Your humble blogger has spent the last 48 hours trying to follow up on his last Chen Guangcheng post. Unfortunately, a recurrent cycle emerged that has caused some serious delays:
STEP 1: Development in Chen case
STEP 2: Me cogitating on development
STEP 3: Brilliant insights that will transform the Sino-American relationship emerge from blog brain.
STEP 4: Start writing blog post
STEP 5: Check Twitter feed five minutes later
STEP 6: New development in Chen case that renders prior insights totally overtaken by events.
STEP 7: Trash draft of blog post... go back to Step 1.
Seriously, I think I get web 2.0 stuff pretty well, and I have never dealt with an ongoing policy issue that mutated faster than I could blog about it.
I think the latest developments have stabilized matters a bit, so I promise a follow-up blog post in the next hour. We apologize for the inconvenience.
Your humble blogger has been silent on the ongoing Chen Guangcheng case in China. To be fair, however, I was merely copying what the Chinese and U.S. governments were doing: furiously not commenting on the case as the next Strategic and Economic Dialogue between Washington and Beijing commences.
Since other people are starting to
say really stupid things comment on it, however, I'm required by the International Brotherhood of Foreign Policy Pundits to weigh on the matter. So, a few random thoughts:
1) My expectation on how this will play out: unless Wen Jiabao has a lot more authority than I think, this ends in a year or so when Chen leaves China. Chen wants to stay in China. Given that he was under some kind of extralegal confinement rather than house arrest, one could envision Wen using this as a way of expanding on the "crush Bo" campaign currently emanating from Beijing. In other words, Wen could use this to clamp down on abuses by out-of-control regional governors. But, to be honest, I doubt Wen has that much authority -- in which case this ends with Chen out of China in a way that embarrasses Beijing the least.
2) The fact that both Beijing and Washington have kept their mouths shut on Chen is a pretty surprising but positive sign about the overall stability/resilience of Sino-American relations. Bear in mind that according to the latest reports, much of the leadership in Beijing takes an increasingly conspiratorial view of the United States. As for the mood in Washington, well, let's just call it unfriendly towards China. Both sides are in the middle of big leadership decisions, making the incentive to cater to nationalist domestic interests even stronger than normal. With the rest of the Pacific Rim trying to latch themselves onto the U.S. security umbrella, this could have been the perfect match to set off a G-2 powderkeg.
Despite all of these incentives for escalating the dispute, however, it hasn't happened. Kurt Campbell was dispatched to Beijing, talks are ongoing, and neither side appears to be interested in ramping up domestic audience costs. That escalation hasn't happened despite massive political incentives on both sides to let it happen suggests that, contrary to press fears about Chen blowing up the bilateral relationship, there are powerful pressures in Washington and Beijing to find a solution that saves as much face as humanly possible for both sides.
3) Mitt Romney has been vocal about Chen's case, concluding: "Any serious U.S. policy toward China must confront the facts of the Chinese government’s denial of political liberties, its one-child policy, and other violations of human rights."
To which I say... good for him!! It's the job of the opposition party in the United States to bring up questions about China's human rights problem. It's the job of the opposition party because the moment the opposition takes power, all those structural pressures I alluded to previously kick in, and the human rights rhetoric from the campaign trail inevitably fades away. So Republicans who expect a President Romney to be all over the human rights issue will be sorely disappointed. That said, even someone like myself who is more realpolitik-friendly nevertheless would be sorely disappointed if human rights faded away completely (it's also worth noting that after the Obama administration's first year in office, they seemed to find their rhythm with respect to talking about human rights towards China).
Am I missing anything?
So it turned out that this was the week that both the Romney campaign and the Obama campaign decided that foreign policy was an important thing to talk about during election season. Speaking personally, this is great!! I seem to have moved up in the Rolodex of those covering the campaign. Expect lots of juicy quotes in the months to come, and readers are warmly encouraged to proffer useful metaphors that I can provide in soundbite fashion over the next six months.
Unfortunately for the Romney campaign, this was not a great week to ramp up attacks along this line. The reasons is that, all told, the Obama administration had a pretty good foreign policy week. Not all, or even most of this, was of its own doing, but consider the following:
1) Iran has signaled a genuine willingness to talk compromise on its nuclear program in order to avoid the EU oil embargo kicking in. That might just be rhetoric, but it's interesting to note that even senior Israeli officials are starting to talk down the Iranian threat. The less Iran becomes a thing, the
lower gas prices can fall better for the administration.
2) The United States has maybe, just maybe, eliminated a major thorn in bilateral relations with Japan by finally reaching agreement on moving U.S. troops from Okinawa. We'll see if this holds -- everyone assumed that a 2006 agreement had put this problem to rest before successive Japanese governments
shot themselves in the foot raised it again, but this is the thing on this list for which the administration deserves the most credit. As an added bonus, the administration actually got some nice words from John McCain on comity with the Senate.
3) For some reason China seems to be in a more productive mood in their dealings with the United States, and Mark Landsler and Steven Lee Myers have taken notice in the New York Times:
For years, China stymied efforts to pressure Iran. Now, in addition to throwing its weight behind the sanctions effort, officials say, Beijing is also playing a more active role in the recently revived nuclear talks between Iran and six world powers — the United States, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany. While in past negotiations, Beijing has followed in lockstep the positions taken by Russia, this time Chinese diplomats are offering their own proposals.
“One of the key elements of making this work is unity among the major powers,” said a senior administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss diplomatic exchanges. “The Chinese have been very good partners in this regard.”
There are also signs of new cooperation on Syria. Only weeks after Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called China’s veto of a United Nations Security Council resolution “despicable,” China is supporting Kofi Annan’s peace plan for the strife-torn country and is deploying monitors to help oversee it. Even on North Korea, which China has long sheltered from tougher international action, the Chinese government quickly signed on to a United Nations statement condemning the North’s recent attempt to launch a satellite.
And there is progress on the economic front: American officials said China recently loosened trading on its currency, the remninbi, which could help close a valuation gap with the dollar that has stoked trade tensions between China and the United States during an election year.
To some seasoned observers of China, these developments are less a harbinger of a new era of cooperation between Beijing and Washington than evidence that, at least for now, the interests of the two countries coincide in some important areas.
The administration will nevertheless be happy to pocket the policy dividends.
4) Staying in Northeast Asia, it turns out that the big bad North Korean ICBMs are little more than a pipe dream -- and western analysts are starting to say that Kim Jong Un is naked in the public square:
North Korea tried to flex its military might with an extravagant parade on April 15, just three days after it admitted that its missile test had been a failure, but analysts now say that the new intercontinental ballistic missiles on display in the meticulously choreographed parade were nothing more than props.
The analysts studied photos of the six missiles and came to their conclusion for three primary reasons: 1. The missiles did not fit the launchers that carried them. 2. The missiles appear to be made out of both liquid-fuel and solid-fuel components that are unable to fly together. 3. The casings on the missiles undulate which suggests the metal is not thick enough to hold up during flight.
"There is no doubt that these missiles were mock-ups," Markus Schiller and Robert Schmucker, of Germany's Schmucker Technologie , wrote in a paper recently posted on Armscontrolwonk.com. "It remains unknown if they were designed this way to confuse foreign analysts, or if the designers simply did some sloppy work."
If the U.S. government can claim progress on Iran, China, North Korea, and Japan in one week, that's a good foreign policy week. Of course, for a lot of these issues, the administration is the beneficieary of circumstances rather that pro-active policies. Still, the administration deserves some credit for some of these development.
It's just one week, though. And I fear the most memorable statement about American foreign policy is this rather unfortunate choice of words:
NOTE TO WHITE HOUSE/CAMPAIGN SPEECHWRITERS: In the future, avoid having Biden utter any of the following: "big stick", "hard power", "pounding the enemy", "won't take no for an answer", and "smooth-talking his adversaries".
Am I missing anything?
When we last left off with Bo Xilai, he and his family were in a spot of trouble for myriad crimes and misdemeanors in Chongqing, including the possible poisoning of a British national. According to this New York Times story by Jonathan Ansfield and Ian Johnson, however, that's just the beginning of Bo's crimes:
When Hu Jintao, China’s top leader, picked up the telephone last August to talk to a senior anticorruption official visiting Chongqing, special devices detected that he was being wiretapped — by local officials in that southwestern metropolis.
The discovery of that and other wiretapping led to an official investigation that helped topple Chongqing’s charismatic leader, Bo Xilai, in a political cataclysm that has yet to reach a conclusion.
Until now, the downfall of Mr. Bo has been cast largely as a tale of a populist who pursued his own agenda too aggressively for some top leaders in Beijing and was brought down by accusations that his wife had arranged the murder of Neil Heywood, a British consultant, after a business dispute. But the hidden wiretapping, previously alluded to only in internal Communist Party accounts of the scandal, appears to have provided another compelling reason for party leaders to turn on Mr. Bo.
This is both interesting and unsurprising. The leadership in Beijing has every incentive to tar and feather Bo to ensure that his residual popularity in Chongqing does not lead to a revival in his power. It's now gotten to the point where Bo's son had to issue a statement to the Harvard Crimson in an attempt to shed the image of being a spoiled princeling driving around in a red Ferrari. I don't doubt the wiretapping story, but let's face it, Beijing's ruling cliques are going to have an incentive to... let's say embellish Bo's perfidy.
And we here at Foreign Policy want to help!!
At this point, the accusations being hurled at Bo Xilai, his wife, and his son are flying so fast and furious that the hashtag #BoXilaicrimes is now rising on Twitter. Look at the list yourself -- here are my faves so far:
RT @_dpress Tore Jeremy Lin's meniscus
Let's face it, far more Americans associate the name "Bo" more with Barack Obama's dog than with Bo Xilai, the now-disgraced former Communist Party chief of Chongqing (my generation of Americans will, of course, forever associate Bo with this). That might be about to change, however, because Bo is at the center of the most serious post-Tiananmen political scandal in China.
To recap: Bo was pushing hard for an appointment to the nine-person Standing Committee of the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) Politburo -- the most powerful decision-making body in China. He might very well have received it too, based on the combination of his "princeling" ties, his populist, Maoist-style campaigns and the flock of high party officials visiting Chongqing to see how he was doing it.
Two months ago, however, Bo's police chief Wang Lijun showed up at the U.S. consulate in Chengdu seeking asylum. He left the consulate, but the reverberations haven't stopped. First Bo disappeared from public view, then his "Jackie Kennedyesque" wife Gu Kailai was charged with the murder of British citizen Neil Haywood, and then Bo was formally put under investigation and stripped of all his party posts.
So, what the hell happened? Slowly, details are starting to trickle out about Bo's methods in Chongqing and exactly what led to his downfall. In order, I'd suggest reading the following:
3) On how U.S. officials handled Wang's request for asylum, check out the New York Times' Steven Lee Myers and Mark Landler's excellent reconstruction of events in Chengdu.
5) Finally, read John Garnault's excellent FP Long Read on whether a Bo-style scandal is about to break out in the People's Liberation Army.
