Saturday, May 21, 2011

China Two Views of the Future

Niall Ferguson

Henry Kissinger

This past week two opposing views on China emerged to stimulate the debate on Sino-American relations. One hailed from Niall Ferguson who often assumes the mantle of a dour Scotsmen with a pessimistic view of the World , and the other from Henry Kissinger who draws the experience of forty trips in forty years to China, to pen a new book, On China.

Ferguson opened first, with the publishing of the transcript of a recent address at Chatham House where he offered a more pessimistic view of future China-U.S. relations and the possibility of a return to a Cold War rivalry or worse.

Kissinger's views were published a week later and laid out a road map that in his words would see; “Relations between China and the United States,” he writes, “need not — and should not — become a zero-sum game.” This quote seems to mirror similar comments voiced by Thomas Barnett and written about by me in this post.

Both points of view have begun to stimulate discussion as noted in this from Thomas Ricks who posted this review of both pieces from Dr. Patrick Cronin.
Best Defense department of the mandate of heaven
Historian Niall Ferguson likes to think big. If most Washingtonians are satisfied wth shaping a discrete national policy issue, Niall Ferguson isn't satisfied unless he can challenge the global conventional wisdom of a generation.
Ferguson's most recent strategic expository centered on the geopolitical implications of China possibly eclipsing American and Western power, reflections he recently shared at Chatham House in London [published as, "The West and the Rest: the Changing Global Balance of Power in Historic Perspective," May 9, 2011]
His compelling if provocative analysis built not only on his latest tome, Civilization: the West and the Rest, but also the much-anticipated sweeping history, On China, written by the Henry Kissinger, and published today.
Read more:
Ferguson vs. Kissinger on the future of China, and what it means for the rest of us

On China has generated much interest and the following reviews would make it a must read book to gain the prospective of one of the great elder statesman of our time as he looks forward from his twilight years.
It’s been four decades since President Richard M. Nixon sent Henry A. Kissinger to Beijing to re-establish contact with China, an ancient civilization with which the United States, at that point, had had no high-level diplomatic contact for more than two decades. Since then the cold war has ended; the Soviet Union (a threat to both China and the United States and a spur to Sino-American cooperation) has come unwound; and economic reform in China has transformed a poverty-ridden, poorly educated nation into a great power that is playing an increasingly pivotal role in the globalized world.
Mr. Kissinger’s fascinating, shrewd and sometimes perverse new book, “On China,” not only addresses the central role he played in Nixon’s opening to China but also tries to show how the history of China, both ancient and more recent, has shaped its foreign policy and attitudes toward the West. While this volume is indebted to the pioneering scholarship of historians like Jonathan D. Spence, its portrait of China is informed by Mr. Kissinger’s intimate firsthand knowledge of several generations of Chinese leaders
New York Times Book Review By MICHIKO KAKUTANI
Published: May 9, 2011
Read more:
An Insider Views China, Past and Future

Kissinger wrote this for the Wall Street Journal last week in anticipation of the release of his book.
Societies and nations tend to think of themselves as eternal. They also cherish a tale of their origin. A special feature of Chinese civilization is that it seems to have no beginning. It appears in history less as a conventional nation-state than as a permanent natural phenomenon. In the tale of the Yellow Emperor, revered by many Chinese as the legendary founding ruler, China seems already to exist.
The Yellow Emperor has gone down in history as a founding hero; yet in the founding myth, he is re-establishing, not creating, an empire. China predated him; it strides into the historical consciousness as an established state requiring only restoration, not creation.
Kissinger ends with this.
In pursuit of understanding the nature of peace, I have studied the construction and operation of international orders ever since I was a graduate student well over half a century ago. I am aware that the cultural, historic and strategic gaps in perception will pose formidable challenges for even the best-intentioned and most far-sighted leadership on both sides. On the other hand, were history confined to the mechanical repetition of the past, no transformation would ever have occurred. Every great achievement was a vision before it became a reality.
In his essay "Perpetual Peace," the philosopher Immanuel Kant argued that perpetual peace would eventually come to the world in one of two ways: by human insight or by conflicts and catastrophes of a magnitude that left humanity no other choice. We are at such a juncture.
When Premier Zhou Enlai and I agreed on the communiqué that announced the secret visit, he said: "This will shake the world." What a culmination if, 40 years later, the U.S. and China could merge their efforts not to shake the world, but to build it.
Read more:
The China Challenge

Both views are essential to having an open debate on what will be the major foreign policy challenge of the next several decades and perhaps the century. The final words of Dr. Cronin's review are worth repeating.

Even so, predictions about the future are often mistaken. Ferguson could well be wrong about China, and Kissinger could well prove to be right. The reason why a policy of hedging remains the most compelling policy influence is that there are just far too many uncertainties about the world writ large but especially about China. For instance: Doesn't China's growing mercantilist extraction of global resources also create vulnerabilities in the form of tenuous and protracted lines of communication? While the Internet may feed Chinese nationalism, might not social media also sow the seeds of the Communist Party's own destruction? And just because China rises does not necessarily mean that the United States, Europe, ASEAN, India and other major power centers have to revert to tribute in modern manifestations.
As a good friend recently posted on his Facebook page:
"The society that separates its scholars from its warriors will have its thinking done by cowards and its fighting done by fools." ~Thucydides
The twin debate begun by Ferguson and Kissinger, beg for what blog friend Mark of Zenpundit called for the founding; Grand Strategy Board.

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