As the president winds down his China trip, National Review Online asked experts on China and foreign policy: What should we do with and how should we regard China?
No country or issue will shape the course of the 21st century — for good or ill — more than China.
For example, it’s the world’s most populous nation; the largest producer of greenhouse gases; the greatest holder of foreign currency reserves and American debt; the second biggest consumer of energy; the third largest economy; it has the third biggest defense budget; and so on. China is quickly becoming a country of superlatives.
Accordingly, it has the raw potential to shake the international system like other rising powers have in the past, often with less than optimum outcomes. Some believe China intends to amass the national power that will allow it to replace the United States as the preeminent power in the Pacific, and perhaps even in the entire world.
And if we’re not careful, it just might do so.
We should be guided by the old diplomatic quip about a different would-be superpower: “Russia is never as strong as she looks; Russia is never as weak as she looks.”
China’s strength is well-advertised. Her rate of economic growth across the past 30 years has been sensational. She is re-tooling her military at an impressive clip. Her foreign policy is ruthlessly self-interested. With Han Chinese at 92 percent, minorities concentrated in remote regions, and zero immigration, China is spared the demographic fissures opening up in Western nations. The Communist party is secure in power, having survived all challenges.
Let us bear in mind that those growth rates are based on an economic model that may already have ceased to be tenable (see Gordon Chang in the November 23 issue of National Review); that Chinese weapons, now as in the past, are intended for use against those inhabitants, or recalcitrant ex-inhabitants, of the Celestial Empire who will not bow to the Son of Heaven; that Chinese diplomats excel mainly at making their nation disliked; that resentments of class and wealth inequality can sunder a nation as surely as can ethnic troubles; and that the median duration of a Chinese dynasty has been 45 years.
– John Derbyshire is an NRO columnist and author, most recently, of We Are Doomed: Reclaiming Conservative Pessimism.
JAMIE M. FLY
President Obama is continuing his predecessors’ unfortunate tradition of viewing China as a “strategic partner” because of China’s growing economic might and its role in financing the American economy. Successive American presidents have gone hat in hand to China, begging for assistance on problems — such as North Korea, Iran, and climate change — on which China has dissimilar goals from Washington.
Meanwhile, China is developing advanced military capabilities while we spend less on defense. This has implications for U.S. allies such as Taiwan, Japan, and others in the region. As China seeks increased ties in Africa and Latin America in its search for natural resources to fuel its booming economy, it is likely that the Chinese navy and military will follow.
American leaders should not shy from confronting the Chinese leadership about human rights and political repression in China. During his time in Shanghai and Beijing, President Obama’s minimal efforts to discuss freedoms of the press and speech were heavily censored by the Chinese regime. While he deserves credit for raising the issue, he did little to improve the plight of dissidents and activists in Chinese jails.
A free, democratic China would be a real “strategic partner.” The American president should advocate loudly and frequently for real political reform to achieve that goal.
– Jamie M. Fly is executive director of the Foreign Policy Initiative.
There is no simple answer to China. China is the largest country in the world, with a market that is increasingly tied to the American and global economies.
It also remains a Communist country: Though no longer totalitarian — partly thanks to the private spheres opened up by the advance of wealth and enterprise — it remains a dictatorial country that 1) is insecure about its role in the world; 2) distrusts its people; and 3) at times acts on either or both of these two principles in ways that are dangerous to its citizens or the region.
The answer is not to badger or berate them. The answer is to be firm, and show that you mean what you say. When you show you are afraid to meet the Dalai Lama, they conclude you are weak and do not really mean all your highfalutin talk about human rights and human dignity. They respect you when, as George W. Bush did, you meet with house Christians and the Roman Catholic cardinal of Hong Kong — and show you mean it when you discuss, say, religious freedom. Remember that when Bush started, the Chinese were playing bumper cars with our planes. In retrospect, looks like he handled that pretty well.
Bottom line for an American president: Encourage them to do well, and keep opening their markets, applaud them when they do, and give them incentives to do the right thing. But don’t let them dictate whom you meet with, or be afraid to take them to task when they do something bad. An American president needs most to be respected by China.
– William McGurn, formerly the chief speechwriter for Pres. George W. Bush, is an editorial writer for the Wall Street Journal.
