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Is the CCP’s Aspirational Leadership Narrative Un-American or Anti-American ? Wang Huning as a Test Case

Written by Niv Horesh.

In 1991, David Shambaugh famously damned China’s American-studies establishment as advancing a “shallow and seriously distorted” understanding of US culture, history, society and politics.1 Nevertheless, in the intervening two and a half decades, a new generation of experts has come to inform CCP thinking on the US. Shambaugh’s 1991 study focused on prominent figures like Zhang Wenjin (d. 1991), Han Xu (d. 1994) and their lesser-known policy-wonk contemporaries. Yet, by 2012, Andrew Nathan and Andrew Scobell, who examined later generations of Chinese experts on US affairs, concluded that the latter “…seem to have achieved a good understanding of the American political system after about twenty years’ effort”.2

Zhang Wenjin’s expertise was undoubtedly critical to Sino-American normalisation, but he had not had much hands-on experience of the US. In fact, he studied in Germany before WWII, at much the same time that Deng Xiaoping had been studying in France. Zhang would nevertheless end up playing an important role in facilitating the Mao-Nixon rapprochement, and would later also advise Deng Xiaoping, and serve as PRC Ambassador to Washington. Han Xu, on the other hand, studied English in the early 1940s at the American-run Yanjing University in Beijing (known as Peiping then). In short, neither Zhang nor Han had had hands-on, in-country US experience before rising to the top echelons of CCP US policy-making.

Born well after the establishment of the PRC, China’s senior America watchers at present are nevertheless much better informed about the US, albeit not necessarily more pro-US. The best examples are perhaps Yan Xuetong (b. 1952) of Tsinghua University, who had actually studied for years in the US before gaining a PhD from Berkeley in 1992, or Wang Huning (b. 1955), who had held visiting fellowships at Berkeley as well as at the University of Iowa (1988-9).

Surprisingly, whilst Yan Xuetong’s thoughts on the US are not unfamiliar to Western readers,3 Wang Huning’s remain largely unknown. Yet, it is Wang who commands by far more influence within the CCP, as reflected in his 2012 promotion to the rank of politburo member. The purpose of this essay therefore is to better familiarise Western readers with Wang Huning’s formative experiences in, and impressions of, the US, as captured in a travelogue he published after returning from his visiting fellowship. We will elsewhere compare, in due course, Wang’s ideas with those of Zheng Bijian, the doyen of Chinese foreign policy in the Deng era and the putative architect of China’s taoguang yanghui (i.e.“keep low profile”) foreign policy in the 1990s. It is hoped that this comparison will offer clues as to the extent to which the current advisory shaping CCP thinking on the US differs from the previous generation; and as to whether CCP thinking is un-American or anti-American in essence.

***

A Fudan University graduate who is fluent in both French and English, Wang Huning has had a remarkable career not least because his close relationship with Jiang Zemin did not result in side-lining by Hu Jintao. Wang is thought in fact to have intellectually shaped Jiang Zemin’s “three represents” reform; though often dubbed “hawkish” and anti-Western, and despite rumours of his advocacy of the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown — Wang is also on record as supporting the rule of law.4

Leaving academia for officialdom in 1995, Wang has remained ever since in the inner circle of the CCP foreign-policy advisory, and is reported to have established a rapport with Xi Jinping too. One report even suggested that he played a role in shaping Xi’s new “China Dream” discourse.5 Zhou Qi, Wang’s ex wife, received a Ph.D. in political science from Johns Hopkins University (SAIS) and currently serves as a research fellow in the Institute of American Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS).6

So is Wang a genuine rule-of-law enthusiast, and to what extent is his worldview shaped by his experiences living in America? In 1992, well before Wang made the transition from academia to government, he published a memoir-cum-travelogue which shed light on these questions. Entitled America versus America (Meiguo fandui Meiguo), it is a book of recollections and formative thoughts penned against the background of the Bush-Dukakis presidential run-off. 7 Despite Wang’s prominence in the CCP later on, Meiguo fandui Meiguo never received the attention it deserved in the West, and it is therefore discussed below.

Right from the introduction, Wang is scathing in his portrayal of how vested-interest lobby groups and big business work to impede the American democratic process. Wang also denounces time and again what he sees as the litigious excesses of the American lifestyle. He alleges, for example, that reliance on expensive lawyers in all walks of life systematically erodes the presumption of individual freedom and equal opportunity.8

Here, we shall try to foreground what redeeming characteristics of American society he points to, alongside other revealing anecdotes he shares with his readers. Upon arrival in San Francisco airport for example, Wang is surprised at the hordes of “pushy” Japanese tourists he sees around him. To be sure, Wang was writing at a time when far fewer PRC passengers were seen in Western airports, and just before Japan’s “lost decade” had dampened the number of Japanese tourists worldwide. Presumably coming with very high expectations about American efficiency and advancement, Wang, who by then had become a seasoned domestic passenger, also reveals his disappointment at how long it took passengers to reclaim luggage from the carousel.9

He would consistently, from then on, express wonderment in the book at how tech savvy Americans were, whilst at the same time finding moral flaws with that very same feature. Thus, for example, he marvels at the facility of magnetic card use in lieu of cash in everything from public phone booths to supermarket credit cards, but observes somewhat sanctimoniously that this facility leads to spend-thriftiness on the part of ordinary Americans.10

The impression Wang might leave on Western readers is that he often over-simplifies the complexity of American multi-ethnic, multi-cultural society. Whilst acknowledging the generally higher standard of living in the US, and whilst on occasion giving away his admiration for the American ‘can-do’ attitude, scientific progress and lack of hereditary nobility – Wang Huning is also at pains to point to Native Americans as an especially disenfranchised minority group. To him, Native Americans merely enjoy formalistic equality but are largely absent from the political conversation. Curiously, there is no sign in the book that this critical assessment of American society is stimulating him to draw any comparisons with the plight of ethnic minorities in the PRC.11 In that sense, as elsewhere, the book is devoid of reflective qualities.

