Please Read This, Pat Buchanan
Jude Wanniski
February 2, 2000


To: Pat Buchanan
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Owen Harries on China

When it comes to foreign policy, Pat, I think you might agree there is nothing that comes close to The National Interest as a quarterly of heavyweight opinion. One of the great intellects of our time and this century, Irving Kristol, would not have decided to give it birth and life fifteen years ago if he had not sensed a vacuum in this realm. Irving was way ahead of the pack in seeing the end of the Cold War and planning for what would follow -- and you surely will recall that he was the very first big thinker to publicly suggest termination of NATO. The very name of his quarterly, The National Interest, lets you know immediately that Irving wants to know what is and what is not our national interest. He did not stop with the name, but brought in as editor a man I would kidnap, if I were President of the United States, to make my National Security Advisor. You know Owen Harries, Pat. Like Irving, this fellow thinks for himself, unlike many of the Establishment editors who are underfoot, taking their orders from the Council on Foreign Relations, the Trilateral Commission or the Bilderburg Society. He is your kind of guy, Patrick, which is why, upon reading his essay on China in the Winter issue, I went to the trouble of getting his permission to run it right here on my website. You don't have to go out an buy a copy of the quarterly. It is awesome analysis, which you should immediately plagiarize!!! I do urge you to go into their new website and bookmark it. You should then read a piece from the same issue by James Kitfield, "The Folk Who Live on the Hill," about the difficulties congressional Republicans are having in trying to figure out where our vital national interests are these days, without a true, threatening villain. Kitfield even has a few nice things to say about you. No kidding.

This essay is a long one -- which you may want to download and read at your leisure.

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The National Interest, Winter 1999/2000
A Year of Debating China
by Owen Harries

It is now widely believed that the most serious challenge to America's primacy will come from China. If indeed this turns out to be right, there is some cause for concern, for over the years Americans have had great difficulty thinking rationally about China. They have tended to oscillate violently between romanticizing and demonizing that country and its people. Thinking has largely been dominated by stereotypes: China as Treasure, in the form of insatiable market or investment opportunity; China as Paragon, the source of a superior wisdom, either ancient and Confucian or from a little red book; China as Sick Patient, needing Christian or Western democratic understanding, care and cures; China as Ingrate, insufficiently responsive to and grateful for our ministrations; and, of course, China as Threat -- at one time Yellow Peril, at another Red Menace, and now, in the eyes of some very vocal and not uninfluential Americans, as rival, malevolent superpower.

Given this background, if indeed China should emerge as America's serious rival, the chances of a cool, sensible American reaction cannot be rated particularly high. Recent evidence of the way the issue is being debated bears this out. That debate has been structured as a sharp and clear choice between two options, usually labeled "engagement" and "containment." While this in itself amounts to a considerable oversimplification, it has been made worse by the fact that each side has tended to distort not only its opponents' position but its own. Thus "engagement" has been caricatured by its opponents as "appeasement", and by many of its advocates, including the Clinton administration itself, whose policy it is, as "strategic partnership." A realistic engagement would need to recognize that differences and friction -- sometimes of quite a serious kind -- are going to be unavoidable between two such different countries. The realistic objective should not be the creation of anything as ambitious as partnership, but the more modest one of the avoidance of enmity.

On the other side, many of the advocates of "containment" seem to proceed on the assumption that if China is finally getting its act together and emerging as an authentic major power, there is no option but to treat it as an enemy, starting from now. This kind of anticipatory enmity is evident in much of the strident rhetoric. Thus, the Chinese system is still routinely characterized as "totalitarian" by supposedly responsible commentators, though the regime's writ no longer runs very effectively in many parts of the country -- and even in those parts where its will does prevail, the degree of authoritarianism has more in common with the Habsburg or Romanov empires in a bad week than it has with the tight grip and savage repression of Stalin's Russia or Hitler's Germany.

But there it is: belief in the virtual inevitability of a clash is widespread.

During 1999 the China debate has been particularly animated and bitter. It has been fueled by five issues: first, the continuing repercussions of Chinese interference in the U.S. election process, in the form of illegal contributions during the 1996 campaign; second, the accusations of Chinese spying on U.S. defense secrets, given special prominence by the release of the Cox report in May; third, the troubled negotiation over Chinese membership of the World Trade Organization (WTO); fourth, the American bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in May; and finally, and most serious, the issue of the status of Taiwan, made highly controversial once again by the statement of Taiwan's President Lee in July that in future Taiwan intends to conduct its relations with the mainland on a state-to-state basis. The cumulative effect of these five issues -- working on already existing concerns -- has been great. What can be said concerning their merits and the way they have been debated?

