentation on ‘Chinese Leadership’s Increased Powers: Implications for Global Security’ Tuesday, March 21, at Fort Leavenworth’s Lewis and Clark Center.
Panel members included Russell Hsiao, Global Taiwan Institute, Washington; Dr. Seong-Hyon Lee, Harvard University’s Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies; Dr. Sean Kalic, and Dr. Geoff Babb, both from the CGSC Department of Military History Department.
Dr. Jack Kem, CGSC Dean of Academics and Army University Chief Academic Office gave opening remarks and Dr. Mahir Ibrahimov, CASO director, was the moderator.
Kem noted that the Biden administration’s interim national security strategic guidance issued in March 2021 said, “a growing rivalry with China, Russia, and other authoritarian states is one of the many unprecedented challenges of our time.”
“China and Russia challenge our national security interests in different regions of the world and China is specifically referred to by our senior leaders as the pacing threat and a systemic challenge to our global interests starting in the Indo-PACOM region,” said Kem.
Hsiao, executive director of the Global Taiwan Institute, was the first panelist to speak. His presentation assessed the policy implications for peace and stability during Chinese President’s Xi Jinping’s third term.
“When you talk about the Chinese government and the Chinese Communist Party you’re really only talking about one man, Xi Jinping,” said Hsiao. He broke the norms of succession by taking his 3rd term as general secretary and filled the top echelons of the polit bureau with loyalists. Thus, according to Hsiao, he has become the most powerful Chinese leader since Mao Zedong. Hsiao also expects Xi will stay on for a fourth term that would begin in 2027.
From Xi’s comments during the 20th Chinese Communist Party Congress, Hsiao drew four things in reference to cross-strait [Chinese-Taiwan] relations. The first is the idea of “one country, two systems” as a way for the mainland to rule Taiwan. This kind of governance has not worked well in the Chinese absorption of Hong Kong into China.
The second takeaway is the refusal of the Chinese leader to rule out the use of force. Hsiao also noted the Chinese insistence that the “One-China principle applies much more broadly than its intent when adopted in 1972. The fourth principle is Xi’s pledge to protect Taiwan against ‘External Interference’ and ‘Taiwan Separatists’ that is clearly aimed at the United States and the Demographic Progressive Party in Taiwan.
Hsiao said the People’s Liberation Army has been instructed by President Xi to be Capable of invading Taiwan by 2027. That doesn’t mean the Chinese leader will invade in that year and there are other actions the country could take to thwart Taiwan’s capabilities. These include: military gray zone activities, political subversion, information operations, containing Taiwan’s diplomatic and international space, non-military gray zone coercion, drone activity (land and sea), economic and cyber activity, and traditional espionage activity.
Lee opened by telling the story of China and North Korea. His focus was the five summits that Xi held with North Korean leader Kim Jung-un in 2018 and 2019. “Such frequency of summits is certainly very uncommon in international politics,” he said.
The first summit was initiated by Kim who was preparing for his meeting with U.S President Donald Trump. At the time, Kim was a young national leader with limited international experience while the more experienced Xi had already met with Trump twice.
The media, said Lee, was focused on what North Korea wanted from China but not on what Xi wanted from Kim. Xi would not have met with Kim five times (roughly every three months) to pass on the art of negotiation with Trump, said Lee.
By the second summit between the leaders Kim began to use language such as “China and North Korea have one destiny,” said Lee. The same language Xi had used in the first meeting. Xi issued a statement saying “China is going to support socialist [emphasis by Lee] North Korea forever.” This was the same vocabulary Mao had used 70 year earlier dealing with then North Korean leader, Kim, Il-sung.
In the 5th summit, Xi told Kim, “The essential characteristic of China-North Korea relations lies in being a socialist state led by the communist party.” Kim’s response was, “I confirm, with General Secretary Xi, that adhering to the socialist system is the key to maintaining North Korea-China friendship.”
Kalic added an analysis on the evolution of Russian-Chinese relations in his opening remarks. He began by discussing cold war relations. He said the relationship between the two communist nations was not always cozy.
Post-World War II, Joseph Stalin was focused on rebuilding the Soviet Union. He probably hoped Mao would win in China but there was little coordination between the two, said Kalic. After Mao is successful in China, there is a rift between the two nations and leaders as to who will lead the communist revolution going forward. Both nations, for instance, see themselves as the key supporter of North Korea during the Korean War.
When Nikita Khrushchev becomes leader of the Soviet Union, he believes in expanding communism through spheres of influence and believes China is a key partner. This is a more positive period of relations between Soviet Russia and China, said Kalic.
However, the rift between the two nations, that Kalic says never completely goes away, re-emerges as the Khrushchev era ends. “The withering alliance, kind of the winter period of Sino-Soviet relationships” lasts until the mid-1980’s, said Kalic.
The last period Kalic analyzed is when Mikhail Gorbachev becomes the leader of the Soviet Union. Gorbachev once again sees China as a faithful ally. However, that only last until the Soviet Union begins to collapse in 1989-1992.
The final presenter, Babb, discussed the evolution of Sino-American relations. He described the relationship, post-World War II, as seen from the American perspective, as four periods: Enemy to Friend, through 1976; Friend to Responsible Stakeholder, through 2014; Collaborator to Competitor, to the present; and Competitor to Enemy, going forward.
Babb closed his presentation by repeating the official U.S. policy that China is the pacing challenge for the Department of Defense. He believes U.S. leaders expect it will continue to worsen. “I think the history that I’ve described from 1950 to now will tell you it’s much more complex than that,” said Babb. “There are chances for ups and downs, and there are contingencies of things that could happen in other places in the world that could change that path,” he said.
“It is not inevitable that the United States will go to war with China,” he concluded.
Following presentations by each panel member, the audience of more than 70 in the conference room and many others attending world-wide by Facebook and VTC were able to ask questions of the panel experts. Video of the complete panel discussion is at https://www.facebook.com/USACGSC/videos/148475911481788/.
This panel is part of series of seminars and panel discussions on issues of operational and strategic importance to the United States that CASO in coordination with CGSC, universities, think tanks, interagency organizations and other partners conducts every two to three months broadcasting them through Video Teleconference and live on CGSC's Facebook page. Videos of the sessions are available on the CGSC Facebook and YouTube sites.
For questions on CASO events please contact: Dr. Mahir J. Ibrahimov, Director, Cultural and Area Studies Office (CASO), U.S. Army CGSC at (913)684-3345 or email@example.com.
CASO website: https://armyuniversity.edu/cgsc/caso/caso.aspx
YouTube link: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCv6kCwUFfbUGzQxWm72FstQ
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/USACGSC