William Fallon and how to read the book of Sun Zi

"The big goal is, no military interaction, long-term stability -- you guys solve your problem peacefully. Now what's the smartest way to get there?" (the link was added by a self-promoting me)

-- William Fallon, AP interview on Taiwan's defense option

ESWN introduced us to Chinese journalist Lin Jun's "Sunshine in the Rye" (阳光麦地). It presents a good perspective on the Taishi incidence. An intelligent mind, I went on to scan her earlier writings and found this one of particular interests. It is about her impression of ADMIRAL WILLIAM J. FALLON, USN Commander, U.S. Pacific Command, at a press conference in the US Embassy in Beijing (translated in part below)
  • "...I am a die-hard pacifist, with certain prejudice to anyone in the military...this admiral in front of me, who commands 300k of armed force, has a kindly face, speaks in uniform apce, appears really frank and soft, just like a good tempered uncle in my neighborhood
  • Fallon said, he came to China to communicate and cooperate with Chinese leaders. He added, only if we are frank to each other, and know each other well, can we eliminite mis-understanding, and hence reduce the possibility of war and conflict. I was taken aback, "This is new, and he thought avoiding war is also a duty of an navy officer". I thought their duties are how to fight and win a war...
  • I heard, from my university classroom, specialists of international relations, or even taxi drivers' eloquent speeches, how US is laying chess-pieces across the Asia-Pacific to suppress and contain China. So I asked Fallon, is 'containing China' your strategic imperative? The answer was a straight "nonsense". Fallon and his staff laughed and said, this is so ridiculous that it does not worth an explanation
  • I looked at the introduction materials he gave us: the first priority of US PACOM is to curb invasion/aggreesion, then promote regional cooperation, "fighting a war" is only number 4 in his list.
  • After the press conference an officer gave everybody a namecard, telling us to call him for interview in the future. Never thought that it was so easy to get in touch with the US Armed Force. Last time I wanted to call the Defense Ministry of our own country, i couldn't find their web-site or even a phone number for the general line."
Fallon did a great PR job to the Chinese media, especialy in contrast with the lousy Chinese bureaucracy. One might also note that Fallon was not telling the entire truth of the US agenda, in that there are various efforts among various factions and individuals within the US to suppress and contain China.

But I believe Fallon on one particular point. That the first priority as an Commander in the Armed Force is to prevent a war from happening. This is not because I think Fallon is an honest person, or have fallen for his charm, even though he demonstrated his gut straightness, professionalism and honesty when he spoke up amid pressure from the arms dealers (update: he played down on his criticsm on the the arms deal nonsense in a newer report, via Wandering to Tamshui, apparently bowing to Bush pressure. So I retract my praise to him. He was straight but he did not have enough gut. But I admire him again for his concluding remark "The big goal is, no military interaction, long-term stability -- you guys solve your problem peacefully. Now what's the smartest way to get there?"). This is because I know it is the only sensible conclusion a responsible commander can arrive at, which is not difficult to understand for anyone who has not skipped Chapter 1 of Sun Zi's Art of War. Fallon understand the spirit of Sun Zi, extremely well. Robet Kaplan and Philsbury do not. That is why Fallon is the PACOM Commander and Kaplan/Philsbury degenrated themselves into pulp fiction writers.

  • (minor correction made to the translation from this site, based on orignal Chinese text below)
  • Sun Tzu said: The art of war is of vital importance to the State. It is a matter of life and death, a road either to safety or to ruin. Hence it is a subject of inquiry which can on no account be neglected. ( 孙子曰: 兵者,国之大事,死生之地,存亡之道,不可不察也。)
  • In the practical art of war, the first priority is protect the full integrity of our own country; to shatter and destroy enemy is only a second choice. (夫用兵之法,全国为上,破国次之)
  • Hence to fight and win 100% of your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence is achieving your objective without going into a fight. (是故百战百胜,非善之善也;不战而屈人之兵,善之善者也)

How to win without going into fight? The cold war between 1970s-1990s is a good example. A number of manuevers led to the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union, including

