Monday, January 17, 2011

Understanding China

As Washington prepares for Hu Jintao's state visit, two excellent and short articles that help set the stage for understanding "how China thinks":
  • James Fallows in The Atlantic January 16, 2011 on "Imagining America as China": a thought experiment that does an excellent job of showing the sheer scale of China. A hat-tip to Chris Blattman.
  • Henry Kissinger (yes, I'm surprising to find myself agreeing completely with this craggy old realist). In the Washington Post, January 14, 2011: "Avoiding a US-China Cold War." A thoughtful, large-picture view of our quite different paths to the present.


Anonymous said...

Whether the elephants are fighting or making love, the grass is always trampled (African proverb)

”All of the Americas within-US borders.”

Thanks for this beautiful image. The proportions were not unknown to me but this gives a almost graphic overview and is also the reason why China is so often called “a giant with feet of clay”.
It also forms the material basis for my final conclusion.

The "zipper street" principle

I saw this phenomenon in Belgium, Italy and Moscow, so I thought it was universal.
It is a hypothesis, but not the one that was on my mind when a U.S. diplomat spoke of "the communications deficiencies" between the CCP & PLA.
As the U.S. has nothing to gain by inventing it, I assume it did happen as said.
On the Chinese side, I see a weak leader under nationalist pressure, which is preparing its heritage and therefore wants to be sure that his visit to the U.S. is a success.
In place of the tensions of last year, this year there were more conciliatory noises.
At the same time, not so new military projects were suddenly publicized.
There is a school of military analysts who argue that new weapons really involve nothing more than political blackmail as long as they do not actually have been proven in a real war.
The incident could have been a round of the game; "give me something so I can keep in check the PLA because they want to use their new resources against you".
Knowing how the PLA officially and informally is subordinated to the CCP, this is not very credible, but still ...

I can not deny that old hand Kissinger is relying on aspects of history and reality that support his thesis. But he uses a very opportunistic choice of events, history and culture.
You have hot war, cold war and no war.
The first decade of the U.S. /China relations after the establishment of diplomatic relations, was the most harmonious, not only because they had a common enemy but also because they were no economic competitors (for lack of globalization).

Anonymous said...

Part II
Contrary to what Kissinger says, in the last century the US has grown through conflict with his competitors.
It started the century with a policy of not interfering in the internal affairs of other countries as a way to extend its insidious influence and got its chance to deal with all its European competitors during World War II. This war can also be read as an economic war wherin the main loser was the UK. Not so long ago, in early 2007, the UK made its latest war loan installment to the U.S. and at an anecdotal level, it was indeed the direct cause of death of chief negotiator John Maynard Keynes.
I only agree with Kissinger that history proves that it is not inevitable to have a hot war, but it is to late to avoid cold war.
If you want proof of that, have a look around the acutal world…
If know that in our globalised world an Siamese economic relationship between Western multinationals and Chinese corporations has been grown, but this plays on another level ...
As such this existed already in an embryonic way during World War II. You can put an economic historian on it to figure out which multinationals would have been active nowadays if the authoritarian capitalist states had won WWII. Would there have been no major overlap with those we know today? Sure, GM had survived, maybe under the name Opel ...
And yes, we are obliged to support global forces that want to avoid a hot war; the Chinahuggers in the U.S. (and their representatives in Africa) and the "Pragmatic group" in China (for the first time in more than 20 years the Global Times recognizes the existence of two tendencies within the CCP!).

I personally have a soft spot for the vision of financial tycoons as they are obliged to put their money where their mouth is.
When a journalist from the NYT asked Warren Buffett his response to the Pentagon's view that the third world war is imminent, he replied;
"There's class warfare, all right, but it's my class, the rich class, that's making war, and we're winning."
I think this is true from north to south, from east to west ...
And in this war the American state, just like the Chinese state has its role to play, but as mentionned by James Fallows, China is in a very cramped situation and considering its role in the globalization and its limited resources this role can be nothing else than what the colonial or neo-colonial powers did in their heydays, when they were making all the stuff for the whole world…
In Africa I see the US and China sometimes operating as allies and sometime as concurrents, but to assume that the people of Africa will reap great benefits of it is very doubtful. It was not so in the past and now they are more powerless than ever.
Hence the African proverb in the title; whether the elephants are fighting or making love, the grass is always trampled ....