Interference in the U.S. Election Process

That there was some interference in the U.S. election process, in the form of illegal campaign contributions by a number of sleazy characters, some of whom were connected to the Chinese military, is not in dispute. In considering how much moral outrage, shock and anger is appropriate, however -- and how much it should influence policy toward China -- we might take three things into consideration:

First, though the Chinese contributions apparently ran into some hundreds of thousands of dollars, in a campaign that was awash in money its overall impact could only have been very modest indeed.

Second, insofar as it took place, this violation of U.S. electoral laws depended much more on the insatiable appetite of American politicians for money -- or, to be more pointed, in this instance on the political greed of the President and the Vice President, and the indiscretion resulting from it -- than it did on any exceptional villainy or cunning on the part of Beijing.

Third, indignation and a sense of outrage might be tempered by reflecting that, with the possible exception of the Soviet Union, no country has tampered more with the electoral processes of other countries in the last fifty years than has the United States itself. Indeed, half a century before, Washington famously intervened, massively and effectively, to buy an election for the Christian Democrats in Italy, in order to keep the Communist Party out. In the same period, and for the same reason, it interfered very forcefully in French politics. In later years it did so in a variety of other countries, including Greece, Chile, the Philippines and, only yesterday, Russia. So in a sense what happened to the United States with the Chinese intervention in its electoral politics was only a case of the biter bit, and bit rather gently at that. It is true, of course, that in most of these cases American motives were of the highest, but that is not exactly the point.

Chinese Spying

The second, and in some ways related, issue is that of China spying on the United States' most sensitive military technology, which again raises the question of unwarranted and illegitimate interference in America's internal affairs.

It should be noted that there is considerable confusion and disagreement concerning how successful and serious the spying has been. The congressional Cox report presented one, very grave, view; the Rudman Panel's report, drawing on the views of various intelligence sources, drew a much more sanguine conclusion. At various times the security offices of the Energy Department, the FBI and the CIA have expressed differing views concerning the scope of the spying and the identity of the spies. They have differed as well on the questions of how much of the technology transfer that has taken place was the result of spying, and how much was given gratis in the form of published material and generous access to laboratories.

But assuming that serious spying has taken place, to what extent should this be considered grounds for condemnation of China? Here again we run into the tu quoque problem -- that is, one's own vulnerability to the charge that one is leveling against others. For all the major countries of the world spy on each other. Just as the Chinese spy on the United States, so does the United States spy on China -- and on France, and Germany, and Japan. At least one hopes so. Indeed, as recently as October the German government requested the withdrawal of three CIA agents stationed in Germany because of their alleged activities in industrial espionage. Nothing shocking about this, it is the way the world works. If the Chinese have been particularly successful at it lately, that is not a reason for treating their behavior as something particularly dastardly, to be condemned and punished. Rather, it is a reason for punishing those who allowed them to get away with it, and for plugging the leaks.

Why is this so difficult to grasp? Why are we outraged that others behave toward us in the same way as we behave toward them? Clearly there is a double standard at work. The way this double standard is applied, I believe, often involves judging others by their actions but ourselves by our motives. Thus, for example, China's military build-up is ipso facto condemned as sinister and threatening, while any inclination of the Chinese, or others, to regard the much, much bigger U.S. military as threatening is dismissed as absurd, if not paranoid. Again, China's relatively modest arms sales are condemned as clear evidence of trouble-making and as dangerous to the world's peace and stability, but the huge U.S. arms sales are regarded as normal business. While this way of carrying on is perfectly understandable among lay people, it hardly carries conviction as serious analysis.

Membership of the WTO

The third of the five episodes concerns the negotiation over China's membership of the World Trade Organization. The WTO came into existence in 1995, succeeding the old GATT. Its function is to make and enforce the rules of international trade; its purpose is to enhance that trade by making it more free. China has been trying to become a member of these organizations for years. It has been blocked by the United States, on the ground that its trade practices have not met the required norms of free and fair trade.

In April Chinese Prime Minister Zhu Rongji came to Washington. Zhu is the most pragmatic and reform-minded of the Chinese leaders. In Washington, at the culmination of prolonged negotiations, he made sweeping concessions to the United States, agreeing not only to slash tariffs on farm imports but to open China's telecommunications and service industries -- including insurance, banking, accounting and entertainment -- to foreign competition. In doing so, Zhu was taking a huge gamble and exposing himself to attack from conservatives at home.