Where Wang uniquely offers a glimpse into the makeup and thinking of senior CCP officialdom is in the personal and family realms. Wang suggests time and again that it is not just geo-politics that inherently divides China and the US, but also fundamentally different day-to-day behaviour patterns that feed, in turn, into fundamentally different world views. Coming from what was still a very poor country in 1991, Wang perceives Middle-American family life as insular and self-indulgent.12 His focus on selfishness and individuals shuts out, for the most part, alternative interpretations, and plays down the role of philanthropy and civic solidarity in American society. Similarly, it is an interpretation that does not invite much reflection on the real extent of civic solidarity in China behind the veneer of Marxist, and more recently Confucian, rhetoric in the PRC. Oftentimes, foreigners actually hear from their Chinese interlocutors just how materialistic and politically apathetic their society had become during the 1990s.13

Wang divulges perhaps moral outrage, perhaps amusement when portraying inter-generational relations in American society. For him, America is a veritable paradise for children and a battleground for adolescents. For the elderly, America, in Wang’s view, is hell when compared with their exalted status in East Asia.14 In much the same vein, Wang ridicules the American notion of marriage as something that would be an anathema to most Chinese and Japanese. In his view, most American couples treat each other to an excessive show of public endearment, yet are cold to one another in the privacy of their own homes.15

It is therefore no wonder, Wang infers, that the divorce rate in America is skyrocketing and family morality is in decline. With so many households broken, drug abuse and weapon possession atomise American society. Crime and homelessness further marginalise minority groups, leading, among other ailments, to wholesale African-American immiseration. Wang decries African-American poverty, and at the same time condemns the poor’s reliance on government benefits.16 Of course, this litany comes across as incorrigibly naïve in hindsight. For today, income inequalities have split PRC society asunder. The divorce rate in the PRC is also on the rise and single-parent families are not unheard of. President Xi Jinping himself had divorced his first wife because she allegedly wanted to live abroad, and many other CCP officials are re-married, including the now disgraced Bo Xilai.17

Then, Wang goes on to valorise the Singaporean experience as demonstrating how a society can industrialise whilst maintaining its Confucian mores and respect for the elderly.18 His thinking here speaks to an enduring fascination the CCP has had since 1978 with the Singaporean model of economic development as being better suited to China than the Western one. Indeed, far from neo-liberal, China’s reforms have been described by Leong Liew as “a loose hug rather than a warm embrace” of economic liberalism.19

As late as 2011, prominent political scientist and PRC government advisor Zheng Yongnian also observed that China’s economic and social experimentation in the reform era owes much to the Chinese cultural concept of zhongyong (‘the art of the mean’), and that therefore China has by and large rejected the excesses of Western neo-liberalism and market fundamentalism. Most importantly, China preferred a gradualist approach to reform. It did not let state assets (i.e. critical State-Owned Enterprises) be stripped, as happened in Yeltsin’s Russia under the influence of Western “shock therapy” advisors. Rather, China learned from Singapore how to lure in foreign investment without shrinking the size of its government or its political powers.20

Zheng then opines that China should continue to learn from Singapore how to cautiously facilitate the transition to consumerist civic society and empower its middle class; how to open up to the world whilst eschewing premature democratisation and unhindered press freedom; how to foster professionalism and meritocracy in public service by depoliticising senior appointments in government departments and elite universities; and how to curb corruption by matching officials’ salaries with private-sector norms and constraining long-term tenure in the same post. Notably, however, Zheng suggests that China’s ultimate aim should not be a Western-style system because not even Western-style individual freedoms can prevent wholesale corruption and abuse of power, as Berlusconi’s Italy shows.21

***

Yet not all of Wang’s impressions of America seem immutably pre-conceived. Thus, Wang apparently arrived in America believing he would encounter a very progressive society. He thus found himself surprised: despite the stories he’d heard of San Francisco hippies, the mischievous rock-and-roll scene and gay-community outspokenness – he finds most of those he engages with to in fact be exceedingly conservative. Wang notes, for example, how rare interracial marriage is (in that sense, he might find a different San Francisco nowadays).22

Later on, Wang seems to admit that Chinese and other Confucian societies are actually encumbered by guanxi and rigid hierarchies when compared with American social dynamism and mobility. But, quite perceptively here, he notes in the same breath that despite the absence of hereditary nobility – family connections still matter in the upper rungs of US society. The power structure, he observes, is not always purely meritocratic when it comes to elite university admissions or presidential nominations.23

For Wang, the American preoccupation with privacy, in all walks of life, engenders superficiality. Americans, he avers, look much warmer, open and friendlier than the Chinese when first encountered. They willingly strike up conversations with strangers, but would rarely let a friend into their inner sanctum. During his stay, Wang concludes that it proved very difficult to form all-weather, true friendships (moni zhi jiao) with Americans. Most Chinese, he reflects by way of comparison, look aloof on first encounter. But once reciprocity is discreetly established through deeds – Chinese are more easily able to form meaningful friendships (shenjiao).24 Ironically, two and a half decades after the publication of Wang’s travelogue, the passage on friendship might, on a political level, point to a blind spot in Sino-Western communication more broadly. For, more recently, some Western and Indian politicians have been trying rather clumsily to persuade their Chinese interlocutors that true friendship between countries can in fact withstand mutual public criticism.25

