Skip to comments.Washington Dreams On About China
Posted on 10/08/2005 3:03:23 PM PDT by Willie Green
For education and discussion only. Not for commercial use.
Presumably, Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick's main aim was to reassure Americans when he delivered a much-hyped speech on U.S. China policy in New York on September 21. He clearly hoped to reassure the political and business mandarins assembled by the National Committee on United States-China relations that recent tensions over currency manipulation and apparel wouldn't spin out of control. Zoellick also undoubtedly hoped to reassure Washington's China realists and the American people that the Bush administration understood why China's growing power and global influence cannot be permitted to undermine American security and prosperity.
Only the mandarins can know whether Zoellick succeeded with them. But anyone with an ounce of China realism could tell from Zoellick's remarks that America's China policy remains asleep at the wheel on all critical fronts. Ironically, much of the strongest evidence comes from a recent Chinese statement to which Zoellick was explicitly responding: an equally hyped article in the journal Foreign Affairs on "China's 'Peaceful Rise' to Great Power Status" by Zheng Bijian, a close associate of Chinese President Hu Jintao.
Based on these twin tracts, it would be tempting to describe the United States and China as two ships in the night. But there's a crucial difference. China has set ambitious but concrete goals and has mapped out a strategy for achieving them that has already produced great progress. The United States, by contrast, seems content to drift strategically, and to confuse pipe dreams with policy.
Although Zoellick's audience was filled with charter members of the Corporate Blame America First Movement, given mounting frustration with China among politicians and voters, the Deputy Secretary's remarks showed that his political ear remains as tinny as ever. After all, his own administration is publishing warnings about China's military buildup, slapping quotas on apparel imports from China, and complaining more loudly about China's currency manipulation.
And there was Zoellick, trafficking in moral equivalency insisting that "On both sides, there is a gulf in perception," criticizing "the voices that perceive China solely through the lens of fear," and urging all the power brokers in the room to "build the foundation of support at home" and "press both the Chinese and your fellow citizens" to maintain Washington's current kowtowing.
In addition, if Zoellick was hoping to foster even the illusion of real trade progress, he shot the administration in the foot (and maybe worse) by repeating a major mistake made by most recent presidents in their dealings with Asian protectionists: playing the Good Cop/Bad Cop game.
In other words, Zoellick warned Beijing to tear down its barriers and end other predatory trade practices or else American "protectionist pressures" would keep growing and the United States would "not be able to maintain...domestic support" for an open world trade system.
It all sounds so reasonable even clever. But for decades, Asia's mercantilist governments have interpreted such warnings as tacit admissions of presidential indifference to their protectionism, and presidential conviction that such subjects are mainly political nuisances rather than substantive threats to U.S. safety and well-being. As a result, the Asians and others have usually assumed that presidents would keep the domestic politics under control, for fear of endangering other, ostensibly higher, priorities like maintaining security alliances that encouraged Asian allies to free ride or, more recently, preserving the illusion that China is helping Washington pacify North Korea.
But the scariest aspect of Zoellick's speech was the assumption that symbolism and various other intangibles can substitute for material power in achieving America's economic and foreign goals, and that China can be converted to this utopianism as well. Admittedly, it's difficult to believe that American leaders could be this naive. But a decade and a half of active, massive American subsidization of China's rise, by enabling it to run enormous trade surpluses, shows otherwise.
Take Zoellick's main theme that U.S.-China policy should focus on turning China from a simple member of the international system to a "responsible stake holder" in that system. Its core idea that China should join all the other countries that have gone "further than promoting purely national interests" and are working to strengthen "the international system [that] sustains their peaceful prosperity" has been a staple of American diplomatic boilerplate since the end of World War II.
This proposition was dubious enough when applied to allies like the European NATO countries during the Cold War, with whom America shared not only vital strategic interests but numerous political and social values. Though constrained by their own weakness, these countries missed few opportunities to seek unilateral economic advantages and to maintain the benefits of U.S. military protection while shirking the burdens of common defense.
Imagining that better behavior will come in the politically relevant future from China, a country with which the United States shares literally no values and has created no significant security ties, is unforgivably childish. In fact, in his speech, Zoellick himself mentioned numerous examples of China actually moving farther away from this kumbaya view of the world, including its rapid military buildup, its growing protectionism, and its determination to"lock up" foreign energy supplies.