At the last minute, and despite his being on recent record that it would be an "inexplicable mistake" to turn China down, President Clinton did just that, leaving a humiliated Zhu to return home empty-handed. Why did he do this? Two reasons were advanced: first, that on the advice of some officials he was holding out for even more concessions; second, that against the background of controversy over Chinese spying and election contributions, already taking flack for his Kosovo policy, and with Republican and Democratic opposition to the deal, he was not prepared to bear the political costs involved.

In any case, it was a strange state of affairs-a "surreal" role reversal thought the Wall Street Journal: "The world watched a communist leader trying to persuade an American President of the benefits of free trade between the two nations." And a Chinese trade negotiator was reported as saying, "Trade is the one area where our two interests are really in line. So if we don't even agree on trade, the outlook is not so good."

There are two grounds for opposing Chinese membership of the WTO, one good, one bad. The good one is that the Chinese have a poor record of keeping promises they make in trade agreements, and that in all likelihood they would cheat once allowed in. At the very least, that is a reason for insisting on serious pledges to comply, tough enforcement measures, and provisions for significant penalties for noncompliance.

The bad argument for opposing China's entry to the WTO is that membership should be treated as a kind of reward -- and exclusion as a punishment -- for good or bad behavior in other areas, with human rights usually the one emphasized. It is bad because the spread of free trade is desirable -- is a major U.S. national interest-in its own right, not a favor to hold or bestow. And to quote the Wall Street Journal again, it is likely-not certain, but likely -- that "a China that is much more open to trade will become a more responsible citizen in the community of nations."

Hopes that the matter would be rectified during the September APEC meeting in New Zealand were disappointed. But after protracted negotiations an agreement was reached in mid-November, on somewhat worse terms than Clinton had rejected in April. Getting Congress to accept the agreement is likely to take up much of the administration's energy over coming months.

The Embassy Bombing

Almost immediately in the wake of the April WTO fiasco, and while the spying issue was still in the headlines, the fourth episode occurred: the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade. Of all the buildings in that city that might have been hit by accident, the fact that this most politically sensitive of structures was the one struck seemed bizarrely against the odds. To make things even more weird, it was reported that this was the one occasion when the CIA had intervened in the process of target selection. And to add improbability to improbability, not only was the building bombed, but with uncanny precision the exact floor on which the Chinese intelligence operations were functioning was the one hit.

The U.S. government immediately pronounced the bombing an accident and apologized. Virtually all Americans accepted that explanation, and when the Chinese subsequently allowed demonstrations and attacks on the U.S. embassy in Beijing to take place, American public embarrassment quickly gave way to anger and impatience at what was seen as the unreasonable refusal of the Chinese to put the matter promptly behind them.

When I passed through Hong Kong in early July, I had a clearer sense of why they would not. I did not meet a person there -- either Chinese or Western -- who accepted the accident thesis. They just maintained that the odds against such a thing happening by chance were too great. As well, one of them asked me to consider what the American reaction, popular and governmental, would have been had it been the other way around -- had the Chinese destroyed a U.S. embassy and called it an accident. Would such a claim and an apology have been accepted as sufficient reason to put the matter to rest? In asking the question, he reminded me that when not so long ago U.S. embassies had been destroyed in Africa, Washington immediately responded by bombing targets in two countries -- Afghanistan and Sudan -- with which it was not at war. I pointed out that the two cases were not the same; he smiled.

In any case, the bombing took place in the context of American-led military intervention in the internal affairs of a sovereign state; an intervention, moreover, that served to emphasize dramatically the military and political dominance of the United States. Whatever one's opinion on the Kosovo war, for obvious reasons it set a profoundly disturbing precedent for China. This, in turn, was part of the background for the fifth and most serious episode.

Taiwan and the "One China" Policy

In July Taiwan's President Lee Teng-hui announced that his government now considered that its relations with Beijing should be conducted on a state-to-state basis -- i.e., on the basis of one independent entity dealing with another independent entity. This amounted to a repudiation of the "one China" -- or the "one China, peacefully achieved" -- formula that had hitherto provided a satisfactorily ambiguous and workable basis for handling the Taiwan issue. Most commentators concluded that Lee had made his statement for domestic political reasons, with a presidential election coming up in March of next year. It may be, too, that he was encouraged to do so by the deterioration in U.S.-China relations that had already occurred during the year. In any case, China reacted with fury, the U.S. government with disapproval. But a large segment of U.S. elite opinion, both conservative and liberal, responded by supporting Lee's declaration and condemning both Beijing and Washington for their reactions.

