Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Containing China

Robert Kagan explains why "the rise of China cannot be managed," as the common parlance nowadays has it. He writes that we shouldn’t kid ourselves. We are already trying to contain China, and should treat it as a prospective enemy. Good article with historical exmaples of how the rise of Germany and Japan were "mismanaged."

Today we look back at those failures and ruminate on the mistakes made with the usual condescension that the present has for the past. But there is no reason to believe we are any smarter today than the policymakers who "mismanaged" the rise of Germany and Japan. The majority of today’s policymakers and thinkers hold much the same general view of global affairs as their forebears: namely, that commercial ties between China and the other powers, especially with Japan and the United States, and also with Taiwan, will act as a buffer against aggressive impulses and ultimately ease China’s "integration" into the international system without war. Once again we see an Asian power modernizing and believe this should be a force for peace. And we add to this the conviction, also common throughout history, that if we do nothing to provoke China, then it will be peaceful, without realizing that it may be the existing international system that the Chinese find provocative.

The security structures of East Asia, the Western liberal values that so dominate our thinking, the "liberal world order" we favor -- this is the "international system" into which we would "integrate" China. But isn’t it possible that China does not want to be integrated into a political and security system that it had no part in shaping and that conforms neither to its ambitions nor to its own autocratic and hierarchical principles of rule? Might not China, like all rising powers of the past, including the United States, want to reshape the international system to suit its own purposes, commensurate with its new power, and to make the world safe for its autocracy? Yes, the Chinese want the prosperity that comes from integration in the global economy, but might they believe, as the Japanese did a century ago, that the purpose of getting rich is not to join the international system but to change it?

Discussions - 6 Comments

The ruling class of China is every bit as racist as the Nazis were in 1930s Germany. The goals are similar. World domination, accept nothing less.

China IS our enemy. Get used to it.

As my visit to Beijing draws to a close, I can’t resist a comment on this post.

I’m curious to know what set of policies, concretely, Kagan is advocating.

He is clearly right--and anyone following the Chinese charm offensive during this week of the Fortune Global Forum will have seen this first hand--that China aspires to be a great power.

However, this is a struggle fundamentally for RECOGNITION of China’s greatness not dominance of other societies by brute force.

The enormous difficulty for China is that such recognition will not come merely by economic success; China will have to reform politically, and eventually cease to be an authoritarian regime. The current leadership has no vision as to how to get on that path; so they are reverting to their in-built instincts and engaging in a crackdown. But this crackdown cannot put the genie back into the bottle: unless they were to purge the younger people who have been educated in the West, grown up with the Internet, and so on, and obviously such a purge would tank the Chinese economy, among other things, it is this generation that is going to determine China’s political future, sooner or later. The real question is whether anyone can dismantle a system like this in a country like this through a "Velvet" as opposed to a very bloody revolution. I don’t have a answer myself. And of course we are dealing with a nuclear power. But I doubt that declaring China an "enemy" will do much good in furthering the goals of peace and political reform.

Couldcould you give the full cite for the piece by Kagan?


Rob Howse

To be precise, China is becoming a fascist nation...devoted to ethnic dominance of its region and worshipping its own ancestory. Our policies should be clear...don’t aid and abett this rise to power. Fueling (pun intended) their economic transformation is no substitute for political change, nor is our faith that economic change necessarily translates into political change well-founded. Authoritarian systems have proven time and again that they can engage in capitalist development quite well.

Just as with the Muslim world, China’s pride has been stung. What we see here is a narcissistic will to power, not the mature desire to improve the welfare of the Chinese people. They are convinced that this century will be the Asian century. Somehow we must prevent that (for everyone’s sake).

Prof. Howse writes:

"[China’s] is a struggle fundamentally for RECOGNITION of China’s greatness not dominance of other societies by brute force."

I’m not sure that the Tibetans and the East Turkestanis (Uyghurs) would agree with you about that, and I think that many Taiwanese (and perhaps Hong Kongers too) would express at the very least serious doubts. Maybe Beijing doesn’t use brute force all the time, no, but a combo of fraud, manipulation, and intimidation (threats of force)? Sadly, yes. And brute force when the rulers feel backed to the wall and calculate that they can get away with it? Well, just ask the students of Tianmen--the ones who survived, that is.

Sorry, I meant to type "the students of Tiananmen," not "Tianmen."

Leave a Comment

* denotes a required field

No TrackBacks
TrackBack URL:

Warning: include(/srv/users/prod-php-nltashbrook/apps/prod-php-nltashbrook/public/sd/nlt-blog/_includes/promo-main.php): failed to open stream: No such file or directory in /srv/users/prod-php-nltashbrook/apps/prod-php-nltashbrook/public/2005/05/containing-china.php on line 567

Warning: include(): Failed opening '/srv/users/prod-php-nltashbrook/apps/prod-php-nltashbrook/public/sd/nlt-blog/_includes/promo-main.php' for inclusion (include_path='.:/opt/sp/php7.2/lib/php') in /srv/users/prod-php-nltashbrook/apps/prod-php-nltashbrook/public/2005/05/containing-china.php on line 567