- The Washington Times - Monday, April 5, 2010

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

THE BEIJING CONSENSUS: HOW CHINA’S AUTHORITARIAN MODEL WILL DOMINATE THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY

By Stefan Halper

Basic Books, $28.90

276 pages

Reviewed by Benjamin P. Tyree

China’s explosive “miracle” growth over the past several decades has positioned Beijing as a major player on theworld stage and a challenger to the American vision of international relations centered on the expansion of human rights. But the East Asian giant is not at this point to be regarded as a true enemy in the traditional sense, nor is it the “partner” of the United States that its friends and apologists claim it to be, says Stefan Halper, director of the Atlantic studies program at England’s Cambridge University.

Mr. Halper, a veteran Republican international-relations expert and former White House and State Department official, sees the challenge as competition between rival soft-power deployments of the United States and China rather than any near-term or acute threat of military conflict.

In “The Beijing Consensus,” Mr. Halper says the United States has failed to address the emergence of China’s new and rising model in the Third World: “the power of the market plus the stability of authoritarian rule.”

Moreover, he writes, “As capitalism deepens around the globe, so is the raw and relative pre-eminence of America diminishing.”

The inevitable quest by an economically expanding China for resources and markets, and its singular example of success, creates a competition for hearts, minds, bellies and desires for betterment in a world of want. But this, with few exceptions, excludes ambitions of territorial expansion or true imperium, though it does make irredentist claims against Taiwan and border regions in India and rides roughshod over absorbed but distinct regions and ethnic groups such as Tibet and the Uighars of its western territories.

To Mr. Halper, direct military confrontation with the United States would be out of sync with China’s careful, risk-avoiding long-term strategic thought. The often-ballyhooed Chinese military buildup, in Mr. Halper’s view, should be regarded without particular alarm: “In reality, Chinese leaders want neither the strain on finances nor the negative and potentially costly atmospherics that would accompany a genuine arms race with the United States. [Chinese military expenditures] are still dwarfed in comparison with their American counterpart.”

Mr. Halper eschews the theory that China is either an opponent or a partner. At various times, its interests may cause it to behave as one or the other or as a combination of both. But finally, at bottom, he says, is an immovable verity: “We are not partners,” and he prefers the term “political rival” to that of “foe.”

Mr. Halper says the possibility of China playing real hardball with its emerging economic muscle is held in check by what he calls a “marriage of liabilities” or an economic form of mutually assured destruction. Harming the United States would undermine China’s strategy for economic growth and thereby threaten the communist regime’s stability.

“China doesn’t fund American borrowing because it wants to humble or hinder the United States; it does so because the United States remains the largest overseas market for an economy that relies on exports.” He even adds that “China hasn’t deliberately set out to diminish the power of the Western bloc or the appeal of its brand.” These realities, he says, are rooted in the Communist Party’s determination to stay in power at home. Still, Chinese ownership of U.S. debt or the possibility of economic manipulation creates a “serious” concern over “how this stable system of mutual dependence has weakened America’s voice in global affairs.”

About 70 percent of China’s giant foreign-exchange portfolio is held in liquid U.S. dollar assets such as Treasury bonds, Mr. Halper notes. This $1.6 trillion is put to use expanding not only China’s military and industry, but its footprint as resource purchaser and importer and patron in Asia, Africa and Latin America. The recent call by China’s central banker for rethinking the dollar’s role as reserve currency “reflected growing unease about the threat of the dollar decline more than a desire to bring about its outcome,” Mr. Halper says.

China also is hedging its bets by increasing its flexibility by developing its internal market to mitigate against overreliance on exports.

Moreover, China is eating the United States’ lunch in Africa, Asia and even Latin America by soaking up raw-material supplies for its burgeoning industry in a manner that offers little offense and much benefit to the governments that enter into contracts with it. If the supplier nation follows a political model that is inconsonant with China’s, no problem: In its diplomatic and trade missions, China parks its ideology at the door and makes no demands for internal reforms.

Indeed, China’s foreign-affairs approach hearkens back to the uncritical Westphalian model of national sovereignty as a sacred tenet excluding interference in other nations’ internal affairs.

China does exact concessions from its supplier states. These include support for national sovereignty, the one-China policy (nonrecognition of Taiwan) and opposition along with China to various human rights initiatives pursued in international forums by the United States and other Western powers. China’s influence also blunts Western challenges in the World Trade Organization to its currency and export pricing practices.

In return, China not only enters into generous contracts but provides generous foreign assistance in terms of building bridges, dams, roads, schools and hospitals and providing Chinese personnel, equipment and materials to minimize China’s costs.

Mr. Halper suggests the United States return to championing the human rights ideas of the Enlightenment as important elements of its world policy. This can build complementary interests between U.S. foreign policy and the rising classes of China, and has the added merits of unnerving the ever-watchful security-conscious leadership in Beijing.

Mr. Halper notes that “more than half of economic growth now occurs in the developing world. American security is therefore closely linked to establishing a better relationship with emerging economies.”

He also sees important other pieces in play on the chessboard of international politics: “Washington’s interest in stronger relations with India in particular has grown rapidly in recent years as U.S. strategic planners have seen a convergence of U.S. and Indian interests regarding China.” China has been pressing territorial claims against India.

Mr. Halper recommends establishing a central executive office to deal coherently with China policy on an interdisciplinary basis and rebooting the national security apparatus to reflect this priority.

The United States should take a page from the Chinese book in identifying public-works projects in Third World nations that have enormous potential for creating both wealth and good will in those countries at bargain-basement costs to the donor nation.

While avoiding the risks of attempting a worldwide crusade of nation-building based on its own image, Mr. Halper holds that America also should stand insistently for solid ideas of human rights and progress as an advocate and exemplar that will gather the sympathetic support of increasing numbers of Third World middle classes and intellectuals. “Washington might not have the unipolar power it claimed after 9/11, but what it does have is the power - and indeed the expectations of others - to lead.”

This brief but richly detailed and annotated volume is an excellent and helpful handbook for the foreign-policy professional as well as the serious student of Sinology. It opens important new channels for fresh thought about our peculiar and sometimes difficult relationship with the most populous and rapidly developing nation on Earth.

Benjamin P. Tyree is a veteran Washington journalist and a media fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution.

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