Reprinted from Asia Times
As intellectual acumen and cross-cultural expertise go, it would be hopeless to expect self-described "Don't Do Stupid Stuff" Obama administration foreign policy advisers -- as well as Pentagon functionaries/hacks -- to understand the complexities of China.
For instance, they would be incapable of evaluating all the myriad ramifications included in Professor Alfred McCoy's masterful deconstruction of US-China geopolitics.
Thailand's Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha is currently visiting Singapore, where he is discussing with his counterpart Lee Hsien Loong the intricacies of ASEAN-China concerning the formidably complex South China Sea disputes.
Thailand fully supports Singapore -- ASEAN's number one investor -- to succeed Bangkok in the rotating role of ASEAN-China coordinator. Contrary to alarmist/paranoid scenarios paraded in the Beltway, the South China Sea disputes will be resolved diplomatically, within the ASEAN-China framework.
Lee Hsien Loong happens to be the elder son of late Singapore founding father, Prime Minister and Minister Mentor, the larger-than-life Lee Kuan Yew. He learned everything there is to know about Asia -- and China -- from Dad, first-hand.
When I moved to live in Asia in 1994, out of Paris, my first port of call was Singapore. That was at the height of the Asian miracle. Full immersion meant learning everything that revolved around Lee -- and from Lee himself. Ideology, and political gaps aside -- for instance, he was not exactly his usual razor-sharp about Iran or Russia or Latin America -- Lee arguably knew more about China than any outside observer/analyst.
After all, it was Lee who dazzled the Little Helmsman Deng Xiaoping in person, in the late 1970s, prompting Deng to launch a modern China conceived as a sort of "a thousand Singapores"; sterling economic success under tight political control. President Xi Jinping, crucially, admires Lee as "our senior who has our respect."
As Lee tells it, when he was asked by Chinese think tanks about "peaceful rise" as the new Chinese mantra, he responded with "peaceful renaissance, or evolution, or development. A recovery of ancient glory, an updating of a once great civilization." Not accidentally, "peaceful development" was adopted by the previous Beijing leadership.
Now that the non-stop hysterical meme across the West is the "China threat," or, extrapolating from the South China Sea disputes, "China aggression," it's quite enlightening to come back to the Grandmaster for some sobering China-related hard facts. Call it the Grandmaster's concise China, and concise China-US, most of it compiled at Lee Kuan Yew (MIT Press, 2013). No meaningful analysis of China is possible without it.
Make no mistake; in geopolitics, Lee was pure status quo. He believed "no alternative balance can be as comfortable as the present one, with the US as a major player. "The geopolitical balance without the U.S. as a principal force will be very different from that which it now is or can be if the U.S. remains a central player."
Well, things are not so "comfortable" anymore.
The Grandmaster speaks
On China as number 1: "Theirs is a culture 4,000 years old with 1.3 billion people, many of great talent -- a huge and very talented pool to draw from. How could they not aspire to be number 1 in Asia, and in time the world?"
On what the Chinese people want: "Every Chinese wants a strong and rich China, a nation as prosperous, advanced, and technologically competent as America, Europe, and Japan. The reawakened sense of destiny is an overpowering force."
On the master scenario: "The Chinese have calculated that they need 30 to 40, maybe 50, years of peace and quiet to catch up, build up their system, change it from the communist system to the market system. They must avoid the mistakes made by Germany and Japan ... I believe the Chinese leadership has learnt that if you compete with America in armaments, you will lose. You will bankrupt yourself. So, avoid it, keep your head down, and smile, for 40 or 50 years." (Not anymore; Xi is turning Deng's "keep a low profile" upside down.)