Wednesday, July 22, 2020

How Many Hostages Must China Take?

I hung out with some folks who work in the government today, and I learned something strange: there are folks who don't really see great power competition as a thing right now.  Which raises the question: how many hostages must China take before folks get serious about the coercive nature of the 2020's?  How many supply chains must China disrupt?  How many allies must be destabilized by Russia (two major ones thus far via Brexit and Trump)? 

In today's Battle Rhythm podcast (link to be added once it drops), I do argue that the liberal international order isn't gone and can be salvaged, but I want to be clear that there are significant threats out there.  Liberal IR folks (which is where I identify the closest) focus less on power (although it still matters) and more patterns of interests, and it is abundantly clear that the pattern of interests these days should not cause Canadians to be complacent and comfy.  The pattern is increasingly one of conflicting interests.  What China wants and what Russia wants and what North Korea wants are in conflict with what Canada wants.  We can debate how much of what the US is doing now is going to outlast Trump (I tend to think not so much, as the fundamental pattern of interests are overlapping), but the global distribution of interests is not quite aligned with Canada. 

Canada depends on the rules-based order because the rules, dare I say it, favor Canada.  Canada has done well with norms against revisions of boundaries, with relatively free trade, stable exchange rates, and the building of institutions to solve our collective problems.  Russia wants to break this stuff down because, well, they are in decline and chaos is a ladder for them.  Judo folks (players? fighters?) prefer their adversaries off balance, and that is what Putin is.  He is not thinking five steps ahead, he is just taking advantage of countries being distracted or divided.  China?  I used to think the Chinese leaders wanted to keep the current system with some modifications.  I don't think that any more, maybe because of nationalist pressures at home, maybe because they see American weakness and are trying to take advantage of it.  Whatever it is, they are supporting more belligerent policies and some of them are aimed at Canada.

So, I have to ask those in government (not just the politicians but the folks in various agencies): just what does China have to do to make them see China as a major threat that requires some creativity to deal with?  I have no solutions right now to the problem of China, but it is clear that is what we need to be thinking about.  Russia?  We need to thwart its trolling, but its demise is in the cards.  Well, I guess I am a Realist in part since my focus is on the rising power and not the declining power.  

Anyhow, I know now what I need to say in any conversation with folks about Canada's stance in the world: how much hostility does it take to re-think things?

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