Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Disagreeing with Mr. Bush

Since I have began to really study international affairs on a regular basis (which has been about two and a half years) I have made it a goal of mine to never stop questioning what I believe in. I identify my perspective on foreign policy as that of the ''neoconservative persuasion.'' However, I qualify my neoconservativism only to, as our blog sub-title reads, ''where it counts,'' which today happens to be the greater Middle East. Outside of the Middle East, I have realized over time that I am no neocon. This is especially true with regard to China. Neocons are especially fearful of a rising China, who's economic growth in the past twenty years rivals America's and who's governmnet is spending billions to modernize their military. One of the princple beliefs of neoconservatives on foreign policy is unparalled American supremacy. Any power that seeks to rival the U.S. economically and especially militarily is considered a threat, according to neoconservative thought. And China is certainly on her way to rival-status.

But I believe (I know Jon doesn't) that we should welcome China's emergence and that we should seek to shape a relationship with the Chinese that enhances our economic relationship (don't forget that the U.S. is China's biggest export market) and establishes a strategic-security relationship that will allow us to deal with North Korea. Much of my belief in this unconventional approach to China policy is due to Dr. Thomas Barnett and Tom Friedman's book The Lexus and the Olive Tree. Both authors talk about the importance of globalization in seeking a safer and more prosperous world, and it has become apparent to me that our saber-rattling toward China is a lost cause. Barnett, whose new book The Pentagon's New Map is an unparalled look at the world today, has a piece in the February Esquire (which you gotta read, too) about what he thinks should be President Bush's agenda for his second term. The section on China is important to understand where I'm coming from on all this. It is as follows (it's pretty long, but definitely worth spending 10 minutes reading):

TO UNDERSTAND CHINA TODAY, you have to remember what it was like for the United States back in the early years of the twentieth century. Here we were, this burgeoning economic powerhouse with a rising yet still relatively small military package, and all the old-school powers worried about us as an up-and-coming threat. While the European form of globalization predominated at that time, our upstart version ("We don't need no stinkin' empire!") would come to dominate the landscape by the century's midpoint, primarily because Europe decided to self-destruct all its empires via two "world" wars that in retrospect look like the European Union's versions of the American Civil War.

China is the United States of the early twenty-first century: rising like crazy, but not really a threat to anyone except small island nations off its coast. (God, I miss T.R. and the Rough Riders.) Hu Jintao, China's current president and party boss of the country's fourth generation of leaders, has tried to calm global fears by proposing his theory of Peacefully Rising China, a tune that, frankly, none of the Pentagon's hardcore neocons can carry.

Why? The far Right is still gunning for China, and precious Taiwan is its San Juan Hill. Nixon burned Taiwan's ass back in the early seventies when he effectively switched official recognition from Taipei to the mainland, so the price it demanded was the continued "defense guarantee" that said we'd always arm Taiwan to the teeth and rush to its rescue whenever China unleashed its million-man swim of an invasion.

That promise is still on the books, like some blue law from a bygone era. Does anyone seriously think we'd sacrifice tens of thousands of American troops to stop China from reabsorbing Taiwan?

I know, I know. China's still "communist" (like I still have a full head of hair if the lighting's just so), whereas Taiwan is a lonely bastion of democracy in an -otherwise...uh... increasingly democratic Asia. So even though the rest of Asia, including Japan, is being rapidly sucked into China's economic undertow (as "running dogs of capitalism" go, China's a greyhound), somehow the sacredness of Taiwan's self-perceived "independence" from China is worth torching the global economy over? Does that strike anybody as slightly nuts?

Here's the weirdest part: China's been clearly signaling for years that it's perfectly willing to accept the status quo, basically guaranteeing Taiwan's continued existence, so long as Taipei's government maintains the appearance of remaining open to the possibility of rejoining the mainland someday.

Now I know people say you don't read books, Mr. President, but being a Southerner, you know something about the Civil War. Imagine if Jefferson Davis and the leftovers of the Confederacy had slipped away to Cuba in 1865 to set up their alternative, nose-thumbing version of America on that island. Then fast-forward to, say, 1905 and imagine how much the U.S. would have tolerated some distant, imperial power like England telling us what we could or could not do vis-á-vis this loser sitting just off our shore. Imagine where old Teddy Roosevelt would have told the Brits they could shove their defense guarantee.