OK, now you know everything I know. So what do I know about Bo? Not much, except for four things:
A) For the past decade there was a lot of talk about how China had managed to routinize the authoritarian selection process. The transfer of power from Jiang Zemin to Hu Jintao seemed seamless. Well, say what you will about what's happening now, but it ain't seamless.
B) I tend to agree with Minxin Pei (and disagree with Cheng Li) that Bo's arrest is not an example of the system working, but rather the system coming veeeerrrrry close to a catastrophic failure. The fact China's official apparatus has clammed up after Bo's arrest is a clear sign that there's still a lot of infighting going on. The notion that this will therefore lead to a real reform/anti-corruption trend strikes me as based on hope more than reality (though see this previous post of mine as a hedge).
C) Despite the official no-comments, the fact that Chinese officials are now leaking like a seive to Western reporters is interesting, and suggests the ways in which a purge in this decade will not resemble pre-Tiananmen purges. It's not that there will be more rumors and conspiracy theories now than thirty years ago -- it's that all this stuff will not be on the Internet -- which will force the CCP to respond more than it would like.
D) Based on how things played out, the U.S. State Department deserves a tip of the cap for how it handled Wang's sojourn to Chengdu. The fact that there were no press leaks until yesterday is good -- anything the U.S. government says publicly about this episode needlessly embarrasses and angers the Chinese government. That said, given the current attitudes in Beijing about the United States, even the Times story is going to raise some hackles. Indeed, given the current strife inside China, it would be easy to envision Beijing making life difficult for the United States elsewhere as a way of using nationalism to paper over elite divisions.
Am I missing anthing? Oh, I'm missing plenty, and I strongly urge China-watchers to proffer their comments!
Your humble blogger is spending the first half of this week at the International Studies Association's annual conference. This means that news stories that would ordinarily catch my eagle eye the day they come out take a little longer to
penetrate my alcohol-bleary cerebral cortex read. Still, if they're important enough, they require a blog response.
Yesterday the New York Times' Jane Perlez reported that Wang Jisi -- China's most prominent international affairs writer -- has offered a surprisingly stark view of how China's leadership views the United States:
The senior leadership of the Chinese government increasingly views the competition between the United States and China as a zero-sum game, with China the likely long-range winner if the American economy and domestic political system continue to stumble, according to an influential Chinese policy analyst.
China views the United States as a declining power, but at the same time believes that Washington is trying to fight back to undermine, and even disrupt, the economic and military growth that point to China’s becoming the world’s most powerful country, according to the analyst, Wang Jisi, the co-author of “Addressing U.S.-China Strategic Distrust, a monograph published this week by the Brookings Institution in Washington and the Institute for International and Strategic Studies at Peking University.
The United States is no longer seen as “that awesome, nor is it trustworthy, and its example to the world and admonitions to China should therefore be much discounted,” Mr. Wang writes of the general view of China’s leadership.
In contrast, China has mounting self-confidence in its own economic and military strides, particularly the closing power gap since the start of the Iraq war. In 2003, he argues, America’s gross domestic product was eight times as large as China’s, but today it is less than three times larger.
The candid writing by Mr. Wang is striking because of his influence and access, in Washington as well as in Beijing. Mr. Wang, who is dean of Peking University’s School of International Studies and a guest professor at the National Defense University of the People’s Liberation Army, has wide access to senior American policy makers, making him an unusual repository of information about the thinking in both countries. Mr. Wang said he did not seek approval from the Chinese government to write the study, nor did he consult the government about it. (emphasis added)
If Wang is telling the truth in that last bolded section, it's quite extraordinary. One of the common laments among U.S.-based international relations scholars is that there is no point in having a China-based scholar come to a conference on Sino-American relations, because the Chinese scholar inevitably clams up whenever the discussion turns to the thinking in Beijing. If Wang doesn't have to worry about that, it's a sign of his relative influence.
That said, what about his analysis? You can read it by clicking here. Wang doesn't pull many punches. Here's an assortment of quotes from it:
Chinese distrust of the United States has persisted ever since the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1949....China’s strategic distrust of the United States is deeply rooted, and in recent years it seems to have deepened.
Since 2008, several developments have reshaped China’s views of the international structure and global trends, and therefore of its attitude toward the United States. First, many Chinese officials believe that their nation has ascended to be a firstclass power in the world and should be treated as such.... Second, the United States is seen in China generally as a declining power over the long run...Third, from the perspective of China’s leaders, the shifting power balance between China and the United States is part of
an emerging new structure in today’s world.
Fourth, it is a popular notion among Chinese political elites, including some national leaders, that China’s development model provides an alternative to Western democracy and experiences for other developing countries to learn from, while many developing countries that have introduced Western values and political systems are experiencing disorder and chaos. The China Model, or Beijing Consensus, features an all-powerful political leadership that effectively manages social and economic affairs, in sharp contrast to some countries where “color revolutions” typically have led to national disunity and Western infringement on their sovereign rights....
It is widely believed in the Chinese leadership that the Americans orchestrated awarding
the Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo in October 2010....
Chinese officials have paid special attention to the Obama administration’s statements of a new pivot of America’s strategic focus to Asia, made during the APEC meetings in Hawaii and the East Asia Summit in Indonesia in November 2011. In Beijing’s interpretation, many of Washington’s latest actions in Asia, including the decisions to deploy on rotation U.S. marines in Darwin, Australia, encourage Myanmar (Burma) to loosen domestic political control, and strengthen military ties with the Philippines, are largely directed at constraining China.
You should read the whole thing. I have three thoughts. First, I'm sure to many American readers, Wang's description of Chinese thinking about the U.S. verges on the conspiratorial and paranoid. According to Beijing, the United States does what it does only to constrain and weaken China. And, indeed, this does seem outladish, until one thinks about what is written about China in the United States -- by presidential candidates no less.
Second, if Wang's assessments really reflect the thinking in Beijing about the future of world politics, then Chinese diplomacy is about to face a world of hurt. In Wang's essay, the United States is the chief architect of any misfortune or policy reversal that affects the Middle Kingdom. Wang notes the U.S. "pivot" without speculating why countries like South Korea, Vietnam, or even Myanmar might be so eager to welcome Washington with open arms. If Chinese policymakers truly believe that the U.S. is solely to blame for these turn of events, then they will likely continue to act in ways that alienate their neighbors in the Pacific Rim, thereby exacerbating the geopolitical straight-jacket that they disliked in the first place.
Third, Wang notes that, in the short run, China has an incentive for the U.S. economy to recover. I'd add that the reverse is true. Relations with China would be difficult if Beijing suffered a growth slowdown. That would increase the domestic political pressure on the CCP at a time when they're already a bit stressed out. Furthermore, based on Wang's analysis, Chinese elites would likely blame the U.S. for any downturn.
Am I missing anything?
I think the world of the Financial Times' Jamil Anderlini. His China reportage is always fresh and interesting. But I confess that I approach his latest story with more than a touch of trepidation:
Mr Wen’s persistent mentions of the violent chaos unleashed by Mao Zedong were a clear rebuke to populist “princeling” politician Bo Xilai, who was purged a few hours later as party chief of Chongqing, one of China’s largest cities....
But for those reading between the pauses in the premier’s painfully deliberate oratory, the speech signalled more than the downfall of the maverick Mr Bo, who may still be charged with unspecified crimes.
According to people close to top-level internal party discussions, Mr Wen was tentatively laying the foundation for a move that would blow apart the established order in China and kick-start the political reform he has agitated for in recent years.
That move would be the rehabilitation and re-evaluation of the 1989 Tiananmen Square student protests and the massacre that followed on June 4, when party elders ordered the People’s Liberation Army to open fire on unarmed demonstrators.
To this day the party officially regards the democracy protests as a “counter-revolutionary riot” and the entire episode has been painstakingly scrubbed from the collective consciousness of the nation.
In calling for a re-evaluation of the cultural revolution, Mr Wen was in fact signalling his intention to do the same for Tiananmen in order to finally begin the healing.
Mr Wen has already suggested this on three separate occasions in top-level secret party meetings in recent years, according to people familiar with the matter, but each time has been blocked by his colleagues.
One of the most vehement opponents of this proposal was Bo Xilai....
As Mr Wen prepares to step down at the end of this year as part of a once-in-a-decade political transition, he may be gambling that the time has come to right historical wrongs as a way of launching political reform.
The potential reputational damage to powerful interest groups, particularly within the military, could still easily block such a spectacularly bold manoeuvre.
But in purging Mr Bo the Chinese leadership has cleared away a major impediment and sent a signal to others that spring could be in the air again in Beijing.
Now, a few notes of skepticism. First, we've heard this song-and-dance routine about Wen before. He's talked about political reform a lot, and every time he does it gets covered in the foreign press and squelched in the domestic Chinese press.
Second, while the CCP elite might be in agreement on not wanting to return to the chaos of the Cultural Revolution , it's quite a stretch to go from that consensus to an agreement to revisit 1989. I have every confidence that a large swatch of the CCP elite looks at Tiananmen as identical to the Cultural Revolution in terms of instability and chaos.
So this seems like yet another CCP episode of Lucy yanking away the democratic football from hopeful liberals... and yet.
Anderlini makes two persuasive points and omits an even more persuasive argument. He correctly observes that Wen is approaching lame duck status and that his primary political impediment has been removed. So maybe he is less constrained than in the past.
The omitted argument is a bit tangential, but bear with me. It relates to this Keith Bradsher story in the New York Times about China's relaxation of foreign capital strictures:
The Chinese government has begun making it much easier for foreign investors to put money into China's stock market and other financial investments, in a slight relaxing of more than a decade of tight capital controls.
The move, not publicly announced but disclosed by some private money managers, indicates that Chinese officials are eager to counter a rising flight of capital from the country, a worsening slump in real estate prices, a weak stock market and at least a temporary trade deficit caused by a steep bill for oil imports.
Those concerns have evidently started to offset fears of the potentially inflationary effects of big inflows of foreign cash (emphasis added).
Both the inward rush of capital and the capital flight by affluent Chinese are interesting. They could force the central government to start making credible commitments with respect to property rights. Only such commitments will ensure that the locally wealthy Chinese will not immediately have their capital move to the exit whenever possible. Oddly, Wen deciding to open up Tiananmen might be a way of signaling to investors that Beijing intends to be a bit kinder and gentler than it's been over the past decade.
The international diversification of China's wealthy elite has another effect. Via Erik Voeten, I see that John Freeman and Dennis Quinn have a new paper in the American Political Science Review that concludes, "financially integrated autocracies, especially those with high levels of inequality, are more likely to democratize than unequal financially closed autocracies." Why?
[M]odern portfolio theory recommends that asset holders engage in international diversification, even in a context in which governments have forsworn confiscatory tax policies or other policies unfavorable to holders of mobile assets. Exit through portfolio diversification is the rational investment strategy, not (only) a response to deleterious government policies. Therefore, autocratic elites who engage in portfolio diversification will hold diminished stakes in their home countries, creating an opening for democratization.
