Monday, October 31, 2005

Two Views on China's Rise: Prestowitz and Fishman

The rise of China as a major global economic and political player is garnering a lot of scholarly and policy attention, especially in the US. Irrespective of whether China is fudging some of its official economic data, China’s growth rates are creating a dynamic that is bound to have long-term implications. Two recent books examine China’s economic rise in detail with a focus on its implications for the West. Both in their distinct ways are sounding a wake-up call to the US to face the reality that it is slowly, but steadily, losing its economic dominance. It remains to be seen if their analyses will stand the test of time.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Reform bottlenecks in India

The Economist notes that India's communists have learned nothing and forgotten nothing - oddly, unlike their Chinese heroes.

Chinese economic statistics

There has been much commentary on whether China's official GDP growth figures are accurate. James Hamilton points to some contradictions in the official data. See also his link to a discussion of China's FDI figures.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

IISS estimates Chinese defense spending is much higher than official figures

London's IISS has put out this year's Military Balance. As the Financial Times reports, it pegs China's defence budget last year at $62.5 billion, which is more than twice the official figure of $25 billion. The IISS also estimates a 10% annual growth rate over the past ten years. The magic of compound interest, as they say.

India-China border negotiations going nowhere?

Srikanth Kondapalli hints that the changing strategic scenario in Tibet, thank to the near completion of the new railway, may be making China harden its stance in the interminable border negotiations. Not really suprising, is it?

China makes a move in Nepal

Few relationships are as misunderstood outside the parties involved as the Indo-Chinese rivalry. This became clear after the 1998 Pokhran II tests when most of the global reaction consisted of incredulity that India would invoke China's hostility as an explanation for going nuclear. Readers interested in getting a better handle on this could do no better than read John Garver's excellent 2001 study Protracted Contest whose introductory chapter is, luckily, available on the web free of charge.

Garver's title captures nicely the dynamics of the relationship. In particular Garver chronicles the constant friction over China's presence in South Asia. Over the last decade India's democratic sensitivities allowed China to dramatically increase its presence in Myanmar during the initial segment of the Aung-San Suu Kyi saga when India was attempting to isolate the junta. A recent report on Chinese military aid to Nepal suggests that the same dilemma is now recurring in a much more important neighbor.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Rumsfeld Visits China, Returns Unimpressed

Donald Rumsfeld’s recent visit to China was significant in many respects. It was not only his first visit to China as part of the Bush Administration but it also brought into sharp relief the US-China tensions as China continues with its military modernization. Rumsfeld has been a persistent critic of China’s military behavior. He has raised the question of Chinese intentions at a security conference in Singapore a few months back and he returned to this theme again arguing that a rapid and secretive Chinese military buildup, raised questions about "whether China will make the right choices, choices that will serve the world's real interests in regional peace and stability." This is despite the fact that Rumsfeld became the first US Defense Secretary to visit the headquarters of the People's Liberation Army Second Artillery Corps (SAC), China's strategic missile command.

According to the Pentagon's latest report on Chinese combat capabilities, "current trends in China's military modernization could provide China with a force capable of prosecuting a range of military operations in Asia - well beyond Taiwan - potentially posing a credible threat to modern militaries operating in the region." The debate over China's military power and the purported need for a major US buildup to counter China's recent arms acquisitions is bound to become increasingly heated in the months and years to come and India will also be forced to negotiate its way between an America trying to preserve its military supremacy and an increasingly aggressive China. India's own military modernization should also take into account the opacity surrounding the military build-up of China.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

More on the White Paper

The Hindu (October 21st) carries a report on the White Paper issued by the Information Office of the State Council on China’s “socialist political democracy”. It declares a marriage between Marx’s ‘theory of democracy’ and the ‘reality of China’, assimilating the ‘useful political achievements of mankind including western democracy’ and the ‘democratic elements of China’s traditional culture and institutional civilization.’ This ill-assorted jumble of catchphrases full of internal contradictions is no doubt meant to quieten those voices either harp critically on human rights transgressions in the Middle Kingdom or predict a future for (genuine) democracy in China – perish the thought!

Soon enough after this preamble, we read of people’s democracy led by the CPC in which the ‘overwhelming majority of the people act as masters of state affairs with democratic centralism as the basic organisational principle and mode of operation.’ Such might well be shrugged off as quaint Orwellian archaisms if it were not that regime apologists or investors in China might well gratefully swallow this humbug as ‘evidence’ of her democratic intentions against those tiresome reminders of Tiananmen Square, Falun Gong, or whistle-blowers on lethal pandemics originating in the unsanitary conditions prevailing in the countryside. As the report proceeds the language gets more confident and fundamentalist, moving to the ‘people’s democratic dictatorship’ which ‘pools all the correct opinions’ and where decisions are made collectively!
The sting is in the tail, “We are against democracy for all”.