Wang sounds particularly wrathful when lunging at the notion that corruption is less rampant in the USA due to transparent-governance norms in all walks of life. Firstly, he notes, even at the university where he was hosted, personal connections were all-important in, for example, mobilising funding for sabbaticals. He recounts, for example, how a certain Head of Department had approved an extended fieldtrip to Africa by another professorial staff member, only to be “invited” in return for a tour of that African country later on.26 When it comes to national politics, Wang is even more damning to the point of misrepresentation: for him, the two main parties in America are completely devoid of ideology or coherent platforms; rather they constitute an agglomeration of vested interests and lobby groups with a loose common denominator.27

Equally problematic is Wang’s portrayal of the American electoral system. He likens that system to pyramidal corporate shareholding where each share-holder has one vote on the board in theory, but in reality, minority-shareholders can amass a controlling stake, to the detriment of diffuse share-holders, because the former are better organised and better funded.28 For Wang, this amounts to broad-daylight gerrymandering which in turn leads to voter apathy and low participation. The system is further encumbered by what Wang sees as costly, protracted presidential campaigns and complex voter registration systems.29

Then, like many others in China, Wang alludes to the fact that the notion of professional civil service in the West may actually have borrowed much, or be historically derived from, the Chinese imperial bureaucracy. But the US variant thereof seems to him flawed in that an incoming administration can re-appoint, at will, the entire upper echelons of the advisory.30

Finally, Wang comes closest to discussing the realities of reform in China when decrying US managerial style as too rigid and intellectually restrictive (siban, yan’ge). He contrasts that style with what he sees as Chinese managers’ penchant for flexibility and dynamism (linghuo, jidong).31 To be sure, there is a touch of Occidentalism (read: Asian supremacism) in Wang’s portrayal of the American economy in the early 1990s. Whilst openly spiteful towards the Japanese Wang came across in America, he recounts with glee how Japan’s economic success had bewildered Americans to the point that Japanese collectivist managerial approaches are accepted as superior to American individualistic ones. Chillingly, he concludes the book with a prophesy: in the 21st century, another mighty Asian nation-race (minzu) would come to vigorously challenge American primacy; the American system would eventually implode, Wang avers, because the kinds of individualism, equality and freedom it champions are, at their heart, inherently contradictory.32

Interestingly, scholars like Yan Xuetong, who had spent a longer of period of time in the US than Wang, are not necessarily more complimentary in their assessments of US society. Chinese understanding of the US has, to be sure, improved a great deal since Zhang Wenjin. What has changed is that that understanding is, at present, less anchored in a Marxian frame of reference than it is coloured by a New Confucian nomenclature that draws on the Singaporean experience.33 Yet the tiny city-state of Singapore always sought strategic closeness with America; it never aimed to offer an alternative to US hegemony, whilst the PRC always has, either explicitly or surreptitiously.

In Wang’s 1992 book, what we can arguably trace out are the origins and formative intellectual underpinnings of what would later become – cloaked in a New Confucian mantle — the PRC’s aspirational narrative of global leadership. Whether that narrative foreshadows a genuine alternative to the current American-led world system, let alone an attractive one, is in the eye of the beholder. The narrative, at any rate, is hardly pro-American.

Niv Horesh is Professor of the Modern History of China and Director of the China Policy Institute at the University of Nottingham. His latest publication: Toward Well-Oiled Relations: China’s Presence in the Middle East following the Arab Spring. Image Credit: CC by U.S. Embassy The Hague /Flickr.

1 David L. Shambaugh, Beautiful Imperialist: China Perceives America, 1972‐1990 (PrincetonUniversity Press), p. 41.
2 Andrew J. Nathan and Andrew Scobell, China’s Search for Security (Columbia University Press), p. 54.
3 Yan Xuetong, Ancient Chinese Thought, Modern Chinese Power (Princeton University Press, 2011).
4 http://www.hoover.org/sites/default/files/uploads/documents/clm16_lc.pdf
5 http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424127887323728204578513422637924256
6 http://www.brookings.edu/about/centers/china/top-future-leaders/wang_huning
7 Wang Huning, Meiguo fandui Meiguo (Shanghai wenyi chubanshe, 1992). Hereafter, WHN.
8 WHN, p. 45-46.
9 WHN, p. 1.
10 WHN, p. 9, pp. 126-130.
11 WHN, pp. 48-49, 249, 293.
12 WHN, pp. 68-69.
13 For a study of consumerism in contemporary China, see e.g. Minglu Chen and David S.G. Goodman eds., Middle Class China: Identity and Behavious (Edward Elgar, 2013).
14 WHN, p. 284.
15 WHN, pp. 344.
16 WHN, pp. 353, 356-360.
17 William Callahan, China Dreams: 20 Visions of the Future (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), p. 20.
18 WHN, p. 347-348.
19 Leong Liew, “China’s Engagement with Neo-liberalism: Path Dependency, Geography and Party Self-Reinvention”, The Journal of Development Studies, Vol.41, No.2, February 2005, pp.331 – 352.
20 Zheng Yongnian, Zhongguo moshi: jingyan yu kunju (Beijing: Yangzhi wenhua, 2011), pp. 133-152.
21 Ibid., pp. 287-308.
22 WHN p. 73, 91, 99.
23 WHN, p. 114-116 (Dan Quayle’s nomination is for Wang a case in point)
24 WHN, p. 114-116.
25 See e.g. http://www.theaustralian.com.au/opinion/rudd-may-come-unstuck-over-china-relations/story-e6frg6zo-1225966571679
26 WHN, p. 116-117.
27 WHN, 155-158, 165, 169-173.
28 WHN, pp. 182-185.
29 WHN, p. 210-211.
30 WHN, p. 248.
31 WHN, p. 269.
32 WHN, p. 384-390.
33 Daniel Bell, The China Model: Political Meritocracy and the Limits of Democracy (Princeton University Press, 2015).

