Politics, Foreign Policy, Current Events and Occasional Outbursts Lacking Couth

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Barnett and Mann on China

Via Simulated Laughter and New Yorker in DC this debate about China between T. Barnett and J. Mann.

I'm inclined to agree with T. Barnett in this debate. Mainly because Mann seems predisposed to the "us vs them" ideology regarding China that doesn't quite reach the classic neo-con China Threat ideology but still seems to preach resistance rather than acceptance. Like Barnett I believe a more connected (economically and philosophically) China presents little threat in contrast to a maligned, distrusted or feared China. This is not to suggest that I don't believe the US should strive to compete. There is, however, a stark division between a rival and a threat as illustrated in the 1980's Japan vs America economic rivalry compared to the extensive (and very expensive) decades long cold war.

Unlike the Soviet Union the "New Chinese Element" has indicated zero ambition for expansionism (Taiwan being a matter of both internal politics and blatant nationalistic pride) and has instead focused on global economic inclusion. I won't bore you with the obvious regarding geo-economic connectivity and the consequent unlikelihood of state on state war. It's intellectual peas and carrots.

As far as the Chinese communist leadership, with every passing year they look more and more like a dumbfounded shepherd being led by the flock. In short, the massive bureaucracy that is "Red" China looks more like a confused time traveler from the 50's finding himself irretrievably planted in the 21st century, blindly chasing this bizarre rainbow (the conflation of "communism" and capitalism) in hopes of finding the golden answer at the end. Unable to control or even predict the massive economic trends they simply cling to the "oh shit bar" as the race car gains momentum and navigates a twisting and unmapped course, hoping for the best. China is not the next big bogey-man hiding under the Pentagons bed, thumping around the White House attic or rattling chains in the congressional closet.

China is the opportunity for the US to step forward, extend a hand and say, "Hey, we might be the biggest rivalry of the early 21st century. But we're playing the same game, on the same page and heading in the same direction."


Unknown said...

Thanks for linking to my post.

One of the things I think make Mann predisposed to an us v. them ideology is the fact that he assumes that anyone who argues for engagement with China has either this illusion that China will reform or is just businessman looking to make a buck.

Taking a page from Barnett, I think that when it comes to China, we can't expect anything but for China to be China. That is, they will reform (if ever) at their own pace. Hence, what is more important than political reform is to integrate China as a pillar of this world order. After all, just look at Singapore, hardly a model for Democracy, but I don't see them being discussed in the Security Council.

aelkus said...

I also think that we need to have a sense of what we can and cannot do. Yes, it would be ideal for China to turn into a multi-party democratic state. Can we compel it to become that? No. We have to work within our means.

Unknown said...

Agreed. Our best bet is to focus on what we can do, meaning ensure that China has a stake in the international system. In that vein, we need to reform international institutions where it and other BRIC countries are underrepresented to account for their growing clout internationally.

Jay@Soob said...


Thanks to both. I agree we should allow our approach to China (and other seam states for that matter) to be indirect politically while very direct and engaging economically. (Which means a terse but not bullying stance regarding their undervalued currency.)

As China's economic value and free market grows, the more China evolves politically (in much the same fashion of Singapore: excellent example [and a great example of democracy not necessarily being the "win-all" approach to gap states.])

Unknown said...


Just wanted to let you know I've added you to my Pageflakes blogroll.

Jay@Soob said...


Thanks, I'll certainly (and have been meaning to) do the same!