MORE PNM: COMMENTING ON THE THEORY OF A PEACEFULLY RISING CHINA
Recently on his blog, Dr. Barnett posted his key observations regarding prospects for a " Peacefully Rising China "
that he delivered to Chinese academics in Beijing. His original points are in bold, my observations follow each of his points:
"o The biggest fear I have about China is a collapse of its internal banking system. In fact, that is the biggest fear I have right now for globalization as a whole."
No argument here. If you look at the economic problems nearby Japan has had since the collapse of their " bubble " you will see as one cause the cozy relationship that Japanese banks had with Keiretsu
partners and the bureaucratic administrators at the Ministry of Finance. Decisions regarding investment too frequently revolved around personal obligation and loyalty relationships and prestige than the cold-eyed objectivity of the market. As a result, the Japanese economy has been saddled with mountains of bad debt that their political system, with it's diffused authority by consensus paradigm, cannot muster the will to tackle forthrightly.
China's still opaque political economy makes that situation worse than in Japan where decision-making is far more transparent by comparison. Networks of CCP cadres, endemic corruption and the overriding and very real political need to transition the dinosaur-like " Iron Rice Bowl " industries to the modern world prevent rational liquidation of bankrupt enterprises. Hanging over this mess is the ultimate need to make the Yuan a fully convertible currency on par with the Yen, Dollar and Euro - the only way China will become regarded as a fully fledged world power is when it gives up the advantage of running their economy on fiat " funny money". The world economy weathered the market discipline imposed on the Thais and Malays but a drastic devaluation of the Yuan - something that is probably inevitable - will be a tremendous shock.
o It makes sense for China's 4th generation leadership to focus more on China's rural poor than the 3rd generation did. It will keep China from destabilizing over the near term far better than any saber-rattling on Taiwan."
Agreed. My caveat remains that a dip in economic growth and the uncertainty and status anxiety that will be spurred in China's urban new middle-class might tempt the regime or nationalist elements within the PLA and CCP to use Taiwan as a distraction. That's not troublesome so long as the hardline elements are only cheerleading the tough but empty rhetoric on the fringes of power; if they gain real inside political leverage over modernizing moderates we could have a very serious problem. Obviously, Taipei's behavior can also effect this equation - a flagrant provocation, like a snap declaration of independence that embarrasses Beijing will get a response. China doesn't have the logistical ability to mount an invasion, at least a successful one, but they can inflict catastropic damage on Taiwan.
o "I fear that the 3rd generation leaders still clinging to their last vestiges of power (Jiang Jemin especially) are seeking to push the Taiwan issue in order to record that historical notch on their belts before they leave the stage, and so I hope that this temptation will pass without incident, because I believe that China's vision for economic and political integration in Asia needs to be so much bigger than simply trying to get Taiwan back in the fold."
There is a real power struggle going on in China between Jiang and Hu that should not be mistaken for a simple clash of personalities between two men. Jiang's refusal to leave the scene gracefully is a violation of the retirement policy of former paramount leader Deng Xiaoping. Deng wanted China to avoid repeating the turbulence of his own power struggle with Hua Guofeng and the Gang of Four. Reliving the mad dotage of Mao's later years or the decrepit public senility of the USSR under Brezhnev and Chernenko was another concern of Deng's. Jiang is hanging on to power because lots of similarly placed 3rd generation cronies are also loath to leave the perks of power and office to their juniors.
A " Confucian Economic Community " is a real possibility, at least on paper since the economies of South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Maylasia and Thailand more than balance out China's. However, being asked as geopolitical mice to lay with an elephant is probably a bit much to expect. Balancing China out with the eventual inclusion of India, Australia, the U.S., Canada and key Latin american states in a " Pacific Rim Common Market " might be more reassuring to the smaller states sense of security - just as tying in Japan can reassure Beijing.
o I said that China's biggest challenge externally comes in the form of Beijing progressively enunciating a political and economic unifying concept that's larger than "China" but that is based around China's rising economic power. In short, Beijing needs to present to Asia and the world a vision of regional integration based on something bigger (and less threatening) than just "rising China." That is why I think the Theory of Peacefully Rising China is so important; it corresponds to the "happy ending" story that China needs to be telling the world right now, just like the U.S. needs to be selling some vision of a "happy ending" regarding the GWOT. Otherwise, fear will prevail, and China cannot afford the friction generated by that fear."
The medium is the message in international relations and this is good advice. To use the GWOT example, America under the Bush administration has used " hard power " too exclusively when there are other arrows in the quivver. I'm all for using force with shocking ruthlessness against " the bad guys " but we have been neglecting the positive memes and diplomatic-economic policies that need to accompany military force to win the GWOT. China too scares it's neighbors whether Beijing cares to admit or not and these countries can see China more easily as the New Germany circa 1900 than the new U.S. circa 1900 unless China begins a policy of engagement.
o "I pushed the notion that China needed to keep up its relatively swift pace of economic, social and political reforms because if it did not, then gaps would open up between the rest of the Core and China regarding security issues such as Taiwan, North Korea and the Middle East in general. Specifically on those three issues, I said that nothing that Taiwan could do or say would really change the reality of its progressive economic (and ultimately political) integration with the mainland, so China needed to find its confidence level on that one and not let the talk out of Taipei rattle it so. On North Korea, I pushed the notion that an Asian NATO should logically arise out of the "victory" that should soon end the horrific regime that is Kim Jong Il's leadership of that nation. So China needs to define what is a win-win for everyone on that score, and begin that dialogue with the U.S. as soon as possible, because it's eventually going to happen and it should happen on our preferred timetable rather than on Kim's crazy one."
No real disagreement here. What Dr. Barnett is asking for though is as revolutionary in terms of Beijing's foreign policy as his realistic call for two operative Rule Sets - one for within the Core and one for within the Gap - is in international law. China has always championed " noninterference in the internal affairs of sovereign states " no matter how ghoulish the regime. China went to war with Vietnam in 1979 mostly over power politics, Vietnam being a Soviet client, but in part to punish Hanoi for their intervention in Cambodia that toppled Pol Pot's psychopathic genocide state. China knows Kim is a troublesome nut but unfortunately they will not be interested in regime change unless the DPRK does something so stupidly provocative that Beijing can feel secure in washing their hands of Pyongyang.
"On the Middle East, I repeated my usual notion that China was inevitably coming militarily to the region over the next couple of decades, either because the U.S. does a good job of exporting security to the region and China wants to help, or because the U.S. does such a bad job of it that China comes out of fear. Either way, China needs to get its security head straight regarding this inevitable long-term reality, so again, thinking beyond the myopic focus on Taiwan is crucial. o My big point throughout both presentations was that China needs to stop asking itself what the world "owes" it and needs to start asking itself "What the world needs from China." In short, Beijing itself has the most say over whether or not the Theory of Peacefully Rising China comes to fruition or not. But that future worth creating will only come about as China learns to think more non-zero-sum about global security in general."
I really like the non-zero sum comment. Dr. Barnett has a more extensive commentary in his book on how much energy China's economy will require in coming decades will be driving this outcome. On the other hand, if Russia modernizes it's energy sector to harness Siberia's riches in a rational way and the Central Asian states begin to exploit their vast oil and gas reserves China's interests in Mideast oil will be moderated ( Dr. Barnett is correct that their interest will grow regardless - so will India's).
Dr. Barnett will be having several of his talks televised on C-span