Tribute to a great seaman

Captain James Cook

Captain James Cook, FRS, RN (7 November 1728 – 14 February 1779) was a British explorer, navigator, cartographer, and captain in the Royal Navy. He made detailed maps of Newfoundland prior to making three voyages to the Pacific Ocean, during which he achieved the first recorded European contact with the eastern coastline of Australia and the Hawaiian Islands, and the first recorded circumnavigation of New Zealand.

Cook joined the British merchant navy as a teenager and joined the Royal Navy in 1755. He saw action in the Seven Years’ War, and subsequently surveyed and mapped much of the entrance to the Saint Lawrence River during the siege of Quebec. This helped bring him to the attention of the Admiralty and Royal Society. The notice came at a crucial moment in both his career and the direction of British overseas exploration, and led to his commission in 1766 as commander of HMS Bark Endeavour for the first of three Pacific voyages. In three voyages Cook sailed thousands of miles across largely uncharted areas of the globe. He mapped lands from New Zealand to Hawaii in the Pacific Ocean in greater detail and on a scale not previously achieved. As he progressed on his voyages of discovery he surveyed and named features, and recorded islands and coastlines on European maps for the first time. He displayed a combination of seamanship, superior surveying and cartographic skills, physical courage and an ability to lead men in adverse conditions.

Cook was killed in Hawaii in a fight with Hawaiians during his third exploratory voyage in the Pacific in 1779. He left a legacy of scientific and geographical knowledge which was to influence his successors well into the 20th century and numerous memorials worldwide have been dedicated to him.

Cook's Three Voyages

The routes of Captain James Cook’s voyages. The first voyage is shown in red, second voyage in green, and third voyage in blue. The route of Cook’s crew following his death is shown as a dashed blue line.

Early life and family: James Cook was born on 27 October 1728 in the village of Marton in Yorkshire and baptised on 3 November in the local church of St. Cuthbert, where his name can be seen in the church register. He was the second of eight children of James Cook, a Scottish farm labourer from Ednam near Kelso, and his locally born wife, Grace Pace, from Thornaby-on-Tees.  In 1736, his family moved to Airey Holme farm at Great Ayton, where his father’s employer, Thomas Skottowe, paid for him to attend the local school. In 1741, after five years schooling, he began work for his father, who had by now been promoted to farm manager. For leisure, he woul d climb a nearby hill, Roseberry Topping, enjoying the opportunity for solitude. Cooks’ Cottage, his parents’ last home, which he is likely to have visited, is now in Melbourne, having been moved from England and reassembled, brick by brick, in 1934.

In 1745, when he was 16, Cook moved 20 miles (32 km) to the fishing village of Staithes, to be apprenticed as a shop boy to grocer and haberdasher William Sanderson. Historians have speculated that this is where Cook first felt the lure of the sea while gazing out of the shop window. After 18 months, not proving suitable for shop work, Cook travelled to the nearby port town of Whitby to be introduced to friends of Sanderson’s, John and Henry Walker. The Walkers were prominent local ship-owners and Quakers, and were in the coal trade. Their house is now the Captain Cook Memorial Museum. He was taken on as a merchant navy apprentice in their small fleet of vessels, plying coal along the English coast. His first assignment was aboard the collier Freelove, and he spent several years on this and various other coasters, sailing between the Tyne and London. As part of his apprenticeship, he applied himself to the study of algebra, geometry, trigonometry, navigation and astronomy—all skills he would need one day to command his own ship.

His three-year apprenticeship completed, Cook began working on trading ships in the Baltic Sea. After passing his examinations in 1752, he soon progressed through the merchant navy ranks, starting with his promotion in that year to mate aboard the collier brig Friendship. In 1755, within a month of being offered command of this vessel, he volunteered for service in the Royal Navy, when Britain was re-arming for what was to become the Seven Years’ War. Despite the need to start back at the bottom of the naval hierarchy, Cook realized his career would advance more quickly in military service and entered the Navy at Wapping on 17 June 1755.

Cook married Elizabeth Batts (1742–1835), the daughter of Samuel Batts, keeper of the Bell Inn, Wapping and one of his mentors, on 21 December 1762 at St. Margaret’s Church in Barking, Essex.The couple had six children: James (1763–94), Nathaniel (1764–80, lost aboard HMS Thunderer which foundered with all hands in a hurricane in the West Indies), Elizabeth (1767–71), Joseph (1768–68), George (1772–72) and Hugh (1776–93), the last of whom died of scarlet fever while a student at Christ’s College, Cambridge. When not at sea, Cook lived in the East End of London. He attended St Paul’s Church, Shadwell, where his son James was baptized. Cook has no known direct descendants—all his recorded children either predeceased him or died without issue.

Start of Royal Navy career: His first posting was with HMS Eagle, serving as able seaman and master’s mate under Captain Joseph Hamar for his first year aboard, and Captain Hugh Palliser thereafter. In October and November 1755 he took part in Eagle’s capture of one French warship and the sinking of another, following which he was promoted to boatswain in addition to his other duties.  His first temporary command was in March 1756 when he was briefly master of the Cruizer, a small cutter attached to the Eagle while on patrol. In June 1757 he passed his master’s examinations at Trinity House, Deptford, which qualified him to navigate and handle a ship of the King’s fleet.  He then joined the frigate HMS Solebay as master under Captain Robert Craig.

Conquest of Canada (1758–63): During the Seven Years’ War, Cook served in North America as master of Pembroke (1757). In 1758 he took part in the major amphibious assault that captured the Fortress of Louisbourg from the French, after which he participated in the siege of Quebec City and then the Battle of the Plains of Abraham in 1759. He showed a talent for surveying and cartography, and was responsible for mapping much of the entrance to the Saint Lawrence River during the siege, thus allowing General Wolfe to make his famous stealth attack on the Plains of Abraham.

