October 21, 2005

Third Session: Whither China

Filed under: — Chap @ 8:08 pm

This one was pretty interesting, actually; the last session I attended. Sparks flew in the Q&A, but different ones than were expected. I wound up in a rather forceful discussion afterward I’ll keep off the record–suffice it to say that I went out and bought the other guy a copy of Kagan’s book (cheapskates go here for the short-n-sweet) and handed it right to him at dinner. It freaked him out a bit, but why not.

The panel included a small businessman specializing in China, a human rights advocate, a Chinese government functionary, an American analyst looking at China from the perspective of Japan, and the ambassador to China from a small country. I did learn a lot–and like Chavez even less now than I did before…

(Previous posts in this series: Europe and the EU, Middle East reform, references, idle comments, two sentence short stories.)

All opinions on this that I don’t specifically flag as mine are those of the speakers. I don’t agree with all of them. They don’t agree with each other.

Opening and moderating was the businessman, who just barely made it for the panel–flight delays. His Power Point was good, although I didn’t take many notes; I did learn that the sixth largest trading nation with China is…Wal-Mart, and the foreign direct investment is staggering, though lowering.

— — — —

The next speaker was in the class before me, and works on the Kyoto Protocol for China. (Irony of ironies, since China isn’t exactly the carbon-reducing part of the treaty. I consider Kyoto to be a funding mechanism from established countries to China.) According to the speaker:

I used to argue a lot in the class, especially during the EP-3 discussions. I have to look at my home from outside to make this discussion.

Poverty is greatly reduced. Never saw poverty go down so fast. Satellite dishes popping up everywhere in my home province. The “bicycle Middle Kingdom” is disappearing, as everyone buys cars instead.

Creating wealth is not sufficient-how do we distribute that wealth? “Communist China” isn’t communist any more. This government created this wealth and we rose out of poverty. Westerners have a deep belief in a democratic system, but for some countries democracy is a commodity but it isn’t. By the way, in 1999 I was part of Tiananmen–we were naïve and weren’t putting forward a workable solution. Strive for a democratic objective, but each country must find its modality. We’ve a big country, it’s a huge challenge. Change means people will suffer.

— — — —

The human rights activist was next.

I’m fortunate to be here. At the Kennedy School of Government in Harvard, I met a Chinese man at the end of the school who admitted to me one night “you would be a prisoner of conscience back home, but you act normal!”

I keep getting harassing phone calls from Beijing, death threats. Here are my “crimes”:

–I was a student, and one of the Tiananmen organizers, one of my friends, escaped to Taiwan. He was to be married and asked me to be his best man. One does not turn that down–but this is a thoughtcrime to associate with him. In the U.S. Foreign Service in 1994, and got told I was on the black list.

–After the crackdown in ’99 I testified to Congress. Strike two.

–My thesis at GMAP was on SARS, how the Chinese government covered it up for five and a half years. Strike three.

I’ve been working with the Falun Gong people for a little while, not because I share their ideas but because they’ve been getting oppressed. Here’s a Power Point about Falun Gong. Note all these official newspapers and awards; it was originally government sponsored. Since it’s from the Buddhist tradition and involves meditiation and physical exercise, it was encouraged; see these ’93 awards and government quotes from ’99.

Sounds pretty harmless, right? So why the crackdown? On 25 April 1999 there was a demonstration over some people jailed by the government. The books were banned, and the crackdown came in July of 99. There was torture and abuse (flashes up photos worthy of the abortion protesters and the whole room cringes). 2747 torture deaths so far. Amnesty and Human Rights Watch are involved.

At the same time China’s government is trying to maintain control over information. They’ve spent over US$800 million for the “Golden Shield” internet prevention project, which is helped by Cisco training, acquiescence by Google and Yahoo!, etc. Thirty-eight Internet restriction laws have been passed, including one to save and track all SMS phone messages.

(My take: Powerful, but the photos turned off some folks–I don’t know enough to say what kind of impact those have on a neutral group.)

— — — —

The next speaker was an American tasked with looking at China from a Japanese viewpoint.

Japan has a white paper concluding that Chinese military spending is much greater than its needs. This matches Pentagon and Council on Foreign Relations estimates. Chinese incursions on Japanese territory, such as the recent SSN intrusion, the two Chinese destroyers who harassed the contracted Dutch survey ship, are worrying. The Shanghai Cooperation Organization and East Asia summit in December is worrying because it purposely excludes the US. At the recent 2+2 talks Japan said for the first time that Taiwan is integral to their own national security.

When Japan says “we’re concerned”, China says “don’t be”. Japan does not trust this. The nationalism in Japan manifesting in anti-Japanese sentiment is personal and painful. I surveyed middle school students about Japan. One typical answer was “Japan? I hate them! They hate us, we hate them!” When the CEO of Fuji/Xerox says he would like improved relations, he gets threats and harassment. Business sees increased risk because of the demonstrations.

Japan is also concerned about “Japan passing”, where people look past Japan to China.

There are positive signs, however. Trade relations have shifted; China is Japan’s largest trading partner, third largest recipient of foreign direct investment. Aid is lowering to China, but that’s good because the infrastructure the aid was for is being built. Immigration and security may still be problematic. The long and short term security interests with respect to the DPRK could go either way.