Freeman and Quinn might as well be talking about China right now. Soo.... maybe the "princelings" are less worried about democratization than they used to be.
To be honest, I still think the football is going to be yanked. But it's worth considering.
What do you think?
UPDATE: Mark Mackinnon has an excellent essay in the Toronto Globe & Mail explaining why reporters in China have so little to go on when they need to report on high-level politics or put down coup rumors.
I've been reading a raft of books recently arguing that authoritarian capitalism is a more sustainable model than us in the West appreciate. According to this meme, entities like sovereign wealth funds, state-owned enterprises, and national oil companies will be carving up ever-greater slices of the global economy.
Whenever I read these arguments, the question that gnaws at me is how these authoritarian capitalist institutions will operate in other authoritarian capitalist countries. See, this kind of argument presumes a harmony of interests that doesn't necessarily exist between authoritarian states. It also presumes a standard of competency and efficiency - or, at least, efficient corruption -- that makes these firms and institutions able to compete with private sector firms.
For see what I'm talking about, see this Washington Times story by Kelly Hearn on China's growing frustration with Venezuela:
China has poured billions of dollars into Venezuela’s oil sector to expand its claim over the country’s massive oil reserves.
But Beijing is getting relatively little for its investments, and Chinese officials are increasingly frustrated with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, according to energy analysts and former managers of the state oil company, Petroleum of Venezuela, or PDVSA as it’s known by its Spanish acronym....
In 2010, CNPC signed a deal to help Venezuela develop a major Orinoco oil field known as Junin 4, which includes the construction of a facility to convert heavy oil to a lighter crude that could be shipped to a refinery in Guangdong, China.
“Although the contract was signed in December 2010, not one barrel of oil has yet been produced, much less upgraded,” said Gustavo Coronel, a former PDVSA board member.
“So far, nothing much seems to be happening, except for the arrival of a large group of Chinese staff to the CNPC’s Caracas office,” he added, referring to the Venezuelan capital, Caracas.
“Apart from money, there seems to be little that China can offer Venezuela in the oil industry,” he said, adding that a “culture gap will make working with China very difficult for Venezuelan oil people, who were mostly trained in the U.S.”....
The Chinese also seem to be increasingly wary.
Internal PDVSA documents released by a Venezuelan congressman show that the Chinese balked at a $110 billion loan request by Mr. Chavez in 2010, after PDVSA officials failed to account fully for where the money would go.
Venezuela is not the only place that Chinese foreign direct investment in energy is running into bottlenecks and roadblocks. There was Myanmar last year:
fter five years of cozy cooperation with Burma’s ruling generals, China Power Investment Corp. got a shock in September when it sent a senior executive to Naypyidaw, this destitute Southeast Asian nation’s showcase capital, a Pharaonic sprawl of empty eight-lane highways and cavernous government buildings.
Armed with a slick PowerPoint presentation and promises of $20 billion in investment, Li Guanghua pitched “an excellent opportunity,” a mammoth, Chinese-funded hydropower project in Burma’s far north.
Then came the questions: What about the risk of earthquakes, ecological damage and all the people whose homes would be flooded? Is it true that most of the electricity would go to China?
Two weeks later, Burma, also known as Myanmar, scrapped the cornerstone of the project. President Thein Sein, a former general who took office in March, announced that he had to “respect the people’s will” and halt the $3.6 billion dam project at Myitsone, the biggest of seven planned by China Power Investment, or CPI.
As the world’s biggest consumer of energy, China has hunted far and wide in recent years for sources of power — and of profit — for state-owned corporate behemoths such as CPI. The result is a web of deals with often-repressive regimes, from oil-rich African autocracies such as Sudan and Angola to river-rich Burma.
But coziness with despots can also backfire.
Amid a dramatic, though still fitful, opening in Burma after decades of harsh repression, public anger has swamped China’s hydropower plan. The deluge threatens not only hundreds of millions of dollars already spent but also China’s intimate ties to what had been a reliably authoritarian partner, its only East Asian ally other than North Korea.
Beijing still has big interests in Burma, including a multibillion-dollar oil and natural gas pipeline that is under construction. But a partnership forged with scant heed to public opinion has been badly jolted by a barrage of no-longer-taboo questions.
These are just isolated cases -- I have no doubt that China has a boatload of successful FDI projects in energy. What's telling, however, is that regardless of whether the host regime is democratizing or reverting to autocracy, the political economy of these investments is far from problem-free.
One must sympathize with the Chinese firms here. China's domestic politicsal economy of investment aren't this messy. Oh, wait...
Your humble blogger has, on occasion, opined about the intersection of sports and politics. This topic is both tempting and treacherous. Tempting, because a lot more people pay attention to sports than world politics, and so it's a way for the pundit to A) show how "in touch" s/he is with the mass p;ublic; and B) use the sporting moment-du-jour as a metaphor to make a point that was already in the pundit's back pocket. This is why most of my writings on this topic have been either to debunk the notion that sports really affects world politics, or just as another excuse to mock the Very Serious Foreign Policy Community.
Which brings me to New York Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin. In a month Lin has gone from being demoted to the development league to leading the Knicks to a globally televised victory over the defending champion Dallas Mavericks. It's a great story: undrafted , devout Taiwanese-American Harvard graduate bucking the odds -- as well as numerous outdated stereotypes -- to seize his moment in the sun and turn what had been a lackluster Knicks
decade season into something exciting.
This is a narrative that one simply has to enjoy. Professional basketball is, at best, my third-favorite sport, but I tuned in yesterday to watch the Kincks-Mavericks game. Unfortunately, I've noticed that some ink has been spilled and some keyboards have been tapped about him -- and here we get to the treacherous part of this post. Some sportswriters have used the opportunity to wax grandiosely about the Deeper Meaning of Linsanity. Some politics commentators have tried to use Lin to make deeper arguments about the fabric of society and sports.
Let's be blunt -- most of these efforts result in utter crap. Unfortunately, too many sportswriters know too little about the rest of the world to even try to comment on the social or cultural significance of Lin. Numerous idiots have not helped the sportswriting profession by writing things that result in apologies from said idiots for stereotyping Lin and amusing Saturday Night Live skits. We're not seeing the second coming of Red Smith in most of this output. As for the politics writers, well, the lack of actual sports knowledge in some of these efforts makes one almost nostalgic for George F. Will's Sports Machine. Almost.
So I was all set to blog a request for everyone to leave Jeremy Lin and his family alone... but then Gady Epstein wrote something interesting about the whole phenomenon over at the Economist about China's reaction to Lin and why their own sports programs could never have produced someone like him:
Mr Lin is, put plainly, precisely everything that China’s state sport system cannot possibly produce. If Mr Lin were to have been born and raised in China, his height alone might have denied him entry into China’s sport machine, as Time’s Hannah Beech points out: “Firstly, at a mere 6’3”—relatively short by basketball standards—Lin might not have registered with Chinese basketball scouts, who in their quest for suitable kids to funnel into the state sports system are obsessed with height over any individual passion for hoops.” Even when Mr Lin was still a young boy, one look at his parents, each of unremarkable stature, would have made evaluators sceptical. Ms Beech’s other half happens to be Brook Larmer, the author of the fascinating book “Operation Yao Ming”, which details how Chinese authorities contrived to create China’s most successful basketball star, Mr Yao, the product of tall parents who were themselves Chinese national basketball team players. The machine excels at identifying, processing and churning out physical specimens—and it does so exceedingly well for individual sports, as it will again prove in London this year. But it happens to lack the nuance and creativity necessary for team sport.
What of Mr Lin’s faith? If by chance Mr Lin were to have gained entry into the sport system, he would not have emerged a Christian, at least not openly so. China has tens of millions of Christians, and officially tolerates Christianity; but the Communist Party bars religion from its membership and institutions, and religion has no place in its sports model. One does not see Chinese athletes thanking God for their gifts; their coach and Communist Party leaders, yes, but Jesus Christ the Saviour? No.
Then there is the fact that Mr Lin’s parents probably never would have allowed him anywhere near the Chinese sport system in the first place. This is because to put one’s child (and in China, usually an only child at that) in the sport system is to surrender that child’s upbringing and education to a bureaucracy that cares for little but whether he or she will win medals someday. If Mr Lin were ultimately to be injured or wash out as an athlete, he would have given up his only chance at an elite education, and been separated from his parents for lengthy stretches, for nothing. (One must add to this the problem of endemic corruption in Chinese sport that also scares away parents—Chinese football referee Lu Jun, once heralded as the “golden whistle” for his probity, was sentenced to jail last week as part of a massive match-fixing scandal). Most Chinese parents, understandably, prefer to see their children focus on schooling and exams.
In America, meanwhile, athletic excellence actually can open doors to an elite education, through scholarships and recruitment. Harvard does not provide athletic scholarships, but it does recruit players who also happen to be academic stars. There is no real equivalent in China.
So China almost certainly has other potential Jeremy Lins out there, but there is no path for them to follow. This also helps explain, as we have noted at length,why China fails at another sport it loves, football. Granted, Mr Lin’s own path to stardom is in itself unprecedented, but in America, the unprecedented is possible. Chinese basketball fans have taken note of this. Mr Lin’s story may be a great and inspiring proof of athleticism to the Chinese people, but it is also unavoidably a story of American soft power.
Epstein is overreaching juuuust a bit with that closing -- if Lin is an example of American soft power, then all the galactically stupid puns and stereotypes that the Lin story has propagated is a demerit to that soft power as well. Also, last I checked, the countries that dominate the top of the FIFA rankings are not exactly models of laissez-faire in sports.
Still, Epstein has probably done the best possible job of trying to relate Lin to Deeper Global Meanings. Let's hope the rest of the writing class reads him and gives up their own futile quest to do the same.
Mitt Romney's op-ed in today's Wall Street Journal is devoted to China policy. Let's take a read, shall we?
Barack Obama is moving in precisely the wrong direction [on responding to China's rise]. The shining accomplishment of the meetings in Washington this week with Xi Jinping—China's vice president and likely future leader—was empty pomp and ceremony.
President Obama came into office as a near supplicant to Beijing, almost begging it to continue buying American debt so as to finance his profligate spending here at home. His administration demurred from raising issues of human rights for fear it would compromise agreement on the global economic crisis or even "the global climate-change crisis." Such weakness has only encouraged Chinese assertiveness and made our allies question our staying power in East Asia.
Now, three years into his term, the president has belatedly responded with a much-ballyhooed "pivot" to Asia, a phrase that may prove to be as gimmicky and vacuous as his "reset" with Russia. The supposed pivot has been oversold and carries with it an unintended consequence: It has left our allies with the worrying impression that we left the region and might do so again.
The pivot is also vastly under-resourced. Despite his big talk about bolstering our military position in Asia, President Obama's actions will inevitably weaken it. He plans to cut back on naval shipbuilding, shrink our Air Force, and slash our ground forces. Because of his policies and failed leadership, our military is facing nearly $1 trillion in cuts over the next decade.