Yet Zoellick's proposed solutions range from the completely unhelpful to the utterly meaningless. For example, Zoellick criticized China's "lack of transparency" and warned that "uncertainties about how China will use its power will lead the United States and others as well to hedge relations with China." But even if they wanted to, how could China's leaders create certainty about something as will-o-the-wisp as intentions? And how could they possibly create certainty about their successors? It's much easier, and therefore more important, to measure and respond to capabilities.
Moreover, can Zoellick really envision the day when the United States stops hedging relations with a large, powerful, wealthy country? What in the world could that mean? We disarm unilaterally once we are "certain" that China will never mean us harm? Of course we wouldn't. But we do neither ourselves nor the Chinese any favors by babbling about fairy tales by seeking results that are literally impossible to achieve.
The problems built into the approach outlined by Zoellick, unfortunately, are not merely theoretical. They are already threatening America's future in at least two concrete ways. First, the emphasis on intentions instead of capabilities has inevitably fostered indifference in Washington about how China is building its wealth and strength. U.S. leaders can complain all they want to about China's military buildup or its currency manipulation. But unless they recognize how their encouragement of lopsided trade flows has showered China with the economic wherewithal to pay for these policies, these complaints shouldn't be taken seriously by Americans. More important, that's why they're not being taken seriously by the Chinese.
Second, Zoellick-style utopianism also fosters the belief that maintaining harmonious relations with China is more important than promoting and defending any specific U.S. interests vis-a-vis China. According to the Deputy Secretary of State, both countries should manage their inevitable differences "within a larger framework, where the parties recognize a shared interest in sustaining political, economic, and security systems that provide common benefits." During the Cold War, this faith in relationships per se quickly degenerated into an excuse for letting allies take Washington to the cleaners time and again. Count on China to exploit this belief even more vigorously.
Zheng Bijian's aim in speaking out on China's strategy aimed at reassurance as well. He sought to convince governments the world over that China will re-write the age-old rules of international politics, focus on domestic economic development, consequently rise to Great Power status peacefully, and use its new wherewithal and influence to "strive for peace, development, and cooperation with all countries of the world."
Yet despite this overarching New Age message, Zheng's article frequently reveals an underlying hard-headed realism. Needless to say, Zheng ignored China's long track record of supporting rogue states that sponsor terror and on a regular basis helping them build weapons of mass destruction. And of course, no mention was made of China's frequently bellicose policies toward Taiwan. (Remember according to Beijing, Taiwan is not a "country" so presumably the point about seeking "peace, development, and cooperation" doesn't apply.)
Just as important, however, was what Zheng did say. Many specifics were noteworthy enough and missed entirely by Zoellick. Yes, as Zheng wrote, the Chinese ostensibly decided to "embrace economic globalization rather detach themselves from it." But Zheng also argued that "China has based its modernization process mainly on its domestic resources" and has "maintained its independence and self-reliance." Zheng also pointedly noted that Beijing "is trying to find new ways to reduce the percentage of the country's imported energy resources and to rely more on China's own." Call it what you will, but that certainly isn't free trade thinking.
Zheng also emphasized how China has transferred "the huge personal savings of its citizens into investment," and now seeks "to 'build a society of thrift.'" Call it what you will, that certainly isn't free market thinking.
Moreover, Zheng's intellectual framework was utterly incompatible with Zoellick's ambitions to turn China into a reliably selfless partner. As Zheng's essay makes clear, China's main goal continues to be amassing national power. And it values engagement with the world not as an end in itself, or as an opportunity to (using Zoellick's phrase) "go further" than promoting national interests and focus on maintaining what he calls the global system, but as a means of enhancing its own power and influence.
The article's title alone is a giveaway. Most non-Chinese observers have emphasized China's stated determination to rise peacefully. But the idea of rising and achieving great power status is what's most important. China will not settle for being an ordinary country.