Cook’s surveying ability was put to good use mapping the jagged coast of Newfoundland in the 1760s, aboard HMS Grenville. He surveyed the north-west stretch in 1763 and 1764, the south coast between the Burin Peninsula and Cape Ray in 1765 and 1766, and the west coast in 1767. At this time Cook employed local pilots to point out the “rocks and hidden dangers” along the south and west coasts. During the 1765 season, four pilots were engaged at a daily pay of 4 shillings each: John Beck for the coast west of “Great St. Lawrence”, Morgan Snook for Fortune Bay, John Dawson for Connaigre and Hermitage Bay, and John Peck for the “Bay of Despair.”

His five seasons in Newfoundland produced the first large-scale and accurate maps of the island’s coasts and were the first scientific, large scale, hydrographic surveys to use precise triangulation to establish land outlines. They also gave Cook his mastery of practical surveying, achieved under often adverse conditions, and brought him to the attention of the Admiralty and Royal Society at a crucial moment both in his career and in the direction of British overseas discovery. Cook’s map would be used into the 20th century—copies of it being referenced by those sailing Newfoundland’s waters for 200 years.

Navigation and science: Cook’s 12 years sailing around the Pacific Ocean contributed much to European knowledge of the area. Several islands such as Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) were encountered for the first time by Europeans, and his more accurate navigational charting of large areas of the Pacific was a major achievement. To create accurate maps, latitude and longitude must be accurately determined. Navigators had been able to work out latitude accurately for centuries by measuring the angle of the sun or a star above the horizon with an instrument such as a backstaff or quadrant. Longitude was more difficult to measure accurately because it requires precise knowledge of the time difference between points on the surface of the earth. The Earth turns a full 360 degrees relative to the sun each day. Thus longitude corresponds to time: 15 degrees every hour or 1 degree every 4 minutes. Cook gathered accurate longitude measurements during his first voyage due to his navigational skills, the help of astronomer Charles Green and by using the newly published Nautical Almanac tables, via the lunar distance method—measuring the angular distance from the moon to either the sun during daytime or one of eight bright stars during night-time to determine the time at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, and comparing that to his local time determined via the altitude of the sun, moon, or stars. On his second voyage Cook used the K1 chronometer made by Larcum Kendall, which was the shape of a large pocket watch, 5 inches (13 cm) in diameter. It was a copy of the H4 clock made by John Harrison, which proved to be the first to keep accurate time at sea when used on the ship Deptford’s journey to Jamaica, 1761–62.

Cook succeeded in circumnavigating the world on his first voyage without losing a single man to scurvy, an unusual accomplishment at the time. He tested several preventive measures but the most important was frequent replenishment of fresh food. It was for presenting a paper on this aspect of the voyage to the Royal Society that he was presented with the Copley Medal in 1776. Ever the observer, Cook was the first European to have extensive contact with various people of the Pacific. He correctly postulated a link among all the Pacific peoples, despite their being separated by great ocean stretches (see Malayo-Polynesian languages). Cook theorized that Polynesians originated from Asia, which scientist Bryan Sykes later verified. In New Zealand the coming of Cook is often used to signify the onset of colonization.

Cook carried several scientists on his voyages; they made several significant observations and discoveries. Two botanists, Joseph Banks, and Swede Daniel Solander, were on the first Cook voyage. The two collected over 3,000 plant species. Banks subsequently strongly promoted British settlement of Australia. Several artists also sailed on Cook’s first voyage. Sydney Parkinson was heavily involved in documenting the botanists’ findings, completing 264 drawings before his death near the end of the voyage. They were of immense scientific value to British botanists. Cook’s second expedition included William Hodges, who produced notable landscape paintings of Tahiti, Easter Island, and other locations. Several officers who served under Cook went on to distinctive accomplishments. William Bligh, Cook’s sailing master, was given command of HMS Bounty in 1787 to sail to Tahiti and return with breadfruit. Bligh is most known for the mutiny of his crew which resulted in his being set adrift in 1789. He later became governor of New South Wales, where he was subject of another mutiny—the only successful armed takeover of an Australian government. George Vancouver, one of Cook’s midshipmen, later led a voyage of exploration to the Pacific Coast of North America from 1791 to 1794.  In honour of his former commander, Vancouver’s new ship was also christened HMS Discovery (1789). George Dixon sailed under Cook on his third expedition, and later commanded his own expedition.] A lieutenant under Cook, Henry Roberts, spent many years after that voyage preparing the detailed charts that went into Cook’s posthumous Atlas, published around 1784.

Cook’s contributions to knowledge were internationally recognized during his lifetime. In 1779, while the American colonies were fighting Britain for their independence, Benjamin Franklin wrote to captains of colonial warships at sea, recommending that if they came into contact with Cook’s vessel, they were to “not consider her an enemy, nor suffer any plunder to be made of the effects contained in her, nor obstruct her immediate return to England by detaining her or sending her into any other part of Europe or to America; but that you treat the said Captain Cook and his people with all civility and kindness, … as common friends to mankind.” Unknown to Franklin, Cook had met his death a month before this “passport” was written. Cook’s voyages were involved in another unusual first: The first female to circumnavigate the globe was a goat (“The Goat”), who made that memorable journey twice; the first time on HMS Dolphin, under Samuel Wallis. She was then pressed into service as the personal milk provider for Cook, aboard HMS Endeavor. When they returned to England, Cook presented her with a silver collar engraved with lines from Samuel Johnson: “Perpetui, ambita bis terra, praemia lactis Haec habet altrici Capra secunda Jovis.”. She was put to pasture on Cook’s farm outside London, and also was reportedly admitted to the privileges of the Royal Naval hospital at Greenwich. Cook’s journal recorded the date of The Goat’s death: 28 March 1772.