This is interesting because it's the first time I've seen a GOP candidate try to respond substantively to the "pivot". And, in my book, the criticism that Obama was too much of a supplicant to China in the first part of his term is actually a fair one. Unfortunately, things fall apart after that.
First, Asian allies were worried about the U.S. presence in the region because of the priority the Bush administration placed on the global war on terror, followed by the 2008 financial crisis. Obama had little or nothing to do with it.
Second, it's important and revealing that Romney only talked about the narrow, military part of the pivot. Left unmentioned were the diplomatic components (joining the East Asia Summit, interceding on the South China Sea, warming relations with Myanmar, tripartite between the U.S., Australia and India) as well as the economic components (ratifying the FTA with South Korea, signing the framework agreement for the Trans-Pacific Partnership). This is important, because any U.S. strategy in the Asia-Pacific region has to be a full-spectrum approach, while Romney seems peculiarly obsessed with shipbuilding.
Third, the primary message Obama has been sending to Xi has been saying that China "don't play by the rules." Which, coincidentally enough, is exactly the same thing Romney says in the op-ed.
In the economic arena, we must directly counter abusive Chinese practices in the areas of trade, intellectual property, and currency valuation. While I am prepared to work with Chinese leaders to ensure that our countries both benefit from trade, I will not continue an economic relationship that rewards China's cheating and penalizes American companies and workers.
Unless China changes its ways, on day one of my presidency I will designate it a currency manipulator and take appropriate counteraction. A trade war with China is the last thing I want, but I cannot tolerate our current trade surrender. (emphasis added)
The bolded section represents the only portion of the op-ed in which Romney even hints that he might cooperate with China. The rest of it is pretty silly. It's ludicrous for Romney to claim he doesn't want a trade war in the same breath that he promises "day one" action against China. No wonder conservatives are labeling Romney's China policy as "blaringly anti-trade."
To be blunt, this China policy reads like it was composed by the Hulk. Maybe this will work in the GOP primary, but Romney and his China advisors should know better.
Your humble blogger is slammed with day job duties this week, but for your reading pleasure, do check out this debate I moderated between the Financial Times' Gideon Rachman (author of Zero-Sum World) and the Brookings Institution's Robert Kagan (author of The World America Made) on the future of American power.
WARNING: I fear I might stink as a moderator, as I conclude:
I hereby declare myself to be a uniter rather than a divider when it comes to moderating exchanges, thereby guaranteeing that The Powers That Be at will never ask me to do anything like this ever again.
Still, check it out for yourself and come to your own conclusion.
Let's consider and contrast American foreign policy towards Russia and China over the past few years.
With Russia, the Obama administration announced a much-ballyhooed "reset" with the goal of improving bilateral relations. In an effort to advance that goal, the administration reworked missile defense system plans in eastern Europe, creating political headaches for governments in the region to make Moscow happy. The administration took great pains to endorse a Russian proposal on Iran's nuclear program. The administration signed a fresh new arms control treaty and then expended a decent amount of political capital to get NewSTART ratified. Washington conducted some serious behind-the-scenes diplomacy to get Russia into into the WTO. Most recently, the administration appointed a chief architect of the "reset" policy as ambassador to Russia.
With China, the Obama administration (after some idle G-2 talk) has been far more aggressive. The administration has "pivoted" it's foreign policy resources toward the Pacific Rim, with the not-so-subtle signal that China is the focus of this pivot. Washington has poked its nose into the South China Sea dispute, and recently announced a decision to station troops in Australia. It pushed forward a framework trade agreement that pointedly does not include China, while simultaneously calling on that country to let its currency appreciate. The State Department has reached out to one of China's longstanding allies in an effort to coax the nascent democratization in that country into something more long-lasting. This is simply part of a larger theme in which Washington is seemingly bear-hugging any significant country that is concerned about Beijing. The U.S. ambassador to China, when not becoming an online sensation among ordinary Chinese, is busy criticizing Beijing's human rights record.
So, to sum up: the Obama administration has made it something of a priority to improve relations with Russia, while at the same time investing serious amounts of diplomatic capital into various frameworks and initiatives that hedge against a rising China.
Now compare and contrast how Moscow and Beijing are thinking about Washington this week. In Beijing:
China and the United States should cooperate more closely to defuse international crises and ensure friction does not overwhelm shared interests, China's likely next president, Xi Jinping, said on Monday, setting an upbeat tone for his impending visit to Washington.
"No matter what changes affect the international situation, our commitment to developing the Sino-U.S. cooperative partnership should never waver in the face of passing developments," Vice President Xi told a meeting in Beijing.
"In dealing with major and sensitive issues that concern each side's core interests, we must certainly abide by a spirit of mutual respect and handle them prudently, and by no means can we let relations again suffer major interference and ructions."
Xi's mood-setting speech did not unveil new policies or give the precise date for his U.S. visit. But he stressed Beijing's desire for steady relations for his visit and his accession to running the world's second biggest economy after America's.
And now Moscow:
Russia's foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, warned Wednesday that outside encouragement of antigovernment uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa could lead to “a very big war that will cause suffering not only to countries in the region, but also to states far beyond its boundaries.”
Mr. Lavrov’s annual news conference was largely devoted to a critique of Western policies in Iran and Syria, which he said could lead to a spiral of violence.
His remarks came on the heels of a report on state-controlled television that accused the American ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, who has been in Moscow for less than a week, of working to provoke a revolution here. Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin, at an impromptu meeting with prominent editors, also unleashed an attack on the liberal radio station Ekho Moskvy, which he said was serving American interests.
Now, it's possible to find other news stories that suggest China might not be handling all aspects of the bilateral relationship with equal aplomb, and its possible that these Russian statements contain more bluster than bite. Still, stepping back, the larger narrative does seem to be that Russia has adopted an angrier and more belligerent posture toward American foreign policy in recent months, while China has responded with more aplomb.
Why? I don't know if there's an easy and accurate explanation. Some neoconservatives might proffer that authoritarians only respond positively to strength, and therefore Russia feels more emboldened than China. I seriously doubt that this is about bandwagoning. Similarly, it could be argued that Russia is more domestically insecure than China, what with the recent protests and all. Again, I seriously doubt this, as it's not like China hasn't experienced some domestic hiccups as well this year.
There are two more compelling explanations, but I honestly don't know if they work either. The first is that Russia and China have different diplomatic styles. Russian diplomats are far more comfortable with being blunt in their assessments of American intentions and actions, whereas Chinese diplomats are more comfortable laying low and not making as much of a public fuss. Furthermore, China has moved down the learning curve, recognizing that its 2009-10 policy of "pissing off as many countries as possible" didn't turn out so well. It's possible that the substance of both countries' approaches toward the United States are not that different -- they just go about it in ways that play very differently in the media.
The second, more realpolitik explanation is that China and Russia are looking into the future, and Beijing is far more sanguine than Moscow. Russia is suffering from institutional dysfunction and demographic decay. It's only great power assets are bountiful natural resources, a huge land mass, and nuclear weapons. China will encounter difficulties in the future, but does not have nearly the same kind of structural stresses as Russia. Beijing is therefore simply less anxious than Moscow about U.S. policy, because it has more hard and soft power resources.
To be honest, I'm not thrilled with either of these explanations. So, dear readers, I put it to you: why is Russia acting more bellicose toward an accommodating policy from the United States, whereas China is reacting calmly toward a more aggressive United States?
One of the drawbacks of being a foreign policy blogger is that it becomes very awkward to avoid discussing international relations events that make the front page for consecutive days. I am therefore duty-bound to comment on Kim Jong Il's death, Kim Jong Un's ascension to leadership, and what it means for North Korea.
Except I have no friggin' clue what will happen.
I am in good company on this total lack of knowledge. I'm bemused by all the U.S. officials anonymously commenting on what Kim Jong Un is like, given that our intelligence on this country is so awesome that Washington didn't know his father was dead until 50 hours after he died, and then only because the North Koreans announced it on television. To be fair, however, it's not like the South Koreans knew either, and some reports I've seen suggest the Chinese were in the dark as well.
Despite the near total lack of information outside of North Korea about North Korea, the International Brotherhood of Foreign Policy Pundits require I provide at least two predictions per post. So, here's my first prediction, courtesy of Mr. T:
What we do know about the triumvirate of Kim-Jong-Il selected leaders guiding Kim Jong Un into power does not bode well for the North Korean economy. The only bright spot for the DPRK's economy in recent years was a modest step towards private economic activity. The fact that one of them "published articles about the need for the government to curtail market-oriented activity" does not bode well for the per capita income of your average North Korean.
My second prediction is that Kim Jong Un will hold power for longer than any Western analyst expects him to hold power. Most of the pundit chatter has been about the Kim the Youngest's lack of gravitas and the asbsence of sufficient time to groom him as the successor to Kim Jong Il. As I'm hearing this, I keep thinking of Hua Guofeng, Mao's successor. It's an imperfect analogy, but Hua was a relative unknown plucked from obscurity by Mao only a few years before his death. In the end he was outmaneuvered by Deng Xiaoping and his allies, but even Hua managed to stay in power for a few years before that happened, putting down an attempted coup by Mao's wife Jiang Qing and the Gang of Four.
To use more game-theoretic language, I'm not sure there is a first-mover advantage to any ambitious North Korean challenging Kim the Youngest. Because of that, and because the entire DPRK elite likely fears internal division when concerned about natiional survival, the tyranny of the status quo will likely persist for longer than anyone realizes. Which, unfortunately, in this case, happens to be actual tyranny.
Am I missing anything?
Walter Russell Mead has not been the biggest fan of the current president, so it's worth quoting at length what he said in a recent blog post about Obama's Pacific Rim trip:
The cascade of statements, deployments, agreements and announcements from the United States and its regional associates in the last week has to be one of the most unpleasant shocks for China’s leadership — ever. The US is moving forces to Australia, Australia is selling uranium to India, Japan is stepping up military actions and coordinating more closely with the Philippines and Vietnam in the South China Sea, Myanmar is slipping out of China’s column and seeking to reintegrate itself into the region, Indonesia and the Philippines are deepening military ties with the the US: and all that in just one week. If that wasn’t enough, a critical mass of the region’s countries have agreed to work out a new trade group that does not include China, while the US, to applause, has proposed that China’s territorial disputes with its neighbors be settled at a forum like the East Asia Summit — rather than in the bilateral talks with its smaller, weaker neighbors that China prefers.
Rarely has a great power been so provoked and affronted. Rarely have so many red lines been crossed. Rarely has so much face been lost, so fast. It was a surprise diplomatic attack, aimed at reversing a decade of chit chat about American decline and disinterest in Asia, aimed also at nipping the myth of “China’s inexorable rise” in the bud....
[I]t was as decisive a diplomatic victory as anyone is likely to see. Congratulations should go to President Obama and his national security team. The State Department, the Department of Defense and the White House have clearly been working effectively together on an intensive and complex strategy. They avoided leaks, they coordinated effectively with half a dozen countries, they deployed a range of instruments of power. In the field of foreign policy, this was a coming of age of the Obama administration and it was conceived and executed about as flawlessly as these things ever can be.