Is China playing a long game in the South China Sea?

Written by Mark Beeson.

China’s construction of new islands in the South China Sea has attracted a great deal of entirely predictable criticism and controversy. Surely no-one connected with this decision can be surprised at this outcome. One assumes that China’s military planners run just the same sorts of simulations and contingency exercises as their counterparts in the West. Whoever signed off on the reclamation activities that have caused such consternation in the US and South-East Asia must have known what they were getting themselves into.

This raises a number of important questions. First, who authorised a process that could ultimately lead China into further diplomatic – possibly even military – conflict? Given the possible gravity of the consequences it is difficult to imagine that such actions could have been taken without the direct approval of Xi Jinping. Xi is now routinely referred to as the most powerful Chinese leader since Deng Xiaoping, if not Mao. No-one is going to initiate such a high-profile, symbolically freighted policy without authorisation from the very top.

The second question to ask is whether this decision was taken in the full knowledge that it was bound to be badly received – especially in the short-term. If so, has the judgement been made that the fuss will eventually die down but the facts on the ground – or in this case the water – will transform the material basis of the region’s competing territorial claims to China’s enduring long-term advantage?

My guess is that this is precisely what has happened. China’s most senior leaders may have – rightly – concluded that the South-East Asian nations are unlikely to offer serious resistance to their plans singly much less collectively. They may also have made the much more contentious and consequential judgement that the Americans aren’t going to want to go to war over this, no matter how much they disapprove.

As the Chinese aphorism has it, you need a long line to catch a big fish. More crudely, we might say that in China’s long game, short-term pain is the price of long-term gain. The very concrete expression of China’s grand strategy means that it is difficult to imagine the circumstances in which any political leader in China could now risk being associated with it giving up its claims to sovereignty in the South China Sea.

Having spent the last few days in the company of some of China’s smartest foreign policy specialists, it is also clear that Chinese intellectuals are also highly supportive of this policy and have few doubts about its legitimacy.

On the contrary, at a recent conference on China’s regional policy at the prestigious China Foreign Affairs University in Beijing, it was striking how little debate there was about the nature of China’s policies. The focus was almost exclusively on the impact they were having on China’s neighbours.

Consequently, there was much talk about the “hedging strategies” of Japan, South Korea and the ASEAN states, but no discussion at all about the basis or development of China’s own policies. At one level, no doubt, this is because nobody seems to have a clear idea of exactly who does make China’s foreign policy in many areas.

At another level, though, it reflects a broadly held consensus throughout the country about the legitimate nature of China’s claims. What matters for most is how to pursue China’s national goals, not who formulated them.

Perhaps the discussions in such forums are somewhat constrained by the possible presence of party members who might take a dim view of disloyal comments, especially in front of foreigners. The intellectual atmosphere is not quite as free and easy as it has been in this regard. But even in private discussions with old friends, it is hard to find people who are critical of China’s policy in the South China Sea.

Some of the brightest young scholars in China take great delight in reeling off exhaustive examples of American duplicity and double standards of when the US has taken no notice of international law, never mind norms. American actions have not been constrained by “the international community” in part because of America’s hegemonic position, the argument goes, but in part because there was precious little any one could do to stop them acting unilaterally. George W. Bush is the much-invoked case-in-point.

Whatever the merits of such arguments, one lesson seems to have been taken to heart. Great and powerful countries may not be able to do anything they want, but they can do a lot more than weak ones. It is precisely because China has become so much more materially consequential, both militarily and economically, that its leaders clearly feel that they can take more calculated risks.

At a time when the US is entering one of its seemingly interminable presidential election cycles, China’s leaders may also judge that this is a good time to take important incremental steps on the long march to regional hegemony. When the US economy remains fragile and dependent on China for capital inflows, they may also think that the US will not want to risk destabilising the ever-skittish markets.

For a country that measures its history in millennia, long games may make a good deal of sense – despite the short-term risks.

Mark Beeson is Professor of International Politics at University of Western Australia. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article. Image Credit: CC by stratman²/Flickr.

US should stop blocking China’s AIIB and join allies in new club

Written by Martin Edwards and Katayon Qahir.

China’s growing economic clout is complicating US efforts to maintain its grip on the world’s leading multilateral economic institutions – as it’s done since the end of World War II.

The creation of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), established last year by China and many other Asian countries, has brought this challenge and how to address it front and center.

The AIIB is similar to the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the World Bank – in that it’s intended to finance infrastructure investments – except that it will serve more as an instrument of Chinese rather than Western influence.

Thus far, the US has reacted by trying to marginalize the bank’s impact, urging other Western powers to follow its lead and steer clear. As we’ve seen in recent weeks, that strategy has failed miserably, with Australia, the United Kingdom, France, Germany and even Taiwan now interested in becoming founding members. Of the major powers, only Japan has continued to follow its ally’s lead.

This represents a serious setback for the White House’s ability to lead the international economic order on its own terms. While the narrative of the day is that of a policy defeat for the Obama administration, some larger points are worth noting.

Manage multilateralism, don’t block it

First, the very existence of the AIIB is a self-inflicted problem for the US. It could have been avoided had the US been willing to cede some power at the IMF and ADB.