Monday, October 24, 2005

The CCP defines democracy (away)

The Chinese government has issued a "white paper" on democracy. The Wall Street Journal Asia) comments that:

It is an ironclad rule that if someone qualifies the word democracy he is talking about the absence of it. So when the Chinese Communist Party issues a white paper on the evolution of "Socialist democracy with Chinese characteristics" it is talking about anything but.

The document itself asserts that:

The building of political democracy with Chinese characteristics is progressing with the times, exhibiting great vigor and vitality.

I think the Journal has the better of the argument and is correct in noting that this reflects the increased pressure felt by the CCP to explain why freedom should not go along with prosperity. That they feel such a pressure is surely a good thing.

Monday, October 17, 2005

The US-China Conversation

Two recent news stories highlight the ambivalence afflicting the Bush Administration in its dealings with China. The first report points made by Robert Zoellick and his team in an ongoing strategic dialog with China - the message here is that China must become a great deal more transparent if it expects to defuse anxieties about its growing power. The second report describes an ongoing dialog on economic issues where the United States is asking for fairly detailed changed in the management of China's economy in order to produce a more balanced regime of economic relations. So there you have it: at one end a rising security anxiety and at the other end an increasingly intimate economic relationship. The contrast with the Cold War is striking.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Brzezinski versus Mearsheimer: Take II

Previously I pointed to a debate between Brzezinski and Mearsheimer on the prospects for a "peaceful rise" for China. Now, for some comments on that discussion.

Mearsheimer's central thesis, spelled out at great length in his The Tragedy of Great Power Politics (for a review by yours truly see here), is that the behavior of great powers is explained over the course of modern history by their desire to achieve continental hegemony and to keep others from doing so in their own regions. Of all great powers only the United States has actually succeeded but others have tried (e.g. Germany in Europe and Japan in Asia) and China will try as soon as the means come within reach.

Brzezinski's counter is not in terms of an alternative theory, but instead has the realism (small r) of the practioner. In his analysis one finds the following claims;
a) Theory in international relations is not theory in Physics (if I may paraphrase him)
b) China's leadership consists of very smart people who've already read Mearsheimer's book
c) They know that they cannot challenge the United States for a very long time and hence won't even try ('minimum deterrence")
d) They will settle for a Bismarckian policy of "appropriate" influence without seriously challenging the United States - something Hitler and Tojo could have done but didn't because they were too stupid - unlikely the gifted people running China.
d) Nuclear weapons make great power war impossible
e) Pushing the US out of Asia will cause Japan to militarize and nuclearize and China would rather not have that
f) China will not push Taiwan for fear of antagonizing the US
g) China's "focus remains on economic development and winning acceptance as a great power."

The trouble with this set of responses is that they do not really engage the core of the Realist argument, which is that when the hegemonic temptation arises it will not be resisted. For Brzezinski's take to be comforting it would be helpful if there was evidence that China was unwilling to challenge the status quo even when it has the means to do so. It seem to me that in the case of its military spending in recent years and its buildup on Taiwan, China has attempted to punch at or above its rising economic weight, not below it as Germany and Japan have done under US umbrellas in the postwar period. At its economic weight rises further, where is the evidence that it will not punch harder?

If you are convinced that the US will outpunch China for the next several decades (and I hope to return to predicting measures of national power soon) and you trust in the Bismarck scenario then this is grounds for believing that a serious conflict between China and the US is indeed unlikely. But even under the Bismarck scenario the Prussians (the Chinese) would still expect to be granted a few victories over the French (the Japanese?) and the Austrians (the Indians?) as Chinese power rises. For instance, the widely noted Goldman Sachs study suggested that China may overtake Japan in dollar GDP in a decade. Will the Chinese also resist the temptations that arise at that point? It would appear from (d) that Brzezinski believes that such a development will lead to a smooth transfer of influence from Japan to China with US acquiescence and then China will wait its turn for another decade and a half (again taking the Goldman numbers on dollar GDP as a basis for argument) till 2040. Then again from (e) and (f) it might appear that he feels that China will be "well behaved" regardless. More likely, he simply isn't taking the numbers that seriously.

On (d) Mearsheimer notes quite rightly that nuclear weapons do not eliminate security competitions - the cold war was all about this predicament.

Altogether, Brzezinski's responses don't quite add up to a convincing rebuttal. There do not appear to be purely realist/Realist grounds for optimism on China's rise in this debate.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

When will China face up to its history?