  1. Diplomacy and the China card was used by the West to shift the balance of power in Asia. Nixon and Kissinger successfully curbed the Soviet advance despite the lost of the Vietnam war
  2. The SDI and arms race shifted the "battleground" into a competition in economic productivity
  3. Most important and decisive of all, was the fundamental advantage of the free economic system of the West, which allowed for the leverage in point 2 above

But this will not work in Asia today. First, China is not Soviet Union. Second, there is no fundamental difference in the economic systems. Third and most importantly, US and China can become partners instead of enemy and there is absolutely no reason for confrontation. Let's compare two scenarios. a) a confrontation which lead to the collapse of PRC and a rebuild under a democratic constituion. b) encourage and assist China on the path to democracy constructively. The end results are the same. But the cost for US is vastly different. While pursuing option (b), would China threaten the "free world"? No. It is widely agreed that it takes at least 30-50 years before China's economic power can be comparable to the US', and that is assuming the same 9.4% growth even when the gap is narrower than today's. After 30-50 years, China's leadership would have changed by at least three to five generations. (This is, if we are pessimistic and ignore the recent development of democracy in the villages)

Anyone who wants to comment on US or China foreign policy, or China-Taiwan relationship, please read the Sun Zi quotes above. Without a thorough understanding of the importance of these lines, reading Sun Zi will be a complete waste of your time. (Kaplan and his foot soldiers, are you listening?) To understand the highly condensed script "Art of War", one should find a good translation and read it word by word (there aren't many words altogether, less than 6000 chracters in total; writing was much more expensive than JK Rowling's era), and pay particular attention in the ordering of the thesis.

I am happy for the US, and for mankind that Mr W Bush has chosen Fallon as the PACOM Commander, because he is able to capture the essential spirit of Sun Zi. A good leader in the US is a blessing to the world. Unfortunately such leader is hard to find. But a good leader in the US PACOM is a great blessing for Asia, including China, and the rest of the world. China has Zheng Bijian, he is close to the center but he is only an adviser. I only wish if Japan and the island of Taiwan can find someone like Fallon. Fallon is no suckling pigeon (sorry, I mean "dove"), mind you. But he puts the lives of his soldiers above the interests of lobby groups. That earns my respect.

Finally, I think I know Fallon's answer to Lin Jun's question. It should be along this line, "The top priority of the US PACOM is to curb aggression and promote regional cooperation/stability. Is containing China or promoting hostility between US and China helping me to achieve this objective?" Given the fact that this is not a zero-sum game, which path would lead to a higher net sum for the US?


Curzon said...

Yeah, I'm listening. Warrior Politics is my least favorite book, but as someone who has collected literally HUNDREDS of Kaplan's speeches (really, on mp3, I can send you a CD), he's never talked about Sun Zhu in person -- Kaplan is more interested in Machiavelli, Kissinger, and Churchill. When people write these books, they add in Sun Zhu just for "balance." I wouldn't be surprised if his editor told him to write a chapter on it just for the critics.

Sun Bin said...

Hey, thanks for the comment:)

IMHO the essence of Sun Zi (and the reason it is still useful after so many revolutions in warfare and technology) lies in the fact that his writing started from a macro-view, and that he considered war as a means not the end, and that it is the last resort. He also recognized many a time the objective can be achieved at much lower cost (thr' creative manuever) without resorting to the davastating conflict.

The cold war is the best example in modern history. Kissinger was one of the key figures behind it.

I read Kaplan's essay on Atlantic Monthly about China. It was eloquently written, but it lacks the grander picture. That makes his writing not too different from many diligent PLA Colonel's work, an assortment of assaults from multiple fronts on a map - I am sure you can also write it, and do a better job than him.

My problem with Kaplan is, exactly, he does not read Sun Zi. :D

Anonymous said...

keep up the good work. i like reading your posts. besides your grasp of current chinese affairs, you also seem to have good knowledge and interest in her history. can i recomend visiting www.chinahistoryforum.com/
and contribute in the discussion?

Sun Bin said...

Thanks, I registered.