Monday, November 21, 2005

Link preface:

"No Longer a One-Sided Fight To Demonize China" and " Perfect NYT Trifecta" by Dr. Barnett

"Fooling Yourself" by John Robb

" The Globalization Bull in the China Shop" and " Will China's New Left be a Force to be Reckoned With?" by Zenpundit

"China's Time Bombs " , " China's Time Bombs: Gray China", " China's Time Bomb: One More Word on The Pension System", " China's Time Bombs: The Banking System" by Dave Schuler of The Glittering Eye

"Post Communist China" by Simon of Simon World

President Bush's much publicized trip to China does not have the austere Cold War gravity of the Soviet-American summits or the epochal significance of Richard Nixon's flight to Beijing but the normality itself is an important sign. The leaders of China and the United States are trying to navigate a relationship of significant magnitude and one with enormous room for future positive growth - but they are doing so bereft of mutual understandings on many important subjects in bilateral and international relations ranging from Taiwan to proliferation of WMD technology.

Sino-American relations are really at a critical moment as we stand at the root of a multifaceted decision tree whose branches spread outward into a fog of future scenarios we cannot clearly discern. Part of the problem is the paradoxical position of the Chinese state which is strong and weak, resililient and fragile, resurgent and fading all at once makes gaming China's outcomes difficult at best. Minxin Pei described China's elite in Foreign Policy in these terms:

"But China’s isn’t just any government. It is one that rests on fragile political foundations, little rule of law, and corrupt governance. Worse, it has consistently placed the highest value on economic growth and viewed all demands for curbing its discretion and power as threats to its goal of rapid modernization. The result? Social deficits in education, public health, and environmental protection. But it is hardly surprising, since promoting high growth advances the careers of government officials. Thus, China’s elites devote most of their resources to building glitzy shopping malls, factories, and even Formula One racing tracks, while neglecting social investments with long-term returns. So for those who wonder how, if China’s political system is so rotten, it can deliver robust growth year after year, the answer is that it delivers robust growth year after year, in part, because it is so rotten.

But the Chinese Communist Party knows that the people will tolerate only so much rot. Corruption is a rising concern. The party’s inability to police its own officials, many of whom are now engaged in unrestrained looting of public assets, is one of Beijing’s greatest worries. These regime insiders have effectively privatized the power of the state and use it to advance personal interests. Their loyalty to the party is questionable, if it exists at all. The accelerating effect on the party’s demise resembles that of a bank run; more and more insiders cannot wait to cash in their investment in the party."

On the other hand, much the same could have been said ( and was said in Europe) of the America of Boss Tweed, Cornelius Vanderbilt, Credit Mobilier, Mark Hanna, The Whiskey Ring, Jay Gould, The Homestead Strike and Teapot Dome. With great effort at reform the United States managed to impose the rule of law in matters of both market and politics. It was a bitter struggle though, which took decades and was done in an era when, except for the flow of investment capital, the United States needed little from overseas and derived its economic growth primarily from its own vast internal market.

China's leaders today do not have quite the same luxury of time as did American leaders in the 19th century. While vast, China's potential consumer market lacks purchasing power and as a result China's growth is export-driven; as such, the deep temptation for the Politburo, due both political and profit incentives, is to reinvest endlessly in current growth sectors than in basic services, infrastructure and educational opportunities for the 600-800 million peasants lagging behind. China has an array of future-altering national decisions to make in the next twenty years that most advanced nations, by comparison, made over several centuries - and China's leaders, lacking intrinsic legitimacy, need to get all of them right to avoid a popular explosion.

Thus it is possible to look at China, as does Dr. Barnett and see where all the nonzero sum economic trends are pointing and forecast a hopeful future worth creating for China, the United States and the world. Certainly, the United States can influence some of these outcomes for good or ill and Dr. Barnett is trying to nudge policy makers toward choosing the strategic good.

It is also possible to look at China's numerous political and economic contradictions as does John Robb and Dave Schuler and see a China that is going to walk the narrowest, most self-absorbed, zero-sum path for fearing of falling off the tightrope. As countries are driven by their own internal dynamics this scenario is a very possible one.

And it is also possible - though far more unrealistic - to look at China's defense establishment and diplomacy and assume that China represents a strategic threat to the United States on the revisionist, anti-status quo model of the great totalitarian powers of the 20th century. China, like most states, has a strand of angry ultranationalism and ethnocentrism in it's political culture and there are factions in the PLA and the CCP who periodically play this card during internal power struggles. They play this card because they are not in the driver's seat in China but would like to be. Treating China like it is already our enemy empowers these fringe ultranationalists.

China is a great power in a state of societal flux. All our policies in Asia need to be bent toward guiding China to a peaceful rise that does not conflict with critical American interests.
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