You know it was a good foreign policy trip when Politico runs the "Obama will soon miss his foreign policy successes as he returns to the Washington mire" storyline upon his return.
The standard line among the press and expert analysts is that the combination of speeches and actions represents a dramatic foreign policy "pivot" to East Asia. This elides some prior speeches that suggested this was under way for some time, but still -- what does it mean?
I'd suggest three things. First, it's an interesting moment to highlight some macro trends that are relatively favorable to the United States. In comparison to, say, China or Europe, the United States looks to be in decent shape. Over the longer term, trends in both energy and manufacturing suggest that the United States will continue a time-honored tradition and emerge from a crisis of its own making in a stronger relative position than before. If the administration is smart, it will marry its recent successes to these longer-term trends as a way of constructing a more optimistic strategic narrative.
Second, China is likely to pursue a more accommodating posture in the short run. As Mead notes, the official Chinese reaction has been muted. The unofficial reaction has ranged from the hyperbolic to the inscrutable. Still, as I've pointed out repeatedly, China's behavior in 2009 and 2010 was a giant honking invitation for the rest of the Pacific Rim to cozy up to the United States. And that's what should worry Beijing. It's not that the United States is interested in maintaining its presence in East Asia -- that interest has not wavered. What has changed is the eagerness with which the countries in the region, ranging from Australia to Myanmar, have reciprocated.
Third, while the Obama administration deserves credit for this foreign policy swing -- and for some fun, compare and contrast coverage of this trip with Obama's Pac Rim swing from two years ago -- the "pivot" language is badly misplaced. A pivot implies that the United States will stop paying attention to Europe or the Middle East and start paying attention to East Asia. While I'm sure that's what the Obama administration wants to do, it can't. Europe is imploding, as are multiple countries in the Middle East. The United States can't afford to ignore these regions, since uncertainty there eventually translates into both global and domestic problems. A European financial meltdown or an Egyptian political meltdown will have ramifications that simply can't be ignored.
Talking about a United States "pivot" in foreign policy is meaningless. The US, like an overstuffed couch, is simply too big to pivot.
What do you think?
At 8:30 this morning U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will give "a major address on the role of economics in our foreign policy." This speech is the culmination of a series of Clinton speeches and papers over the past few months, including her July remarks in Hong Kong, her essay on America's Pacific Century in the pages of FP, and her remarks on global leadership earlier this week.
A key precept in Clinton's effort is addressing a kind of cultural lag in the sprawling Washington bureaucracy. Lead policy makers may recognize the pivotal role that economics plays in global diplomacy--but in many ways, the diplomatic bureaucracy needs to catch up. Clinton's planned speech will be in large part a call to her own agency's ambassadors, diplomatic staff and analysts to shift their thinking.
And as Clinton lays out that vision in more detail, she will stress two main bulwarks. First, she will highlight the need to advance relations with the wider world as part of the effort to revive the American domestic economic order. And second, she will stress that State Department diplomats and foreign policy thinkers need to work harder to understand how market forces are driving first-order national security challenges in hot spots such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran.
Now, as I noted last week, my full disclosure here is that I've seen multiple draft versions of this speech and might have made a modest suggestion or two (because you, dear readers, know how gentle I am with the red pen). Last week, I was pretty pessimistic about the effect of this kind of initiative:
I fear that the State Department is fighting through hurricane-level winds on this front to make a difference. First, the trade deals just sent to Congress are the last ones we're going to see for a while. Doha is dead, the Trans-Pacific Partnership still hasn't materialized, and all of the momentum on trade policy is to move towards
futile gesturesclosure. The dynamic, growing economy is not looking so dynamic, and those deep capital markets are getting extremely jittery.
And this week? Oddly, I find myself more on the "glass half full" side, for a few reasons. First, Congress finally cleared the decks on the three outstanding trade deals, so that looks a bit less embarrassing. Second, there does appear to be genuine enthusiasm inside the administration for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and a recognition that this would be a neat-o deliverable for the upcoming APEC summit in Honolulu. Third, my own conversation with State Department officials suggest that they've got a decent read on which geographic regions should be the focus of which initiatives. Fourth , dwindling resources doesn't mean no resources -- the U.S. still has some formidable foreign economic policy arrows in its quiver.
The most important reason I'm more optimistic, however, is that the Secretary will be doing two things with this speech that speeches can actually accomplish. A speech can act as a form of reassurance to other countries that the United States gets it -- economics is a vital component of foreign policy, and Washington is ready to play.
A speech can also signal to the foreign policy bureaucracy that there's a shift in priorities, and they had better get on the train if they want to
get promoted make a difference. If foreign service officers see that a familiarity with economics is a key for advancement, then the United States will develop a diplomatic corps that doesn't run away screaming in terror seem distracted if the words "exchange rates" or "geographic indicators" are uttered.
Watch the speech yourself -- it will be webcast at 8:30 AM -- and let me know what you think in the comments.
As I noted previously, compared to his GOP rivals, Mitt Romney has some actual foreign policy thinking going on. On the other hand, as Dan Trombly points out, doing better than Herman Cain or Rick Perry is a really low bar. So, looked at objectively, what's my assessment of Romney's foreign policy white paper?
I could go through it line by line, but James Joyner already did that for The Atlantic. As it turns out, I'm reaching a course called The Art and Science of Statecraft that will require students to write a grand strategy document. Sooo.... if Mitt Romney was one of my students, how would I grade him? See below:
You and your study team have clearly put a lot of work into "An American Century." It's cogently written and organized. Your basic statement of purpose -- "advance an international system that is congenial to the institutions of open markets, representative government, and respect for human rights (p. 7)" -- fits perfectly within the mainstream of American foreign policy thinking. You've done an excellent job of demonstrating an awareness of the complexity of threats that face the United States in the 21st century. I liked it on p. 6 when you noted that:
In the highly dynamic realm of national security and foreign policy there are seldom easy answers. Discrete circumstances in disparate regions of the world demand different kinds of approaches. There is no silver bullet for the problem of securing the United States and protecting our interests around the world.
You've also demonstrated an appropriate awareness that American power rests on more than a strong military. When you note that a Romney administration would "apply the full spectrum of hard and soft power to influence events before they erupt into conflict (p. 8)," I caught myself nodding along.
Some of the details are intriguing as well. I need to look more into these "Reagan economic zones" that you mention a lot, but applying them to Latin America and the Pacific Rim make a great deal of strategic and economic sense. I'm not fully persuaded that your notion of creating regional envoys to organize all "soft power resources" is all that different from the foreign policy czars or special envoys of administrations past, but this kind of argument fits well with your management background.
That said, there are some logical flaws and major gaps in this draft that will have to be corrected if you want to earn a better grade. The first problem is the style. I recognize that you've written this as a campaign document, so you're never going to completely eliminate the
unadulterated horsheshit allegations about the current president going on an apology tour. Maybe you could do it a bit more subtly in the future, however?
Secondly, there's a lack of historical awareness in some parts of the document. For example, on page 7 the paper says:
[A] Romney foreign policy will proceed with clarity and resolve. The United States will clearly enunciate its interests and values. Our friends and allies will not have doubts about where we stand and what we will do to safeguard our interests and theirs; neither will our rivals, competitors, and adversaries.
Now, reading this, I kept thinking back to the Bush administration and its repeated assetions that that there would be no hypocrisy in foreign affairs. Much like Bush, reality turned out to be trickier. I suspect you know this, from the other excerpts noted earlier. So get rid of this fluff: I'm sure statements like this play well in a management consulting boardroom, but it's not going to cut it in the real world.
Similarly, for someone who says that, the Obama administration is "undermining one’s allies (p. 3)" in contrast to you, who will "reassure our allies (p. 13)", you don't actually talk about America's treaty allies much at all. True, you do talk about expanding America's alliance system to include India and Indonesia. Mexico gets some face time. Israel gets a lot of face time. On the other hand, NATO is not mentioned once in this entire document. Neither is the European Union. Japan and South Korea get perfunctory treamtment at best. Turkey is a major treaty ally but you treat it like a pariah state. For someone who's claiming that the U.S. will reassure its major allies, you didn't seem to give them much attention at all. This is a really important problem, because Japan and Europe have been crucial allies in a lot of major American initiatives -- and they're getting weaker. Even in discussing new possible allies, I'm kind of gobsmacked that Brazil is never mentioned.
Another big problem is that your approach to China is so shot full of contradictions that I don't know where to begin. Do you seriously believe what you wrote on p. 3:
The easiest way... to become embroiled in a clash with China over Taiwan, or because of China’s ambitions in the South or East China Seas, will be to leave Beijing in doubt about the depth of our commitment to longstanding allies in the region.
Really? See, I'd say the easiest way to get embroiled in a clash with China is to write Taiwan a blank check on their defense needs. The second easiest would be to publicly bluster on about Taiwan to a Chinese leadership that feels increasingly insecure and will be tempted to stoke the fires of Chinese nationalism by creating another Quemoy and Matsu crisis.
Furthermore, you talk explicitly about supplying Taiwan with "adequate aircraft and other military platforms (p. 18)" in supposed contrast to the Obama administration. You also talk about strengthening relationships with other countries that neighbor China in an effort to preserve American dominance. Now, this might be a bit provocative, but I get the rationale. Here's the thing, though -- you can't simultaneously do this and assert that you will "work to persuade China to commit to North Korea’s disarmament (p. 29)." Really? How exactly are you gonna persuade them on this point? Do you really think that arming Taiwan to the teeth and blasting its human rights record will do the trick?
If the section on China is contradictory, then your discussion of Pakistan is worse. You state on p. 31-32:
It is in the interests of all three nations to see that Afghanistan and the Afghanistan/ Pakistan border region are rid of the Taliban and other insurgent groups.... Pakistan should understand that any connection between insurgent forces and Pakistan’s security and intelligence forces must be severed. The United States enjoys significant leverage over both of these nations. We should not be shy about using it.
There are at least two assertions in the quoted section that are highly dubious -- I'll let you find them on your own.
One final point, should you choose to revise this draft strategy -- you need to prioritize the threats you discuss in the paper. You list a whole bunch of them -- rising authoritarian states, transnational violence, failing states, and rogue states. If you have to prioritize, which threats merit greater attention? This should actually be pretty easy, since you absurdly overhype the threats posed by some of these countries (Venezuela, Cuba and Russia in particular).
I look forward to reviewing your later work.
Bruce Gilley argues in The National Interest that the next leader of China is going to be trouble for the United States:
It may be time to concede that China’s leader-in-waiting, Xi Jinping, is not the moderate that many have assumed. Indeed, evidence from his past suggests that Xi is going to steer China in a more aggressive direction, both domestically and internationally....
Foreign policy is where new Chinese leaders tend to make their mark quickly, given the small number of people involved compared to domestic policy. Thus it’s also the area where the question of who’s in charge in Beijing really matters, and the fine art of Pekingology remains important. Vice president Joe Biden came away from an August visit praising Xi as “strong” and “pragmatic.” Biden is probably right. But Xi’s strength and pragmatism do not necessarily augur well for those fearful of a rising China.