Zheng's claim that "China's development depends on world peace" should be read in a similar light, especially given China's continuing military inferiority to the United States. And ditto for his observation that "China will not follow the path of Germany leading up to World War I or those of Germany and Japan leading to World War II." That wasn't a moral condemnation. It was a sensible, results-oriented analysis. Because Germany and Japan completely misjudged the world's real military balance (and in particular America's vast potential), they nearly destroyed themselves. All these views, moreover, are perfectly consistent with the ancient Chinese strategist Sun Tzu's principle that "It is best to win without fighting" a recommendation not to abjure fighting, but to win more efficiently.
Spotlighting China's strategic realism is not tantamount to assuming blanket, perpetual Chinese hostility to the United States, or to accusing China of seeking world or even regional domination. It is simply a way of underscoring China's clear recognition that material national power is the key to national success in peace as well as wartime, in economics as well as security affairs not the supposed pragmatism-inducing effects of international systems that exist mainly in the heads of American and other globalists. Even where international cooperation or efforts "to shape the future international system" (Zoellick's phrase) are necessary or desirable, those countries bringing the most power and wealth to the table are likeliest to see their own preferences prevail.
Zoellick's speech follows in a long line of American efforts to educate and enlighten China to share with it the secrets of democracy and prosperity that have so long eluded it. Unquestionably, the United States has much to teach China about these subjects. When it comes to strategy, however, if it matters to Zoellick and his colleagues that America's preferences prevail, they would do well to start listening to Zheng and the Chinese.
US policy towards china is still set by kissenger. It doesn't look like things will change until kissenger dies.
"US policy towards china is still set by kissenger. It doesn't look like things will change until kissenger dies."
It won't change..
I think of the fall of Rome every time I read one of these stories, or reflect upon our nations leadership.
Good post. It depressed me to read it, as I have lived briefly in China, and know their game.
Free trade bump!
China will be selling inexpensive automobiles in the U.S. next year. I will make a guess that Chinese cars will sell like hot cakes. In about three years, they will make an offer to buy one of the Big Three. Our borders stand wide open. Soon you will need to speak Spanish fluently to get a job in the U.S. In the meantime, high paying jobs are being eliminated. More corporations are sending jobs overseas to India and China. America is turning into a third world country. Motor voter and mail-in-ballots will be among the final nails in our coffin.
Good. We need the competition in all areas of our economy. We are slipping back into big government spending leading our economy, and a big competitor will be the only way to force the looters in Washington to stop it.
Globalists in America are engaged in dangerous foolishness. This is one case where greed can have devastating consequences for all Americans, including those here who stand to profit the most from free trade policies.
My guess is like many others he is working towards a big dollar job with a Washington law firm having Chinese "consulting" contracts. If not then he is an even more complete idiot than I would have thought.
So you take refuge from the thought that Zoellick is an idiot, in the reflection that he may only be forsworn and corrupt.
Gee, that goes against what other countries have done throughout history. How dare they.
Chi-com promises of 1.3 billion middle-class consumers just around the corner spur U.S. useful idiots to ramp up their free tradin' transfers of technology, wealth, and production to the heroic peace-loving, capitalist, free, democratic Peoples Republic of China.
Why the Chi-coms don't care about power for its own sake they just loooooove to help the peoples of the world.
Uncle Joe Stalin wanted "true" world peace but mean-spirited Americans wouldn't listen
We have "leadership?"
Trying to apply a logical framework to the actions of the governing class in Washington ...(pause) is a challenge.
The State department in particular has sought to quell enemies and strengthen alliances by seeking trade pacts and accepting the strategies of trading partners that are inimical to the long term health of domestic industry.
World War Two: Smaller, limited-production, high-tech country dependent upon foreign resources (Germany, Japan) has better weapons but loses war to huge, mass-production, lower-tech nation (U.S.A.).
World War Five: Smaller, limited-production, high-tech country dependent upon foreign resources (U.S.A.) has better weapons but loses war to huge, mass-production, lower-tech nation (People's Republic of China).
Lesson: In war, a nation that is dependent upon foreigners for its manufacturing base and resources will lose to a nation with indigenous manufacturing and resources.
Point: We are selling our national security in the name of Free Trade. We are mortgaging tomorrow's sovereignty for the sake of cheap consumer goods today.
And to the Soviet Union which had even lower tech but less reliant of foreign trade.