Tuesday, August 6, 2019

US and China - the Trump re-set

Ananth points to the nice article by John Pomfret justifying a re-set in US-China policy from the conventional wisdom of co-operation and friendship (or "shape what China does") that has been followed for decades. He argues that such a policy disregards the underlying intentions of the Chinese Communist Party,
Since the financial crisis of 2008 and the rise of President Xi Jinping, China has stopped market-oriented economic reforms, launched a massive crackdown that has resulted in the incarceration of more than 1 million Uighurs in Xinjiang, ramped up efforts to steal Western technology, broken a promisemade to a U.S. president not to militarize the South China Sea and tried to export its system abroad. It has squeezed aspirations for democracy in Hong Kong and launched a campaign to undermine the democratic system in Taiwan.
And this is the nub of the matter and what is required,
The Trump administration is the first one in decades to tell China that the status quo is broken. What China watchers should be doing is building on that insight, and not returning to promises of a kinder, gentler policy that wouldn’t have worked in the 1940s and won’t work today.
The Scholar's Stage blog places the evidence on record about how US miscalculated on China and offers this summary,
The sad truth is that the Party has a say in its own fate. We moved. They countered. They took decisive measures, some quite costly, to ensure that the West's attempt to peacefully liberalize their regime would not succeed. They loudly proclaimed their intention to do this all the way back in 2008; this resolution was aggressively translated into policy between 2010 and 2014. The decision to tighten the screws under Hu Jintao and Xi Jinping was openly articulated as a direct response to Western attempts to change China and liberalize the Party... The tragedy of American policy making in the 2010s is that we refused to recognize what they were doing. Our politicians and pundits discoursed on the "choice" the Chinese faced before them long after they had made it. The gambit had failed. We were slow to recognize it. Eventually a rough national consensus that engagement was no longer a winning strategy came about, though it came seven years too late. Now that this consensus has been reached and a clearer-eyed vision of the Communist regime finally lies before us, panicked notes of the departed are heard again. "Trust us!," go their nervous murmurings. "This is how we wanted it to be!" 
From hindsight it is a compelling argument that the US committed the mistake of not engaging more actively with the Russia of Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin in the post-Cold War nineties and disbanding the NATO (or at the least not expanding NATO to include the Eastern Bloc nations). Clearly the scars of the Cold War were so strong that it was unrealistic to expect the US foreign policy establishment to be able to seize the moment and pivot in the opposite direction. When the raison d'être of too many parts of the establishment was anti-Soviet activities, it would have been foolish to expect them to do so. And in the absence of top quality political leadership, the status quo prevailed. This Keith Gessen essay is a revealing exploration of America's Russia policy.

In case of China, the miscalculation has similarly been on the other direction. While the post-USSR Russia policy of the US establishment was encumbered by the Cold War experiences, the China policy appears to have been excessively influenced by the post-Nixonian ideological consensus amplified by the economic partnerships that the US economic elites entered into with China in the globalisation era. Both proved impervious to history, facts and logic. 

For India, there is no denying the appeal of Trump's policy on China. This blog has consistently argued in favour of President Trump's policy on China, even with all the very frequent whimsical actions and flip-flops. 

Let me also clarify one thing to avoid any moralising on the issue. There is no point adjudicating on whether the US or the Chinese economic model is superior. Or even whether the US has been more benign that China will be - remember that for all of nineteenth and large parts of twentieth century, the US was hardly benign, and everything can suddenly appear benign after the "war" has been "won". China is perhaps only doing what any large emerging power would have done, though, as I have blogged earlier, the Xi Jinping turn is doing itself more harm than good. 

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