【英语中国】中国开始争夺西太平洋霸权

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2013-12-2 09:10

小艾摘要: At first glance, Beijing’s designation of an air defence zone in the East China Sea marks a calibrated escalation of its longstanding dispute with Japan about sovereignty of the Senkaku or, in Chines ...
At first glance, Beijing’s designation of an air defence zone in the East China Sea marks a calibrated escalation of its longstanding dispute with Japan about sovereignty of the Senkaku or, in Chinese, Diaoyu islands. A more worrying, and plausible, interpretation is that Beijing has decided to square up to the US in the western Pacific. East Asia is looking an ever more dangerous place.

When Xi Jinping met Barack Obama in California earlier this year, the Chinese president told his US counterpart the Pacific Ocean was large enough to accommodate two great powers. The inference was that the US and China should divide the spoils. Also implicit in the remark, though, was that China would not accept a status quo that saw the US remain the Pacific’s pre-eminent power. At the summit, Mr Obama sidestepped the issue. Now it seems Mr Xi has decided it is time for China to start grabbing its share.

The Senkaku have been administered by Japan since the late 19th century, apart from a spell of US control after the second world war. China restaked a claim during the early 1970s, but for decades did little to press its case. Since the 2008 Olympics, Beijing has adopted a more assertive approach, making regular incursions into the disputed territory’s sea and air space. This has prompted a US warning that the area is covered by the US-Japan mutual security pact.

This US commitment is now being tested. The question Beijing seems to be asking is how far will Mr Obama go to uphold the existing order. China’s strategic objective is to push the US away from its coastline and establish its suzerainty in the East and South China seas. Does an America exhausted by wars in the Middle East have the political will to risk conflict in Asia in order to defend a few uninhabited rocks?

It was probably no accident that Beijing’s timing coincided with one of the most troubled periods of Mr Obama’s presidency.

Washington’s decision to send two B52 bombers into the newly designated “air defence identification zone” – flouting Beijing’s demands that flights be notified and thereby risking “emergency defensive action” – suggests it understands the nature of the challenge.

Chuck Hagel, the US defence secretary, called the Chinese move “a destabilising attempt to alter the status quo in the region”. Other US officials were less diplomatic. Beijing, though, is playing a long game. The $64,000 dollar question in east Asia is whether the US has the staying power to resist a sustained Chinese push for regional hegemony?

The immediate impact of Beijing’s new flight rules is to heighten the already significant risk of an armed clash with Japan over the islands. The Chinese zone overlaps with Toyko’s long-established ADIZ. The danger of miscalculation on both sides is far from negligible. In Shinzo Abe, Japan has a nationalist prime minister determined not to be cowed by his country’s more powerful neighbour – nor to be over-influenced by private US warnings that Tokyo should play its part in lowering the political temperature.

Mr Abe is an unabashed revisionist with a dangerous habit of airbrushing the nasty bits from Japanese history. He is also looking for an excuse to amend Japan’s constitution to provide it with something more than a defensive military capability. A clash, accidental or intended, with China around the Senkaku would provide just such a justification.

This leaves Mr Obama in a distinctly uncomfortable position. The US has to make clear to China that it stands behind Japan in the dispute, but at the same time it wants to avoid giving encouragement to Mr Abe to ratchet up tensions in the region. Each and every one of China’s neighbours is watching closely to see precisely where Washington strikes the balance between these two objectives.

For the US there is much more at stake than its relationship with Japan. Beijing’s stand-off with Tokyo over the Senkaku is one of many territorial disputes between China and its neighbours. The new airspace restrictions overlap with the South Korean zone as well as with Japan’s territorial claims. The Philippines is unhappy with Washington for what it sees as a US failure to give it sufficient support in its dispute with Beijing over a group of islands in the South China Sea. Vietnam has a separate quarrel with China over its maritime borders.

Consciously or otherwise, Beijing has now turned control of the air space around the Senkaku into a litmus test of the US security commitment to east Asia. For Washington to accept the Chinese restrictions would be to send a signal to every other nation in the region that the US cannot be relied on to defend the status quo against Chinese expansionism.

Yet to demonstrate its resolve as a resident east Asian power by constantly patrolling the disputed air space is to accept a new source of friction with Beijing. My guess is that Mr Obama, accused of presiding over a collapse of US power in the Middle East, cannot afford to back down over the Senkaku.

Chinese policy makers are nothing if not assiduous students of history. The rise of Germany at the end of the 19th century has long featured prominently in the curriculum of Beijing’s foreign policy elite. China, these officials tell visitors, will not repeat the Kaiser’s miscalculation in uniting Germany’s neighbours in opposition to its rise to great power status. This attentiveness to the past now seems to be taking second place to China’s determination to assert its power. History’s mistakes are often repeated.