Second, objections to European and other Western countries joining it are shortsighted because the best way to influence its actions is by being on the inside.

Finally, the AIIB is a good thing for both China and the US over the long term as it shows the rising power’s interest in taking on more global responsibilities – exactly what the White House has sought – so arguments against it are counterproductive.

Hoisted on its own petard

The AIIB is intended to solve a problem by providing money to support the trillions of dollars of infrastructure investment that emerging markets will need in coming years.

With a veritable ocean of foreign exchange at its disposal, creating a regional development bank right now makes perfect sense for China. It is a vehicle for the Chinese government to help aid regional development as well as a signpost to demonstrate its international prestige.

But China would not have been so willing to create its own international bank had it felt appropriately valued in the ones that already exist. What is frequently omitted in the discussion of the AIIB is the extent to which this problem was created by dysfunction between Washington and Tokyo over reforming the Asian Development Bank, as well as within Washington around International Monetary Fund reform.

The Asian Development Bank has been dominated by the US and Japan since its creation in 1966. China is the largest economy in Asia, while only the third-largest shareholder in the Asian Development Bank. As it has been custom that the president of the ADB is Japanese, Chinese attempts to gain influence within the bank commensurate with its economy’s size have been blocked.

Similarly, IMF reform was proposed in 2010 by the G20. Under the proposed reforms, China’s voting power was to double, making it the third-largest shareholder at the IMF behind only the US and Japan. Brazil and India would both become top-ten “quota-holders” as well, displacing Saudi Arabia and the Netherlands. In this manner, global economic governance would be reinvigorated, as these emerging economies would receive a voice at the IMF equivalent to their influence.

Though IMF reform has been approved by more than 150 countries, including many that would lose influence under the proposals, the US Congress has refused to budge.

Despite warnings from the rest of the G20 underscoring the urgency of passing the reforms, Congress has sought to squeeze compromises on the IRS and healthcare from the White House in exchange for its support.

While the Obama Administration wants the reforms, it has refused to sacrifice its signature health care law or link it to other measures. So at this point, IMF reform simply won’t happen in the current Congress. Given China’s inability to produce reforms of the existing development banks that would address China’s concerns, its move to create its own development bank was its only way forward.

US objections are shortsighted

Washington has been on the wrong side of this issue by dismissing the AIIB rather than celebrating it.

For the past year, the White House has raised concerns about how the new bank would operate, suggesting that the AIIB would have insufficient safeguards.

The AIIB might undercut the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, the argument goes, as countries might prefer the promise of cheap money from Beijing without the strings the other lenders attach. But questioning Chinese governance of the bank not only reminds our allies of our shortcomings in IMF reform, it also overlooks the surest route to reforming the AIIB.

Cooperation is always more difficult in large groups with divergent preferences than smaller ones. The growing list of AIIB members (including South Korea, Norway and Denmark) means that the Chinese will have to accommodate those countries concerned about safeguards.

Rather than push back on AIIB, the US should welcome the participation of many countries. It will fall to China to figure out how to reconcile this diverse membership. This will ensure that fighting climate change and improving environmental standards will not be sacrificed in favor of growth at any cost.

Chinese engagement should be welcomed

For years, Washington has sought to encourage China to be a “responsible stakeholder” in the global economy. The AIIB demonstrates that China seeks to embrace this challenge, and the fact that it is doing so multilaterally rather than bilaterally should not be overlooked.

The US has helped to support regional development banks in Africa and Europe, so a new one in Asia should not be the threat that it is made out to be. The need for infrastructure in emerging Asian economies is so acute that the two banks need not be in competition.

Embracing AIIB will help keep US-Chinese relations moving forward by moving beyond the sharp rhetoric of recent weeks. It will also give us a means to smooth over relations with European allies. More importantly, joining the AIIB gives the US a seat at the table, and a way to work with allies to moderate Chinese behavior.

What will make the difference in the long term in shaping US relationships with Asia is working with allies to address common challenges. Multilateral diplomacy is not just a means to an end, but an end in itself, and enmeshing China in a network of international organizations, regardless of who created them, provides the best route for deepening cooperation between the US and the People’s Republic of China.

The ConversationMartin Edwards is Associate Professor of Diplomacy and International Relations at Seton Hall University. Katayon Qahir is a graduate student at Seton Hall. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article. Image Credit: CC by Alex Wong/Flickr.

Eye on Africa: US and China tussle for economic influence

Written by Yvan Yenda Ilunga.

The US and China are increasingly rivals on the world stage, competing over resources, policy and influence. One region where China has spent years establishing a foothold is Africa. Now the US is also keen to reassert itself after years of economic neglect.

The US fired the latest salvo late last year when it pledged to provide at least US$14 billion in public and private assistance in areas such as clean energy, energy, aviation and banking. President Barack Obama told leaders of 50 African countries attending the US-Africa Leaders Summit that Coca-Cola will provide clean water, General Electric will assist with infrastructure development, and Marriott will build more hotels.

But there was a catch, as always. The governments who receive the investments must do more to bolster the rule of law, reform regulations and root out corruption.

That’s a key difference between the US and China in their approaches to Africa and elsewhere. The US likes to attach strings, the Chinese just want to do business. And that’s why China’s economic footprint in Africa dwarfs that of the US. Indeed, it surpassed the US as the continent’s largest trading partner in 2009. About $200 billion of goods and services flowed between China and Africa in 2013, double the $85 billion in trade the US had with the continent.

