Tuesday, July 26, 2005

The Corner on China

NRO's the Corner seems to have been expressing the "alternative" view on China lately. This morning Jonah Goldberg linked to a post by Andrew Sullivan's guest blogger, Judith Klinghoffer, who isn't too worried about the China threat. She notes the following, in the context of the Chinese general who recently said he'd hit the U.S. with nukes if we intervened in a conflict with Taiwan:

I suspect that sharp words were also exchanged between the Chinese government and the army. Why? Because some years ago when I raised in private the issue of Taiwanese independence with a senior advisor to the Chinese government on relations with Taiwan, he responded by taking a paper and drawing a map of the Chinese coast and Taiwan. He sought to demonstrate that an independent Taiwan would mean the encirclement of China. "The army will never stand for it," he said excitedly, "everything will be lost." He, apparently, knew what he was talking about and so should all the militant advocates of a formally independent Taiwan.
And last week, Kathryn Lopez posted this email from a CATO Institute think-tanker about the China-Unocal deal:

Most of the objections to the proposed deal stem from fear and loathing regarding the Chinese government. The argument seems to be that anything that promotes economic growth in China and, in turn, "feeds the beast." Now, of course it's true that China's government shows little to no respect for human rights and is one of the uglier regimes that populate the U.N.. It's attitude towards those who challenge party power in print or through civic action is savage and reprehensible. But it is on a positive trajectory. What was once a totalitarian state is now an authoritarian regime. Economic liberalization has had a lot to do with that - the emergence of capitalism and free trade has eroded the government's power and is likely to continue to do so in the future. Encouraging wealth creation and engagement in world markets will do more to encourage civil society in China than economic isolation, stagnation, and saber-rattling.

It's also important to keep the military issue in perspective. China's economy is the size of Italy's and, depending upon how you count it, American defense spending is 5-10 times larger than defense spending in China. Since Mao's death, China has not initiated war with anyone and has shown no inclination to initiate hostilities with the United States, Japan, or any of our allies in the region save for ... Taiwan. That's the only source of tension - the possibility that the United States might initiate a war with China over some future confrontation in Taiwan. A Chinese attack on Taiwan is a real worry, but notice that in that particular case, it would be the United States acting as the aggressor in this relationship, not the Chinese. Whether the U.S. has any business risking a nuclear war over Taiwan is an open question.

The argument that a wealthier, more prosperous China equals a more dangerous China is not necessarily true for the reasons I laid out above. Blocking China from access to markets or private economic assets would arguably incline the Chinese to think that only military muscle will allow it to secure access to markets and resources. That's not an idea we ought to encourage.

And I'm getting sick of hearing how China is a communist country. It is communist in name only. China is laboring to enter international markets and commerce and has substantially freed its economy from state control. It is arguably more capitalist than France. Moreover, China's lack of concern for human rights or the rule of law abroad is not substantially different from France's attitude towards the same.

Finally, the "level playing field" argument is a red herring. U.S. based companies have $105 billion of assets in China and employ 391,000 people there. Chinese firms own only $8 billion of U.S. assets and employ only 15,000 people here. Access to the Chinese economy is regulated and more difficult than it should be, but the suggestion that U.S. firms are "kept out" while we let Chinese firms into the U.S. is not founded upon fact.


Blogger Rob P said...

Where did Judith Klinghoffer get her statistics?
2003 GDP
China $6.449 trillion (2003 est.)
Italy $1.55 trillion (2003 est.)

Do you think that China may possibly be using the world's theory that "capitalism will liberate" to take advantage of opportunities that have no real contingencies for them to take care of their people? Just assuming that capitalism will liberate doesn't do the job. Playing hard ball while holding out the carrot of prosperity is much more effective. This is a tough and interesting issue.

1:40 PM  
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