- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad defiantly proclaimed on Feb. 25 that “Iran has obtained the technology to produce nuclear fuel, and Iran’s move is like a train… which has no break and no reverse gear.”

Deputy Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mohammadi then warned that “We have prepared ourselves for any situation, even for war.” The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had announced three days earlier that Iran has expanded its uranium enrichment efforts, rather than freeze them as required by the U.N. Security Council.

The Bush administration’s response had been to call for U.N. economic sanctions, but China and Russia are expected to delay and water down any action against Tehran. Between the IAEA finding and Mr. Ahmadinejad’s outburst, Beijing reports Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing talked with his Iranian counterpart and “reiterated the principled position of peacefully solving the Iranian nuclear issue through diplomatic efforts.” This means endless dialogue, but no action by anyone except Iran.

Mr. Ahmadinejad was undoubtedly encouraged by the outcome of China’s other major diplomatic effort, the Six-Party talks on North Korea. Beijing decided to “host” these talks in 2003 to head off a regime change in Pyongyang similar to the one the U.S. engineered in Baghdad. This is also when Tehran opened negotiations with the Europeans from a similar fear that has now subsided.

In Asia, Beijing has more than accomplished is objective, having pushed for “positive incentives” to prop up Kim Jong-il’s dictatorship without forcing North Korea to give up the small stockpile of nuclear weapons, which are its ultimate deterrent.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has been frank enough to say the new Six-Party deal is only an “important initial step toward the goals of a denuclearized Korean Peninsula” and that the process is still only in “the first quarter” of the game. It will likely fall apart in the implementation phase, as in the past. But the tensions caused by North Korea’s tests of missiles and a nuclear bomb have been reduced and Beijing has taken its bows.

Beijing has adopted a traditional Chinese strategy dating back to the ancient Warring States period. This era, when Qin rose from a weak position within a system of competing powers to unite China in 221 B.C., plays a role in Chinese thinking similar to that of the Founding Fathers in America. In the winter Chinese Journal of International Politics, Wei Zongyou, a professor at the Shanghai International Studies University of Foreign Studies, has described Qin’s strategy as one of “divide and conquer” as it sought to prevent other states from uniting to block its rise as the new, dominant hegemon.

In the Six-Party system, Beijing started out with Russia on its side. It then played on South Korea’s fears of war, desire for reunification, and hope for commercial gain, to further Seoul’s appeasement policy toward Pyongyang. Then it only needed to isolate the U.S. by demanding it negotiate with North Korea directly, an appeal that also won support from liberal critics of the Bush administration at home. Bilateral talks took place in Berlin in January. This alienated America’s only firm ally in the multilateral negotiations, Japan, which has refused aid to North Korea under the new agreement.

Professor Wei’s analysis of Qin fits the needs of Beijing today as a “revisionist state” that must prevent the “status quo” states from uniting against its rise. Like Qin, once Beijing has sufficient power, it will seek to overturn the current order and make additional gains as the new arbitrator of world politics. Professor Wei cites Paul Schroeder, professor emeritus of history at the University of Illinois, to support his argument such revolutions are easier than most people think. In this interpretation of history, the balance of power often fails to contain aggression because “most states, under most circumstances simply cannot bear the burden, and opt for a less costly strategy.” Among these strategic choices are “hiding” and “bandwagoning.”

There is no shortage of people “hiding” from the implications of China’s rise in America and Europe. Beijing is recruiting many smaller, disgruntled states, as attested to by President Hu Jintao’s trips through Latin America and Africa. Beijing’s ties with Iran also fit Professor Wei’s model of those who “choose to bandwagon with revisionist great powers bent on constructing a new international system; they are power-maximizing states” as opposed to the “security-maximizing states” of the more listless status quo powers.

In her very insightful book “War and State Formation in Ancient China and Early Modern Europe,” Notre Dame Professor Victoria Tin-bor Hui presents a similar analysis of how “Qin relentlessly pursued self-strengthening reforms, divide-and-conquer strategies and ruthless stratagems.” She warns that these “stratagems are still available to political actors who want to upset the liberal world order.” A more concise description of Beijing’s current behavior would be hard to find.

William Hawkins is senior fellow for National Security Studies at the U.S. Business and Industry Council.

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