The East RisingSunday, July 3rd, 2011
Gifts from a generous Meatball:
Hardcovers too. Nice.
The Party: The Secret World of China’s Communist Rulers by Richard McGregor
Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power by Robert D. Kaplan
I have already dived a few chapters into the McGregor book and it is very good. What makes it good is that is running counter to the message of the herd in terms of popular Sinology, which is to emphasize that China is a) uniquely Chinese with deeply introspective Confucian civilizational traditions (that’s modern PC-speak for “inscrutable”) and b) the brave new world of liberal, globalized, capitalism with a benign technocratic face.
Now there’s important truths in both of the popular mass messages on China, incompatible as they can be with one another. The economic rise of China in a globalized economy is the most important story of the last quarter of the 20th century and the first quarter of the 21st ( collapse of the USSR is second; the Soviets were beaten before they imploded and imploded largely because they knew they were beaten). China is also not like America, not even when they imported stock options, blue jeans, McDonald’s and the American jobs that used to create all those things. China’s civilization is truly of a dizzying depth, complexity and scale that is best compared to Europe rather than a specific country. That in itself, is important because it points to how ignorant the average American policy maker is, never mind the average American, about what makes their Chinese counterpart tick.
[ Sidebar: Perhaps the Obama administration assembling a new senior “China/East Asia” diplomatic and national security team that does not include a single official with any professional knowledge of China was unwise? How is that better than the Bush II administration shunning Arabists during the run up to and occupation of Iraq? It is not that these diplomats and officers are poor, they are smart and experienced, but none of them are China specialists. Or Japan specialists, for that matter and only one has expertise in Korean affairs. These are the region’s great powers! This is like turning EU/NATO policy over to diplomats who speak Hindi and Swahili ]
What McGregor is doing in The Party that is important is reminding Westerners that the Soviet experience, particularly the Leninist Party model, is still deeply embedded in China’s political DNA. Not in an ideologically Marxist, Khrushchevian, shoe-pounding sense but in a functional sense. In a structural sense. In an instrumental governance sense. In a networking theory sense. And all these characteristics, which are largely innately hostile or indifferent to the values of liberal democracy, continue to shape Chinese policy, leadership succession, national security, defense strategy and geopolitical outlook to this day.
That doesn’t mean China is itching for a war with the United States, but it means they are playing a longitudinal strategic game where the first goal is to stay in power forever and the next is to advance one’s position relative to others.
We are the other.
China is not an enemy but she is no friend or ally of the United States either, yet it is the most important relationship the US has to manage for the next thirty years – and that relationship in a strategic context with rising India, Japan, South Korea and Australia.
It might help if America brought a team to the table that included people who could tell Han Fei Tzu from Mencius or spoke Chinese.