Africa still offers promise to both superpowers, one waxing, one waning, as a region not yet fully developed but boasting many fast-growing economies. In their pursuit of economic gain, the US and China eye Africa as a fertile land of opportunity. As they race to establish economic control on the continent, it is important to carefully examine the strategies they’re employing. While their economic goals are similar, their terms of engagement are diametrically opposed.

China’s model: investment without meddling

China’s strategy in Africa diverges from the traditional model exemplified by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. That model, which has regulated the principles underlying international investment and trade for decades, aims to establish accountability and ethics at the center of economic cooperation. Critics contend this model is too Western-centric.

China utilizes a “doing business” model that ostensibly treats African states as equal partners and steers clear of their internal affairs – a strategy that appeals to countries used to Western colonies and dictates.

It’s built on three strategies that China has used successfully to achieve its African trade goals: flexibility, focusing on infrastructure and cementing partnerships with small businesses.

Flexibility. China invests in Africa with a high degree of flexibility and pays little heed to the existence (or nonexistence) of credible financial institutions, contrary to the norm of American and European investment. Instead, its sole focus is on gaining access to natural resources such as copper and gold, with no interest in building up African institutions.

While this approach draws criticism for its lack of accountability, China has managed to seduce many African governments such as Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo with the notion of an equal partnership without internal meddling.

Infrastructure. China has long been Africa’s top infrastructure partner. New roads, bridges, hydroelectric dams, schools and hospitals are going up across the country as a result, bolstering economic growth. This hasn’t been without criticism: many question the long-term viability of the structures being built and the fact that Chinese workers are imported to do most of the work. Thus while buildings and bridges may rise, few jobs are directly created.

Small business. Lastly, small business owners in Africa and their Chinese counterparts have established strong ties, particularly in clothing and construction. Trade in these sectors has exploded. Yet again, the rapidity with which these partnerships have developed has created some unease among consumers and analysts. The quality of the Chinese products being imported is often low and comes with no warranty or other guarantee.

Despite the problems and criticisms, these three strategies exemplify why the Chinese model has been successful in Africa.

The US model: building strong institutions

The US has a long history of engagement in Africa, particularly in terms of aid and political and military influence – the case of Rwanda since 1994 exemplifies this. In recent years the USA has been shifting toward building economic ties with the continent.

That’s now accelerating as developing countries such as China and Brazil dominate growth in the global economy, prompting the Obama administration to launch the US-Africa partnership. Previous efforts were bilateral, this new framework has truly continental ambitions.

The US strategy boils down to building strong institutions and focusing on macro projects.

State building. The main thrust of US investment has long been made through development agencies and financial institutions such as the World Bank and IMF, following the traditional model promoted through structural adjustment mechanisms which focuses on poverty reduction, institutional reforms and free market with highly macro-economic focus in its implementation.

With many countries on the continent still in the process of state-building such as the Democratic Republic of Congo and Central Africa Republic, the US focus on institutional reforms and accountability as a precondition of aid should be encouraged. This approach not only facilitates monitoring and management of the funds distributed. It also helps establish a less corrupt economic space for private enterprise. That, in turn, attracts other foreign investors and makes the state more sustainable.

Based on my personal experience, however, this strategy isn’t well received by Africans, who regard it as another symbol of an unequal partnership, with the US imposing its conditions. This inflexible and sometimes overbearing approach sometimes brings more frustration than interest in cooperation.

Big projects. The second US strategy of targeting macro projects in energy, mining and other sectors also often falls flat. The rationale behind making such investments is valid but the idea that the benefits will trickle down has failed to bear fruit. The promotion of economic growth in Africa requires the creation of a stronger middle class, which in turn requires more small- and medium-sized businesses.

On this, China gets it right. The US will need to reconsider this focus and do more to deal with Africans at the micro level if it wants to establish a long and lasting presence there.

Additionally, the US tendency to interfere in the political affairs of many countries in Africa – such as Libya – gets in the way of cooperation.

Economic cooperation needs to be based on mutual trust, and this is only be possible if the US is less forceful in its terms of partnership. Unless the US becomes more flexible, it is unlikely to rival China as Africa’s top partner.

Everyone can win

Both the Chinese and the American terms of engagement in Africa may be strategically and ideologically valid and justifiable. There are strengths and weaknesses to both approaches. China’s flexibility in contracts and everything else creates a fast win—win situation but does not promote good governance or state building, both of which are sorely needed in Africa. The US focus on the need for institutional reforms is important, but without a more flexible and adaptive approach this will not work.

As the US shows a growing economic interest in Africa, a key question will be whether the Obama administration can establish a stronger partnership that focuses on business ties and not military force. Just as China can learn from the US emphasis on state building, the Americans should take a page from the Chinese playbook. The end result would be truly a win-win for everyone.

Yvan Yenda Ilunga is a Visiting Scholar in the Division of Global Affairs at Rutgers University. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article. Image Credit: CC by Adam Cohn/Flickr.

Afghan overtures show China getting comfortable with life as a US deputy

Written by Shaun Breslin.

Whether you fear or welcome a challenge to the world’s existing power structure, the main focus of attention is on when China will begin to translate its increasing influence into genuine global leadership. And after a period when China has widely been seen as wanting to have power without leadership or responsibility, there are some signs that things are beginning to change.

To be sure, we need to retain a sense of proportion. When China does something new it can often garner much greater attention than the ongoing continued activities of others. For example, while China has been identified as being on the “frontline” in the battle against Ebola, its actual contribution has been relatively modest compared to that of what the Guardian called the “usual suspects” of development assistance.

