China Threat, Sophomore Style
Jude Wanniski
March 19, 1997


Letters Editor
Foreign Affairs
58 E. 68th St.
New York, NY 10021

Dear Editor:

Thank you for your March/April China "debate," pitting Richard Bernstein & Ross H. Munro against Robert Ross, with the former in the containment camp and the latter an engager. Like the Philadelphia beauty contest, where the judges saw the first contestant and declared the second the winner, sight unseen, I judged Mr. Ross the winner after reading the Bernstein/Munro entry. Their arguments are so sophomoric that I worry they may be paid agents of the Beijing government, subsidized to make a case against China so vapid as to lull us into a false sense of security.

1. Bernstein and Munro would have us believe that China's $8.7 billion defense budget relative to our $265 billion arms budget should be rounded up to $87 billion, because Chinese soldiers are paid so little and the armed forces get to buy bullets at discount from state enterprises. This does not take into account the fact that U.S. weapons cannot be had at a discount, and with these we could mow down the entire Chinese army before they knew what hit them.

2. They say: "Whatever the exact figures, China is now engaged in one of the most extensive and rapid military buildups in the world, one that has accelerated in recent months even as China's rhetoric has softened and Beijing has moved to improve its ties to the United States." What do we expect, after two years of rattling our sabers about the monstrous Chinese threat, when about all they had was a domestic constabulary? By telling them we wanted them to be an enemy, they had little choice but to take us seriously. Even so, with maximum effort all they will be able to manage in the years ahead is the capacity to blow up a few of our aircraft carriers if we insist on egging them into a conflict over Taiwan.

3. The authors know next to nothing about international trade and finance. Bernstein knows a bit about French avant garde art and literature. Munro, a Canadian, can barely see to the end of his nose in the realm of money and banking. They say: "China's goals go a long way to explaining its tactical attitude toward its relations with the United States, where an annual trade imbalance approaching $40 billion has helped China finance its arms acquisitions. China's mercantilist policies...are likely to become a major source of Sino-American conflict as Beijing grows stronger." Hey, fellows, if the $40 billion trade imbalance financed arms imports, there would be no trade imbalance. The Chinese have been settling their dollar balance-of-payments accounts by buying U.S. Treasury bills and bonds. There is no evidence of "mercantilism" in China. Its global trade makes perfect sense, which is what we should expect from a nation that has learned trading skills over three millennia.

4. The authors assert the most ridiculous exposition of Chinese history: "In its entire 3,000-year history, China has developed no concept of limited government, no protection of individual rights, no independence of the judiciary and the media. The country has never operated on the consent of the governed or the will of the majority. Whether under the emperors or the party general secretaries, China has always been ruled by a self-selected and self-perpetuating clique that operates in secret and treats opposition as treason." What utter claptrap. For 3000 years, or at least since the arrival of Confucius 2500 years ago, China has been the most fluid society in all of Asia. In that regard, there is no country in the world with a history that parallels that of our country, whereby the poorest country bumpkin can climb to the highest positions of government authority. Bernstein should go back to Paris, Munro to Toronto, if this is the best they can do to scare us.

5. The authors warn that Beijing will never permit "democracy," because that will permit Taiwan or Tibet or Hong Kong to secede from the union. More utter nonsense. Our own democracy would not permit the Southern states to secede, and one of the bloodiest wars in history was fought to make sure a minority could not pick up its marbles and cut out.

6. We are told the "most likely form for China to assume is a kind of corporatist, militarized, nationalist state, one with some similarity to the fascist states of Mussolini or Francisco Franco." But this is what China has at this moment, having evolved in a mere 20 years from a completely centralized statist system with no market economy at all to the equivalent of Italy's economy of the late 1920s or Spain's of the decades thereafter. Any fool can see that China's evolution is sweeping rapidly in the direction of a completely free economy and corporatist democracy, along the lines of Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong under British colonial rule. Did I need to pay $7.95 for your esteemed quarterly to be told what the Daily News will tell me for half a dollar?

7. Your boys go on to argue that as China grows stronger and runs out of patience, the chances it will invade Taiwan increase. They quote a "Chinese foreign affairs specialist in Beijing" to the effect that the Chinese believe in the use offeree. "In the Chinese value system, sovereignty, national unification, and preserving the regime have always been higher than peace." Arrrgh! Don't these nitwits realize that we have exactly the same value system, and will use force to make sure bad guys don't impinge on our sovereignty, national unity, or the integrity of our governmental regime? How can the editors of your publication allow this drivel to impinge on my sovereignty and household unity? As the Chinese grow stronger, the chances of a Taiwan invasion will recede to a vanishing point, and the people of Taiwan will petition Beijing to allow peaceful integration with the mainland. Watch and see.

8. Bernstein and Munro tell us, boogie-boogie, that China will help us unify Korea, but once Korea is united, China will use its influence to turn Korea against the United States, and will also use its influence to talk Japan out of arming to protect itself against China! What brilliant analysis!

9. "In the post-Cold war world, it is Japan's weakness that threatens peace and stability by creating a power vacuum that the United States alone can no longer fill. A strong Japan, in genuine partnership with the United States, is vital to a new balance of power in Asia. A weak Japan benefits only China, which wants no stabilizing balance of power but Chinese hegemony, under which Japan would be little more than Beijing's most useful tributary state."

And why not? It is not China that threatens peace and stability in Asia, but the United States, arrogant and bullying in it global triumphalism. In my many meetings with officials of the Beijing government since my first visit in 1983, I have assured them that I could not be happier if I knew China could provide the competition my own country needs in order to remain even a little bit humble in its conquest of the planet. It would be insane, though, for us to prod China with ugly threats of military competition, of the kind that led to our naval fleet steaming through the Taiwan straits. Bernstein and Munro celebrate that blundering act as a show of our strength, when it was a show of our weakness. There is no one in China's leadership who trembled at our intervention, knowing that they had accomplished their own objective by again asserting their willingness to demonstrate their sovereignty over Taiwan. It would serve our interests and mankind's if we graciously accepted the fact of Chinese competition in the millennium ahead.

We of course start out with a lead that China could not possibly close unless we did the stupid things implied by the Bernstein/Munro call to arms.


Jude Wanniski