Friday, January 06, 2017

What Will China Be?

Does America want a weak or strong China?

In both word and deed, U.S. presidents from Nixon onward have emphasized support for China’s continued economic emergence, on the theory that a getting-richer China is better for all concerned than a staying-poor one, even if this means that the center of the world economy will move toward China. In one of his conversations with The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, Barack Obama said, “I’ve been very explicit in saying that we have more to fear from a weakened, threatened China than a successful, rising China.”

Do recent trends in Chinese repression of people and rival power centers, xenophobia, control of information flows at home, and attempts to control information flows about China abroad signal that we need a new China policy?

Do read it all.

I personally think that the change that should allow us to rethink our China policy took place in 1991 when the Soviet Union collapsed. In that instant, the reason for America to work with communist China--to join forces to stop the common foe the USSR--ended. So why do we want a stronger China other than from purely humanitarian motives to end mass suffering and poverty? After that, what is our interest in a strong China?

And yeah, I'd like it if China prospers and becomes a friendly, Westernized country. But if I had to choose between a more prosperous and powerful China that poses a threat to America on the one hand or a collapsed China writhing in chaos, on the other hand, I'd choose the latter:

While Chinese collapse is surely preferable to a growing, xenophobic, hostile nuclear-armed China, collapse won’t be a nice trip for anybody. Truly, our foreign policy toward China must be quite the balancing act. Throw in the goal of prodding a prosperous but peaceful and friendly China and you have a China problem that defies easy solutions.

That's not to say I think we should try to push China into chaos. As I said, that's not a nice trip for anybody. And I don't know if the alternative to that is a China that threatens America. Perhaps there is a "Thucydides Trap" involved that makes war more likely, but I think that the physical distance between China and America reduces the threat of potential power transitions leading to a war.

And I think that our relative geographic positions leaves America with far more free deployable power than China--with strong foes all around their border--will have even if stronger than America.

But are there other futures that could benefit the Chinese, America, and China's neighbors?

Could "China" become a geographical term? That is, could China break apart into separate states and be a term to describe a region much as "Europe" describes a region and not a political entity (sorry, EU, you aren't there and probably won't get there)?

So while some hope that China could become a more free and "normal" country through economic development, the evidence isn't there right now to support this theory.

Would geographical China be a better goal?