Furthermore, much of the new(ish) proactive Chinese international strategy has Chinese national and commercial interests very much front and centre; the promotion of a new maritime silk road seems to be a rather apt example here. But with these caveats in mind, something interesting seems to be happening in terms of China’s growing involvement in Afghanistan.

Taking Kabul by the horns

In October 2014, China for the first time hosted a meeting of the Istanbul Ministerial Process established to promote peace and co-operation between Afghanistan and its neighbours. In the words of a foreign ministry spokeswoman, the simple act of holding the event was an opportunity for China to promote its leadership credentials and allowed China to:

Showcase the world’s support to the peaceful reconstruction in Afghanistan, and build consensus of regional countries on strengthening co-operation on Afghanistan and jointly safeguarding security and stability in Afghanistan and the region.

China’s leaders also used the opportunity to increase its financial aid to Kabul, pledging extra funding, training, and technical assistance. So far so normal – China has established a track record in using high-profile meetings such as APEC, the Forum on Africa-China Co-operation and so on to make announcements of new funding and aid initiatives.

Hey Mr Taliban.

But then something different happened as China began to provide some sort of mediating role and directly involved itself in Afghani politics by holding talks with both the Afghan government and the Taliban. As the US prepares to withdraw from Afghanistan, China seems increasingly willing to step in to fill the void and – for some analysts – to increase its international standing as a putative global leader in the process.

Perhaps it might even have more success than the other great powers that have tried, and failed, to pacify Afghanistan over the years. At the very least, it does not carry the same historical baggage as others in Afghanistan (or indeed, in the Middle East in general).

Of course, there are very good reasons for China to act. In the past, China claims that Afghanistan and al-Qaeda provided a safe haven for Muslim military separatists committed to “splitting” China and creating an independent Islamic East Turkestan state.

This might explain why China was prepared to accept US-led military action in Afghanistan in the first place, notwithstanding China’s usual commitment to defending state sovereignty. Contributing to peace and stability in Afghanistan, then, is not just an act of altruistic leadership, but one that has a clear national interest dimension for China as well.

That said, other global leaders have often acted out of self interest as well; the global financial order built at Bretton Woods at the end of World War II was not exactly free from the influence of US economic considerations.

So how should we judge China’s emerging role as a provider of some form of global public goods?

Overtaking manoeuvre

Chinese strategists refer to the current era as one of strategic opportunity. Not least because of the consequences of the global financial crisis, a global power change has been accelerated, that has seen China rise while existing powers (most notably in Europe) decline. This has created a great opportunity for China to push to change the global order to one that is more reflective of Chinese power and Chinese interests.

But this opportunity is constrained by the residual power of the US which will remain, in Chinese eyes, the predominant global power for some time to come. Indeed, vice premier, Wang Yang, said as much in Chicago in December when he reaffirmed China’s commitment to a US-led rule based world order which China has “neither the ability nor the intent” to overturn.

The challenge for China is not (yet) how to replace the US, but how to act as its No.2. In the case of Afghanistan, the No.1 seems relatively comfortable with a greater Chinese role. But it’s not always the case that the No.1 seems amenable to accommodating China’s further rise. Where it isn’t, China has begun to take action to build its own alternatives.

So if the US won’t ratify changes to voting power at the IMF that would give China a greater say – and the power structure at the ADB continues to favour others – then China is prepared to launch its own organ of financial governance in the form of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. Here we see China competing for some form of leadership by replicating existing ways of doing things, rather than trying to fundamentally challenge the very nature or essence of global governance and the global order.

China as No.2, then, seems increasingly prepared to take on some degree of leadership – as long as that leadership simultaneously serves other domestic ends. China’s leaders have also become skilled at using major international events to put over a preferred national image of what China is and what it stands for to an international audience.

Given the renewed focus on environmental issues in light of China’s airpocalypse, the Paris climate change conference at the end of the year might be very interesting indeed for students of China’s changing global role.

Shaun Breslin is Professor of Politics and International Studies at the University of Warwick. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article. Image Credit: CC by Robert/Flickr.

U.S. in the Asia Pacific: Towards More Effective Asia Strategy

Written by Michael Mazza.

Now in its fourth year, the Obama administration’s pivot to Asia remains beset by a problem of perception. Those countries in the region that the pivot, or rebalance, was intended to reassure remain unconvinced of American commitment to the region’s stability and of American staying power. China, which the pivot should have put on notice, has been angered by American rhetoric and actions without being deterred from its aggressive course.

In large part, this problem of perception is one of America’s own making. Whether the administration prefers the term “pivot” or “rebalance,” both are suggestive of the limitations of American foreign policy and an inability of the United States to focus its attentions on multiple regions at once. With ongoing instability in the Middle East and, indeed, with the United States at war there again—this time with the Islamic State—it is no wonder that Asians are wondering whether Washington has already pivoted back to the Eastern Mediterranean and Persian Gulf.

The Obama administration has also failed to match its actions to its rhetoric. Efforts to enhance alliances with Japan and Australia have been broadly welcomed by U.S. partners, as have new deployments of Marines to Darwin and promises to base a greater portion of the Navy in the Pacific. But at the same time, Asian allies have looked on with unease as sequestration of the defense budget resulted in the cancellation of multilateral military exercises, the grounding of fighter wings, reductions in procurement, and decreased readiness. As far as many Asian countries can see, America’s ability to project power to the region at will is increasingly at risk.

To more effectively reassure allies and deter potential foes, the United States should alter both its rhetoric and its regional defense strategy. First, it is time to be direct with China. The administration should make clear that it welcomes and even encourages China’s peaceful rise, that it sees China as an important economic partner, and that a China that binds itself to the rules and norms of the presiding international order can be a force for peace and prosperity in the world.

