China, Rising

The smart brains across the Potomac understand that this is inevitable and possibly something to be highly desired.  The U.S. needs a hegemonic successor — our own structural issues, just like those of the British in the 19th century, will not allow us to provide stability indefinitely.


1.  China vs. India:  the two will need dramatic rapprochement on a number of issues.

2.  Human rights.  They’re not going to adhere to US norms.  China’s government, like Mexico’s PRI of the mid-20c, exists to keep a single party in power.  However, an arrangement allowing the issue to be finessed would allow a modus operandi we can live with (without compromising our own values, if we accept the argument that China’s gradual expansion of the middle class will eventually result in increased gov’t transparency, etc.)

3.  Taiwan and regional competitors.  Japan vs. China is serious.  Taiwan vs. China is a strategic inevitability = the Taiwanese balk at spending on their own defense.  China vs. Russia?  My take is, let the Chinese win.  They’re no worse to ethnic minorities than the Russians (both are awful), but the Chinese at least appear to actually be governing, as opposed to Russia, whose strategy for the 21c appears to be recycling Soviet mythology while the life-expectancy continues to plummet.

4.  Africa:  Chinese dealings with Africa are clearly neo-colonial.  That raises issues, one of which is, “do we care?”

5.  Opportunity: if China and Japan engage in serious re-armament issues, both will have the muscle to provide international security, easing our responsibilities in that respect.  Our responsibilities, otoh, are predicated upon having an economy that can meet them (shades of the 1970s).  The ability to say “this isn’t our problem,” just as we did for a while on the piracy issue, could prompt more responsible behavior from our supposed partners, such as the more feckless members in NATO.  (The European powers are treated “with contempt” because, by and large, the major European powers are contemptible, contributing little except for moral posturing meant to conceal their utter lack of power.)  That in turn may increase our respectability in places that generally like us, but hate seeing us throw our weight around, such as Latin America.


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  1. 1. China vs India is their problem. For us, our economic and familial ties to both are strong enough that our setup is “China and India”.
    2. Screw ’em. When the Chinese government finally learns that human rights are an economic advantage, then we’ll have a serious global competitor, but in the dog-eat-dog-trust-no-one world, we stay on top.
    3. I concur; Taiwan is a loser for us.
    4. No, let someone else be the bad guy for once.
    5. “Not our problem” is the approach we should’ve been taking for quite some time, with everything from humanitarian concerns to the Norks. Putting ourselves out there opens us to diplomatic criticisms that are hard to wrangle out of (first-mover disadvantage), whereas if we let someone REQUEST our presence, we have all manner of cover for when the inevitable oopses occur. For example, I would love to have seen any of the past presidential candidates say of the NorKs “I’m not concerned about North Korea; their behavior is a regional issue and I have great confidence in the competency of the local powers to deal with any problems that arise.”

  2. drteine

     /  May 18, 2009

    Well, since you asked…
    1) I agree, China and India do need to come to an understanding, otherwise it is a lot of collateral damage should they decide not to. That being said, I think we (the US) have a better chance of getting along with India than we do with China. China wants the spotlight. Alone. I don’t quite get the same impression from India.
    2) You are very correct – the more the middle class grows and the more they start to savor some rights to not only earn money, but enjoy travel abroad, the more they’ll want transparency of government. However, the Chinese people for the most part are still willing to trust their government; they’re not quite as cynical as the west is so therefore their cultural tolerance for control is much higher than ours, so it will be their flavor, but it will help in some relations. Some, but not all because they want the spotlight. Again – Alone.
    3) No arguments from me on your 3rd point, except that for China to continue growing, they need resources to continue their rate of growth, which either means taking it from Russia (very unlikely) or onto point #4.
    4) Over the past 5 years I’ve run into scientists from Africa, and their feelings about the Chinese are mixed. On the one hand, the Chinese actually invest in factories and plants on the ground in Africa creating some local jobs, but at the same time, Africa is under no illusions that the Chinese are there for their resources, and, to have another place to export their cheap crap to. In effect, it’s not quite colonialism so much as it is China wants a trading partner that doesn’t dream of dictating terms. Basically the opposite of us.
    5) Well, it’s a nice thought but I don’t know if it would actually work in practice. I think if we take a more reactive position rather than keeping an eye on things and acting as a superpower then we may begin to be ignored when we really do have something important to say – regardless of our actual power. I see it as if you want to have a say in the game, you always have to be seen in the gaming arena, even if you aren’t playing or actually betting on anything. It’s the perception of being a player vs. the reality. If you let China take the spotlight they want so much and back off a bit (or a lot), I think the world will quickly forget about you and instead suck up to the new power. Well, that’s my simplistic view of human nature, but in general I think it would hold. On the other hand though, we certainly could stand to be better liked in our own hemisphere and establish better relationships with our neighbors to better grow a local hemisphere of trade and growth so that when China decides they want more, we have something to counter with.

  3. Mike

     /  May 18, 2009

    I can’t see China and India really making nice while China helps bankroll Pakistan’s military (much more than we do). China should ditch the Paks and maybe we have something. Until then India isn’t probably going to be wanting to talk much. Also, India is moving into the niche that China fills (they make good stuff cheap) so expect some more compitition.

    On human rights, feh. I don’t really care. China’s mindset is focused on preserving CHINA. Everything else is purely secondary, especially human rights when they start talking about automony and respecting minorities (aka Mongols or Tibetans). This is a four thousand year old mindset and it ain’t leaving.

    I think Tiawan and China are going to reach a deal, maybe Hong Kongish in nature. Some small bones, but what China really wants is that Tawain finals says “okay, we are with you”. Once they have that, they can take 100 years to get real control and it doesn’t hurt them.

    Not to sound rude, but screw Africa. WE need to drop the moral take on this place and let it fail. The system is so far gone that it can’t really be rebuilt. We need to raze it and start over. Or more correctly, Africa needs to raze it and start over.

    Yeah, having a couple of other powers who are willing to help crack some skulls when needed would be nice.

  4. drteine: what you’re describing is precisely how Latin America describes colonialism (and one of the reasons we’re unpopular) — yeah, it creates jobs, but it also doesn’t lead to real development. That’s the sense I meant.

  5. drteine

     /  May 19, 2009

    Ah, I see what you mean about the colonial issue. I guess what I think is different is that China wants all the resources, but, they also want Africa as a market for buying the stuff they make in China so they can keep their industrial machine growing. I’m under the impression that in Latin America we don’t export nearly as much to them as we import and take away resource wise. Minor point though, I understand better what you’re talking about, and in that case I agree that Chine wants Africa as colonies.
    As for why we should care, which I see I didn’t answer, I guess the answer is one of unexpected consequences.
    We didn’t care about Afghanistan – and look what popped up there.
    We didn’t care about the Somalia pirate situation – and look what popped up there.
    If we ignore Africa completely – I’m pretty sure we’ll be dealing with a mess later on. We may not see it now, but odds are that the lawlessness there will lead to something nasty that we’ll be struggling with later. I’d rather us be proactive on the continent rather than ignore it, especially if it means keeping some of the resources locked away from China, because if they get a hold on it, it’s even less leverage we have on them when they ARE the manufacturer to the world.

  6. Fair ’nuff. As I said, my qustion was “do we?”

    (and in the early 20c, that’s exactly how/why we exported to Latin America, though we tended to get back bananas, sugar, and coffee, rather than, say, bauxite)


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