Copyright The International Herald Tribune
When in 1964 China first tested a nuclear weapon, the West had every reason to be worried. Here was a country that had recently fought the United States in Korea, had threatened countries as far afield as India and Indonesia and had supported revolutionary movements all over the third world.
But today, the threat of Chinese military domination should worry the West very little. Its nuclear arsenal is rather small: a mere 24 intercontinental nuclear missiles that are able to reach the United States; no aircraft carrier battle groups for projecting its power; and very few destroyers. China is constructing no long-range bombers and has no military bases abroad. Its 70 submarines rarely venture outside Chinese territorial waters. Even vis-a-vis Taiwan, against which it has deployed 600 short-range missiles, China does not have the makings of an invasion force that could overwhelm Taiwan’s defenses.
Nevertheless, both the White House and a majority in the U.S. Congress continue to act as if the United States must contain China militarily, even while professing engagement.
In Tokyo recently, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, when asked to defend the presence of such a large number of U.S. troops in Okinawa, replied that they were there to balance the rise of China. John Mearsheimer, professor of political science at the University of Chicago, argues, “China cannot rise peacefully,” and there is “considerable potential for war.”
The assumption seems to be that the economic juggernaut will in the long run turn into a military threat. But it does not follow that an increase in China’s regional power and influence will translate into a reciprocal decrease in American power and influence. Neither power nor wealth is baked only in one size. The cake can grow for both. It is not a zero-sum game.
Why Washington feels that the United States’ longtime presence in East Asia is threatened by China owes more to paranoia than good sense.
Often overlooked is what Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan of China told former Secretary of State Colin Powell, that China “welcomes the America’s presence in the Asia-Pacific region as a stabilizing factor.”
China’s success has been grossly over-hyped. China still accounts for only a small proportion of world trade, and even in its region the latest figures show that China is a long way from dominating East Asian trade. Total regional imports from China are about 9 percent compared with Japan’s 17 percent and America’s 18 percent. Although Germany is Europe’s biggest exporter to China, its exports there are only 7 percent of its total.
The apparent high flow of foreign investment into China is used to trumpet China as the wave of the future. But most of that flow comes from ethnic Chinese. And much of the so-called investment from East Asia originates in China and makes a trip via places like Hong Kong only to come back as foreign investment to attract tax concessions.
China, unlike India, still does not yet have enough ingredients for long-term success. It does not have any world-class companies of its own. Its legal framework is rickety, and there is no guarantee that a dictatorial political system will have the flexibility to contain the stresses and strains of economic expansion pursued at the current rate.
In terms of literature, films or the arts in general, China is overshadowed by much smaller Chinese communities in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore.
It is probably only a matter of time before the faddish fascination with China switches to booming India. Once it does, it is unlikely ever to switch back, as investors realize what it is like to have a haven where the law works, albeit too slowly, and democratically elected politicians are not just accountable, but persuadable and approachable.
When it comes to China, time is on Washington’s side, and the time should be used to engage China further, not to fear it or aggressively seek to counter it.
That said, it will always be important to stand up for Taiwan’s democracy and not to brush under the carpet the memories of Tiananmen Square.
Maintaining the arms embargo on China and pushing Europe to do the same sends the message that the United States is not setting aside any important principles. All the more strange, then, is the inexplicable contradiction to its otherwise too tough China policy: The United States has recently given notice that, unlike in recent years, it is dropping its policy of voting to criticize China at the UN Human Rights Commission.
Jonathan Power – The International Herald Tribune
Copyright The International Herald Tribune