Dr Mohan Malik argues that authoritarian states have always used history as a tool to maintain political power. China’s Communist dictatorship has long used history to serve its foreign policy goals and to demonize “enemies”—domestic or foreign—as a way of distracting attention from arising from widening disparities and deepening socio-political contradictions in Chinese society and its own crimes against the Chinese people. Recent state-orchestrated anti-Japanese violent demonstrations bear echoes of the mass manipulation of the Cultural Revolution era and the siege of the Russian and Indian embassies by Mao’s Red Guards in the 1960s. The only difference being the replacement of Maoist slogans of the past with anti-Japanese watchwords (“Hate Japan”, “Kill all Japanese pigs”) and ultra-nationalist slogans. This is largely a consequence of the “patriotic education” [guoqing jiaoyu] initiated by Jiang Zemin following the Tiananmen massacre and the collapse of Communism in the Soviet bloc in 1989-90.

The Chinese are now using the “history issue” as a diplomatic card vis-à-vis Japan to deny their East Asian rival gaining an equal status at the UN. There is a general consensus that the Sino-Japanese tensions have little to do with the past and more to their future struggle for primacy in reshaping the global order. In a couple of decades it would be India’s turn to bear the brunt of Chinese resentment if India’s growing economic and military power is perceived as threatening China. If so, then the present state of China-Japan relations could well be the future of China-India relations. India’s Pakistan-watchers have long argued that to understand the depth of Pakistan’s hostility, animosity, and communal venom directed at India, one must read school history text books in Pakistan. The same is true of China as well if one wants to understand the roots of China’s animosity and perfidy towards India. However, none of India’s China-watchers has ever cared to undertake a critical content analysis of Chinese textbooks even though China has done the most to undermine India’s security through its strategic encirclement and nuclear proliferation strategies over the last six decades.

As a rising superpower, the Chinese government has a special responsibility to ensure that its citizens understand the world as it is, and are not motivated by feelings of resentment and victimhood. Nor can China be seen as a constructive player unless it abandons abandon the victim complex. If peace is to prevail in Asia, far-reaching changes to the school syllabus and the education system in China are needed. Complete article can be accessed here.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

China-India Economic Engagement: Building Mutual Confidence

Dr. Swaran Singh writes that with their annual GDP growth rates hitting respectively at 9.1 and 8.5 per cent for 2003 and at 9.5 and 6.9 per cent for 2004, China and India have since come to be recognized as the two largest as also the fastest growing economies of the 21st century. Thanks, however, to their colonial and cold war legacies, this economic boom had, for long, remained mutually exclusive exercise. It is only recently that their political initiatives at confidence building have begun to develop areas of mutual engagement which remains premised on their new mantra of mutual accommodation and mutual benefit. Their economic engagement as a result has since come to be the most reliable as also most agreeable instrument of China-India rapprochement so assiduously evolved during the last three decades or more.
Especially in the last few years, China-India economic engagement has picked up its own momentum with a steak-of-autonomy to say the least. From being once driven by their bold political initiatives, their economic engagement today symbolizes the most decisive force that promises to potentially circumscribe (and direct) their mutual policy initiatives. It is in this context that two sides have since come to appreciate how to use their economic engagement to deal with their long-standing political concerns and difficulties. Border trade, for one, has clearly earned the epithet of being an ideal approach to building atmospherics that can help resolve their boundary dispute, bilateral and regional dynamics. However, their new-found bonhomie remains as yet fragile and this calls for caution and serious planning on the part of both Beijing and New Delhi. Please see the complete monograph for details.

The CCP gathers and misses the point

The opening of a Chinese Communist Party Congress is always attended with impressive pomp and circumstance, so much so that even quite astute observers are swept along. But as anyone who travels much in China or reads the Chinese press will know, what is asserted officially in Beijing is regularly proven false on the ground, elsewhere in China and even in Beijing itself. It is striking that this Congress is preoccupied with "strengthening" the position of President Hu Jintao and even considering who may be his successor. For the real issues in China are quite different. As this column, by yours truly, in the Washington Post suggests, the real issue for China is how she can democratize her political system in order to meet her most pressing need: for a legitimate government that has the confidence of her people, and which will therefore have genuine authority to address the country's many pressing problems.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Re-examining Mao's legacy

