Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Four Interesting Articles

If you didn't catch this Esquire Magazine piece by Thomas Barnett right before Christmas, you missed a good one. Credit the editor for giving the piece the title:

When China Ruled the World
Or why the "China Century" will be the shortest on record

There's a moment in part two of Quentin Tarantino's revenge epic, Kill Bill, in which legendary martial-arts master Pai Mei teaches the Bride how to exact her revenge by delivering the killer blows instantly and then waiting for her nemesis to drop. Pai Mei "hits you with his fingertips at five different pressure points on your body, and then lets you walk away. But once you've taken five steps, your heart explodes inside your body and you fall to the floor."

And the battle is over before it really begins.

Okay, a gruesome analogy, perhaps, but apt. I'm here to tell you that America plunged its fingertips into the Middle Kingdom's body politic across the 1970s, beginning with Nixon going to China in 1972 and culminating with Jimmy Carter's normalization of relations in 1979. The first embrace allowed aged Mao Tse-tung to extinguish his nonstop internal purge known as the Cultural Revolution by firewalling his fears of Soviet antagonism. The second cemented China's wary-but-increasingly-warm relationship with the United States and allowed Deng Xiaoping, who narrowly survived Mao's insanities, to dismantle the dead emperor's dysfunctional socialist model, quietly burying Marx with the most revolutionary of eulogies — to get rich is glorious!

Deng chose wisely: Reversing Mikhail Gorbachev's subsequent logic, he focused on the economics while putting off the politics. This decision later earned him the sobriquet "the butcher of Tiananmen" when, in 1989, the political expectations of students quickly outpaced the Party's willingness for self-examination. But it likewise locked China onto a historical pathway from which it cannot escape, or what I call the five D's of the dragon's decline from world-beater to world-benefactor: demographics, decrepitude, dependency, defensiveness, and — most disabling of all — democratization.

Let us begin this journey right where Deng did, with a focus on the family.
Continue reading at Esquire, a really interesting piece that reminds us China's window is closing sooner rather than later.

Also worth reading... the Lowy Institute has decided to take the rest of the year off, but not before they leave us with three items in a theme worth reading:
Three things I have changed my mind about this year by Rory Medcalf

  1. India's prospects
  2. Peace in East Asia
  3. The limits of security engagement with China
    Read the details here.
    What have I changed my mind about this year? China in the Pacific by Jenny Hayward-Jones

    I have for some time been relatively sanguine about the rise of China in the Pacific. I believed that, like most powers which engage with Pacific Island countries, China wanted a stable and prosperous Pacific region. Chinese trade, aid and investment in the Pacific were good if they created wealth and improved infrastructure. China's truce with Taiwan over the race for diplomatic recognition in the Pacific offered an opportunity for China to mature as a donor.

    It is also vital for the Pacific to have access to a greater range of advice than that provided by Australia and New Zealand, and to have advice from other developing countries. China provides an alternative development model that offers some useful lessons for decision-makers in Pacific Islands.

    But I am no longer convinced that China is a force for good in the Pacific:
    Her analysis is worth reading in full.
    What have I changed my mind about this year? China's naval build-up by Sam Roggeveen

    Hugh White has already written about China's growing maritime assertiveness in 2010, but there's also the question of hardware. It's barely two-and-a-half months ago that I wrote a blog post which described China's naval modernisation as 'methodical' and 'modest'. I even used the phrase 'slow and steady' in the headline, and threw in a picture of the tortoise and the hare to drive home the point.

    But the evidence that has emerged since that time — mainly from Chinese military-themed blogs and forums — throws that characterisation into serious doubt.
    The rest can be read here.

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