Death: After a month’s stay, Cook attempted to resume his exploration of the Northern Pacific. Shortly after leaving Hawaii Island, however, the Resolution’s foremast broke, so the ships returned to Kealakekua Bay for repairs. Tensions rose, and a number of quarrels broke out between the Europeans and Hawaiians at Kealakekua Bay. An unknown group of Hawaiians took one of Cook’s small boats. The evening when the cutter was taken, the people had become “insolent” even with threats to fire upon them. Cook was forced into a wild goose chase that ended with his return to the ship frustrated. He attempted to kidnap and ransom the King of Hawaiʻi, Kalaniʻōpuʻu. That following day, 14 February 1779, he marched through the village to retrieve the King. Cook took the aliʻi nui by his own hand and led him willingly away. One of Kalaniʻōpuʻu’s favorite wives, Kanekapolei and two chiefs approached the group as they were heading to boats. They pleaded with the king not to go until he stopped and sat where he stood. An old Kahuna (priest), chanting rapidly while holding out a coconut, attempted to distract Cook and his men as a large crowd began to form at the shore. The king began to understand that Cook was his enemy. As Cook turned his back to help launch the boats, he was struck on the head by the villagers and then stabbed to death as he fell on his face in the surf.  He was first struck on the head with a club by a chief named Kalaimanokahoʻowaha or Kanaʻina (namesake of Charles Kana’ina) and then stabbed by one of the king’s attendants, Nuaa. The Hawaiians carried his body away towards the back of the town, still visible to the ship through their spyglass. Four marines, Corporal James Thomas, Private Theophilus Hinks, Private Thomas Fatchett and Private John Allen, were also killed and two others were wounded in the confrontation.

Courtesy Wikipedia .org

Does History Repeat Itself?

The Crowe Memorandum
A number of commentators, including some in China, have revisited the example of the twentieth-century Anglo-German rivalry as an augury of what may await the United States and China in the twenty-first century. There are surely strategic comparisons to be made. At the most superficial level, China is, as was imperial Germany, a resurgent continental power; the United States, like Britain, is primarily a naval power with deep political and economic ties to the continent. China throughout its history, was more powerful than any of its plethora of neighbours, but they, when combined, could – and did – the security of the empire. As in the case of Germany’s unification in the nineteenth century, the calculations of all these countries are inevitably affected by the re-emergence of China as a strong, united state. Such a system has historically evolved into a balance of power based on equilibrating threats.

Can strategic trust replace a system of strategic threats? Strategic trust is treated by many as a contradiction in terms. Strategists rely on the intentions of the presumed adversary only to a limited extent. And the essence of sovereignty is the right to make decisions not subject to another authority. A certain amount of threat based on capabilities is therefore inseparable from the relations of sovereign states.
It is possible—though it rarely happens—that relations grow so close that strategic threats are excluded. In relations between states bordering the North Atlantic, strategic confrontations are not conceivable. The military establishments are not directed against each other. Strategic threats are perceived as arising outside the Atlantic region, to be dealt with in an alliance framework. Disputes between the North Atlantic states tend to focus on divergement assessments of international issues and the means of dealing with them; even at their most bitter, they retain the character of an interfamily dispute. Soft power and multilateral diplomacy are the dominant tools of foreign policy. And for some Western European states, military action is all but excluded as a legitimate instrument of policy.

In Asia, by contrast, the states consider themselves in potential confrontation with their neighbours. It is not that they necessarily plan on war; they simply do not exclude it. If they are too weak for self-defense, they seek to make themselves part of an alliance system that provides additional protection, as in the case with ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian nations. Sovereignty, in many cases regained relatively recently after periods of foreign colonization, has an absolute character. The principles of the Westphalian system prevail, more so than on their continent of origin. The concept of sovereignty is considered paramount. Aggression is defined as the movement of organized military units across borders. Non-interference in domestic affairs is taken as a fundamental principle of interstate relations. In a state system so organized, diplomacy seeks to preserve the key elements of the balance of power.
An international system is relatively stable if the level of reassurance required by its members is achievable by diplomacy. When diplomacy no longer functions, relationships become increasingly concentrated on military strategy—first in the form of arms race, then as a manoeuvring for strategic advantage even at the risk of confrontation, and, finally, in war itself.

A classic example of a self-propelling international mechanism is European diplomacy prior to World War I, at a time when world policy was European policy because much of the world was in colonial status by the second half of the nineteenth century; Europe had been without a major war since the Napoleonic period had ended in 1815. The European states were in rough strategic equilibrium, the conflicts between them did not involve their existence. No state considered another an irreconcilable enemy. This made shifting alliances feasible. No state was considered powerful enough to establish hegemony over the others. Any such effort triggered a coalition against it.

The unification of Germany in 1871 brought about a structured change. Until that time, Central Europe contained—it is hard to imagine today—thirty nine sovereign states of varying size. Only Prussia and Austria could be considered major powers within the European equilibrium. The multiple small states were organized within Germany in an institution that operated like the United Nations in the contemporary world, the so-called German Confederation. Like the United Nations, the German Confederation found it difficult to take initiatives but occasionally came together for joint action against what was perceived as overwhelming danger. Too divided for aggression, yet sufficiently strong for defense, the German Confederation made a major contribution to the European equilibrium.

But equilibrium was not what motivated the changes of the nineteenth century in Europe. Nationalism did. The unification of Germany reflected the aspirations of a century. It also led over time to a crisis atmosphere. The rise of Germany weakened the elasticity of the diplomatic process, and it increased the threat to the system. Where once there had been thirty-seven small states and two relatively major ones, a single political unit emerged uniting thirty-eight of them. Where previously European diplomacy had achieved certain flexibility through the shifting alignments of multiplicity of states, the unification of Germany reduced the possible combinations and led to the creation of a state stronger than each of its neighbours alone. This is why Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli of Britain called the unification of Germany an event more significant than the French revolution.

