The Navy finished the Kitty Hawk affair in fine style, sending the carrier through the Taiwan Strait on the way home.

A U.S. aircraft carrier group sailed through the tense waters between China and Taiwan after it was denied entry last week to a Hong Kong port, the U.S. Navy said on Thursday.

The USS Kitty Hawk and eight accompanying ships passed through the Taiwan Strait, seen as one of Asia’s most dangerous flash points, on their way back to Japan after China barred the carrier group from entering the Hong Kong harbor for a long-planned visit, a spokesman for the U.S. Pacific Command in Hawaii said.

“USS Kitty Hawk carrier strike group has transited the Taiwan Strait,” Navy spokesman Shane Tuck said. “This was a normal navigational transit of international waters, and the route selection was based on operational necessity, including adverse weather.”

Nice move, guys. Apparently, as I note in the post below this one, China has refused visits by a number of US ships. Note how China refuses US port calls even though it just sent a ship to Japan for a historic port call — where they were scheduled to view a ship equipped with US Aegis tech (since canceled). Catch that pattern?

Chris Nelson sent off his last Nelson report for a week — apparently he’s due for some surgery. Heal well, man! Here’s some excerpts from the latest Nelson Report:

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China seems determined not to let the Hong Kong/Kitty Hawk matter rest…see the stunning claim that President Bush was not told by Foreign Minister Yang that the event was a “misunderstanding”. Our sources are firm that Yang said precisely this to Bush in Annapolis.

But if China is denying it now, you have to worry about a “spillover effect” into US-China relations generally, right?

Maybe not…see the surprise announcement by USTR Sue Schwab this morning that China had just signed an MOU at the WTO in Geneva, settling the massive subsidies cases filed by the US and Mexico last February. We asked Schwab if there had been any indication of general atmospheric problems due to the Hong Kong situation, and she said none at all.

US-CHINA….continued…senior US sources frankly admit confusion over the command and control issues being revealed here, but the consensus is that Yang’s contradiction reveals continued political/military splits in Beijing, and (as Adm. Denny Blair suggested yesterday) when power remains unsettled, tough talk will ensue. Our sources are firm that when Bush met the Foreign Minister in Annapolis this week, the conversation’s content was as initially reported…Yang used the “misunderstanding” explanation.

They also say that despite press speculation about various causes of the decision to bar the Kitty Hawk group from Hong Kong, “there’s no question the basic issue is Taiwan arms sales.”

What about China’s concerns over Chen Shuibian and the UN membership referenda in March? “It sounds as though Bush is still being very clear on this, to China’s satisfaction…for now”.

(Having claimed that, US sources frankly admit to “heightened worry” over how the Chen Shuibian UN referendum battle on Taiwan may yet cause tensions to flair-up, if not boil over next year…more on this, below.)

What about the Dalai Lama’s Gold Medal? “Yes, it was on the Yang agenda, but secondary, compared to Taiwan.”

No question that Tibet is a corrosive issue, though, especially since President Hu’s tenure as the boss of Tibet is not one of the region’s happiest periods…nor his. Hu reportedly never was able to adjust to the altitude, and so governed from Beijing as much as possible.

In any event, Hu takes Western accolades for the Dalai Lama a great deal more personally than did Jiang Zemin.

China’s inflexibility on Tibet is a world-wide problem. See today, for example, in a sign that the policy standoff between Germany and China is set to worsen, Premier Wen Jiabao warned that the German government needed to “correct” its “mistake” of hosting the DalaiLama.

“Germany is a friend and partner for strategic co-operation. Friends and partners sometimes do wrong things and make wrong remarks,” Mr Wen said at the end of a European Union-China summit in Beijing.

“But as long as they are aware of their mistakes and correct them, we will always treat them as friends and partners,” Mr Wen said.

Bearing in mind that Wittgenstein was never a foreign minister, parsing the logic of language is sometimes a useful exercise. In our 40 years of reading English translations of Chinese hortatory rhetoric, we’ve come to the conclusion that Beijing is consistently poorly served in terms of public relations, even when accurately rendered.

Wen’s remarks to Chancellor Merkel, quoted above, are comparatively mild, yet typical. It would be difficult to be more condescending…”wrong things…wrong remarks…correct them”.

Excuse me? The Chancellor of Germany is not a school girl to be lectured, much less in such simplistic terms, in what sounds uncomfortably like a self-criticism session. So another problem comes to mind …the very simple mindedness of Chinese exhortations. “Correct thought…wrong remarks”…as if human events can be so easily boiled down to “this is right, that is wrong”.