But Washington should also be clear in explaining that it views China’s military modernization with great concern. That China would seek to upgrade the People’s Liberation Army as the country grows richer and its interests expand is neither unnatural nor inappropriate. But the nature of the buildup, the Obama administration should note, makes it a central national security concern for the United States, which assesses that the modernization effort is largely focused on enabling the PLA to defeat the U.S. military in battle, to subjugate China’s democratic neighbors (including Taiwan), and to deny the United States free access to the Western Pacific and Asian littoral waters. In this way, Chinese military modernization threatens to undermine an Asian order that has been key to prosperity and security in both Asia and the United States.

The United States, moreover, should convey that China’s regional posture leaves Washington increasingly convinced that Beijing is itself no longer wedded to the idea of a peaceful rise. Chinese attempts to bully neighbors and change facts on the “ground” in the South China Sea are contrary to the spirit and letter of the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, to which Beijing is a signatory. Additionally, and given China’s unique interpretation of freedom of the seas, such efforts threaten the security of sea lines of communication through the South China Sea, on which American economic and security interests depend.

Perhaps even more concerning, Washington should explain, are Chinese actions in the East China Sea, which suggest a reckless disregard for the maintenance of peace in Asia and mark a direct challenge to the United States’ most important regional alliance.

In short, the Obama administration should assert that it welcomes China’s peaceful rise but that Washington is increasingly convinced Beijing is interested only in peace on its own terms and, to a growing extent, prepared to abandon the peaceful pursuit of its own interests. As such, the United States will continue to engage with China in an attempt to bring both countries’ interests into greater alignment, but will also be better prepared to defend the peace in Asia.

To defend that peace, the United States must adopt a more robust regional posture and work to further enhance its alliance network. The United States and its allies should be able to contain the PLA within the first island chain and deter aggression within that area. Doing so will minimize the Chinese military’s ability to pose a direct threat to the United States and to effectively threaten America’s allies in Asia.

In essence, a more effective Asia strategy would see the United States finally moving beyond its hub-and-spoke alliance model. An “Asian NATO” is not in the offing; rather than work to bind allies together in a grand mutual defense treaty, the United States should pursue multilateral cooperation in a few discrete areas to enhance regional security. Two efforts in particular are worth pursuing.

First, with U.S. partners South Korean, Japan, Taiwan, Australia, and India all upgrading their submarine fleets, American strategists should consider the value of an allied submarine “picket line,” stretching from the Soya Strait (also known as the La Pérouse Strait) between Hokkaido and Sakhalin in the north, to the Bashi Channel and other waterways connecting the South China Sea and Philippine Sea, through the Southeast Asian archipelagos, and into the eastern Indian Ocean and Andaman Sea. A picket line would allow for enhanced tracking of Chinese subs exiting and reentering the South China Sea and position the allies to more easily close strategic chokepoints in the event of a conflict.

Partner nations could divide geographic responsibilities, with Taiwan taking primary responsibility for patrolling waters in and around the Taiwan Strait and the United States doing so in the South China Sea itself. To encourage greater interoperability, the United States should voice support for Japan’s efforts to sell its submarines abroad and should lobby for American industrial participation in indigenous submarine programs. Washington should make Taiwan’s submarine program a priority for the bilateral security relationship, either by assisting Taipei with its indigenous production plans or, better yet, by pushing Tokyo to sell to Taiwan Soryu-class submarines equipped with American communications and weapons systems.

Second, the United States should work to initiate a regional maritime domain awareness (MDA) network, which would include not only traditional U.S. partners but also Indonesia, Malaysia, and Vietnam. Participating countries would contribute their own intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities to the network, and all participants would have access to a common operating picture. The United States could assist currently less capable partners in the development of their ISR assets, thus enhancing its own ISR reach.

Such a network would serve to deter Chinese aggression in the China seas, as Beijing would know it was always under observation. It might also discourage China from provocative activities—such as military construction—on disputed islands under its control. An allied MDA network would have the added benefit of tamping down tensions among participant nations as well, many of which are engaged in territorial disputes and tend to competition with one another.

There are, of course, political challenges in building both an allied submarine picket line and a shared MDA network. Seoul and Tokyo frequently do not get along, Southeast Asian states are fiercely protective of their sovereignty, and India has long insisted on pursuing an independent foreign policy. All are tentative in their dealings with Taiwan and all wish to maintain positive economic relations with China.

But Chinese behavior is already pushing these states towards each other. The United States should take advantage of this trend to play the role of convener. The central American role in each project, moreover, should be to reassure partner states that are traditionally suspicious of one another, such as South Korea and Japan. In cases where direct cooperation may be too sensitive—between the Southeast Asians and Taiwan, for example—the United States can abet implicit coordination.

Since its inception in late 2011, the pivot to Asia has failed to live up to its promise. Confusing rhetoric and a mismatch between words and deeds left Asian partners wondering about what the pivot was intended to be and whether it marked a lasting change in American policy in the region. But the rebalance is not beyond resuscitation. If the United States begins to speak more clearly and ensure that, together, it and its allies carry a bigger stick, peace in Asia can be preserved.

Michael Mazza is a research fellow in foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), where he analyzes US defense policy in the Asia-Pacific region, Chinese military modernization, cross–Taiwan Strait relations, and Korean Peninsula security. A regular writer for the AEIdeas blog, he is also the program manager of AEI’s annual Executive Program on National Security Policy and Strategy. Michael tweets @mike_mazza. Image Credit: CC by Seong-Woo Seo/Flickr.

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