Germany was now so strong that it could defeat each of its neighbours singly, though it would be in grave peril if all the major European states combined against it. Since there were only five major states now, the combinations were limited. Germany’s neighbouring states had an incentive to form a coalition with each other—especially France and Russia, which did so in 1982—and Germany had a built-in incentive to break the alliances.

The crisis of the system was inherent in the structure. No single country could avoid it, least of all the rising power Germany. But they could avoid policies that exacerbated latent tensions. This no country did—least of all, once again, the German empire. The tactics chosen by Germany to break up hostile coalitions proved unwise as well as unfortunate. It sought to use international conferences to demonstratively impose its will on the participants. The German theory was that the humiliated target of German pressure would feel abandoned by its allies and, leaving the alliance, would seek security within the German orbit. The consequences proved the opposite of what was intended. The humiliated countries (France, in the Moroccan crisis in 1905, and Russia, over Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1908) were reinforced in their determination not to accept subjugation, thereby tightening the alliance system that Germany had sought to weaken. The Franco-Russian alliance was, in 1904, joined (informally) by Britain, which Germany had offended by demonstratively sympathizing with Britain’s Dutch settler adversaries in the Boer war (1899-1902). In addition, Germany challenged Britain’s command of the seas by building a large navy to complement what was already the most powerful land army on the continent. Europe had slipped into, in effect, a bipolar system with no diplomatic flexibility. Foreign policy had become a zero-sum game.

Will history repeat itself? No doubt were the United States and China to fall into strategic conflict, a situation comparable to the pre-World War I European structure could develop in Asia, with the formations of blocs pitted against each other and with each seeking to undermine or at least limit the other’s influence and reach. But before we surrender to the presumed mechanism of history, let us consider how the United Kingdom and German rivalry actually operated.

In 1907, a senior official in the British Foreign Office, Eyre Crowe, wrote a brilliant analysis of the European political structure and Germany’s rise. The key question he raised, and which has acute relevance today, is whether the crisis which led to World War I was caused by Germany’s rise, evoking a kind of organic resistance to the emergence of a new and powerful force, or whether it was caused by specific and, hence, available German policies. Was the crisis caused by German capabilities or German conduct?

In his memorandum submitted on New Year’s Day in 1907, Crowe opted for the conflict being inherent in the relationship. He defined the issue as follows:
For England particularly, intellectual and moral kinship creates a sympathy and appreciation of what is best in the German mind, which has made her naturally predisposed to welcome, in the interest of the general progress of mankind, everything tending to strengthen the power and influence—on one condition there must be respect for the individualities of other nations, equally valuable coadjutors, in their way, in the work of human progress, equally entitled to full elbow room in which to contribute, in freedom, to the evolution of a higher civilization.

But what was Germany’s real goal? Was it natural evolution of German cultural and economic interests across Europe and the world, to which German diplomacy was giving traditional support? Or did Germany seek ‘a general political hegemony and maritime ascendancy, threatening the independence of her neighbours and ultimately the coexistence of England?

Crowe concluded that it made no difference what goal Germany avowed. Whichever course Germany was pursuing, ‘Germany would clearly be wise to build as powerful a navy as she can afford.’ And once Germany achieved naval supremacy, Crowe assessed, this in itself—regardless of German intentions—would be an objective threat to Britain, and ‘incompatible with the existence of the British Empire.’

Under those conditions, formal assurances were meaningless. No matter what the Germans government’s professions were, the result would be ‘as formidable a menace to the rest of the world as would be presented by any deliberate conquest of a similar position by ‘malice aforethought.’ Even if moderate German statesmen were to demonstrate their bona fides, moderate German foreign policy could ‘at any stage merge into’ a conscious scheme for hegemony.

Thus structural elements, in Crowe’s analysis, precluded cooperation or even trust. As Crowe wryly observed: ‘It would not be unjust to say that ambitious designs against one’s neighbours are not as a rule openly proclaimed, and that therefore the absence of such proclamation, and even the profession of unlimited and universal political benevolence, are not in themselves conclusive evidence for or against the existence of unpublished intentions.’ And since the stakes were so high, it was ‘not a matter in which England can safely run any risks.’ London was obliged to assume the worst, and act on the basis on its assumptions—at least so long as Germany was building a large challenging navy.

In other words, already in 1907 there was no longer any scope for diplomacy; the issue had become who would back down in a crisis, and whenever that condition was not fulfilled, war was nearly inevitable. It took seven years to reach the point of world war.

Were Crowe to analyse the contemporary scene, he might emerge with a judgement comparable in his 1907 report. I will sketch the interpretation, though it differs substantially from my own, because it approximates a view widely held on both sides of the Pacific. The United States and China have not been so much nation-states as continental expressions of cultural identities. Both have historically been driven to visions of universality by their economic and political achievements and their people3’s irrepressible energy and self-confidence. Both Chinese and American governments have frequently assumed a seamless identity between their national policies and the general interests of mankind. Crowe might warn that when two such entities encounter each other on the world stage significant tension is probable.

Whatever China’s intentions, the Crowe school of thought would treat a successful Chinese ‘rise’ as incompatible with America’s position in the Pacific and by extension the world. Any form of cooperation would be treated as simply giving china scope to build its capacities for an eventual crisis. Thus the entire Chinese debate recounted and the question of whether China might stop ‘hiding its brightness,’ would be immaterial for purposes of a Crowe-type analysis: someday it will (the analysis will posit), so America should act now as if it already had.

