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22nd November1998

The sole super power’s world

By Mervyn de Silva

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Arthur Waley’s transla tion evidently did jus tice to the Chinese sense of time, and history. The lines were a favourite “quote” of leader-writers, diplomats and columnists during the “return” of Hong Kong ceremonies.

The student of Chinese foreign policy and diplomacy must now take a much closer interest in the unresolved, and sensitive question of Taiwan, Chinese territory. And that complex issue involves the United States now popularly introduced as “the sole superpower”. The US Navy patrols the Taiwan straits. But isn’t China tomorrow’s superpower? A communist superpower? Will it then have to suffer the agonies of the first Marxist-Leninist superpower, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR)?. Union? No, disunion.... starting with the Baltic States to Ukraine and the Central Asian Republics.... with mini-wars such as the Chechen revolt.... or independence struggle?

China and the United States are on a collision course predict two American scholars, Richard Bernstein and Ross Munro in their study “The Coming Conflict With China”. Why this Sino-American confrontation? Their case is founded on two propositions: the drive to dominate Asia and “To replace the United States as the pre-eminent power in Asia”. Chinese leaders accuse the United States, the authors point out, of spreading “spiritual pollution” in their country.

Current Chinese policy is therefore legitimate self-defence. This includes rapid modernisation of the country’s military forces, an improved nuclear programme and adopting an outward-looking military posture, the authors observe. Equally important is the new “China Lobby” in the US and other important western capitals. The new “China Lobby” is headed by no less an opinion-maker” than Dr. Henry Kissinger. In discussing “The Coming Conflict With China” Harish Kapur, an Indian specialist in defence issues notes that Kissinger has established a consultancy firm (Kissinger Associates) and it boasts superstars of the recent past like Cyrus Vance, William Rogers and Zbigniew Brzezinski etc. The authors of “The Coming Conflict” claim that Kissinger’s views on China closely resemble the statements of the Chinese party leadership and official declarations. This must surely have shocked the representatives, official and unofficial, of the government of Taiwan, and their own well-paid American lobbies. This may explain how the US Congress passed two resolutions both quite interesting to all students of the American foreign policy-making process and the important, if not always transparent, role of the “lobbies”. (The anti-Cuba lobby for instance operates from Miami, and has millions of dollars to spend.)

Economics First

“We don’t need to be Marxist-Leninists or acolytes of The Great Teacher, Great Navigator, Chairman Mao, to appreciate the primacy of economics. Yes, the economy stupid. And so to the World Bank and the IMF, the Bretton Woods twins, the all-knowing and all-powerful. China, the World Bank declared was in the midst of two historic transitions.... from a rural to an urban society and from a command economy to a market-based one”. Or, the reader may say.... to market, to market.

Doesn’t that also mean from one-party rule to a democratic system? What impresses the World Bank is that the Chinese experiment has doubled per capita income every decade. But the Chinese leadership is in no hurry.

For good reasons, most of all unemployment. What of democracy? President Jiang Zemin has realised that the transition to a multi-party system and one-man-one vote “reform” has to wait awhile. The restoration of Chinese sovereignty in Hong Kong on what Hong Kong-based foreign correspondents call “the open window” to a western way of life, is now regarded as the crucial test on “human rights and multi-party democracy”. Hong Kong will prosper since the Chinese were traders and “businessmen” centuries before the rest of the world. But democratic values.... freedom of the press and a multi-party system could take some time. The Chinese are never in a hurry.... the correct move at the right time. The western media, if not the governments, will surely keep up the pressure on this particular issue.

Foreign Policy

Since our main concern is foreign policy, it would be useful to reflect on China’s role in the United Nations Security Council, where it has the power of veto, as popularly described. Consider China’s response to the Iraqi crisis. In effect, the US could not bomb “suspect” bomb-sites in President Saddam Hussein’s country.

More interesting to students of the post-Cold War world was the response of President Boris Yeltsin’s Russia whose rising star is Yevgeny Primakov. No US led blitzkreig against a defiant Saddam Hussein. But the anti-China lobby persists on raising the question of Taiwan, a country which the Chinese claim is part of China, “mainland China” as many a news agencies persist in calling the People’s Republic of China. The mighty American Navy “patrols” the Taiwan straits to protect this “country”.... not recognised by the UN nor any international organisation of repute.The BERNSTEIN-MUNRO study points out that a well-heeled lobby complicates Sino-American relations. Their thesis is that Japan should be strengthened since the US “alone can no longer fill the vacuum”. Students of international affairs and the American discourse are persistently confronted with “vacuum”. What is meant then by their conclusion of “a growing power vacuum” that has to be filled by the sole superpower.

Hulftsdorp Hill

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