I also write regularly for Commentary, one of America's most influential intellectual journals. Prompted by the appearance of a block busting new biography of Mao Zedong by the celebrated Chinese novelist Jung Chang, author of Wild Swans, and her husband, former New Left Review editor Jon Halliday, I have written the following article: "Mao Lives." Chang and Halliday estimate on the basis of good sources that Mao was responsible for the deaths of perhaps seventy million Chinese, in peacetime, through his purges and campaigns. This places him in the same league as Stalin and Hitler, as one of the greatest murderers of the bloody twentieth century. But I note that Mao is still respectable in a way that Hitler certainly is not: no one in his right mind would display a photo of the Fuhrer in his home or office, for example, or quote him in a speech. (Stalin of course was criticized by Khrushchev and removed from the Soviet pantheon). Why is Mao not recognized for what he was? Not least because he is still officially revered in China, where his embalmed body, in Tiananmen Square, is visited by thousands daily. Furthermore, the Chinese government and society, though greatly changed in many ways since Mao died in 1976, remains fundamentally Maoist in character: lacking governmental institutions, laws, rights, and so forth, and dominated entirely by personal politics. At a time when the rest of the world is starting to take note of India's remarkable democracy and freedom, now joined by economic development, reappraisal of Mao--long overdue in any case--becomes even more relevant to inhabitants of the subcontinent.

Propects for a democratic China

The debate continues as to whether China's economic reforms will impel her towards democracy or whether her received Middle Kingdom complex will push her in the direction of national socialism. (see my review of Bruce Gilley's book - "China’s Democratic Future How It Will Happen and Where It Will Lead?" Columbia University Press, NY 2004). Certainly her bureaucratic culture is distant from any sense of equality, which is a general requisite for democratic functioning. This attitude transfers to foreign relations as well, and India has had two recent examples of a kind of imperialist arrogance: once when China's Mumbai Consul-General flouted all norms of diplomatic courtesy by publicly reprimanding India's Defence Minister for describing China's 1962 trans-Himalayan adventure as an 'invasion' instead of a defensive measure, which earned a rebuke from the MEA. China's Deputy Consul-General not to be outdone demanded the cancellation of a scheduled public meeting at a college because the speaker Tibetan monk-scholar Ven. Geshe Lhakdor was known to be close to the Dalai Lama, who is accused of using India as a base for anti-China activities. The organisers responded by reading the bureaucrat some elementary lessons in democratic processes.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

US Debates the Rise of China, Once Again

China is once again emerging as the top foreign policy priority of the US. Whether it's an adjustment in the yuan exchange rate or China's aggressive global energy diplomacy, every aspect related to China is getting closer scrutiny. After relegating China’s rise to a second-order priority for the last four years, the rise of China is again fueling debate among the foreign policy elites in the US. The latest issue of the Foreign Affairs magazine has a number of articles on the implications of a rapidly growing China. Most of the articles call for a serious attempt on the part of the US for shaping a cooperative bilateral relationship with China. But concerns are rising about the future trajectory of China’s rise and they are being increasingly articulated. It is incumbent upon India to take this debate seriously as its foreign policy will inevitably have to contend with an international environment shaped by the great-power politics of the twenty-first century involving China and the US.

China's Future: Brzezinski versus Mearsheimer

There is a widespread narrative on China's future which forecasts a "peaceful rise" for her and a smooth integration into the global order - such as that is. This narrative typically points to China's history over the past couple of decades and to the technical quality of China's top leadership, often verified by the proponent at first hand during a recent Beijing visit.

A counter narrative invokes the lessons of history and expresses serious doubt that China's emergence will remain peaceful as her capacity to seek hegemony in Asia begins to roughly approach a quantum that might enable a run for it.

This counter narrative is clear in what it predicts but the "peaceful rise" camp is a big tent. It includes people in the US who feel that China will accept the current security architecture in East Asia going into the foreseeable future as she will be unable to challenge it, some who can hardly wait for the US to be pushed out of Asia (the Chinese leadership itself) and still others who seem to vaguely hope that China will evolve into a larger version of Germany or Japan.

Sorting out the merits of these two opposing narratives is a task of considerable importance for all concerned with Asia's (and India's) future such as those contributing to this blog. For today I will content myself by drawing the attention of our readers to an actual debate on this topic between two heavyweights in the American debate: Zbigniew Brzezinski and John Mearsheimer at the Carnegie Endowment last year which is available in summary form here.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Tackling Income Disparities and Tightening Grip over Media: China's Communists in a Quandary

Finally, the Communist Party in China seems to have woken up to the yawning income disparities between China’s rural and urban areas. So long, the Chinese government has been extremely successful in hiding their socio-economic problems behind the dazzling rates of economic growth. As reported in this piece in the Washington Post, the Communists seem to be worried now about the impact of growing socio-economic inequality on political stability. In other words, the Communist Party is concerned about its own longevity in power if the present socio-economic trends continue. The Communist Party is also trying hard to control the flow of information to the people of China, the latest being its attempt to limit the news and other information available to internet users. It remains to be seen how long this two-pronged strategy of managing economic growth more equitably and further tightening of political control will serve the Communists in China.