My point is this: In a generation's time, China will dominate the global economy just as much as the United States does today. (Don't worry, we'll be co-dominatrices.) The only way to stop that is to kill this era's version of globalization—something I worry about those neocons actually being stupid enough to do as part of their fanciful pursuit of global "hegemony." That nasty, far poorer future is not the one I want to leave behind for my kids, and I expect you feel the same about yours. China won't go down alone; it'll take most of the advanced global economy with it. So on this one, let's go with those vaunted American interests I keep hearing about and look out for number one.

This may seem a back-burner issue, but there's credible talk of Taipei doing something provocative like adding the word Taiwan in parentheses behind its official name, the Republic of China. That may not seem like much to us, but Beijing's reluctant hand may be forced by this act. Seems crazy, doesn't it?

Again, how much of the global economy—how many American lives—are you prepared to sacrifice on your watch just so Taiwan can rejoice in this moment of self-actualization?

I vote for zero. Zip. Nada.

Take America's defense guarantee to Taiwan off the table and do it now, before some irrational politician in Taipei decides he's ready to start a war between two nuclear powers. Trust me, you'd be doing Taiwan a favor, because it's my guess that our defense guarantee would evaporate the moment any Taiwan Straits crisis actually boiled over, leaving Taipei severely embarrassed and Beijing feeling excessively emboldened.

Let's lock in a strategic alliance with rising China at today's prices, because it's got nowhere to go but up over the coming years. Buying into this relationship now is like stealing Alaska from the czars for pennies on the dollar; it'll never be this cheap again.

More to the point, preemptively declaring a permanent truce in the Taiwan Straits is the quid we offer for Beijing's quo in the solution set that really matters in East Asia today: the reunification of Korea following Kim Jong Il's removal from power.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post. My discomfort with the neocon approach doesn't come from their vision of a new world, it's been about the procedure for getting there. Cato the Elder may be a hero to some, but Carthage was no real threat to Rome in 146 BC, and many thoughtful citizens of Imperial Rome considered that year as the beginning of the end of the Roman Republic.
Keep up the good work!
Dave Funk (PSU-English '78)

6:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You need to learn to spell "whose." Hint: it's not "who's," which would mean "who is."

9:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Selective deomcracy. Principles, integrity and honor means nothing. No wonder you support the 'democratic' party.

Abandon Taiwan to China as America did to South Vietnam to the communists... look at the current state of human right in Vietnam. Maybe you don't know this but the majority of Taiwanese are not Chinese. The KMT siezed Taiwan, imposed their Chinese control, when they lost China in 1848. What you're advocating is denying a people's right to chose their future. No wonder you're a 'democrat'.

8:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

1948. Slip of the fingers.

To abondon Taiwan and cave in to the Chinese tyranny is the worst thing to do...abandon principles as well as allies doesn't speak well for the US. Makes the US look weak. Abandoning South Vietnam made the US weak in the eyes of the Soviets and that led to the invasion of Afghanistan, crackdown in Poland and their deployment of mobile missiles (which led to the development and deployment of Pershings so actively opposed by 'democracts'.) in Eastern Europe. Weakness after Somalia, USS Cole, embassy bombings in Africa, Khobar Towers, etc., led Al Qaeda to believe that one harsh blow to the US - Sept. 11 - would lead the US to abandond the Middle East. The same policy you're advocating.

8:09 AM  
Blogger Matt said...

Whoa there. By "democrat" do you mean I'm a big-D Democrat, as in Bill Clinton, Ted Kennedy, Howard Dean? Read my first post in this blog so you know where I'm coming from when I call myself a "democrat."

We obviously disagree on China and what she'll be doing 20 years from now. I think we'll be closer trading partners than even before. And whether you or Taiwan likes it or not, the growing economic integration of the island and the mainland inevitably leads to political integration. At the rate at which China is opening up to the global economy (I should mention one of Bob Zoellick's big wins as U.S. trade rep in Dubya's first term was getting China into the WTO) and, subsequently, the amount of flows of investment, information, and technology entering China now and in the future gives Beijing no other option - if they wish to maintain their econonomic clout - but to open up politically and socially.

This fear of China is petty and unfounded and makes no logical sense.

1:11 PM  

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