乍一看,中方在东中国海设置防空识别区,似乎是表明它在精心布置,升级中日之间由来已久的尖阁诸岛(Senkaku Islands)——中国称为钓鱼岛及其附属岛屿——主权争议。更令人担忧、也更为可信的一种解读是,中国政府决定在西太平洋挑战美国。东亚局势看起来空前危险。

今年早些时候,中国国家主席习近平在加利福尼亚州与美国总统巴拉克?奥巴马(Barack Obama)会晤时曾表示,太平洋够大,足以容下中美两国。言下之意是,美中应当分享利益。不过,习近平的另一层隐含意思是,中国不能接受美国继续作为太平洋头号大国的现状。在峰会上,奥巴马回避了这个问题。现在看来,习近平已作出决策,中国应该开始争取自己的利益了。

尖阁诸岛自19世纪末以来一直由日本管辖,只是在二战后一度由美国控制。20世纪70年代初,中国重新提出主权主张,但在几十年里并未追究这件事。2008年奥运会后,中国政府采取了更加强硬的姿态,经常进入争议领土的海域和空域。这促使美国发出警告,声明尖阁诸岛适用《美日安保条约》。

美国的这个承诺正遭遇考验。中国似乎在提出一个问题:奥巴马为了维持现有秩序愿意走多远?中国的战略目标是将美国驱离本国海岸线,让中国在东中国海和南中国海确立宗主国地位。已经被中东战事折腾得精疲力尽的美国,是否有政治意志为了保卫几座无人居住的岛礁,承受在亚洲投入冲突的风险?

或许并非巧合的是,中方发起挑战的时机正是奥巴马任期内最困难的时期之一。

美国派遣两架B-52轰炸机飞越中国划设的防空识别区,而且不理睬中方有关通报飞行的要求,甘冒中方采取“防御性紧急处置措施”的风险。这似乎表明,美国明白这一挑战的性质。

美国国防部长查克?哈格尔(Chuck Hagel)称中国划设防空识别区的举动是“一种不利于稳定的企图,目的是改变地区现状”。其他美国官员更不客气。不过,中国在打长远的算盘。东亚局势的一个关键问题是:美国是否有足够的耐力来抵抗中国对地区霸权的持续追求?

中日在岛屿问题上爆发武装冲突的风险本已不低,而划设防空识别区的直接影响是加大这种风险。中国的防空识别区与日本设立已久的防空识别区存在重叠。双方误判的危险绝非可忽略不计。身为民族主义者的日本首相安倍晋三(Shinzo Abe)决心不向力量更为强大的邻国屈服,也不受美国私下敦促东京降低政治温度的警告过度影响。

安倍晋三是公然的修正主义者,还有一个危险的习惯,那就是轻描淡写日本历史上的污点。他还在寻找借口修订日本宪法,使日本军事力量不局限于自卫。在尖阁诸岛与中国爆发意外(或者有意)的冲突,将为安倍提供修宪理由。

这将奥巴马置于一个非常尴尬的境地。美国必须向中国表明,美国在争端中支持日本,但同时不想鼓励安倍晋三加剧地区紧张局势。中国的各个邻国都在密切关注,看美国究竟将如何在两个目标之间找到平衡。

对美国而言,这牵涉到远远超出美日关系的事情。中日在尖阁诸岛问题上的僵持,只是中国与邻国诸多领土争议之一。中国新设立的防空识别区除了与日本的领土主张冲突之外,还与韩国的防空识别区部分重叠。菲律宾对美国政府不满,因为在它看来,美国在菲中关于南海一个群岛的争端中未能充分给菲方撑腰。此外,越南与中国也存在海洋边界争议。

不管是有意无意,北京已经将尖阁诸岛空域的控制权问题,转化为对于美国对东亚安全承诺的考验。如果华盛顿承认中国的防空识别区,那将给地区其他所有国家发出信号:不能指望美国捍卫地区现状、遏制中国扩张主义。

但如果美国在争议空域频繁巡逻,展示出作为“东亚常驻大国”的决心,那又意味着多了一个中美摩擦的来源。我猜测,已被指责要为美国在中东势力的衰落负责的奥巴马,承受不起在尖阁诸岛问题上让步的后果。

中国政策制定者是历史的好学生。德国19世纪晚期的崛起一直是中国高层外交政策精英的重点研究对象。这些官员告诉来访者,德皇的误判导致德国的邻国团结起来对抗它的崛起,中国不会重蹈覆辙。但现在,中国施展实力的决心压倒了它对历史的关注。历史的错误往往会重演。

译者/何黎

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