Flemming Ytzen’s comment to the previous article is important, however it is built on hope that China will behave differently from all other great imperial powers when under pressure of circumstances. The country will start as a mainly economic imperial state – as was England in many parts of the world until mid 19th Century.
Reading China as fundamentally different is not new. In the 1970’s its military behaviour on the borders was diagnosed as fundamentally defensive in character, the use of military force triggered by others and always limited, something that was based on the contemporary analysis of the Korean War 1950-53 and the Indo-Chinese Border War 1962. To put it mildly, the 1979 Chinese invasion of Vietnam undermined this interpretation of the country’s strategic behaviour. So did the new history writing about all aspects of Chinese politics during the Mao years, underlining not only the extreme arrogance and brutality show by the Chinese leadership towards not only the ethnic minorities, but against the Han Chinese. The costs i human lives dwarfed even the efforts of Stalin and Hitler.
I must read very positive evaluations of future Chinese policies as generally naive and ahistorical, most likely founded on a combination of necessary hopeful optimism and the liberal’s bad conscience about Western imperialism and colonialism.
With the ever-growing pressure on the limited ressources of the world from water over energy to minerals and the track record of Chinese actions to employ all necessary means to gain and keep control, I find it hard to see any difference between the actions of the former expanding Western empires and China. Only look at the country’s management of the water from the great Himalayan rivers, in the power play keep exclusive control of off-shore ressources and the policies in Africa and new mineral exploitation possibilities in places like the naively governed Greenland.
The only current limitation is the relative military inferiority that will last only a few years as the collapse of Western power as a result of the lack of economic ability to sustain or replace the forces is fast approaching. In Europe the next few years will bring full disarmament of over-seas expeditionary capabilities.
What will happen all over the West is now well illustrated by the developments in southern Europe. Collapse of production and the earning of foreign currency with an increasing part of the population that depend on government money as pensioners or as white collar public positions. The only parts of the economy that benefit from globalisation are the multinational companies including banks that no longer invest in the West and the agriculture that has been deeply rationalised and mechanised. These sectors can only employ a very small of the national population. Neither are able to form a stable foundation for state revenues. Unwillingness to work in hard or boring jobs themselves, the Western populations have imported workers from low income areas as sailors, farm and domestic jobs and for restaurants and hotels that add to the draining of currency and add little to state income.
Rising energy and mineral prizes as well as import of nearly all finished industrial products means a quickly worsening trade balance. The ever diminishing state income means that they try to cover the expenses with foreign loans, bridging to a post-crisis period that never comes. After some time the lenders get worried and the state bond interest rates rise to an unsustainable level. The states are then forced to cut state expenses, an effort that with further diminish the state revenues. Non-essential expenses such as the maintenance of military forces will be cut early, soon to be followed the all types of public services and subsidies. The ability to maintain infrastructure, import energy and goods will wither away and the populations rather spoiled trough decades will react with social unrest.
In some places the reaction will be to reduce taxes and thereby accelerate the undermining of state functions – without any hope of regaining competitiveness. Others will try heavier taxation to finance the repayment of loans and the maintenance of state activities – only to fail due to the disappearance of money to tax.
That bleak future is a result of Western naivity and ignorance of its own history, including recent history. In delirious hubris at the ‘End of History‘ we adopted raw capitalism as God and Molok, uncritically subordinating any political control and management to the assumed blessings of the ‘Market‘.
We are left without other options than to hope that Flemming Ytzen’s assumed authoritarian but civilized Chinese imperial power will allow us room for rebuilding our societies after the collapse and troubles of the coming decades.
It is now an open question to what extend the results of the progress of Western political civilization – in the Renaissance, during the Enlightenment, in the two decades prior to the First World War and after the Second World War – will survive to the benefit of all humanity: the rights of the invidual, the power balance and social contract between government and citizens of the democracy, the norms and limitations of international war. Both Flemming Ytzen and I know that even if Chinese political culture and norms commits the official to clean and just administration, the current practice is rather arrogant and corrupt, and the rulers only react by sacrificing some of those caught to symbolic execution.
2 thoughts on “After the wealth emigrated … a renewed publication of a 12 November 2011 article under the impression of the current situation”
An increasingly assertive China may confront its South East Asian neighbours militarily to deal with the territorial disputes in The South China Sea. Once again, Beijing will teach Hanoi a lesson, along the same lines as the three-week brief border war in February 1979. This ‘teach-a-lesson’ war was triggered by Vietnam’s alliance with the Soviet Union, a development which helped to forge a temporary strategic partnership between the United States and China (initiated by president Jimmy Carter and continued by Ronald Reagan).