The first time that Xi’s “strong” dark side emerged publicly was in 2009 when on a visit to Mexico, he told local Chinese, “Well-fed foreigners have nothing better to do but point fingers at China. But China does not export revolution, we do not export poverty and hunger, and we do not interfere in the affairs of others. So what is there to complain about?”
Xi’s “three did nots,” as they have become known, have won plaudits from the country’s nationalists, including the authors of the vitriolic 1996 book The China That Can Say No. These nationalists express hope that Xi will be the first leader since Mao who is willing to stand up to the West. In early September, Xi told students at the Central Party School, the party’s elite training academy in Beijing, that “two overriding objectives—the struggle for both national independence and popular liberation, which is to say the realization of both state power and popular wealth—have always been closely related. The former has always been the basis of the latter.”
Gilley's hypothesis is certainly plausible, but can I suggest an alternative? China is in the middle of a leadership transition -- and when politicians are trying to move on up but ain't there yet, they often have the freedom to make all kinds of crazy, out-there, irresponsible foreign policy statements secure in the knowledge that foreign policy statements are not all that binding once politicians assume power .
Indeed, one could go even further. The phrase "only Nixon could go to China" refers to the idea that only someone who sounded as rabidly anti-communist as Richard Nixon in the past would be able to have the dometic political clout to meet with Mao Zedong and cut a deal with the People's Republic of China. Could it be that Xi is simply buttering up his base before taking power in order to make it easier to do business with the United States?
I don't know the answer, but I suspect even hardcore China-watchers don't know either. China is already experiencing some serious foreign policy blowback that has nothing to do with the United States, however. I'm not sure that Xi will really need the headache of ratcheting up tensions with Washingtgon, unless the global economic downturn is sooooooo bad that scapegoating foreigners is the best option for political survival.
What do you think?
... you have to write a very quick blog post saying "I have arrived safely in Shanghai" because that's the best way to inform friends and family of that fact, because I can't access Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ (intriguingly, LinkedIn is no problem), and Gmail is loading so slowly that I'd expect the Israel-Palestinian peace process to move faster.
That is all.
Your humble blogger will be hitting the road early in the morrow to Shanghai. I'll be attending a conference co-sponsored by the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, Stanley Foundation and the Munk School of Global Affairs University of Toronto on "Global and Collaborative Asian & Pacific Leadership for the G20."
Note to citizens of the PRC: I too will be toting my own luggage.
I'll certainly try to avoid catching Friedman's Disease during this China trip.* I'll also try to avoid a related management consulting syndrome, which is the belief that a few days in another country somehow endows me with "street cred" when discussing said country. This seems particularly prevalent with respect to China.
Since the topic is the state of the G-20, and I've made my feelings about that forum pretty plain on this blog, I hereby challenge readers to persuade my mind in the 48 hours before I present. The G-20 performed best when the sense of crisis seemed most acute. As the eurozone melts down, and the United States doesn't look much better, is the G-20 capable of jumpstarting a bout of policy coordination that looks more robust than, say, this totally anemic statement?
What do you think?
*If Gwyneth Paltrow is coughing anywhere near me, on the other hand, I'm... I'm.... probably going to be the Index Patient Plus One.
Your humble blogger is near the capital of
Waterworld Pennsylvania at the moment and all conferenced out. Regular blogging will resume after some sleep.
In the meanwhile, however, please check out FP's latest Deep Dive on the future of currencies. I have a contribution on the dollar's future as the world's reserve currency. It's depressing to note that the thing I like best about it is it's title -- which, of course, someone else at FP created.
Remember that global political economy funk I was feeling about ten days ago? I think Felix Salmon caught it, and caught it bad. Riffing off of a George Magnus research note for UBS, Salmon thinks that we're currently experiecing, "the most uncertain outlook, in terms of the global political economy, since World War II ended and the era of the welfare state began."
If you think that's dramatic, consider this paragraph:
Most fundamentally, what I’m seeing as I look around the world is a massive decrease of trust in the institutions of government. Where those institutions are oppressive and totalitarian, the ability of popular uprisings to bring them down is a joyous and welcome sight. But on the other side of the coin, when I look at rioters in England, I see a huge middle finger being waved at basic norms of lawfulness and civilized society, and an enthusiastic embrace of “going on the rob” as some kind of hugely enjoyable participation sport. The glue holding society together is dissolving, whether it’s made of fear or whether it’s made of enlightened self-interest.
Magnus says something similar in his note, lamenting the "malaise in politics and policymaking," albeit conceding that, "While there is plenty of talk about endgames of war and conflict, muddling through and the rediscovery of good politics are just as, if not more likely." Walter Russell Mead nods along sagely, while John Sides is more skeptical.
In part for reasons proffered here, I'm more sympathetic to Sides than Salmon. Another reason is that Salmon's gloominess seems to be swamping the data. Edelman's 2011 Trust Barometer, for example, suggests that Salmon is exaggerating the "massive decrease of trust" across-the-world claim juuust a wee bit. That survey is not perfect (it's targeted at the top 25% of income-earners). It's also not all good news -- the advanced industrialized democracies are not strong reservoirs of trust right now. That said, the increase in trust -- not to mention the continued decrease in crime in kep places -- is broad-based enough to suggest that perception is overwhelming reality.
I'm not without concerns -- the disconnect at the global economic governance level is pretty disconcerting, and even G-20 optimists are starting to sound like me. Furthermore, the longer that sluggish growth and anemic job creation persists in the advanced industrialized democracies, the gloomier things get. If Reinhart and Rogoff are correct, Salmon is just demonstrating rational expectations.
Still, given the general suckiness of the global political economy over the past few years, what's striking is not the signs that the world is falling apart, but rather the dogs that haven't barked.
What do you think?
[WARNING: THE FOLLOWING IS AN OPTIMISTIC GLOBAL POLITICAL ECONOMY POST]
Note: in my last blog post, I might have sounded juuuuust a wee bit pessimistic about the state of the global political economy. That was my intent, but it wasn't necessarily how I actually felt. My aim was to assemble as negative a brief as possible about the state of the global political economy. The aim of this post is to argue that, despite all the recent bad news, the fundamentals of the global political economy are surprisingly sound. I'm not actually as optimistic as the rest of this post suggests, either -- but I do lean more in this direction. The fact that I'm blogging this from a zombie-proof vacation redoubt should in no way affect your evaluation of the following few paragraphs.
So, when we last left off this debate, things were looking grim. My concern in the last post was that the persistence of hard times would cause governments to take actions that would lead to a collapse of the open global economy, a spike in general riots and disturbances, and eerie echoes of the Great Depression. Let's assume that the global economy persists in sputtering for a while, because that's what happens after major financial shocks. Why won't these other bad things happen? Why isn't it 1931?
Let's start with the obvious -- it's not gonna be 1931 because there's some passing familiarity with how 1931 played out. The Chairman of the Federal Reserve has devoted much of his academic career to studying the Great Depression. I'm gonna go out on a limb therefore and assert that if the world plunges into a another severe downturn, it's not gonna be because central bank heads replay the same set of mistakes.
The legacy of the Great Depression has also affected public attitudes and institutions that provide much stronger cement for the current system. In terms of publuc attitudes, compare the results of this mid-2007 poll with this mid-2010 poll about which economic system is best. I'll just reproduce the key charts below:
The headline of the 2010 results is that there's eroding U.S. support for the global economy, but a few other things stand out. U.S. support has declined, but it's declined from a very high level. In contrast, support for free markets has increased in other major powers, such as Germany and China. On the whole, despite the worst global economic crisis since the Great Depression, public attitudes have not changed all that much. While there might be populist demands to "do something," that something is not a return to autarky or anything so drastc.
Another big difference is that multilateral economic institutions are much more robust now than they were in 1931. On trade matters, even if the Doha round is dead, the rest of the World Trade Organization's corpus of trade-liberalizing measures are still working quite well. Even beyond the WTO, the complaint about trade is not the deficit of free-trade agreements but the surfeit of them. The IMF's resources have been strengthened as a result of the 2008 financial crisis. The Basle Committee on Banking Supervision has already promulgated a plan to strengthen capital requirements for banks. True, it's a slow, weak-assed plan, but it would be an improvement over the status quo.
As for the G-20, I've been pretty skeptical about that group's abilities to collectively address serious macroeconomic problems. That is setting the bar rather high, however. One could argue that the G-20's most useful function is reassurance. Even if there are disagreements, communication can prevent them from growing into anything worse.
Finally, a note about the possibility of riots and other general social unrest. The working paper cited in my previous post noted the links between austerity measures and increases in disturbances. However, that paper contains the following important paragraph on page 19:
[I]n countries with better institutions, the responsiveness of unrest to budget cuts is generally lower. Where constraints on the executive are minimal, the coefficient on expenditure changes is strongly negative -- more spending buys a lot of social peace. In countries with Polity-2 scores above zero, the coefficient is about half in size, and less significant. As we limit the sample to ever more democratic countries, the size of the coefficient declines. For full democracies with a complete range of civil rights, the coefficient is still negative, but no longer significant.
This is good news!! The world has a hell of a lot more democratic governments now than it did in 1931. What happened in London, in other words, might prove to be the exception more than the rule.
So yes, the recent economic news might seem grim. Unless political institutions and public attitudes buckle, however, we're unlikely to repeat the mistakes of the 1930's. And, based on the data we've got, that's not going to happen.
[WARNING: THE FOLLOWING IS A VERY PESSIMISTIC GLOBAL POLITICAL ECONOMY POST]
So, just to sum up the past week or so of global political economy events:
1) U.S. government debt got downgraded by Standard & Poor;
2) Global equity markets are freaking out;
London Britain is burning;
This all sounds very 2008, except that it's actually worse for several reasons. First, the governments that bailed out the financial sector are now themselves the object of financial panic and political resentment. Second, the tools used to try and rescue the global economy in 2008 are partially to blame for what's happening right now. Despite all the gnashing of teeth about the Fed twiddling its thumbs, it's far from clear that a QE3 would actually stimulate anything besides a rise in commodity prices.
With both Europe and the United States unable to stimulate their economies, and China seemingly paralyzed into indecision, it's worth asking if we are about to experience a Creditanstalt moment.
The start of the Great Depression is commonly assumed to be the October 1929 stock market crash in the United States. It didn't really become the Great Depression, however, unti 1931, when Austria's Creditanstalt bank desperately needed injections of capital. Essentially, neither France nor England were willing to help unless Germany honored its reparations payments, and the United States refused to help unless France and the UK repaid its World War I debts. Neither of these demands was terribly reasonable, and the result was a wave of bank failures that spread across Europe and the United States.
The particulars of the current sovereign debt crisis are somewhat different from Creditanstalt, and yet it's fascinating how smart people keep referring back to that ignoble moment. The big commonality is that while governments might recognize the virtues of a coordinated response to big crises, they are sufficiently constrained by domestic discontent to not do all that much.