The American debate adds an ideological challenge to Crowe’s balance-of-power approach. Neoconservatives and other activists would argue that democratic institutions are the prerequisite to relations of trust and confidence. Nondemocratic societies, in this view, are inherently precarious and prone to the exercise of force. Therefore the United States is obliged to exercise its maximum influence (in its polite expression) or pressure to bring about more pluralistic institutions where they do not exist, and especially in countries capable of threatening American security. In these conceptions, regime change is the ultimate goal of American foreign policy in dealing with nondemocratic societies; peace with China is less a matter of strategy than of change in Chinese governance.

Nor is the analysis, interpreting international affairs as an unavoidable struggle for strategic pre-eminence, confined to Western strategists. Chinese ‘triumphalists’ apply almost identical reasoning. The principal difference is that their perspective is that of the rising power, while Crowe represented the United Kingdom, defending its patrimony as a status quo country. An example of this genre is Colonel Liu Mingfu’s China Dream. In Liu’s view, no matter how much china commits itself to a ‘peaceful rise,’ conflict is inherent in U.S. China relations. The relationship between China and the United States will be a ‘marathon contest’ and the ‘duel of the century.’ Moreover, the competition is essentially zero-sum; the only alternative to total success is humiliating failure: ‘If China in the 21st century cannot become world number one, cannot become the top power, then inevitably it will become a straggler that is cast aside.’

Neither the American version of the Crowe memorandum nor the more triumphalist Chinese analyses has been endorsed by either government, but they provide a subtext of much current thought. If the assumptions of these views were applied by either side—and it would take only one side to make it unavoidable—China and the United States could easily fall into this escalating tension. China would try to push American power as far away from its borders as it could, circumscribe the scope of American naval power, and reduce America’s weight in international diplomacy. The United States would try to organize China’s many neighbours into a counterweight to Chine3se dominance. Both sides would emphasize their ideological differences. The interaction would be even more complicated because the notions of deterrence and pre-emption are not symmetrical between these two sides. The United States is more focused on overwhelming military power, China on decisive psychological impact. Sooner or later, one side or the other would miscalculate.

Once such a pattern has congealed, it becomes increasingly difficult to overcome. The competing camps achieve identity by their definition of themselves. The essence of what Crowe described (and the Chinese triumphalists and some American neoconservatives embrace) is its seeming automaticity. Once the pattern was created and the alliances were formed, no escape was possible from its self-imposed requirements, especially not from its internal assumptions.

The reader of the Crowe Memorandum cannot fail to notice that the specific examples of mutual hostility being cited were relatively trivial compared to the conclusions drawn from them: incidents of colonial rivalry in Southern Africa, disputes about the conduct of civil servants. It was not what either side had already done that drove the rivalry. It was what it might do. Events had turned into symbols; symbols developed their own momentum. There was nothing left to settle because the system of alliances confronting each other had no margin for adjustment.

That must not happen in the relations of the United States and China insofar as American policy can prevent. Of course, was Chinese policy to insist on playing by Crowe Memorandum rules, the United States would be bound to resist. It would be an unfortunate outcome.

I have described the possible evolution at such length to show that I am aware of the realistic obstacles to the cooperative U.S. China relationship I consider essential to global stability and peace. A cold war between the two countries would arrest progress for a generation on both sides of the pacific. It would spread disputes into internal politics of every region at a time when global issues such as nuclear proliferation, the environment, energy security, and climate change impose global cooperation.
Historical parallels are by nature inexact. And even the most precise analogy does not oblige the present generation to repeat the mistakes of its predecessors. After all, the outcom3e was disaster for all involved, victors as well as defeated. Care must be taken lest both sides analyze themselves into self-fulfilling prophecies. This will not be an easy task. For, as the Crowe memorandum has shown, mere reassurances will not arrest the underlying dynamism. For were any nation determined to achieve dominance, would it be offering assurances of peaceful intent? A serious joint effort involving the continuous attention of top leaders is needed to develop a sense of genuine strategic trust and cooperation.

Relations between China and the United States need not—and should not—become zero-sum game. For the pre-World War I European leader, the challenge was that a gain for one side spelled a loss for the other, and compromise ran counter to an aroused public opinion. This is not the situation in the Sino-American relationship. Key issues on the international front are global in nature. Consensus may prove difficult, but confrontation on the issues is self-defeating.

Nor is the internal evolution of the principal players comparable to the situation before World War I. When China’s rise is projected, it is assumed that the extraordinary thrust of the last decades will be projected into the indefinite future and that the relative stagnation of America is fated. But no issue preoccupies Chinese leaders more than the preservation of national unity. It permeates the frequently proclaimed goal of social harmony, which is difficult in a country where its coastal regions are on the level of the advanced societies but whose interior contains some of the world’s most backward areas.

The Chinese leadership has put forward to its people a catalogue of tasks to be accomplished. These include combating corruption, which President Hu Jintao has called an ‘unprecedently grim task’ and in the fight against which Hu has been involved at various stages of his career. They involve as well a ‘Western development campaign,’ designed to lift up poor inland provinces, among them the three in which Hu once lived. Key proclaimed tasks also include establishing additional ties between the leadership and the peasantry, including fostering village-level democratic elections, and enhanced transparency of the political process as China evolves into an urbanized society. In his December 2010 article, Dai Bingguo outlined the scope of China’s domestic challenge.
According to the United Nations’ living standard of $1 per day, China today still has 150 million people living below the poverty line. Even based on poverty standard of per capita income of 1,200 Yuan, China still has more than 40 million people living in poverty. At present, there are still 10 million people without access to electricity and the issue of jobs for 24 million people has to be resolved every year. China has a huge population and a weak foundation, the development between the cities and the countryside is uneven, the industrial structure is not rational, and the underdeveloped state of the forces of production has not been fundamentally changed.

