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The Rise of China

This is the third part of a four-part debate. To read the previous installments, click on the links below:

Part 1, Monday: Peter Navarro
Part 2, Tuesday: Joshua Kurlantzick

Wednesday, May 30

Dear Joshua,

I'm just not buying it. My beef with your book is that, all too often--and from the outset--it conveys a soft and false impression of the reality of modern China's projection of power. Here are just a few representative examples.

One: In the preface, you significantly soft-pedal China's rapid military modernization. The grimmer reality is that China is not only arming itself to the teeth with the latest technology it can buy from the Russians and steal from the United States--including cruise missiles-equipped destroyers, sophisticated fighter planes, and the latest vintage nuclear subs with long-range nuclear-missile capabilities. China is also aggressively developing an anti-satellite weapons capability that can have only one goal--to render the U.S. military blind and dumb--while China's space program is equally aggressively seeking to claim the ultimate strategic high ground of deep space.

Two: The preface also depicts China as wielding its soft power responsibly, powering economic growth in Latin America and Africa, and fighting drug- and human-trafficking. Here, too, nothing could be further from the truth. There is nothing "responsible" in the way that China is encircling country after country in the developing world in an imperialistic hug.

Three: On page 21, you describe an idyllic day wandering around the modern bazaars of a city in western China and refer to China's "Develop the West" (of China) program. The brass-knuckles reality here is the brutal suppression of the indigenous population, particularly the Uighurs, by the importation of tens of thousands of ethnic Chinese in a blatant effort at so-called Hanification of the West. Nor do you acknowledge the police-state conditions that the indigenous populations are forced to live under--nor the frequent clashes between Chinese troops and freedom fighters in the area.

Four: On page 32, you create the decidedly false impression that the Chinese government is aggressively fighting the HIV/AIDS epidemic in China. What you forget to point out is that it was the Chinese government itself that helped create this epidemic in one of the most incredibly stupid actions a government agency has ever taken. As I relate in my own book, bureaucrats within the Chinese government created a blood plasma donation program to boost the income of the rural poor. Unfortunately, the unsanitary conditions under which this program was conducted provided the most effective transmission mechanism for the HIV/AIDS virus ever invented. To make things worse, when this mistake was discovered, the Chinese government covered the whole damn thing up. Literally millions of peasants in some of the poorest provinces of China died.

Five: On page 159, you imply that China is one of the leaders in the worldwide war on drugs. So what if it has made some drug arrests and busted some syndicates? The fact remains that China exports thousands of tons of precursor chemicals that are used to produce the world's illegal hard drugs, including ephedra grass (grown on Chinese state-run farms) used to produce methamphetamines. No enterprise of this size could take place without the tacit cooperation of government officials.

Let me now address some of the points in your rebuttal. Let's tackle the issue of whether China's imperialistic adventures in Africa and Latin America are, in fact, creating a groundswell of resentment. It is a fact that, just within the last few months, Chinese nationals have been killed, kidnapped, or otherwise attacked in Nigeria, Kenya, Ethiopia, and even Italy. At the same time, labor unions in countries from Brazil and Ghana to South Africa have protested against a flood of cheap Chinese imports.

China has also been castigated by the G-8 ministers for China's debt policies in Africa and Latin America. Their fear is that China will create a huge debt crisis by providing easy credit in exchange for African and Latin American resources. China has likewise been castigated by political leaders in both Europe and the United States for shielding Iran and its nuclear program from diplomatic sanctions.

As for the point that China is opening up its economic interdependence with the United States--and presumably therefore will not engage in conflict with Washington--this is a very dangerous presumption. What I see is a multistage process that goes something like this:

In the first stage, China uses a suite of unfair trading practices to hollow out the U.S. manufacturing sector and run large trade surpluses--now on the order of $250 billion a year. In stage two, after China accumulates large dollar reserves, it will then go about the business of buying stakes in U.S. companies or buying the companies themselves. Once it does so, China will then be able to shape decisions about off shoring and outsourcing--the loss of American jobs will continue to accelerate. In stage three, the domestic Chinese economy will catch fire, and China will no longer need the U.S. economy to gun its engines. Of course, by that time, there won't be much left of the U.S. manufacturing economy, at least in terms of its ability to provide a high paying wages.

Let me end by pointing out two areas where I strongly agree with you. The first is that the Chinese government likely does not have a grand strategy of global dominance. Instead, what appears to be happening here is an inexorable economic expansion driven by mercantilist trade practices. The resultant growing Chinese economy is providing China with the insatiable need to find natural resources and the increasing ability to expand its military. The central government simply can't afford to stop this process on its own for fear of creating politically explosive unemployment in the country and losing its tenuous hold on power. So the Chinese sustainable-development train speeds down the track, creating all manner of pollution and imperialism around the globe. My own view is that, absent some more rational policy deliberations, this can only end badly for China and the rest of us.

The second point about which we agree is that the United States is woefully inadequate when it comes to developing a "skilled core of professionals" that can compete with the Chinese diplomatic and entrepreneurial corps spreading out all around the world. As a former Peace Corps volunteer, I learned firsthand how important it is for the United States to engage in on-the-ground diplomacy and economic development. We simply don't do that very well anymore, while the Chinese are imperialist masters.


By Joshua Kurlantzick