” A communication: magnificently our great Emperor soothes and pacifies China and the foreign countries, regarding all with the same kindness. If there is profit, then he shares it with the peoples of the world; if there is harm, then he removes it on behalf of the world. This is because he takes the mind of heaven and earth as his mind.” - Lin Zixu
I am no Sinologist, so I am interested in how professional China-watchers interpret this signal. Here’s my two cents:
Dr. Thomas P.M. Barnett teamed up with two highly-regarded (inside Chinese elite circles) pundits John Milligan-Whyte and Dai Min to offer a “grand strategic rebalancing” of the Sino-American relationship for the 21st century, which ran in The People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China. Agree or disagree with the particulars, an impressive and timely move on Tom’s part.
An excerpt – but you should really read the whole thing:
….When agreed upon by the presidents of both nations through an “executive agreement” not subject to U.S. Senate ratification, it will promote U.S. economic recovery, increase U.S. exports to China, create 12 million US jobs, balance China-US trade as well as reduce U.S. government deficits and debt. Furthermore, it will stabilize the U.S. dollar, global currency and bond markets. It will also enable reform of international institutions, cooperative climate change remediation, international trade, global security breakthroughs as well as facilitate the economic progress of developed and developing economies, the stabilization and rebuilding of failed states and security of sea transport. The essence of the grand strategy is that the United States and China will balance their bilateral trade and never go to war with each other, and the US will refrain from seeking regime change and interference in China’s internal affairs with regard to Taiwan, Tibet, Xinjiang, the Internet, human rights etc. and China will continue its political, legal, economic and human rights reforms.The Taiwan situation will be demilitarized by an informal U.S. presidential moratorium on arms transfers to Taiwan, China’s reduction of strike forces arrayed against it, a reduction of U.S. strike forces arrayed against China and ongoing joint peacekeeping exercises by U.S., Chinese and Taiwan militaries.The strategic uncertainty surrounding nuclear program in Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) will be de-escalated by the U.S. eschewing DPRK regime change goals and China ensuring that DPRK adopt policies along the lines of Deng Xiaoping’s economic reforms and terminate its nuclear weapons program. China, U.S., South Korean and other military forces will together ensure maritime safety in the Yellow Sea….
Publication in The People’s Daily does not imply that this blue sky missive is Chinese policy, but it would never have appeared without the sanction of some important figures in China’s government and Communist Party. I am not up to speed on elite Chinese politics, but historically, the Central Committee of the CCP was a much more integrated body of elite decision makers in the sense of mixing PLA generals, state bureaucrats and Party bigwigs than was the Soviet Cenntral Committee, which served in the post-Stalin era to cement CPSU dominance over the military and KGB.
Set aside the merits of this “rebalancing” for later, as some points have not a hope in hell of seeing the light of day,and focus on what it means that the article has appeared at all.
First, I read this as a Mongolfier kind of trial balloon, a plausibly deniable rough draft of a Shanghai Communique 2.0 where Chinese rulers lay out their internal consensus “red line” vital interests and what they will put on the table in return, without any risk of “losing face”.
Secondly, while most of the critical noise will be over the security-military relationship, Taiwan and the total omission of Japan (!), I find the economics the most interesting section. Never before in history have two great powers with so little in common, who were not allies, so deeply entangled themselves in each others economies, basically to the point of no return. This piece tells me China’s leaders realize that a path of confrontation with America or pursuing beggar-thy-neighbor trade policy indefinitely, will mean the destruction of a generation of painfully accumulated surplus wealth, held largely in dollars and treasury securities. China’s elite would rather “double-down” on their bet on America instead of attempting to painfully wrench themselves free and cut their losses by cashing in devalued chips.
That concern is the apex of realism – a good variable to see at a time when nationalistic hubris and hypersensitivity have increasingly been on display in China’s foreign relations with great powers and weak neighbors alike. That kind of realism, other countries can do business with.
What are your thoughts?
Tom has added his briefing slides