China declined to join an earlier coalition, Russia reveals

The saga of France’s liquidation sale continues (read our previous report). Diplomatic correspondence released yesterday by Russia in response to China’s communiqué reveals that China was asked to join an earlier coalition to acquire South Africa’s nuclear arsenal (an acquisition China mentioned in its communiqué as evidence of a conspiracy), but China declined.

This seemed to undermine China’s argument of an international conspiracy directed against it, at the very least it strengthens the earlier coalition’s claim that its only purpose was to figuratively bury these nuclear weapons; it should be noted high-profile countries Russia and USA are members of both coalitions.

China then answered with an update to their communiqué (no anchor, scroll down to “UPDATE August 4, 2011 – 12:25pm PT”) stating the aim of this reveal was to « divert attention by pushing a false “gotcha!” while failing to address the substance of the issues we raised. » The substance being, according to China, that both coalitions’ aim was to prevent China from getting access to these weapons for itself so that it would have been able to use them to dissuade against attacks, and that China joining the coalition wouldn’t have changed this.

Things didn’t stop here, as Russia then answered back (don’t you love statements spread across multiple tweets?) that it showed China wasn’t interested in partnering with the international community to help reduce the global nuclear threat.

For many geopolitical observers, the situation makes a lot more sense now. At the time the France sale was closed and the bids were made public, some wondered why China wasn’t in the winning consortium and had instead made a competing bid with Japan. China and Japan are somewhat newcomers to the nuclear club, and while China’s status as the world’s manufacturer pretty much guarantees it will never be directly targeted, its relative lack of nuclear weapons is the reason, according to analysts, it has less influence than its size and GDP would suggest. Meanwhile, China is subjected to a number of proxy attacks, so analysts surmise increasing its nuclear arsenal would be a way for China to dissuade against such attacks against its weaker allies.

So the conclusion reached by these observers is that, instead of joining alliances that China perceived as designed to keep the weapons out of its reach, China played everything or nothing. But the old boys nuclear club still has means China doesn’t have, and China lost in both cases, and now China is taking the battle to the public relations scene.

Geopolitical analyst Florian Müller in particular was quoted pointing out that, given the recent expansion of its influence, it was expected for China to be targeted by proxy, and other countries were likely acting their normal course and were not engaged in any organized campaign.

So to yours truly, it seems that while the rules of nuclear dissuasion may be unfair, it seems pointless to call out the other players for playing by these rules, and it makes China look like a sore loser. But the worst part may be that the Chinese officials seemingly believe in their own, seemingly self-contradicting (if they are so much in favor of global reduction of nuclear armaments, why wouldn’t they contribute to coalitions designed to take some out of the circulation?) rhetoric, which would mean the conflict could get even bitterer in the future.

France goes down, its nuclear weapons, and China

So France is going belly up. Kaput. Thankfully not after a civil war, the strife is more on the political side, though a few unfortunately died in some of the riots. But after regions like Corsica, Brittany and Provence unilaterally declared independence, after Paris declared a real Commune in defiance of the government, and Versailles, the usual fallback, did not seem safe either, it became clear there was no way out but eventual dissolution of the old, proud French Republic state; much like the USSR dissolved in 1991, but without an equivalent of Russia to pick up the main pieces, the Paris Commune being seen as too unstable.

Among the numerous geopolitical problems this raised, one stood out. Among its armed forces, the French Republic had under its control several nuclear warheads, the missiles to carry them, and a fleet of submarines to launch them. Legitimately terrified that these weapons could fall under the hands of a rogue state or terrorist group, the international community sustained the French government long enough for it to organize a liquidation sale of its nuclear armament and other strategic assets. But Russia certainly wasn’t going to let the USA buy them, an neither were the USA willing to see Russia get them. Realizing that making sure these weapons didn’t fall in the wrong hands was more important than for either party to take control of them itself, Russia, the USA, and a few other countries like India, the United Kingdom, etc. formed a coalition and jointly bid, and won, the dangerous arsenal.

Though they agreed on a few principles before making this alliance, it was considered urgent to get control of the arsenal in the first place, and at the time the sale was closed the coalition had not agreed on what to do with those weapons. But most geopolitical observers and analysts agreed that the coalition would end up keeping the weapons around just in case, but inactive and offline, and that was if they were not just going to disband them outright; after all, for them to be used would require joint agreement of all parties, an agreement that was extremely unlikely to be ever reached.

But China suddenly started publicly complaining that the members of the coalition were engaged in a conspiracy against it, citing military interventions from some of the coalition members in foreign countries, various international disagreements, and now this France liquidation sale (China did not take part in the coalition, it made, with one ally, a separate bid for these weapons but was eventually outbid by the coalition). Observers, however, were skeptical: these events did not seem connected in any way except for the fact of being mentioned together in that communiqué; plus, as if the joint ownership didn’t already ensure at least immobilization by bureaucracy, the coalition includes one partner of China: Brazil. And the fact the coalition spent quite a bit of money to acquire this arsenal, more than some initial estimates, probably only reflected the importance of keeping them out of the wrong hands, given the unstable international landscape, what with rogue states, terrorist groups, less than trustworthy states gaining importance, etc. Not to mention China itself bid rather high in that auction.

In the end it is suspected that, while Chinese officials may believe this conspiracy theory themselves, these complaints made in public view were actually intended to fire up nationalism in the country, or even better, in the whole east Asia.

The saga, unsurprisingly, didn’t stop there: Russia answered, read all about it in the followup. – August 5, 2011