Wednesday, November 17, 2010

China on My Mind

China has and will always be on my mind, and since I met my wife, in my heart. That said, I am not an apologist for their current or past system of government and in fact find it counter to what I believe in; and in my youth fought mortally against. This week a few of the blogs I follow have had an exceptionally rich number of posts, seeking to counsel, warn, and decipher our current and future relations with the mystical dragon that is economically breathing down our necks as it approaches our status as the worlds strongest economy from behind.

Thomas Barnett has been in the forefront of counseling that we need to manage China's rise much like Great Britain shepherded the rise of the United States as a great power in the early 20th century. Barnett has written over 200 posts this year that are tagged about China. This week was no exception and this quartet of posts lays out more sensible ideas for how we should respond to what in reality is the return of China to the world stage as a great power, a position she held for most of her 5000 year history.

First is this piece with tips about how to blunt and put the brakes on demonizing China here at home.
Trying to Unwind this Demonization Trend

Tom follows that post with this post and link to his World Politics Review column, with the viral video of the now famous Chinese Professor.
Using China to Scare Ourselves Straight

Then this about how demographics are going to change  the world, once again!
Globalization's Massive Demographic Bet

Tom then looks at the FDI or Foreign Direct Investments over the past century.

Fascinating really: you can see the decline of the British empire, then the US stepping in to fund so much of the world post-WWII, and then our own progressive decline as the rest of the West recovered, then Japan rose (and fell), and now China rises. Naturally, some will wish to make the comparison of the decline of the US "empire" with that of the Brits', but our system was never set up to maintain dominance. It was set up to encourage the rise of others peacefully, which it's done (65 years of no great power war and counting, the biggest increase in human wealth/income ever seen, billions avoid poverty). The world simply couldn't handle the rise of great powers--until we came along and forced a system that could. It is, without doubt, the greatest accomplishment of any great power in human history.
Read more:
Strange Days

On the heels of this, comes a second broadside of common-sense fired directly at the leadership in Washington. Here is just of taste of what is coming.

Our definition of a "responsible stakeholder" is "do everything the way I want it and THEN you can be my friend!" That's not how you treat an ally; that's how you treat a dog. If we have FDR today, he'd deal and he'd deal with confidence. That guy believed in his system, and had no fears dealing with authoritarian regimes. But we don't have any FDRs today. Reagan and Clinton were the last, it seems: guys who knew how to cut deals, compromise, move the ball--with confidence in their country and its future. Now we have such little people with little minds (yeah, Bloomberg said it and I repeat it!). We bluster and we strut and we're being ignored more and more--a trend I trace back to the beginning of W's 2nd term (Katrina proves we can't nation-build abroad or at home).


Coming on the heels of Barnett's posts comes this brief post by Robert Farley at Information Dissemination who discusses what he correctly labels a fractured Chinese foreign policy.

China is full of many people who want many different things. Like the U.S. national security apparatus, the Chinese government harbors a plethora of different foreign-policy perspectives, some focused on trade, others on power, and still others guided by domestic political concerns. Moreover, the Chinese government is no longer the only actor of consequence in China. Chinese public opinion increasingly constrains policymakers, and can even force them into action they don't want to take. Like all states, China is fractured. Recognizing its fractured nature is the key to developing an effective U.S. policy toward China's rise.
Don't miss the links to Robert's column at WPR, and the very interesting Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI report about China.

Read More.
Fractured China

Now where is this all going? Most might think that Robert and Tom's posts are preaching to the choir of their readers and will have little impact on those counting on tapping into the national malaise of anger and self doubt that in part came from our own drunken binge on the scent of cheap money and easy credit terms along with feeding at the trough of feeling our oats for the past half century.

We need a wake up call, but more importantly we need leadership that is visionary in the vein of a Roosevelt or a Lincoln whom front loaded the next quarter century of economic growth for America while in the depths of  war. Lincoln in his five important bills during the 33rd Congress, and Roosevelt in holding Churchill's feet to the fire about shedding their colonies after the war and then taking the leadership role in conducting the war at Tehran in 1943. We continue to suffer from mediocrity and men blinded by hubris and measures of implanted self-destructive genes.

Recently I have been reading two books as mentioned in a previous post . The thread of what would happen when we insist on a hasty and blind charge towards one man one vote democracy in countries with massive iniquities. Think what would happen in China if the people all could have an equal say in their policy while most of the country is barely out of grinding poverty. They would be mailable to someone who could seize the moment and their new found nationalism in what is dubbed by the Chinese leaders as Netizens who by far display extreme nationalist tendencies that mirror the worst of mid-20th century Germany and Japan. We only have to look south to view Venezuela and how Hugo Chavez has harness the poor to vote him president for life and start down the road of creating an almost fascist state, ditto Bolivia and over the horizon, watch for Ortega in Nicaragua. Honduras just stopped short of allowing their president Zavala to proceed down that path.

If we play our diplomatic cards right we can see a peaceful rise of China that operates in a capitalist system with Chinese characters and is a partner in developing and spreading the system of free market and capitalism that sprang from the fountain of hope and opportunity called the United States.

Finally, to share a small story about China. My mother and father in-law lived through the worst of the Cultural Revolution and being professors of foreign languages were sent out to the fields as punishment and re-education. They don't speak of it and I only recently learned how badly my father-in-law's health was broken during that time. Quietly as the worst passed, they raised their two daughters to learn foreign languages and as soon as possible, encouraged them to leave, one to Germany and the other to America. Today, they live the quiet lives of the retired, but knowing what they must have endured and then finding a way to re-purpose themselves and go on and remain proud of their nation for it's long endurance and heritage gives me pause to reflect on their strength of character. And also, their wisdom to not want to see their daughters and grandchildren fall victim to the same spasms of what happens when the citizens run amok.

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