LET CHINA AWAKE AND JOIN THE WORLD
STRAITS TIMES (SE Asia) 30/6/96, extract of paper submitted to Bilderberg 1996 conference
By Chas W. Freeman Jr.
China has risen from slumber, so help it find a place in the world, argues former American Assistant Secretary of Defence Chas W. Freeman Jr. Outlining the economic, political and military challenges of China, he warns that if it is excluded from the global order, it will not adhere to global norms. Edited extracts of his paper begin here:
The Chinese believe that, for most of recorded history, China was not just the most populous but also the most prosperous, technologically most advanced, most powerful, and arguably the best governed of all human societies.
The Chinese regard their eclipse by the West in what they call “the recent past” as an anomaly that time and hard work will correct.
Most Chinese now believe that, in the century to come, their nation is destined to resume its natural place as the pre-eminent society on the planet. They may be right. Even if they are wrong, their cocky self-confidence that time is on their side has major international implications.
China’s rise to wealth and power is the leading factor in the Asia-Pacific region’s progressive displacement of the Atlantic community at the centre of world economic affairs.
The challenge of fitting China into the existing world order does not, however, stop with economics. China’s rise also has enormous political and military implications. The Chinese economy is the engine that is accelerating the global shift of wealth and power to East Asia. Events in the region or between China and its trading partners may alter the rate of growth but are unlikely to reverse it.
But its growing economic weight and central position have yet to be reflected in its inclusion in global institutions and regulatory regimes.
China is excluded from the Group of Seven nations, the World Trade Organisation, the New Forum (successor to CoCom, the Co-ordinating Committee for Multilateral Export Controls), the Missile Technology Control Regime, the Nuclear Suppliers Group, and other global institutions.
No one has even thought about how to work toward the ultimate admission of China to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.
The effort by the United States and others in the early ’70s to incorporate China into the world order, shaped by the Atlantic community over the past half century, has faltered.
Yet, it is hard to imagine that the institutions that constitute this order can retain their leading position if an economy that is soon to become the world’s largest is not fully integrated with them.
Meanwhile, a rapidly-expanding list of global and regional economic and politico-economic issues cannot be successfully managed without Chinese cooperation.
For example, China will soon overtake the US as the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases. Clearly, no effort to moderate the damage to the global environment can hope to succeed unless China is fully a part of it.
China’s rapidly-growing exports and internal market continue to develop to a considerable extent outside the norms of the global trading system. This is creating vested interests in patterns of Chinese economic behaviour that disrupt and damage trade and investment with the industrial democracies.
The fact that China is not a member of most multilateral regulatory regimes leaves Beijing free to ignore complaints from its trading partners until they escalate into bilateral confrontation. In such raw tests of power, only a major trading partner like the US has much chance of prevailing.
Growing bargaining power
As China’s economic prowess grows, Beijing’s bargaining power will also grow, making bilateral solutions to problems with China that are of wider international concern even more problematic.
Yet, the West has no apparent strategy for achieving China’s integration into the multilateral institutions it hopes will regulate the post-Cold War international economic order. Almost without exception, institutions formed since the end of the Cold War have excluded China.
The country is already an exporter of high technology goods, many of them with military applications. Clearly, no effort to regulate trade with “rogue states” or in technologies relevant to weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems can hope to succeed if China remains outside it.
The limits of what can be accomplished by bilateralism are already apparent. Consider, for example, the decidedly mixed record of unilateral American attempts to regulate exports of Chinese nuclear and missile technology to Pakistan.
As China grows, the bilateral leverage of the United States and other countries over it can only diminish. Yet there is no effort being made to bring China into membership in the multilateral regimes that attempt to regulate the international transfer of sensitive technologies.
Finally, China’s opening to the outside world and the concomitant collapse of Chinese totalitarianism have allowed the emergence of transnational Chinese criminal gangs. Such gangs are now involved in the drug trade and the smuggling of Chinese emigrants under conditions approximating those of the 18th century African slave trade.
They are developing linkages to organised crime in Russia, Europe and the Americas. The full cooperation of the authorities in Beijing with multilateral institutions like InterPol is essential to deal with these problems.
The Asia-Europe Meeting, held in Bangkok earlier this year, has created a multilateral forum joining European and Asian Customs officials in discussion of them. Yet the principal market for drugs and destination of illegal migrants are the US and Canada, which are not part of this forum.