The Chinese domestic challenge is, by the description of its leaders, far more complex than can be encompassed in the invocation of the phrase ‘China inexorable rise.’
Amazing as Deng’s reforms were, part of China’s spectacular growth over the initial debacles was attributable to its good fortune that there existed a fairly easy correspondence between China’s huge pool of young, then largely unskilled labour—which had been ‘unnaturally’ cut off from the world economy during the Mao years—and the Western economies, which were on the whole wealthy, optimistic, and highly leveraged on credit, with cash to buy Chinese-made goods. Now the China labour force is becoming older and more skilled (causing some basic manufacturing jobs to move to lower-wage countries such as Vietnam and Bangladesh) and the West is entering a period of austerity, the picture is far more complicated.

Demography will compound that task. Propelled by increasing standards of living and longevity combined with the distortions of the one-child policy, China has one of the world’s most rapidly aging populations. The country’s total working-age population is expected to peak in 2015. From this point on, a shrinking number of Chinese citizens aged fifteen to sixty-four need to support an increasingly large-elderly population. The demographic shifts will be stark by 2030, the number of rural workers between the ages of twenty and twenty-nine is estimated to be half its current level. By 2050, one-half of China’s population—roughly equivalent to the entire current population of the United States—sixty-five and older.

A country facing such large domestic tasks is not going to throw itself easily, much less automatically, into strategic confrontation or a quest for world domination. The existence of weapons of mass destruction and modern military technologies of unknowable ultimate consequences define a key distinction from the pre-World War I period. The leaders who started that war had no understanding of the consequences of the weapons at their disposal. Contemporary leaders can have no illusions about the destructive potential they are capable of unleashing.

The crucial competition between the United States and China is more likely to be economic and social than military. If present trends in the two countries’ economic growth, fiscal health, infrastructure spending, and educational infrastructure continue, a gap in development—and third party perceptions of relative influence—may take hold, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region. But this is a prospect, it is in the capacity of the United States to arrest or perhaps reverse by its own efforts.
The United States bears the responsibility to retain its competitiveness and its world role. It should do this for its own traditional convictions, rather than as a contest with china. Building competitiveness is a largely American project, which we should not ask China to solve for us. China, fulfilling its own interpretation of its national destiny, will continue to develop its economy and pursue a broad range of interests in Asia and beyond. This is not a prospect that dictates the confrontation that led to the First World War. It suggests an evolution in many aspects of which China and the United States cooperate as much as they compete.

The issue of human rights will find its place in the total range of interaction. The United States cannot be true to itself without affirming its commitment to basic principles of human dignity and popular participation in government. Given the nature of modern technology, these principles will not be confined by national borders. But experience has shown that to seek to impose them by confrontation is likely to be self-defeating—especially in a country with such a historical vision of itself as china. A succession of American administrations, including the first two years of Obama’s has substantially balanced long-term moral convictions with case-to-case adaptations to requirements of national security. The basic approach remains valid; how to achieve the necessary balance is the challenge for each new generation of leaders on both sides.
The question ultimately comes down to what the United States and china can realistically ask of each other. An explicit American project to organize Asia on the basis of containing China or creating a bloc of democratic states for an ideological crusade is unlikely to succeed—in part because china is an indispensable trading partner for most of its neighbours. By the same token, a Chinese attempt to exclude America from Asian economic and security affairs will similarly meet serious resistance from almost all other Asian states, which fear the consequences of a region dominated by a single power.
The appropriate label for the Sino-American relationship is less partnership than co-evolution. It means that both countries pursue their domestic imperatives, cooperating where possible, and adjust their relations to minimize conflict. Neither side endorses all the aims of the other or presumes a total identity of interests, but both sides seek to identify and develop complimentary interests.

The United States and China owe it to their people and to global well-being to make the attempt. Each is too big to be dominated by the other. Therefore neither is capable of defining terms for victory in a war or in a Cold War type of conflict. They need to ask themselves the question apparently never formally posed at the time of the Crowe Memorandum: Where will a conflict take us? Was there a lack of vision on all sides, which turned the operation of the equilibrium into a mechanical process, without assessing where the world would be if the manoeuvring colossi missed a maneuver and collided? Which of the leaders who operated the international system that led to the First World War would not have recoiled had he known what the world would look like at its end.

On China by Henry Kissinger, published by Penguin Group, Toronto Canada 2011

The Himalayan Border Dispute and the 1962 Sino-Indian War

“By 1962, barely a decade after the establishment of the People’s Republic of China, China had fought a war with the United States in Korea and engaged in two military confrontations involving the United States over the offshore islands of Taiwan. It had restored Chinese authority to imperial China’s historic frontiers (with the exception of Mongolia and Taiwan) by reoccupying Xinjiang and Tibet. The famine triggered by the Great Leap Forward had barely been overcome. Nevertheless, Mao did not shrink from another military conflict when he considered China’s definition of its historic borders was being challenged by India.

The Sino-Indian border crisis concerned two territories located in the high Himalayas in the trackless and largely inhabitable region of plateaus amidst forbidding mountains between Tibet and India. Fundamentally, the issue arose over the interpretation of colonial history.

China claimed the imperial boundaries along the southern foothills of the Himalayas, encompassing what China considered ‘South Tibet’ but which India administered as the state of Arunachal Pradesh. The Indian perception was of relatively recent vintage. It had evolved out of the British effort to demarcate a dividing line with the Russian Empire advancing towards Tibet. The final relevant document was between Britain and Tibet, signed in 1914, that delineated the border in the eastern sector, called the McMahon Line after the principal British negotiator.

China had a long relationship with Tibet. The Mongols had conquered both Tibet and the Chinese agricultural heartland in the same wave of conquest in the thirteenth century, bringing them into close political contact. Later the Qing dynasty had regularly intervened in Tibet to expel the forces of other non-Han peoples making incursions into Tibet from the north and west. Eventually Beijing settled into a form of suzerainty exercised by ‘imperial residents’ in Lhasa. Beijing, since the Qing dynasty, treated Tibet as part of the All Under Heaven ruled by the Chinese Emperor and reserved the right to eject hostile interlopers; but distance and the Tibetans’ nomadic culture made full Sinicization impractical. In this manner, Tibetans were afforded a substantial degree of autonomy over their day-to-day life.

