Sunday, March 12, 2006

China and Predictability

A couple of weeks ago I blogged on an ugly report out of Australia, with an ugly idea: a democratic China would be a bad thing. I took it apart briefly above, and see no reason to repeat that here. But a recent report in Taiwan News renewed my interest in the report's claims. The report noted:

"When a fifth generation of leadership assumes power in ten to fifteen years, China could become more open and tolerate greater dissent," the report said. "Such a political opening could then open the door to forces such as nationalism and populism. There is no way to predict exactly how Chinese politics will evolve in a more democratic era, but it is a development which could produce new challenges for the countries of East Asia after 2020.

"An authoritarian China has been highly predictable. A more open and democratic China could produce new uncertainties about both domestic policy and international relations."


The shallowness of this "Real men do realpolitik" style of analysis should be obvious -- its depth of misundestanding of all things reminds me of those klewless fundamentalist Christians who cite the Prisoner's Dilemma to prove that morality must be God-given.

Never mind that China is a threat to do any of these things at any time anyway -- there's been quite a bit of writing on the Chinese Collapse scenario lately, including a widely-cited article but slightly slanted article in Foreign Policy from Minxin Pei, whom I read as a pro-KMT Chinese nationalist who hates the CCP. Not that I blame him! I just wish that those who praised it because it appealed to their political prejudices had done more critical thinking on its sometimes suspect rhetoric. In any case....

No, one issue that the Australian report focused on above, which I'd like to highlight here, was predictability:

An authoritarian China has been highly predictable. A more open and democratic China could produce new uncertainties about both domestic policy and international relations.

There's an urban legend-style of analysis, especially popular among the pimples-n-panzers crowd, that authoritarianism is more efficient than democracy. It sometimes crops out in the media, as when Spock once noted in a Star Trek episode how efficient the Nazis were. Fortunately Sid Meier's wildly popular software game, Civilization, in which democracy is rightly described as the most efficient and effective form of government, seems to have put the kibosh on that idea for the new generation of teenage gamers. This idea that authoritarianism is predictable seems to be a related idea. The reality is that authoritarians are always unpredictable, because fear of authority increases if it is perceived as arbitrary, even irrational. For authoritarians, not only is unpredictability the structural result of rule by one or a few individuals, but it is also a useful tactic in instilling fear of authority.

So is China predictable? That seems to be an important foundation of the report's conclusions. Yesterday Taiwan News reported that Adm. William Fallon, commander of the US Pacific Fleet, was complaining that Taiwan ought to do more to purchase arms. In addition to the pro forma kvetching at "Taiwan" (why not give Ma Ying-jeou a call -- it's the oppositions problem!) Fallon added:

During Thursday's hearing, Fallon also said he was concerned by China's military buildup, which included a jump in Beijing's military budget of nearly 15 percent this year, to US$35.3 billion.

Fallon said the increase appeared to be aimed largely at intimidating Taiwan and "at countering our ability to respond" to conflict in the Taiwan Strait.

Part of the problem is poor communication with China. The admiral said the only three countries in the region where he couldn't pick up a phone and talk to his counterpart were Myanmar, North Korea and China.

"The challenge I have is lack of transparency and dialogue with China about what they're doing and exactly what their intentions are," he said. "We're left to ponder just what's going on."


Sure. China is predictable. That's why Adm. Fallon complains about not knowing what their intentions are.

Let us hear this stupidity about China's predictability no more.

4 comments:

MJ Klein said...

china's biggest future problem will be an affluent middle-class. middle class people have time on their hands. time to think about things, to consider, to plot. their economic rise will also be their own undoing.

Mark said...

"Real men do realpolitik"
"pimples-n-panzers"

Classic phrases!

A guy from Taiwan said...

I can tell you that there is no shortage of Hitler-admirers in Taiwan (actually, in the whole east asia). But apart from admiring Hitler, they don't hate Jews. They just admire his brilliant way to deveive people and grab power. Cartman-like people are just everywhere.

Most Chinese (incl. mainland, hk and taiwan) can't tell aprt truth from truthiness. That's the problem we have to overcome with Western philosophy. The process is not started yet.

Michael Turton said...

"truth" from "truthiness?" Francis Schaeffer is not what anyone needs.

Michael