No proper legal system
A persistent problem in dealing with China is the inability of the central government in Beijing to obtain the compliance of provincial and local authorities with the agreements it concludes with foreign governments.
The current difficulties over intellectual property rights are a case in point. China lacks the legal system, including the courts, trained judges, and legal enforcement mechanisms that more developed countries can rely upon to implement effective controls over commercial behaviour.
Everyone knows this to be the case. Even the Chinese will admit it when embarrassed into doing so. Yet there is no concerted international effort underway to aid China in law and administrative reform or in public administration and judicial training.
The absence of an international strategy by which to promote China’s adherence to the norms fostered by global institutions is especially striking given the successful efforts to integrate China into the world order registered in the ’70s and ’80s.
The country can, of course, be counted upon to bargain for privileged status and exemption from the rules applied to other countries. Nevertheless, once admitted to a club, the record shows, China works hard to learn, adopt and apply the group rules.
China’s socio-economic transformation over the past two decades owes much to its admission to institutions like the International Monetary Fund, the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the Asian Development Bank, and the UN specialised agencies, and to its subsequent adoption of the modes of analysis and policies they favour.
The lack of a Euro-American (and Japanese) strategy for speeding China’s integration into global institutions and Chinese effective application of global norms is potentially very serious, given the high stakes involved.
It cannot be in the world’s interest to wait to begin managing the consequences for the international state system of China’s rise to wealth and power. Problems are accumulating, not diminishing. The country’s bargaining position is strengthening, not weakening.
Good regional relations
As China’s wealth grows, both its military power and political influence are also growing. The implications of this for the Asia-Pacific region are well understood by China’s neighbours.
Without exception, they seek economic benefits from closer ties with China, while keeping a wary eye on Beijing as they move to accommodate it politically.
China now enjoys its most cooperative relations with South-east Asia in 500 years. Its relations with Russia are the most mutually respectful in over 300 years. Its relations with Europe, including Europe’s great powers, are the most satisfactory in nearly two centuries.
Beijing’s relations with New Delhi are the least strained since the 1962 Sino-Indian border war. Its relations with Islamabad and Dhaka are as sound as ever.
Despite an audible undercurrent of Japanese concern about China, Sino-Japanese relations are as good as they have been in a hundred years.
Yet two centuries of weakness have left China with many points of dissatisfaction.
It is now the only great power to have had major portions of its historical territory and population detached from it by the military intervention of other great powers – European powers in the cases of Macau and Hongkong, Japan and the United States in the case of Taiwan.
Beijing is determined to reunite these disparate Chinese societies under a single sovereignty, if not single politico-economic system. China will accomplish such reunification through negotiations, if possible (as it has proven to be for Hongkong and Macau), or by force, if necessary (as India did with Goa and Indonesia with Irian Jaya and East Timor).
Many border disputes
China is also the only great power to lack secure and recognised borders with most of its neighbours. China has now settled all of its inner Asian frontiers through negotiations with Russia and the newly independent Central Asia states.
The list of Chinese border disputes remains, however, the longest in the world. China has unsettled economic zone (seabed) boundaries with both North and South Korea. It disputes the Senkaku (or Diaoyutai) archipelago with Japan.
China contests sovereignty over islets and reefs throughout the South China Sea with Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei and Malaysia. Its claims to economic zones in the South China Sea generate a seabed dispute with Indonesia.
The Sino-Indian border has been established de facto but not de jure. China is determined to define secure and recognised borders with all these neighbours by negotiated territorial adjustments as in the case of its inner Asian frontiers, if possible, or by military action to defend its sovereignty, if necessary.
Unlike unification with Taiwan, none of these border issues requires major territorial or politico-military adjustments for its resolution.
Sino-Korean differences must in practice await Korean reunification for their resolution. Neither China nor Japan has so far seen any pressing reason to address the question of sovereignty over the Senkakus.
A Sino-Indian border settlement is implicit in the status quo and could be formalised whenever the two sides are politically inclined to formalise it.
China’s full acceptance of the Law of the Sea Treaty (expected to be ratified by the National People’s Congress later this year) will provide a legal framework for negotiation of claims in the South China Sea.
‘One China’ worries
China’s neighbours have few concerns about its actions in the short term. They are all concerned, however, that China’s military power relative to them is steadily growing.
The re-emergence of military tensions, including Sino-American naval confrontations, in the Taiwan Strait has changed this situation. Until the last two years, Chinese leaders (like most politicians in Taiwan) believed that Taiwan had only two conceivable futures: the status quo (as it might be amended by cross-Strait interaction) or reunification. In these circumstances, Beijing felt no sense of urgency about the Taiwan issue.