So... is this 1931 all over again?
There are three aspects of the current situation that make me fret about this. The first is the sense that developed country governments have already tapped out all of their politically feasible methods of stimulating their economies. This is the time when both politicians and voters start to ask themselves, "Why not pursue the crazy idea?"
The second is whether the Chinese government will do something to satiate their nationalist constituency. Neither Joe Nye nor James Joyner thinks this is likely, and I tend to agree that any effort at economic coercion will hurt China as much as the United States. When autocrats are up against the wall, however, then they might take risks they otherwise would never consider.
The third is this working paper on what causes societal unrest in developed economies (h/t Henry Farrell). The abstract suggests more trouble on the way:
From the end of the Weimar Republic in Germany in the 1930s to anti-government demonstrations in Greece in 2010-11, austerity has tended to go hand in hand with politically motivated violence and social instability. In this paper, we assemble crosscountry evidence for the period 1919 to the present, and examine the extent to which societies become unstable after budget cuts. The results show a clear positive correlation between fiscal retrenchment and instability. We test if the relationship simply reflects economic downturns, and conclude that this is not the key factor.
So... there are, unfortunately, numerous reasons to think that we're headed down a bad road... which is the pretty much point of this post.
Readers are encouraged in the comments to offer counterarguments for why things aren't as bad as 1931. I'll be offering some thoughts about why 1931 won't happen again later in the week.
After last night's stunningly useless set of speeches, I'd put the odds of the U.S. not raising the debt ceiling by August 2nd at 1 in 2. Like many other observers, I'm finding it increasingly difficult to envision a deal that would get through the Senate while attracting a majority of House Republicans [You meant a majority of the House of Representatives, right?--ed. No, I meant a majority of House Republicans. I'm pretty sure that Boehner and the rest of the House GOP leadership will refuse to pass any debt ceiling plan that relies too much on House Democrats.]
So, it's gonna be a fun few weeks for those of us who study the global political economy. Let's start by thinking the unthinkable -- what will happen if there is a default?
I've expressed my feelings on the matter already, and I'm hardly the only one. That said, I've also
hedged my bets been flummoxed by the lack of market reaction to the DC stalemate. The lack of market reaction to date has emboldened House GOP members to stand fast. Could they be right?
Tom Oatley, who pooh-poohed my fears of the debtpocalypse last week, makes an interesting point about the composition of U.S. debt-holders:
By these figures, about 63% of US government debt is owned by central banks (foreign and domestic) and/sovereign wealth funds. Most of these entities are American friends and allies. Another 4% is owned by US state and local governments. That leaves 33%--about $4.8 trillion--in private hands. Of this, the financial institutions with the most restrictive regulations regarding asset ownership (depository institutions) own only 2% of the total ($290 billion). Mutual Funds, who may or may not have to dump downgraded debt, hold another 9% ($1.35 trillion).
What's the point? The discussion about the impact of US default revolves around the market response to default. Useful to recognize that most of the US government debt is held by public-sector agents who are much less sensitive to balance sheet pressures and regulatory constraints. These public sector agents are also substantially more sensitive to "moral suasion" and direct appeal than private financial institutions. The structure of ownership of US debt might dampen the negative impact of any default that does occur.
This is pretty interesting. Oatley focuses on "moral suasion," but there's also a national-interest motive for many U.S. debtholders. Most of the official holders of U.S. debt have a strong incentive for a) the value of their holdings not to plummet; and b) the United States economy to continue to snap up other their exports. If China, for example, is buying up U.S. debt to sustain its own growth, then neither a technical default nor a ratings downgrade should deter China or other export engines from continuing to buy U.S. debt even if there's a spot of trouble.
So it appears that complex interdependence will force America's rivals to continue to hold U.S. debt even after the debtpocalypse!! The United States in the clear, right?
Not so fast. Here are five "known unknowns" I can think of that might complicate Oatley's analysis:
1) What if the creditors form a cartel? In my 2009 paper, this was the one scenario that gave me the heebie-jeebies, because it's the one scenario under which creditors can wring geopolitical gains from debtor states. Any kind of default can act as a focal point moment in which U.S. creditors decide it's time to apply a haircut to American power and influence.
I don't think this is going to happen, because the national interests of American debtholders remain divergent. That said, if U.S. allies interpret default as a signal of U.S. unreliability in times of crisis, then all bets are off.
2) What about the economic nationalism of China? China is the largest foreign debtholder, which gives it a certain agenda-setting power in moments of crisis. There are a lot of compelling reasons why China would decide to try to minimize the economic disruptions . On the other hand, there's a lot of resentment on Chinese Internet boards already about the Chinese purchases of U.S. debt. During a period in which the CCP is already concerned about domestic instability, one could envision a scenario whereby they try to mollify nationalists at home by acting out against the United States.
3) What would be the effect of a mild market reaction on the House of Representatives? The less the markets react, the less that the House GOP will feel a need to do anything. There will come a point, therefore, when official debtholders might need to signal to the House that, in IPE lingo, "s**t needs to get done." That signal would in and of itself roil markets, not to mention the effects the current uncertainty is already having on the real economy.
4) What is the fiscal shock from a default? There are two causal mechanisms through which a default could affect the global economy. The first is through panic and uncertainty roiling financial markets. The second, however, is from a dramatic fiscal contraction due to limited government spending. Given the lackluster state of the current recovery, it wouldn't take much to tip the United States back into recession.
5) What if there's another AAA bubble? FT Alphaville's Tracy Alloway provided another interesting chart earlier this month on the distribution of AAA securities:
As Alloway warns:
[W]atch what starts happening from 2008 and 2009.
The AAA bubble re-inflates and suddenly sovereign debt becomes the major force driving the world’s triple-A supply. The turmoil of 2008 shunted some investors from ABS into safer sovereign debt, it’s true. But you also had a plethora of incoming bank regulation to purposefully herd investors towards holding more government bonds, plus a glut of central bank liquidity facilities accepting government IOUs as collateral. Where ABS dissipated, sovereign debt stood in to fill the gap. And more.
It’s one reason why the sovereign crisis is well and truly painful.
It’s a global repricing of risk, again, but one that has the potential for a much largerpop, so to speak.
We know that a downgrade of U.S. Treasuries would likely lead to a downgrade of state and municipal bond ratings as well. We also know that the ripple effects from the collapse of asset-backed securities were much larger than anticipated before the 2008 crisis. This is why the possible knock-on effects of downgrade so many AAA asserts makes me itchy. Even if banks and other financial institutions have minimal exposure to U.S. Treasuries, I don't think it's possible for them to have minimal exposure to all U.S.-based AAA sovereign debt.
These are just the five known unknowns that I could think of in the past hour -- there are probably many, many more. Readers are strongly encouraged to add them in the comments.
In the wake of the GOP debate earlier this week, there's been a lot of to-ing and fro-ing and to-ing and fro-ing as to whether Republicans have shifted away from the neoconservatism of George W. Bush and towards offshore balancing or isolationism. I don't think it's a settled question -- I'd conclude that it's partly a genuine realpolitik backlash to the massive costs of Iraq, partly a reflection of public sentiment, and partly a partisan reaction to the fact that it's a Democratic president who's launching
wars kinetic military actions nowadays.
What's more disturbing, however, and uncommented until now, was the total lack of support for freer trade among the GOP field.
This came through loud and clear through what was said and what was not said in New Hampshire. Trade didn't come up all that much during the debate. Tim Pawlenty provided the only comment of substance, and it wasn't a productive one:
[N]umber one, we've got to have fair trade, and what's going on right now is not fair.
I'm for a fair and open trade but I'm not for being stupid and I'm not for being a chump. And we have individuals and organizations and countries around this world who are not following the rules when it comes to fair trade. We need a stronger president and somebody who's going to take on those issues.
In presidential campaigns, this amounts to "don't expect to see any new trade deals anytime soon." As for the other dimensions of globalization, well, peruse the section on immigration
provided you have a green card if you dare. No one said anything about the positive economic and demographic benefits America receives from immigration.
The other thing that was striking was what wasn't said during the debate. All of the candidates focused like sharks with frikkin' laser beams attached to them on the economy. The standard GOP litany of solutions for jump-starting the economy were offered: tax cuts, cutting regulation, tax cuts, cutting government spending, tax cuts, reigning in the Fed, tax cuts, ending Obamacare, tax cuts. Not one of the candidates, however, mentioned trade liberalization as part of their fornmula for getting America moving again.
To be fair, this isn't as bad as when Obama and Clinton were debating over who would eviscerate NAFTA faster in 2008 (and funny, isn't it, how that never happened). And it's not like I was a huge fan of Obama's trade policy. To be just as fair, howeever, at least the current president completed KORUS negotiations and signaled strong interest in the Trans-Pacific Partnership. I get the sense that no one in the GOP field is going to stick their neck out on international trade or investment. For the party that claims to be in favor of lower taxes and regulation, this is a travesty.
My conference in Beijing closed with Le Yucheng -- the Chinese equivalent of the State Department's director of policy planning -- giving a talk and then taking questions from the academics and policy wonks around the table.
Based on what I heard and the consensus reaction of the old China hands around the table, Le's talk was pretty much boilerplate. That's a term of art for policy mandarins -- it translates into "nothing new was said, just a recycling of old talking points and approved language." However, for those of us who are not old China hands, even boilerplate can be somewhat revealing. Here were the talking points that stood out for me:
1) "To be frank, people don't understand China." Le provided a long litany of development problems and challenges facing China. He found it hypocritical that the rest of the world complained about China not buying enough cars or airplanes from the rest of the world, but also about buying too much oil. He provided a long spiel about how hard China is working to promote its economic development and overcome massive poverty. This is code for, "do not expect us to be chipping in all that much for global public goods anytime soon."
2) "China is always a humble, modest nation." This was, easily, the most jarring part of his talk. Le claimed that since the founding of the People's Republic, China had not attacked any of her foreign neighbors. I suspect that diplomats from India, Russia, South Korea, and Vietnam would have some strenuous disagreements with that assertion, but I was told that this is a standard talking point for Chinese diplomats (If you ask me, they'd be better off stating than China has had peaceful relations with the rest of the world in the post-Maoist era and -- unlike some other great powers that will go unmentioned -- has not averaged a military intervention every 18 months or so).
This section was also jarring because it primarily consisted of backdoor brags. Le claimed that China learned much from everyone else, and that he personally works so hard that he never goes on vacation and doesn't leave the office until 10 PM. He then talked about how China had solved the Hong Kong problem, the rural development problem, and so forth.
This sectiion ended with a small rant on how China was very, very different from, just to pick a country out of a hat, Norway. Because Norway has less than 1% of China's population while having 100 times China's resources, Norway should apparently not offer advice to China on, well, anything. Or, as Le put it, Norway is like a mini-car to China's bullet train. Note to Norway: I think China is still touchy about this.