By the end of the Qing dynasty in 1912, with China’s governance severely strained, the Chinese governmental presence in Tibet had shrunk. Shortly after the collapse of the dynasty, British authorities in India convened a conference in the hill station of Simla with Chinese and Tibetan representatives, with the goal of demarcating the borders between India and Tibet. The Chinese government, having no effective force with which to contest these developments, objected on principle to the cession of any territory to which China had a historic claim. Beijing’s attitude to the conference was reflected by its representative in Calcutta—then the seat of Britain’s Indian administration—Lu Hsing-chi: ‘Our country is at present in an enfeebled condition; our external relations are involved and difficult and our finances embarrassed. Nevertheless, Tibet is of paramount importance to both (Sichuan and Yunnan, provinces in south-west China) and we must exert ourselves to the utmost during this conference.’

The Chinese delegate at the conference solved their dilemma by initialing, but not signing the resulting document. Tibetan and British delegates signed the document. In diplomatic practice, initialing freezes the text; it signifies that the negotiations have been concluded. Signing the document puts it into force. China maintained that the Tibetan representatives lacked the legal standing to sign the border agreement, since Tibet was part of China and not entitled to the exercise of sovereignty. It refused to recognize the validity of Indian administration of the territory south of the McMahon Line, although it initially made no overt attempt to contest it.

In the western sector the disputed territory was known as the Aksai Chin. It is nearly inaccessible from India, which is why it took some months for India to realize, in 1955, that China was building a road across it linking Xinjiang and Tibet. The historical provenance of the region was also problematic. Britain claimed it on most official maps, though never seems to have administered it. When India proclaimed its independence from Britain, it did not proclaim its independence from British territorial claims. It included the Aksai Chin territory as well as the line demarcated by McMahon on all of its maps.

Both demarcation lines were of strategic consequence. In the 1950s, a certain balance existed the positions of the two sides. China viewed the McMahon Line as a symbol of British plans to loosen Chinese control over Tibet or perhaps to dominate. Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru claimed a cultural and sentimental interest in Tibet based on historical links between India’s classical Buddhist culture and Tibetan Buddhism. But he was prepared to acknowledge Chinese sovereignty in Tibet so long as substantial autonomy was maintained. In pursuit of this policy, Nehru declined to support petitions to table the issue of Tibet’s political status at the U.N.

But when the Dalai Lama fled in 1959 and was granted asylum in India, China began to treat the issue of demarcation lines increasingly in strategic terms. Zhou offered a deal trading Chinese claims in the west, in other words, acceptance of the McMahon Line as a basis of negotiations in return for recognition of Chinese claims to Aksai Chin.

Almost all post-colonial countries have insisted on the borders within which they achieved independence. To throw them open to negotiations invites unending controversies and domestic pressure. On the principle that he was not elected to bargain away territory that he considered indisputably Indian, Nehru rejected the Chinese proposal by not answering it.

In 1961, India adopted what it called the Forward Policy. To overcome the impression that it was not contesting the disputed territory, India moved its outposts forward, close to Chinese outposts previously established across the existing line of demarcation. Indian commanders were given the authority to fire on Chinese forces at their discretion on the theory that the Chinese were intruders on Indian territory. They were reinforced in that policy after the first clashes in 1959 when Mao, in order to avoid a crisis, ordered Chinese forces to withdraw some twenty kilometers. Indian planners drew the conclusion that Chinese would not resist a forward movement by India; rather they would use it as an excuse to disengage. Indian forces were ordered to, in the words of the official Indian history of the war, ‘patrol as far forward as possible from our (India’s) present position toward the International Border as recognized by us. . (and) prevent the Chinese from advancing further and also to dominate any Chinese posts already established on our territory.’

It proved a miscalculation. Mao at once cancelled the previous withdrawal orders. But he was still too cautious, telling a meeting of the Central Military Commission in Beijing: ‘Lack of forbearance in small matters upsets great plans. We must pay attention to the situation.’ It was not yet an order for military confrontation; rather a kind of alert to prepare a strategic plan. As such, it triggered the familiar Chinese style of dealing with strategic decisions: thorough analysis; careful preparation; attention to psychological and political factors; quest for surprise; and rapid conclusion.

In meetings of the Central Military Commission and of top leaders, Mao commented on Nehru’s Forward Policy with one of his epigrams: ‘A person sleeping in a comfortable bed is not easily roused by someone else’s snoring.’ In other words Chinese forces in the Himalayas had been too passive in responding to the Indian Forward Policy—which in the Chinese perception was taking place on Chinese soil. (That, of course, was the essence of the dispute: each side argued that its adversary had ventured onto its own soil).

The Central Military Commission ordered an end of Chinese withdrawals, declaring that any new Indian posts should be resisted by building Chinese outposts near them, encircling them. Mao summed it up: ‘You wave a gun, and I’ll wave a gun. We’ll stand face to face and can each practice our courage.’ Mao defined the policy as ‘armed coexistence.’ It was in effect, the exercise of wei qi* in the Himalayas.

*China’s most enduring game like chess is called ‘we qi’ (way chee): It implies a concept of strategic encirclement and a protracted campaign. The we qi player seeks relative advantage. While chess produces single-mindedness. we qi generates strategic flexibility.

Precise instructions were issued. The goal was still declared to be to avoid a larger conflict. Chinese troops were not authorized to fire unless Indian forces came closer than fifty meters to their positions. Beyond that, military actions could be initiated only on orders from higher authorities.