By 1995, however, it had become deeply concerned that Taiwan’s democratic politics were centring on the quest for an identity separate from China.
Responding to popular opinion on the island, the leadership in Taiwan began to provide inducements to Third World capitals to allow the establishment of Taipei embassies alongside Beijing’s diplomatic representation.
Taipei redoubled its effort to upgrade its representation in the capitals of great powers. It vociferously sought a separate seat in the United Nations General Assembly. The Taiwan leadership launched a campaign of nominally private but very political travel abroad to raise Taiwan’s international profile.
Beijing concluded that Taipei was bent on acquiring the attributes of independent statehood on the diplomatic instalment plan.
Notwithstanding Taipei’s protestations of fidelity to the principle of “one China”, Beijing saw Taipei’s effort as crafting a basis for long-term separation from China.
This conclusion was buttressed by the main opposition party in Taiwan’s open espousal of independence. From Beijing’s perspective, Taipei’s actions threatened to alter the status quo in such a way as to preclude peaceful reunification.
Taipei’s effort to expand its options gave Beijing a sense of urgency about the Taiwan question it had previously lacked.
When political warning failed to deter Taipei, Beijing resorted to intimidation through military measures short of war, such as exercises and missile tests that underscored Beijing’s ability to strangle Taiwan’s economy.
These measures were intended to force Taipei to reverse course or to come to the negotiating table. Chinese posturing, however, belatedly evoked counterveiling shows of force by the US, neutralising Beijing’s pressure on Taipei to negotiate.
American naval deployments were undertaken to underscore the long-standing interest of the US in a peaceful, rather than violent, settlement of the Taiwan question by the Chinese themselves.
They were not intended to signal support for Taiwan independence. Ironically, however, by making it clear that the US would counter and offset Beijing’s use of measures short of war to force Taipei to the negotiating table, American actions have greatly diminished the prospects for peaceful reunification.
If Beijing cannot force Taipei to the table, and the US will not, it is highly unlikely that Taipei will ever negotiate.
From Beijing’s point of view, China now has only two options: doing nothing while Taipei works towards a “two Chinas” or “one China, one Taiwan” outcome, or going to war for reunification, despite the danger that the US might be dragged into the conflict. Revising this calculus is now an urgent task for American diplomacy.
Beijing is on the verge of embarking on the long-term military build-up necessary to acquire the ability to overrun Taiwan even against US opposition.
China’s recent embrace of Russian positions on various international issues provides a basis for expanded military cooperation with Russia while calming China’s northern flank.
As Beijing increases its military capabilities against Taiwan, it will not abandon its efforts to achieve reunification by peaceful means. It will continue to attempt to intimidate Taiwan into negotiations while seeking to minimise the resulting strain in its relations with the US.
At the same time, it will wish to limit collateral damage to its relationships with its Asian neighbours from tension and possible conflict in the Taiwan Strait.
As a result, China is likely to pursue compromise on South China Sea territorial issues (and perhaps even the Senkaku dispute) as it did with Russia and the newly-independent Central Asian states.
Shift in PLA focus
By eliminating potential sources of conflict with the members of ASEAN and Japan, China can hope to provide reassurance that its aggressive stance on the Taiwan issue is sui generis and without wider implications for the region.
These ominous trends might, of course, be reversed were Taiwan to be persuaded that it should enter into active negotiations on reunification with Beijing or otherwise provide convincing reassurance that it does not seek a future distinct from association with China.
Taipei is, however, unlikely to be willing or able effectively to press it to do so. Taiwan will continue to attract Western and Japanese sympathy as a democratic underdog menaced by the communist dictatorship on the Chinese mainland. This will stimulate widening concern about the implications of rising Chinese military power – no matter what Beijing does to allay such concerns.
Chinese defence expenditure has heretofore been relatively low in relation to its gross national product. The relatively low priority assigned to military modernisation over the past decade and more reflected Beijing’s judgement that the short-term risk of a major conflict on China’s border was slight and that a resolution of the Taiwan issue could be peacefully achieved.
Recent events in the Taiwan Strait have clearly altered these judgements. The Chinese defence budget is likely to rise accordingly, though the focus of PLA modernisation will shift largely to building the eventual capability to conquer Taiwan.