3) "There is no Beijing Consensus." This was a point that Le hammered home repeatedly. He insisted that China had no original development model, and that Beijing certainly wasn't trying to recommend its model to nany other country. As Le put it, "There is no best model in the world." This part of Le's talk was also the most convincing, as the rest of the assembled Chinese academics made a similar point. As one academic pithily noted, "both the Washington Consensus and the Beijing Consensus were invented in Washington!"
4) China will not challenge the global order -- in other words, "we are not the USSR." In a mild contradiction of his first point, Le listed the myriad ways in which China contributed to global order -- promoting domestic economic growth to stabilize the regional economy, contributions to UN peacekeeping, anti-terrorism cooperation, anti-piracy, purchasing European and American debt instruments, and -- an oldie but a goodie -- not devaluing the yuan during the Asian financial crisis. Le stressed how much China benefitted from the existing order, and that while reforms might be needed, a wholesale change was not needed.
5) If you think the PRC government is bad, read our Internet chat boards. This was interesting, as Le tried to stress that China's population was far more nationalist and hawkish on the foreign policy front than the PRC government. He's not eactly wrong on this point, but it should be pointed out that given the various restrictions on what can be said on the Chinese internet, assertive nationalism is the only approved way of venting for the Chinese public.
[Note to readers: we are pleased to report that Dan bout with Friedman's Disease appears to have passed quickly. Due to difficulties with accessing the FP site, however, he has sent us his latest blog post via Gmail. Given recent accusations, we can neither confirm nor deny that this post has been edited or altered in any way, which we print below without alteration. Enjoy the read!--ed.]
I cannot emphasize how hospitable and gracious my Chinese hosts have been at this conference. From the excellent logistics to the delicious food that I have consumed in massive quantities in a perfect demonstration of excessive American consumption, I have been made to feel like an honored guest.
The only annoyance, not surprisingly, is accessing the Internet which is so filled with sedition and lies with respect to the People's Republic of China. It's one thing to read about how ordinary Chinese are blocked from accessing Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and various Wikipedia pages out of concern than members of U.S. Congress do not use these pernicious social media to send lascivious photos to vulnerable, unsuspecting Chinese women, but it's another thing to confront that fact in person.
The odd thing is the capricious but nevertheless wise nature of the censorship. I can access the Financial Times but not the Economist because the latter is written in a much more condescending, supercilious tone. Even with baseball sites, for several days I could access Baseball Prospectus but not FanGraphs because the latter site's Wins Above Replacement statistic relies on dodgy defensive metrics.
In the end, the irony is that many English-language news-sites are accessible -- it's the social networking sites that are unavailable to encourage our students to pay attention in class unlike their decadent western counterparts.
With China's Internet entrepreneurs being forced to go Red so as to crush all treacherous curs, the Great Fireweall won't be going away anytime soon. Then again, from the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) perspective, in makes some sense. The repeated outbreaks of social unrest over the past decade -- or the past week -- leaves the CCP with no choice but to continue its censorship policies if it wants to keep its hold on power and guide Chinese citizens towards a peaceful, harmonious world with Chinese characteristics.
It is for this reason that I look forward to returning to the United States so that I might rot my midget brain even further with more blog posts about stupid, bourgeois zombie-themed news.
[Note to readers: Because Dan was upgraded to business class on his trip to Beijing, he was exposed to a serious viral infection in the food called metaphoricus overloadus, known more commonly as Friedman's Disease. Rest assured, it is far from fatal -- it usually passes after 24 hours of no travel. As near as we can determine, all the facts in the blog post below are accurate. While suffering from Friedman's Disease, however, side effects do include rapid-fire, over-the-top metaphors. Remember: You've been warned!! --ed.]
To truly understand the phenomenon that is China, you need to fly into Beijing's airport and then try to get into the city. That's it; that's all you need. Just that adventure alone will tell you all you need to know about the contradictions of the Middle Kingdom.
First you enter a glittering, modern airport, with helpful signs in Mandarin and English. It's sheer scale and modernity telegraphs the ways in which China has already entered modernity. The monorail from my terminal to baggage claim was a pointed reminder of how much the United States lags behind in infrastructure investment in recent years.
And yet, there's the traffic. Summer in Beijing is a confusing miasma of traffic and smog and traffic. As my compatriot and I clambered into our taxi at Beijing's immaculately clean and modern airport, we knew that the ride to the hotel could take anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes depending on the traffic. Just as we Americans don't know when exactly China will catch up, the Chinese are not sure how long it will take to get there.
We might like to think that driving in a New York City taxi is as exciting as a carnival ride, but that's nothing compared with a taxi ride on a Beijing superhighway. In New York, there's always that sense that, in the end, the taxi driver won't risk an actual collision. On the road to Beijing, however, I witnessed at least two last-minute swerves and road rage that would have made Los Angelenos blush. Using an accent that an old-style New York cabbie would have admired in its sheer swarthiness, my cabbie kept honking for at least two minutes after a car viciously cut him off.
It's a fantastical engineering problem, getting so many cars and motorcycles and trucks and buses to merge and move in the same direction. And that's when it hit me like a thunderbolt -- China itself is like this superhighway. It's massive in size, 10 lanes easy. It's filled with an array of vehicles determined to get ahead. The problem is that when you combine all the vehicles together, the real possibility of a two-week-long traffic jam in which everyone wants to go somewhere but nobody gets anywhere is clearly a possibility. Predicting China's future is like predicting the traffic: You know there will be some stop-and-go, but you just don't know how much of it there will be.
When we got to the hotel, I paid my cabbie and he signaled that I owed him four more yuan. I was suffering from ATM disease, so I took out a single U.S. dollar bill and a 100-yuan note, looked at him, and said, "You choose." He paused, and then took the yuan note and made the necessary change. Clearly, all of us participating in this hyperaccelerated, globalized economy are going to have to make the necessary change soon enough.
Your humble blogger is headed to China for the next few days as part of a conference sponsored by the MacArthur Asia Security Initiative and the School of International Studies at Peking University, at which we will be discussing "What roles do power, history, ideas, and other legacies and factors play in shaping the American and Chinese approaches to sovereignty?" and "What is distinctive about the American and Chinese orientations and what are the implications of their preferences for the international order?" and "Could I please have an extra serving of tripe?" OK, that last one will just be a personal quest for yours truly, but you get the idea.
We will also be "Meeting with high-rank officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the International Liaison Department of the Central Committee of the CPC" -- so with luck, I'll be able to post blog items that will impress Chinese readers more than, say, your average Tom Friedman column. Assuming, that is, that the interwebs are semi-friendly over there.
While I am
praying for an upgrade on my flight to Beijing winging my way to the Middle Kingdom, go and contemplate Gideon Rachman's latest in the Financial Times. He points out that should China supplant the United States during this decade, it will be a very strange superpower indeed:
The ascent of China will change ideas of what it means to be a superpower. Over the course of the American century, the world has got used to the idea that the world’s largest economy was also the world’s most obviously affluent nation. The world’s biggest economy housed the world’s richest people.
As China emerges as an economic superpower, the connection between national and personal affluence is being broken. China is both richer and poorer than the western world. It is sitting on foreign reserves worth $3,000bn. And yet, measured at current exchange rates, the average American is about 10 times as wealthy as the average Chinese....
The power of China – combined with anxiety about the frightening public debts being built up in the US, the EU and Japan – will challenge western ideas about the relationship between democracy and economic success. Ever since the US became the world’s largest economy, towards the end of the 19th century, the most powerful economy in the world has been a democracy. But, if China remains a one-party state over the next decade, that will change. The confident western slogan that “freedom works” will come under challenge as authoritarianism becomes fashionable, once again.
What do you think? More tripe, or go for the chow fun instead?
I'm going to go out on a limb and state unequivocally that I think civil liberties and gender equality are Very Good Things. All else equal, I'd much rather live in a society in which freedom of speech is protected and women have all of the rights and opportunities afforded to men.
I bring this up because a common assumption that guides much of global economic policy is that as developing countries get richer, they will start valuing these qualities as well. There's a belief that regardless of the sequencing, political modernization will not trail too far behind economic modernization. Even in anomalous countries like Singapore, for example, there are trends suggesting that richer societies start demanding all those political and personal freedoms that many in the West take for granted. Crudely and simply put, a guiding assumption behind much Western policymaking (as well as many foes of the West writ large) is that modernization = Westernization.
I bring this up because China and India are, at the present moment, trying to prove this assumption is wrong. China has been getting very rich very fast, and yet the Chinese government seems more repressive than ever. So much for political liberties.
In some ways, India is even more troubling, as the New York Times' Jim Yardley report:
India's increasing wealth and improving literacy are apparently contributing to a national crisis of “missing girls,” with the number of sex-selective abortions up sharply among more affluent, educated families during the past two decades, according to a new study.
The study found the problem of sex-selective abortions of girls has spread steadily across India after once being confined largely to a handful of conservative northern states. Researchers also found that women from higher-income, better-educated families were far more likely than poorer women to abort a girl, especially during a second pregnancy if the firstborn was a girl....
The study, being published in the British medical journal The Lancet, is the latest evidence of India’s worsening imbalance in the ratio of boys to girls. The 2011 Indian census found 914 girls for every 1,000 boys among children 6 six or younger, the lowest ratio of girls since the country gained independence in 1947. The new study estimated that 4 million to 12 million selective abortions of girls have occurred in India in the past three decades....
Dr. Prabhat Jha, a lead author of the study, noted that the use of sex-selective abortions expanded throughout the country as the use of ultrasound equipment became more widespread. Typically, women from wealthier, better-educated families are more likely to undergo an ultrasound, Mr. Jha said, and researchers found that these families are far more likely to abort a girl if the firstborn is a daughter.
“This is really a phenomenon of the educated and the wealthy that we are seeing in India,” said Mr. Jha, director of the Center for Global Health Research at the University of Toronto.
Census data has already confirmed that the problem has accelerated since 2001. The 2011 census found about 7.1 million fewer girls than boys under the age of 6, compared with a gap of roughly 6 million girls a decade earlier (emphasis added).
The steady decline in the ratio is surprising, and counterintuitive, in view of India's progress in recent decades in improving the levels of female literacy and increases in income per person....
the value of the analysis by Jha and colleagues is mainly independent confirmation of two important aspects of the sex ratio in India that have been reported previously with different data. The first is that sex imbalance at birth seems to be particularly concentrated in households with high education and wealth. This pattern suggests that dominance of the son-preference norm is unlikely to be offset, at least in the short term, by socioeconomic development. Second is that the overall problem of sex imbalance seems to arise throughout India, including in Kerala, which has often been characterised as a model state for social development and gender equality. The problem of sex imbalance seems to be a function of socioeconomic status, not geography.
As India gets richer, this problem will only get worse.
Now, this might be one of those "it's always darhest before the dawn" kind of trends, in which after a certain wealth threshhold, trends will shift back towards a more classical liberal direction. Maybe. I don't know, and anyone else who tells you that they know is bulls**tting you. Based on this study, however, the question of whether China and India will ever embrace liberal political and cultural norms is not going to go away anytime soon.
What do you think?
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.