Tuesday, April 02, 2019

Keeping an Eye on the Long Game: Part LXXXII

What if those who see China's growth to top global power are overplaying their hand?

What is another point of view of where China's power will peak?

While I remain a China hawk, I also believe in the "China will grow old before it grows rich" line of thinking, and keep all my ideas soaked in an understanding that in modern history no nation has seen the challenge of trying to modernize in the face of collapsing demographics.

China is also China ... so I try to keep an open mind.

So, let's check in with Gordon Chang take in line with the above;
Kaplan, in his piece titled “China: A World Power Again,” maintained that the period of Chinese weakness was an aberration, merely an interlude between natural eras of tianchao—Celestial Kingdom—grandeur.

There are many contemporary reasons—contracting economy, collapsing demography, crumbling politics—why Kaplan is wrong and why Beijing’s challenge to America and the international system will almost surely fall short, but history also suggests China’s path to glory is impassable. How so? The current ruler, the bold Xi Jinping, is adopting imperial-era notions that will cut short the rise of the Chinese nation.
He's built on a record of those before him;
Many would argue that China has also enjoyed a fourth golden era, that begun by Deng. During this time, the Communist Party abandoned its tianxia-like goals of reordering the world, embraced the existing Westphalian international order, and thrived while absorbing technology and capital from others.

Deng may have shared Mao’s goal for world domination. After all, in 1989 and 1990 he famously issued instructions to Chinese officials to, among other things, “hide our capabilities” and “bide our time.” Yet, whatever were his ultimate goals for China, he ruled with much less ambition and far more caution than Mao, as did Deng’s chosen successor, Jiang Zemin.

Hu Jintao, who followed Jiang, set his sights slightly higher, invoking tianxia by incessantly talking about “harmony.” Foreigners, like Kissinger, perceived the emphasis on the word to be a sign that Chinese leaders accepted the world as it was. Yet during Hu’s rule, generally coinciding with the first decade of this century, “harmonized” took on sinister overtones, especially inside China, where the tianxia-era term came to mean “coerced” and “silenced.”

Xi Jinping, Hu’s successor, has not been that subtle. He has thrown caution to the wind, making it clear he believes, as did Chinese emperors, that he is the world’s only legitimate ruler. Echoes of the worldwide tianxia concept are embedded in the slogan for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, “One World, One Dream.” Xi was the Politburo Standing Committee member responsible for the Games.
China, especially in the decade since the Games has a lot of people spooked. In a large part, here's why;
Xi’s recent comments warn us that he has no intention of living within the current Westphalian system or even adjusting it. His words in this context, therefore, are revolutionary.

It is not a revolution that promises to benefit China, however. Apart from driving away friends—who wants to be Beijing’s subject?—the system Xi contemplates has been tried before with disastrous results. That system, Fei-Ling Wang writes, “has a record of suboptimal performance that features despotic governance, long stagnation of economy, suffocation of science and technology, retardation of spiritual pursuits, irrational allocation of resources, great depreciation of human dignity and life, low and declining living standards for the masses, and mass death and destruction periodically and frequently.”
All that being said, here is the anti-Kaplan counterpoint;
Xi’s top-down system is already driving the country in wrong directions. For instance, the motor of China’s rise, the economy, is stumbling in large part because Xi, as Nicholas Lardy of the Peterson Institute for International Economics observes, has placed a greater emphasis on Party control than growth. There are even indications that, due to his policies, the economy is now contracting.
Xi has essentially put the entire country in a big red time machine and set the dial to 1950, perhaps 1650. State media may talk about “New China,” but he is busy recreating a Chinese system that history demonstrates did not work well.

So Robert Kaplan may see a China restoring itself to grandeur, but that view is not only a gross misreading of history but also an example of particularly bad forecasting.
Worth a ponder.

Read it all.

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