Hopefully (but doubtfully) the president returns from Asia recognizing that China cannot be the “engine of growth” for the world as it emerges from the economic recession. Indeed, China’s structural economic challenges are such that the greater concern is that it not become the “engine of crisis” if there is a double-dip recession in the developed world and China’s falling exports and direct investment crash.
Despite the difficult and protracted economic position in which the United States finds itself, China is worse off. China’s economy was overheating years before the financial crisis hit. Asset inflation — whether it is property values or the equities markets — has been exacerbated by the government stimulus spending this year. There is constant pressure on the Communist government to dazzle the region and the world with near double-digit growth, combined with unrelenting demand for jobs in an economy with some 150 million people unemployed, and per-capita income among the lowest in the world.
What this means as the president turns back to his domestic agenda is that the United States must defend the dollar, get our own deficits under control, avoid the stifling taxes that would come with government-run health care, and keep the United States as the engine of growth. The United States is the only viable engine of growth for the foreseeable future, and hopefully the president realizes that China — and Asia more broadly — depends upon it.
– Therese Shaheen is chairman of U.S. Asia International, a consulting firm that does business in Asia.
JOHN J. TKACIK JR.
As the smoke clears from President Obama’s 2009 Asia tour, America’s new status as the second-most powerful nation on earth is no longer obscured. It is the measure of a superpower that nobody else tells it what to do, but America is no longer the superpower. It is now China whom no one dares lecture.
The Obama administration has failed to muster the leverage necessary to gain China’s cooperation on any of its global priorities: nuclear proliferation, climate change, trade, exchange rates, human rights, competition for resources, environmental despoliation, or moderating China’s territorial claims against its neighbors — most of which are America’s friends and allies. It simply is not credible in Beijing that Obama’s Washington has the courage to come up with an “or else” if China insists on pursuing its goals via a robust state-mercantilist ideology. So Beijing now does what it will, and will lecture the U.S. president if it pleases.
This was evident in Obama’s handling of the Tibet issue. He dared not meet with his fellow Nobel Laureate, the Dalai Lama, because China was not pleased. In his comments to Chinese leaders, Obama reassured them that the United States “recognizes that Tibet is part of the People’s Republic of China,” without pausing to consider that China claims 32,000 square miles of Indian territory — the state of Arunachal Pradesh — as “part of Tibet.” Clearly, President Obama sees his challenge as managing America’s decline gracefully.
– John J. Tkacik Jr. is a senior research fellow in Asian Studies at the Heritage Foundation.
LARRY M. WORTZEL
China is an important global actor with wealth and military capacity, with which the United States shares some common interests. We must have diplomatic and economic interaction. However, the U.S. and China are in competition in a number of sectors, and no country is more aggressive in espionage and cyber intrusions against the U.S. The two countries have little in common in their basic values regarding democratic systems, such as the freedoms of speech, assembly, and religion.
From a security standpoint, our objectives on the Korean Peninsula and with countries such as Iran are quite different. Neither country wants to see war on the Korean Peninsula, but the Chinese Communist party wants to see the peninsula remain divided. With respect to North Korea and Iran, it serves the interests of China if the United States is overwhelmed with difficult problems such as the development of weapons of mass destruction. China is not of much help in Central Asia, Afghanistan, or Pakistan, which it helped arm with nuclear weapons and delivery systems. We differ significantly in our views on military activities in the Exclusive Economic Zone and space.
— Larry M. Wortzel is vice chairman of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission.
China’s future as a superpower is imminent, but it’s a mistake to believe our foreign policy won’t shape the kind of superpower it becomes. A cornerstone of that policy should be religious freedom, at the heart of which is the dignity of the human person. Freedom of individual conscience is the freedom without which all others are meaningless — what else are we living for?
The Chinese people are going to define the Chinese state as people always have in every country. The Chinese are yearning for human dignity, to live with it openly, freely, prolifically. Instead of telling them, as Secretary Clinton did in February, that their dreams “can’t interfere” with economic, climate, or security interests, we have a duty to let them know that prosperity and human respect are not mutually exclusive. We have a duty to let them know the freedom they were born with won’t be sold out to the baser interests of any state. We should regard China the way we should regard the rest of the world and ourselves: with great hope, with high expectations, with the knowledge that sometimes the high ground is gained at a cost that we are willing to share.
— Angela Wu is international law director for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.