Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Integration and indigestion

The other day my friend Jeff and I stopped at a bar in Keelung, sat down, and ordered a couple of beers. We commenced to chat away what remained of the afternoon, and after a few minutes, a woman who worked at the bar sat down with us. Jeff and I exchanged looks: oh-ho! a talking girl! this should be interesting. As we looked at her expectantly, she reached into her back pocket, extracted a sheaf of papers and a pen, scrawled a quick question, and slammed the paper down in front of me. WHERE ARE YOU FROM? it said.

Yes, that's right. Of all the gin joints in all the towns of the world, we had picked the one bar on earth where the talking girl was a deaf-mute.

I'm positive there's a witty segue into the topic of this post in there somewhere, but I sure as heck can't think of it.

Anyway, the last few days have seen an avalanche of stuff on the recent decision by the Bush Administration to release $6.5 billion in arms to Taiwan. Jon Adams, one of the most consistently excellent correspondents on Taiwan, had a nifty piece in the CS Monitor the other day....

The arms deal is likely to draw far more attention in China than in the US. Last year, a survey on public attitudes toward US-China relations found that Taiwan was the No. 1 concern for the Chinese public. For Americans, however, the top worry was job losses to China – showing the gap in priorities and perceptions between the two big powers.

Chinese Communist Party propaganda has reinforced popular sentiment that Taiwan is an inalienable part of China that must one day be returned to the "motherland," by force if need be. That reunification is seen as a last bit of unfinished business in China's transformation from humiliated victim of colonial predations to global power.

Meanwhile, Taiwan continues to consolidate its young democracy under the shadow of China's military threat. Numerous polls, including those published by the Election Study Center at Taipei's National Chengchi University show that a solid majority of Taiwanese want to maintain the island's political autonomy.

In August, an opinion piece in The Christian Science Monitor highlighted the high stakes of preserving healthy US-China ties, calling the relationship "the most important bilateral one of our time."

Local author and teacher Jerome Keating once observed: everyone always says what China thinks of Taiwan ("a renegade province") but nobody ever asks what Taiwan thinks of China. Well, in the second to last paragraph there, Adams does just that. He also has nice article on Kenting's rapidly vanishing coral reefs this week as well. For more information on the Bush Administration's rationale, see Wendell Minnick's article on his new blog.

Very different is Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson's piece on China in the recent issue of Foreign Affairs. The article lays out the political establishment's plan for integrating China into the world system:

President George W. Bush chose this approach [enagagement], and it has been successful. U.S.-Chinese relations are more productive today than ever before, partly because President Bush engaged Beijing and did so based on the recognition of China's twin priorities: territorial integrity and economic growth. Even if it were possible to block China's growth, it would not be in the United States' interest to try. China's rapid emergence as a global economic power presents numerous challenges on issues ranging from trade and investment to commodity markets and the environment. But the inextricable interdependence of China's growth and that of the global economy requires a policy of engagement. In fact, the overriding importance of economic growth to China's leaders presents the best means of influencing China's emergence as a global power and encouraging its integration into the international system.

Recall that it was under Paulson that the US blew up the world's financial system, and that in response he demanded $700 billion with no strings and no accountability to fix the problem, a plan that appeared to be little more than the usual socialism-for-cronies that Washington has come to thrive on. Yes, this is the man who has been "managing" the Strategic Economic Dialogue with China. Lest you think I am criticizing Republicans, the Obama campaign also touts a similar engagement and integration program.

An interesting moment in this article occurs on page 2. There Paulson writes:

The Chinese are proud of their country's emergence on the world stage and rightly seek credit for its accomplishments. After nearly two centuries of exploitation by foreign powers, China feels it is important to defend its national interests, particularly against foreign demands. Unfortunately, the United States has often been perceived as arrogant and aggressive in its interactions with China, even when it has pursued legitimate interests.

You didn't misread that. The US Sec'y of the Treasury just regurgitated a bit of completely ahistorical Chinese propaganda as an actual analysis. If I had been the editor, I would have sent it back with a polite request to rewrite it either as a reference to Chinese propaganda or else put in some real history. Though perhaps he is just making a subtle reference to the Manchus and Communism...

....Paulson's piece was written prior to the meltdown on Wall Street, so there's a certain poignant irony to sentences like: Serious troubles in China's economy could threaten the stability of the U.S. and global economies. But laughs aside, I think that the US foreign policy establishment is still operating under the habitual assumptions of US military power (broken in Iraq), US financial clout (vanished in a cloud of government debt), and US management of the world financial system (recently blown up under the guidance of that selfsame Hank Paulson) and US moral authority (killed by torture and illegal imprisonment). The "integration strategy" for China is predicated on false premises of US power. It is a strategy for a world that does not at present exist.