Strategic nuclear forces and other weapons systems with the capacity to deter US intervention in any battle for Taiwan are similarly likely to receive much greater emphasis in People’s Liberation Army modernisation.
The prospect of a more powerfully assertive China inevitably awakens memories of the recent Euro-American struggle with the former Soviet Union. It leads to speculation that China, like the USSR, may disintegrate. It is, however, a mistake to draw many analogies between the two.
Not like the USSR
The Soviet Union was a multinational empire, established by czarist and communist conquest from Moscow. Its dominant Russian nationality was a bare majority within its imperial structure. The Soviet Union was driven by the impulse to spread its ideology wherever opportunities presented themselves.
To that end, it maintained a huge military presence in satellite states along its borders. Moscow’s strategic ambitions led it to provide expensive military and economic assistance to like-minded states as far away as Cuba and southern Africa. Rigid central planning ultimately produced a declining economy unable to bear the very high level of military spending the Soviet state demanded. Until its final days, Moscow sought to overthrow the international status quo.
By contrast, China grew to its present borders over the course of millennia of gradual expansion and assimilation of minority peoples. The 94 per cent of the Chinese population who consider themselves Han share a nationalist passion for unity, order and international respect for their country’s historical borders.
They have no sympathy and even less tolerance for efforts by Tibetans or other minority peoples within these borders to exercise self-determination. They do not seek to bring additional non-Han peoples into their polity.
Contemporary China has no ideology it can explain to its own people, still less one it seeks to export to others. It has no satellites and maintains no forces beyond its borders. China’s increasingly decentralised economy is the fastest growing in the world. Its defence budget could be greatly increased without putting much strain on its economy. China seeks to join the existing international order, not to overthrow it.
Nor is China likely to disintegrate as the Soviet Union did. Economic growth has indeed altered the relationship between the central and provincial authorities. As acquisitive individualism succeeded austere communitarianism as the national ethos, the Chinese Communist Party lost much of its discipline, along with its ideology.
In the absence of government institutions to replace it, the provinces, to some extent, went their own way. In the early stages of economic reform, new challenges to government posed by the requirement to manage a market economy were met, if at all, largely at the provincial, rather than the national level.
Beijing is, however, now well along in its efforts to create the central institutions necessary to manage an increasingly dynamic and integrated national economy.
Resistance to this re-centralisation by the provinces has not led to separatist sentiment. On the contrary, the spirit of nationalism is on the rise throughout China.
Finally, the Soviet Union was a horrifying violator of the human rights of all whom it controlled. For all the Western pressure on Moscow on human rights issues, it took the collapse of the regime to bring about significant improvement.
Unlike the former Soviet Union, however, China is carrying out far-reaching economic and social reforms. These may or may not lead in time to political reforms, as happened, for example, in the formerly Leninist Chinese society in Taiwan.
Nevertheless, it is arguable that the course of events elsewhere in East Asia will prove to be a better predictor of China’s future than that in the Soviet Union.
In short, Beijing does not think or behave like Moscow when it was the capital of the USSR. China is not an implacable foe of the West or the world order the West has created. It is unlikely to follow the Soviet Union into disintegration and collapse. The challenge to the world posed by the rise of China is different. In some ways, it may prove more daunting.
Nearly two centuries ago, Napoleon advised his fellow Europeans, “Let China sleep. When it wakens, it will shake the world”. There is now no prospect that China will return to the slumber of past centuries.
The 21st century will see China resume its traditional pride of place among the world’s societies. The question before Europeans and North Americans is not how to prevent what cannot be prevented. It is how to ensure that the rise of China in the new millennium buttresses rather than erodes the international system we have constructed with such difficulty in this century.
To that end, we must urgently consider how to speed China’s integration into existing institutions on acceptable terms.
Equally important, we must decide how best to ensure that China’s determination to rectify the borders imposed upon by the ages of imperialism, fascism and the Cold War does not lead to long-term confrontation and strategic realignments adverse to Western interests.
ACCORD: Between the US and China on strengthening safeguards against piracy of intellectual property. However, the central government has problems getting local authorities to comply with agreements it has with foreign governments as it does not have the legal system to enforce controls over commercial behaviour.
BUILD-UP: Of the military by Beijing. It sees a long-term plan in this area as necessary, so it can overrun Taiwan if it needs to, even against US opposition.
The writer, Chas W. Freeman Jr., is now chairman of Projects International Associates, a Washington-based business development corporation. His paper was submitted to the Bilderberg Conference in Toronto, Canada, held from May 29-June 2.