Saturday, June 18, 2005

# Posted 1:08 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

DEFENDING KISSINGER (BUT NOT REALISM): OxBlog is fortunate to have a very sophisticated readership. Thus, not just one, but two scholars have taken the time to critique my recent post about China and Kissinger. AS writes in that
I think you've missed some of the insight in Kissinger's (admittedly dull) commentary on China. The comparison between Clausewitz and Sunzi is more telling than chronology may indicate, for while the current batch of Chinese leaders may be closer in time to Mao, they are far closer in thinking to the legalist and Confucian bureaucrats of millennia past. It is an age-old tradition of foreign peoples trying to conquer the territory of China, only to be conquered themselves by its civilization. It happened first to the Mongols, then to the Manchus, and now to the German/Russian communists.
Although I defer to others' expertise about China, it would seem to me that the old men now running the show in Beijing were thoroughly indoctrinated by the totalitarian Maoist system in the 50s and 60s. Shall we suppose that once Deng's liberalization began in the 80s, these men became sudden converts to the wisdom of Sunzi (aka Sun Tzu)?

On a related note, AS continues that:
While China may be a vast empire, it is run very differently from the Soviet one before it. Russian culture was not developed enough to sustain true authoritarianism--even in the darkest days of Stalin's purges, underground organizers and samizdat publishers continued operating. The entire Soviet Union, not just the non-Russian parts but the Russian as well, were held together by force because they could not be held together by politics. Contrast the experience of the Cultural Revolution, where the sheer development of Chinese society (socially, not economically) created a web of passive oppression that left no free time or individuality for 'counter-revolutionaries.'
Twenty years ago, who would have said that Russian culture, from the czars to the Politburo, wasn't developd enough to sustain true authortarianism? That said, of course I agree that China is very different from the Soviet Union, but primarily because it now allows many of its citizens some very important measures of freedom, primarily economic. Although I again defer to others' expertise about China, my knowledge of the Cultural Revolution suggests that there was very little passive about it. Its brutality was overt and horrific.

Returning to the present day, AS argues that:
This is not to say that the Chinese system is any less oppressive or less evil. It is to say that military force, and the entire web of containment created to combat the Soviet threat, will be far less useful with regard to China...In China, such a scenario is entirely implausible: the country's economic growth, though unsustainable, is not going to collapse into depression. More importantly, the use of political and social power in the background to control society (ever since learning their lesson after Tienanmen) means that the vast majority of native Chinese harbor no real resentment against the system. To talk to them, the communist party is like a big corporation: silly with its rules, policies and propaganda, but ultimately more a joke than a monstrous evil.
I have very serious reservations about the assertion that most Chinese regard the ruling party as little more than a bureaucratic inconvenience. Although what we mostly hear about is economic progress, there is enough violent social tension in China to break onto America's front pages every so often. Although prosperity mitigates such concerns, corrupation and abuse is rampant in the PRC.

AS concludes that:
Put simply, the Chinese state is too well held together by economic success and strong social control to simply succumb to containment.
That I may agree with. But China doesn't have an ideology of global expansion the way the Soviet Union did, so containing it would amount to something very different than another Cold War. In short, we need to defend Taiwan, support the Japanese, and restrict Chinese support for rogue governments and (possibly) terrorist organizations.

What we are waiting for in the meantime is not for the Chinese system to collapse under its own weight, but for the people of China (and perhaps even the government) to see that becoming a First World nation demands political reforms as well as economic ones.
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