Right now a Japanese young person pretty much is guaranteed a spot in a Japanese university because the population is aging and there are not as many kids. This is an opening for Chinese students.

The trends I see: If there is not a more open relationship, especially military, tensions with Japan will continue to increase. If practices don’t change, the rate of improvement will degrade over time. I recommend increased person-to-person exchanges.

(My take: Good analysis but assumes ROK doesn’t exist!)

— — — —

The final speaker was a diplomat stationed in China from a small country. He started by mentioning the Great Leap forward, the 1000 Flowers, the Cultural Revolution.

–China seeks to maintain the status of a developing country, using development conferences, the Group of 77, and the Non-Aligned Movement. In the ’60’s and ’70’s this joining with the devloping countries’ decolonization movement resulted in the replacement of Taiwan with the PRC at the UN. There’s a strong solidarity with developing countries, so this was important to us as well. My country opened diplomatic relations with the PRC in 1972, as did Cuba. We had a mission in Beijing in 1973. We’re small and must make good strategic choices.

Then China turned inward. In 1978-1980 socialism was recast as pragmatism. When we moved away from the Washington Consensus there was also a Beijing Consensus which was attractive, less of a pain, money and support more rapidly forthcoming.

The Soviet revolution was not the Chinese model. It’s a different socialism in China. China socialism appeals to us because it shows there is more than one model. China supports us and we feel we have leeway to make our choices.

There is a business challenge. China can outproduce us, which leads to competition in markets. They beat us in bauxite production, for instance–but now, they buy ours, because their resource demand is so high! There is a stability for business in China compared to developing countries. We think the markets will go up in niches, for example with Ugandan coffee which is a popular niche in China. So if we’re agile, we’ll benefit–and China improves its aid to us.

China pays strong concern to a developing country. We feel we are treated with equality and dignity–once, a big country’s ambassador was griping that he was snubbed–because a small country’s prime minister was visiting! We feel we’re not treated with disdain.

China has a preoccupation with “restoring lost territory” (e.g., Taiwan). Over the last five years there’s been a shift in diplomacy with the other countries on this.

WTO will be difficult, maybe, but China gives us help. When the Washington Consensus breaks down there is always the Beijing Consensus which is easier sometimes. We’re in no position to stop something, so we might as well embrace it. We learn pragmatism and flexibility, economic liberalization, reform of economy and improved rule of law, of course.

We smaller countries are all part of this. Kissinger’s “Every century brings a new Great Power” is positive, not negative, for us.

— — — —


Q: Venezuela eased Chinese visas and opened claims to 5/8 of Guyana, so how does Guyana deal with this?

A: This is a long standing problem. We think the 1899 treaty resurfaced as a land grab; Guyanans like the treaty as is but Chavez wants it abrogated. Chavez goes to China a lot. He’s an admirer of Mao. He’s not so concerned about immigration because people don’t stay in the region; Chinese may start there but they wind up in North America.

Q: China’s impact is multifaceted. There are opportunities but we have increased concern that China’s no better than the multinationals.

Q (mine): In the United States there are two schools of thought, sort of the Thomas Barnett “everyone’s connecting so don’t worry” school and the Bill Gertz “oh my GOD will you look at all that MILITARY?” school. Military people see the spending on building military, deployments, incursions, raised aggression. This is different from some countries–the US doesn’t freak out over France’s nuclear missiles, for instance. How should China reassure the people who are not comfortable, using actions since the words are not trusted?

A: Well, economics–

Q(me): We military people don’t care about economics. We care about counting guns and watching actions.

A: (nothing, chaos in room as we run out of time)

(My thoughts: I overcompressed the message, because “I don’t care about economics” was the tagline I kept hearing that night. What I would like to have gotten across is how an intelligence guy counts a threat focuses on real capabilities not economic ties. Turns out I was in synch with my boss; this is very similar to the argument he put forward in Beijing this week!)

4 Responses to “Third Session: Whither China”

  1. Molten Eagle Says:

    Thanks for sharing the Kagan, Chap. Knew this would be in there: ‘Harvard’s Huntington predicted coalescing of the European Union would be “the single most important move” in a worldwide reaction against American hegemony and would produce a “truly multipolar” twenty-first century.’ An argument can just as easily be made that the EU will further emasculate member countries in both military readiness and disposition toward effective use (the UK excepted, for now).

    One only has to consider the economic relevance of our own states relative to EU countries (compare Germany to Louisiana, for instance) to see the reality. Yes, the European world is more complex than what their leaders perceive is America’s outlook, but that is largely because our states are not embroiled in their own treaties or disputes with the world. In the same vein, the United States should never sacrifice its hegemony based only on the opinions of foreign states inferior to our own states. The day will come when we will be happy to share our superpower duties with others capable of picking up the load, including, one hopes, the EU.

    Kagan seems to forget that the U.S. won an early victory against the then superpower, England. Afterwards, geographical isolation has been our particular salvation. Even Kagan admits our capabilities and disposition to help Europe saved the day in WWII, although I failed to see any mention of WWI.

  2. chap Says:

    Much obliged. Funny, I wrote like a lot of words about these panel sessions, but no real response–guess I should argue with journalists or ex-military types if I want the kickin’ traffic numbers.

    Re Kagan: That’s because Kagan was specifically looking at post-WWII differences in mindset, and how they got where they are today because of those post-WWII experiences. His book goes a little deeper into it.

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