Apart from denouncing China for its human rights record and as a totalitarian government, an important component of the criticism was that Lee was merely stating the obvious, recognizing reality. Thus a Wall Street Journal editorial maintained that, "Taiwan is doing little more than stating some obvious facts"; Jim Hoagland in the Washington Post wrote that, "Lee uttered an obvious but inconvenient truth" for which "he deserves praise, not verbal spanking"; and the Weekly Standard editorialized that all that Lee had done was to strip away "the absurd fictions of the 'one-China' policy."

The trouble is that this appeal to the facts is very selective and ignores some other, rather vital, facts. Because another truth is that the "absurd fiction" of the one China policy has served the three parties very well, providing a fruitful status quo for nearly three decades. It has given the United States the stability it wanted in the region, and an opportunity to develop a constructive relationship with China. It has allowed China to make enormous strides in developing its economy and has coincided with a very significant loosening up politically-for, even allowing for the awful Tiananmen Square episode, the China of today is enormously more open and relaxed than the China of two decades ago.

But the biggest benefactor of all has undoubtedly been Taiwan. The status quo represented by the "absurd fiction" has allowed it to move peacefully from dictatorship to democracy. Its economy has made fantastic progress: two decades ago Taiwan's GNP per capita was $1,450; by 1997 it was $13,467 -- almost a ninefold increase. And just how unoppressive this "absurd fiction" has been to Taiwan is indicated by the fact that 40,000 Taiwanese firms now have more than $40 billion invested in the PRC. De facto, Taiwan is an independent state in all respects other than membership of international organizations.

True, it does not have de jure independence: it does not have membership in the UN, and its diplomatic relations with most other countries have to be lightly disguised; and true, its dignity is affronted by these limitations. The crucial question, surely, is whether the dignity of the Taiwanese, the conversion from de facto to de jure independence, is worth the destabilization of the region, a massive deterioration in Sino-American relations, and, quite possibly, a serious war and the blood of American soldiers. Or put in another way: Should the United States cede decisions over whether to go to war with another major power to a client state that is suffering virtually nothing in the way of hardship and whose interests it has protected for the last fifty years? To me it seems that the obvious answer to both these questions is a resounding "no."

Some would pose a different question: Should not the United States shape its policy on this issue in terms of its concern for human rights and democracy? My answer to that would also be "no"-partly because what the United States can do directly to influence the internal life of China is very limited and many of such efforts could be counterproductive; partly because there are other very important political, strategic and economic considerations-ones which also have an important moral content-that must take precedence; and partly because the most effective way available to us of promoting respect for human rights and democracy in China is by pursuing policies that will increase the wealth and raise the living standards of the country. The correlation between rising incomes and democratization is a very strong one, as Henry Rowen has pointed out in these pages.

The choice between engagement on the one hand and containment and isolation on the other is not one that has to be decided entirely in terms of abstract argument. There is historical experience to draw on.

For more than two decades -- from 1949 to the early 1970s -- the United States tried containing and, within its means, isolating China. That period was one of the most disastrous not only in Chinese history but in all of human history: a ruthless tyranny prevailed, millions of Chinese were killed by the regime or died because of its insane policies, obscurantism ruled, the economy was reduced to a shambles. Internationally, China actively supported subversion and insurrection throughout its region, fought a war against India, and even tried its hand at intervention in Africa.

For the last three decades the United States has opted for engagement. During that period the political system in China has changed from a ruthless and irrational tyranny to-and, again, I haven't forgotten Tiananmen-a progressively milder form of authoritarianism. While some intellectuals, Christians and ethnic minorities are still given a very hard time, most Chinese live their lives with comparatively little interference from the state. Human rights abuses, which still exist, have become less widespread and extreme, and there is greater personal freedom. The living standards of ordinary Chinese have improved greatly. The international behavior of China has become unexceptionable-to the extent that its critics have to put great emphasis on the occupation of one uninhabited reef in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, and have to ignore the awkward fact that in recent years China has used force in the pursuit of its foreign policy much less frequently than has the United States itself. (This does not prevent other serious people from using terms like "appeasement" and "Munich" whenever a proposal for a compromise with China over any issue is put forward. A suggestion: anyone resorting to the term "Munich" should be obliged to identify the Hitler actor-that is, the insatiable expansionist-in the situation under discussion.)

In short, if one looks back over the last one hundred and fifty years, the last twenty of them stand out as easily the best ones that China and the Chinese people have enjoyed during that period.

One cannot, of course, draw a simple causal connection between the shift of American policy and the changing fortunes of China. More things were involved in determining the latter. Still, American policy was certainly a major variable, and it will remain so in the years to come. So my vote goes to engagement -- an illusionless engagement that does not mistake itself for partnership, that is tough-minded and alert to abuse of the relationship by Beijing -- but, nevertheless, engagement.