Of course, the US under George Bush and the War on Terrorism is as guilty of any country of over-simplified condescension on a global basis, but we’re talking about China, here, and how she continually ill-serves herself, especially on Tibet. A final thought…it seems never to occur to Beijing that the Dalai Lama is seen by virtually the entire civilized world, and certainly by any government that matters to China, as an eminently worthy individual, no matter what a particular government may think about the politics of the Tibet problem.

So, for example, when Chinese denunciations of the Congressional Gold Medal include calling the Dalai Lama “that evil man”, Beijing sounds not just tone deaf, it sounds…demented.

A final thought on the Taiwan aspects of this for tonite: the significance of Bush/Yang goes beyond the arms sales and the Hong Kong incident. An assessment of Taiwan Strait risk must look at larger context.

Was this a tipping point confirming a pattern of disconnect in politico-military matters, with errors by USG (Patriot-II timing vs. Gates omission) and, by the PRC, erratic decision-making and poor judgment of international expectations and perception (e.g., ASAT, HK, SARS, EP-3 response, ‘96 missile volley) not to mention (stove-piping with ministries not in the loop, flip-flopping decisions, flip-flopping rationales,etc.)?

If you have Chen Shuibian throwing hand grenades into that environment and not clearly on the safe side of PRC visceral redlines, one has less confidence that a provocation can be dialed down with good decision-making/crisis management practices. Risk of accident, mistake, systemic forcing events, etc. is higher.

This concern goes to the very heart of the decade-long US Navy “outreach” campaign which Beijing’s ham-fisted actions in Hong Kong have now put in jeopardy, since the Navy is now coming under fire for being a Panda Hugger (more than one email using that term came in yesterday, alas) and in any event for having its efforts proven not just wrong, but naive.

Good news includes trade progress, 6PT progress, and having both of the Taiwan presidential candidates recently speak constructively about Strait security matters. But, as no doubt was discussed Bush/Yang in Annapolis, CSB is still in office for a few months.

Complexity — with multiple dimensions and conditions moving in different, sometimes opposite, directions — is the hallmark of the US-China relationship (rapidly becoming the most important bi-lateral relationship in the world, as Jim Baker frames it).

Yes, getting better in some dimensions, while the Taiwan Strait continually risks veering off-path with inadequate crisis management mechanisms…a situation which is simply not good enough.

Bush and the Navy have long realized this. How many power centers in Beijing understand?


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China denies what it told the President? Very typical. They will go right on denying even if the US produced witnesses and a videotape. That too is very Chinese: the act of denial of what is brutally obvious is a manly thing to do that earns points from onlookers in Chinese society. One might also add that in Chinese culture life is a zero-sum game, and thus all transactions produce a winner and a loser. Who won here?

China’s lecturing of Germany , admonishing it to do the “correct” thing, is yet another aspect of the Throne’s interaction with the world (which I discussed in the post below). The Throne is the center of righteousness, making the Dalai Lama evil and those who abet his evilness “incorrect.” China is aware, of course, that other nations have other opinions, but those opinions are merely the expressions of barbarians who have not yet come under the tutelage of the Throne and learned proper behavior. China understands that, and is tolerant. Mr. Wen’s admonishing of Chancellor Merkel was actually quite mild, from that point of view. To be correct, Chancellor Merkel would have to align her actions with those of the righteous Throne of China. In Chinese culture, being the Boss has a moral dimension it does not in modern western culture — the boss became the boss due to his superior moral behavior (Silin’s old book has an excellent discussion of this) and is thus an example to us all — China offers the paradox of a culture where the actions of supreme administrators are to a certain extent normative for those underneath them, but the laws they promulgate lack any normative force at all. Hence, Mr. Wen’s admonishment of Chancellor Merkel was actually an invitation to her to enter his moral universe and properly order the world around China. Once in that universe, the Throne will shower benevolence on Germany. This thinking also underlies Hu Jin-tao’s “peace offer” to Taiwan — the island is a source of chaos in the Throne’s moral order, and thus must align itself properly with the Throne. Once in, Hu will shower Taiwan with “benevolence”…. but first, you have to come in. Sadly, US officials appear to have bought into this line, by seeing President Chen as a problem.

We’re going to see behavior like this again and again. Some (nation/agency/organization) will work hard to establish good relations with China, a few years of nonsuccess will go by, and then wham!, China will arbitrarily abuse it, leaving it to feel, like the US Navy (hopefully) does now, that it is extremely naive.

As blogger Feiren pointed out to me in a private chat yesterday, China can only be dealt with from a position of strength. Good work, guys, sending Kitty Hawk through the Straits.