The integration drive also contains many other weirdnesses, such as believing that China will take seat of First Violin when it actually wants to be the Conductor; that in a world where markets are so interdependent that a Russian bond default or a US mortgage problem can trigger global economic meltdown, the answer to the problem is to create more interdependence (Perhaps we should try the Battlestar Galactica approach: make our systems incapable of interlinking so that a default here doesn't produce a meltdown there...), and that in a society where networked personal relations are king, the correct move is to develop personal relations with the Chinese -- thus negotiating with them in their area of strength. One might also wonder what a society where all transactions are believed to produce a winner and a loser might make of such negotiations. And of course, how an authoritarian state of such size and power, with territorial claims on so many states around it, can be successfully integrated into a system of states with totally different political ideals, all at peace with each other.

What does integration with China produce? Businessweek recently reported on the increasing presence of fake microchips, routers, and other bogus electronic equipment from China in US weapons, the latest in a long string of fake parts and poisoned food to come out of China, systematic fraud on a galactic scale, with no change in sight. Welcome to the brave new world of integrating China into the world economic system.... I rather suspect that swallowing China is going to give the global economic system a bad case of indigestion...

Finally, integration will have its price, and as Paulson hints with is reference to territorial integrity, many of us fear that the price is Taiwan.


Anonymous said...

According to the Taipei Times, McCain had this to say about the arms sales, "the possibility of productive times between Taiwan and China are enhanced, not diminished, when Taipei speaks from a position of strength". Not only is he correct, he called the two nations by their appropriate names! Bravo! Has his opponent done that?

Anonymous said...

"...partly because President Bush engaged Beijing and did so based on the recognition of China's twin priorities: territorial integrity..."

No one is threatening China's territorial integrity. China's territorial expansion, however needs should be discouraged.

Tommy said...

We all know the Paulson piece is about as valuable as a cupful of the runs from a platypus' rear.

To be honest, Bush's biggest foreign policy failure is not Iraq, which the US will get over. It is his inability to grasp the fact that the US can't just put its foot down and get others to follow. The US would be a much stronger world leader with leaders who understand that others have interests and can adapt their thinking accordingly.

Regarding China, the Bush Administration, in my august opinion, does not recognise that integration must be balanced by strategic interests. To be fair, Paulson would probably say that integration is in the US' strategic interest. But from the Chinese perspective, strategy trumps integration. The US is fighting for an integration that will never fully happen because the Chinese don't want it to happen anymore than the North Koreans want to give up their bomb.

My 2c. The US will make it though all of this just fine as long as it can adjust to the reality that others have interests too. The blinders will come off and the thoughtful foreign policy will follow. As it looks like Obama will win, I pray to whatever is out there that he is as promising as some suggest.

Anonymous said...

Well, China was exploited by Western powers, mainly the UK and other European bastards, but also including the US. Those clever British devils even fought a war to protect their right sell China opium. I suppose the American South fighting to keep around slaves was about the same level.

At the same time, China implemented an expansionist policy towards its Western frontier, occupying Tibet and Xinjiang.

Actually, talking about China as a cohesive entity is problematic. What you could also say is that the majority of Chinese peasants were simply bearing the disastrous side effects of the turmoil produced by the Manchus, local warlords, and foreign devils (maybe it'd be nicer to call them colonizers) alternatively playing incumbent sucking resources and life out of these peasants.

Japan, having been bullied around by Western powers, was learning to play the game. It was an excellent student of the UK and Germany and others. It got so good it started kicking everyone's ass around it (Russia, China, the US, at least for a little bit), which meant it was one of the instigators of the deadliest and most tragic war the world has ever seen, to this day.

Tommy said...

"Well, China was exploited by Western powers"

I think the problem is the prologation of the victim mentality. Paulson makes a mistake in saying "After nearly two centuries of exploitation by foreign powers..."

From 1945 onwards, the only ones who have been exploiting Chinese have been Chinese, doing so very effectively in some cases. Paulson says it was nearly two centuries. He therefore clearly adds the last 50 years into his tally.

Paulson therefore is indeed spouting PRC propaganda. Maintaining the "oh we've BEEN (instead of were) the victim for so long" fallacy. The maintenance of the victimisation mentality is one of the things that keeps Taiwan fresh in the minds of Chinese. They are encouraged to think that it is the last piece of territory not returned to them and that the victimisation continues as long as they are denied the island.

China loves to absolve itself from historical blame. In fact, I would go so far as to call it a national pastime that makes their critiques of Japan and the US highly ironic. Let the Chinese talk that way. Americans don't need their own officials to adopt those BS lines.

And Anon, the American Civil War was about much more than slaves. It was primarily a cultural clash between an industrial and an agrarian landholding society within one country and not a semi-colonial exploitation of one people by another.