Monday, September 04, 2006


Sorry for the lack of posts. I've been singularly uninspired, which may have been the function of this sinus/allergy thing which now I'm thinking might be an actual cold (in the summer?! This is just wrong).

Anyway, two friends sent me great New York Times articles which between them are a good illustration of where China finds itself in the world and why.

The first, "The World According To China," is both a lengthy profile of China's ambassador to the United Nations, and an examination of how China sees its role in international relations and in the world at large. The basic arguments presented here — that China regards national sovereignty as an issue that overrides nearly all other concerns, including humanitarian crises, and as an emerging superpower, still "punches below its weight," is not willing to use the full extent of its power on the world stage, strikes me as essentially correct.

Two quotes from the article stood out in particular.
China and the United States are the twin bĂȘtes noires of the U.N.: the U.S. insists on enlisting the organization in its crusades, while China refuses to let any crusade get in the way of national interest. Washington is all blustering moralism; Beijing, all circumspect mercantilism. Both can afford to defy the consensus view.
On my first stay in China I had the sense of China and the US as being opposites engaged in an interdependent dance (although we didn't know it yet), two huge countries that were nothing alike and yet oddly the same, in a way mirror-images of the other.

The second comes in a conversation journalist James Traub comes with Ambassador Wang Guangyu:
Wang told me he believed that blunderbuss diplomacy is the American way “because America is a superpower, so America has a big say.” China would appear to have a big say of its own, but that’s not Wang’s view. At the end of our second conversation, he returned to a favorite theme. “The Americans have muscle and exercise this muscle,” he said. “China has no muscle and has no intention of exercising this muscle.”

I said that, in fact, China had a great deal of muscle but punched below its weight. Wang smiled at the expression and said, “It’s not good?” Well, I said, that depends. And then Wang said something quite startling: “China always regards itself as a weak, small, less powerful country. My feeling is that for the next 30 years, China will remain like this. China likes to punch underweight, as you put it.”

Why was that? Why did China want to punch underweight? Wang spoke of China’s peaceful rise, of the need to reassure all who fear its growing clout. “We don’t,” he said, “want to make anyone feel uncomfortable.”
My hope is that when the Bush Administration slinks out of office in two years, America's "blunderbuss" diplomacy will be replaced by something more nuanced and considerate, and that China may come to see that failed states represent an instability which is to the detriment of all, not just the unfortunate "citizens" perishing under the pretext of national sovereignty.

The second article
illustrates the internal instability that Traub feels constrains China's external diplomacy. This is an all too familiar story, where local officials ignored environmental regulations, leading to an entire village being swamped in toxic waste. Reading this same story taking place over and over all across China gives credance to Ambassador Wang's portrayal of China as less than a full-fledged superpower, in spite of the efforts of American militarists to build up China as the next great enemy (a rival state being much better suited to justify the sort of military upon which our defense industry depends).

Of course, we in the US also have a great deal of work to do regarding our own internal stability. Our infrastructure is in tatters, our health care system failing, and the vast majority of wealth created in recent years going to the already richest Americans, with real wages falling for the majority (see here and here). Both Kevin Philips and Chalmers Johnson have written at length about the ominous hollowing of the American economy and its increasing militarization. The problem is that our internal weakness expresses itself in external actions, in the invasion of Iraq, for example. For I do believe there is a global competition for energy resources, and that China is a prime competitor. However, the Chinese have chosen, so far, to conduct the competition on the field of diplomacy.

As I see it, the choice that faces us as nation becomes increasingly stark: a rebuilding from within, a genuine renaissance of American ingenuity to free us from an oil and defense-based economy, a renewal of spirit and community.

Or war without end.

Take your pick.

(hat-tip to my good friends for the articles)

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