As Henry Kissinger points out in his brilliant book ’On China’, Beijing eventually emerged as the strategic winner in the final outcome of the Third Indochina War, which ended with the Cambodian peace settlement in 1992-93. Furthermore, Kissinger makes some interesting descriptions on the future nature of the Sino-US relationship and on the political and cultural differences between the two giants: Each country has a sense of manifest destiny, but American exceptionalism is missionary and holds that the US has an obligation to spread its values to every part of the world. China’s exceptionalism, in contrast is cultural: China does not proselytize or claim that its institutions are relevant outside China, yet it tends to grade all other states as various levels of tributaries based on their approximation to Chinese cultural and political forms.
Regarding the possible ‘ahistorical’ positive evaluations of China’s international behaviour, allow me the following points:
Compare the ‘neighbour-policy’ during 200 years of the United States towards Mexico, Central America and other Latin American countries with China’s tributary attitude towards its East Asian neighbours during a millennium: Japan has been the only the real rival and for good reasons. The unique situation on the Korean Peninsula has since the end of the Cold War been accommodated to serve both American and Chinese foreign policy interests. Former rivals and enemies in Asia such as Vietnam have been approached constructively through ASEAN and APEC. Dialogue with the key adversary to the South, India, is taking place on multiple levels, although Beijing and New Delhi agree to disagree on the question of Aksai Chai and Arunachal Pradesh. The Himalayas serve as a natural border to prevent war.
China would never do as America with its futile war in Indochina 1965-75 or the war effort in Iraq 2003-201?. One should take note of the old sayings of Sun Tzu, which still holds value in China: Supreme excellence consists of breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.
China’s financing of American Treasury bonds can be seen in Sun Tzu’s perspective, but the interdependence of America and China, sometimes labelled as G2, is arguably the most important factor that prevents the development of military conflict between the world’s two most important countries. Call it the financial balance of terror.
As for China’s domestic polices, it needs to clarified that today’s pro-globalist and corporatist-authoritarian China is as different from Maoist ideological tyranny as can be imagined. Hu Jintao’s People’s Republic is the exact antidote to Maoism and for good reason: the present leadership generation and their mentors suffered seriously during the so called Cultural Revolution and has implemented the reform policies to prevent a repetition of past policies.
What resembles today’s People’s Republic with its elitist and corporatist political model is ironically The Republic of China led by Mao’s archrival Chiang Kai-shek 1949-75. Chiang was definitely not a role-model liberal democrat, but he lifted his island from being a third-world backwater to becoming one of the leading industrialized nations of East Asia and made democratization all the more easy when the successor elite decided for just that in 1987-88.
Do not expect the People’s Republic to copy what Chiang’s son Ching-kuo did shortly before his death in 1988, but we Europeans still need patiently to push for a more liberal, open and tolerant China even while it maintains it’s party-state structure.
And let us not forget that the life prospects for the Chinese youth are far brighter than that of the young generations in Russia, the Arab world, larger parts of Africa, not to mention Greece, Italy, Spain…
Europe’s future prosperity lies in connecting with the future Silk Road: two ancient civilisations connecting via railroad tracks across Euroasia and by ship going north of Russia.
‘The Art of War‘ (ascribed to a Sun-tzu) recommends gaining victory without having to fight. Within his ideal the Western tendency to a fair, frontal and symmetric battlefield behaviour guided by the traditions of christian chivalry is irrelevant, stupid and counter productive.
The same irrelevance applies to the other Western development with roots in chivalry: internationally accepted rules limiting the suffering of war. ‘The Art of War‘ recommends to act in any – even the most vile, brutal and dirty – way that enhances the chances of easy and quick victory.
Thus the future is likely to be one, where laws of conflict behavious developed during the last 150 years by Western idealists, jurists and diplomats must be considered irrelevant. Good to know in the Haag.
What the West is offered is the option always open when conflict is threatening: that of accepting defeat without trying to defend, hoping that the optimistic picture of the future outlined by Flemming Ytzen – and his many historical predecessor optimists – will come true, now in spite of the pressure from climate changes and ever more limited resources.
I am old enough to remember the Cold War pictures of the Soviet Union as a fundamentally peaceful and far more just society than the West, spread as late as the early 1980s. Later I worked in the former Soviet area for a decade and realised that in reality it had been dominated by a combination of contempt of the individual, corruption, lies to protect power and clientism rather than social justice.
I suspect that the present and future China is and will be rather similar in most respects, as was Chiang Kai-shek’s variety according to Jonathan Fenby.
If nothing is done to correct and balance the development, the ‘new silk road‘ will be a one-way street with all power and wealth in the eastern end. To assume – as Ytzen does in his rosy vision – that the unlimited weath and power will be harnessed by civilization and altruism is to put it mildly rather naïve and ahistorical.
The main weakness of Ytzen’s comment, however, is that it does not try to face and analyse what will happen in the Western socies as the wealth is drained. Is it because he thinks that with its history of colonialism it deserves what comes to it?
This ends the discussion about China as it is rather secondary to the discussion of the likely sequense of events in the West.