Indian planners noted that China had stopped withdrawals but also observed Chinese restraint in firing. They concluded that another probe would do the trick. Rather than contest empty land, the goal became ‘to push back the Chinese posts they already occupied.’

Since the two objectives of China’s stated policy—to prevent further Indian advances and to avoid bloodshed—were not being met, Chinese leaders began to consider whether a sudden blow might force India to the negotiating table and end the tit for tat.

In pursuit of that objective, Chinese leaders were concerned that the United States might use the looming Sino-Indian conflict to unleash Taiwan against the mainland. Another worry was that the American diplomacy seeking to block Hanoi’s effort to turn Laos into a base area for the war in Vietnam might be a forerunner of an eventual American attack on southern China via Laos. Chinese leaders could not believe that America would involve itself to the extent it did in Indochina (even then,  before the major escalation had started) for local strategic stakes.

The Chinese leaders managed to obtain reassurance on both points in the process of demonstrating the comprehensive way in which China policy was being planned. The Warsaw talks was the venue chosen to determine American intentions in the Taiwan Strait. The Chinese ambassador to these talks was recalled from vacation and instructed to ask for a meeting. There he claimed that Beijing had noted preparations in Taiwan for a landing on the mainland. The American ambassador, who had not heard any such preparations—since they were not, in fact, taking place—was instructed to reply that the United States desired peace and ‘under present circumstances’ would not support a Nationalist offensive. The Chinese ambassador at these talks, Wang Bingnan, noted in his memoirs that this information played a ‘very big role’ in Beijing’s final decision to proceed with operations in the Himalayas. There is no evidence that the United States government asked itself what policy might have produced the request for a special meeting. It was the difference between a segmented and a comprehensive approach to policy making.

The Laotian problem solved itself. At the Geneva Conference of 1962, the neutralization of Laos and withdrawal of American forces from it removed Chinese concerns.

With these reassurances in hand, Mao in early October 1962 assembled Chinese leaders to announce the final decision, which was for war:

We fought a war with old Chiang (Kai-shek). We fought a war with Japan, and with America. With none of these did we fear. And in each case, we won. Now the Indians want to fight a war with us. Naturally, we don’t have fear. We cannot give ground, once we give ground it would be tantamount to letting them seize a big piece of land equivalent to Fujian province . . . Since Nehru sticks his head and insists on us fighting him, for us not to fight with him would not be friendly enough. Courtesy emphasizes reciprocity.’

On October 6, a decision in principle was taken. The strategic plan was for a massive assault to produce a shock that would impel negotiation or at least an end to the Indian military probing for the foreseeable future.

Before the final decision to order the offensive, word was received from Khrushchev that, in case of war, the Soviet Union would back China under the provisions of the Treaty of Friendship and Alliance of 1950. It was a decision totally out of keeping with Soviet-Chinese relations in the previous years and the neutrality heretofore practiced by the Kremlin on the issue of Indian relations with China. A plausible explanation is that Khrushchev, aware of the imminence of a showdown over Soviet deployment of nuclear weapons in Cuba, wanted to assure himself of Chinese support in the Caribbean crisis. He never returned to the offer once the Cuban crisis was over.

The Chinese attack took place in two stages: a preliminary offensive starting in October 20 lasting four days, followed by a massive assault in the middle of November, which reached the foothills of the Himalayas in the vicinity of the traditional demarcation line. At this point the PLA stopped and returned to its starting point well behind the line it was claiming. The disputed territory has remained disputed until today, but neither side has sought to enforce its claim beyond the existing lines of control.

The Chinese strategy was similar to that of the offshore islands crises. China did not conquer any territory in the 1962 Sino-Indian War—although it continued to claim the territory south of the McMahon Line. This may have reflected a political judgement or recognition of logistical realities. The conquered eastern sector territory could be held only over seriously extended supply lines across forbidding terrain.

At the end of the war, Mao had withstood—and in this case, prevailed in—another major crisis, even while a famine was barely ended in China. It was in a way a replay of the American experience in the Korean War: an underestimation of China by its adversary; unchallenged intelligence estimates about Chinese capabilities; and coupled with grave errors in grasping how China interprets its security environment and how it reacts to military threats.

At the same time, the 1962 war added another formidable adversary for China at a moment when relations with the Soviet Union had gone beyond the point of no return. For the Soviet offer of support proved as fleeting as the Soviet nuclear presence in Cuba.

As soon as the military clashes in the Himalayas escalated, Moscow adopted a posture of neutrality. To rub salt into Chinese wounds, Khrushchev justified his neutrality with the proposition that he was promoting the loathed principle of peaceful coexistence. A December 1962 editorial in the People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party, angrily noted that this marked the first time a Communist state had not sided with another Communist state against a ‘bourgeois’ country. ‘For a communist the minimum requirement is that he should make a clear distinction between the enemy and ourselves, that he should be ruthless towards the enemy and kind to his own comrades.’ The editorial added a somewhat plaintive call for China allies to ‘examine their conscience and ask themselves what has become of their Marxism-Leninism and what has become of their proletarian internationalism.’

By 1964 the Soviets had dropped even the pretence of neutrality. Referring to the Cuban Missile crisis, Mikhail Suslov, a member of the Politburo and party ideologist, accused the Chinese of aggression against India at a moment of maximum difficulty for the Soviet Union:

It is a fact that precisely at the height of the Caribbean crisis the Chinese People’s Republic extended the armed conflict on the Chinese-Indian border. No matter how the Chinese leaders have tried since then to justify their conduct at the time they cannot escape the responsibility for the fact that through their actions they in effect aided the most reactionary circles of imperialism.

China, having barely overcome a vast famine, now had declared adversaries on all frontiers.”

Courtesy: On China by Henry Kissinger Published By Penguin Group Canada, Toronto,  2011