Thursday, June 23, 2011

Henry Kissinger and Aaron Freidberg on China

In China's rise Henry Kissinger finds a subject perfectly suited to his bloodless, reptilian amoral gaze. And a 87, On China is probably Kissinger's Summa. Kissinger is often referred to as a foreign policy "Realist," although his fellow travelling with the neocons during the Bush administration could either be interpreted as the ultimate act of realism (bending one's towards the regime in power) or as an act of philosophical cynicism.
Aaron Friedberg, a true blue neocon, also writes a book on China. Andrew Nathan reviews both Kissinger and Friedberg's approaches to China and comes up with some great thoughts. From Foreign Affairs:

As a connoisseur of fine diplomacy, Henry Kissinger finds a lot of it to admire in China. His new book, cast as a history of Chinese foreign policy, traces the twists and turns of Chinese strategy since the establishment of the People's Republic in 1949, quoting liberally from his numerous conversations with Chinese leaders. But On China is really neither history nor memoir. Its purpose is to argue that the United States should yield gracefully to China's rise in order to avoid a tragic conflict.

Aaron Friedberg gives the opposite advice. A Princeton professor and former foreign policy adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney, he analyzes the strategies that China and the United States have used in dealing with each other since the early 1990s and tries to decipher China's intentions in the coming decades. In the face of growing Chinese power and ambition, the United States, he argues, must stand strong in those many areas in which China's interests are adverse to its own. Together, the two books offer a window onto the strategic split over China among mainstream Republicans.

Kissinger likens Chinese diplomacy to the game of wei qi (equivalent to the Japanese game of go), a patient contest of encirclement in which victory is only relative. Chinese strategists view the quest for a decisive outcome as illusory. Instead, they play a game of "combative coexistence," seeking to improve their relative power position amid the ever-changing forces of world politics. At the necessary moment, one may deliver a salutary psychological shock and then withdraw, as the Chinese did to the Indians in 1962 to put a stop to incursions along their contested border, and as they did to the Soviets in 1969 to deter Moscow from probing Chinese positions along their frontier. On other occasions, one may hide one's light and bide one's time, as Deng Xiaoping famously advised his colleagues to do in 1991, telling them to maintain good relations with the United States while building up China's strength. Or it might be useful to claim hurt dignity and designate a whole topic as nonnegotiable, as Beijing did in 1993-94 when U.S. President Bill Clinton tried to make favorable tariff rates conditional on improvements on human rights, and as it is doing today over territorial issues.

Andrew Nathan feels that both Kissinger and Freidberg exaggerate Chinese power (though, admittedly, it is hard to see how), believing that its rise will continue unabated. Both, according to Nathan, argue that the United States should resist attempts at derailing China's rise, considering it an inevitable event. Is it?

Two strategies of classical Chinese diplomacy mentioned in both books are: 1) giving the appearance of friendship, particularly when not at full strength, and, 2) promoting the relativity of ideologies (putting America, an idealistic nation, at the disadvantage). Andrew Nathan concludes, sharply, "It is no wonder that Chinese statecraft aims to establish the cultural relativity of human rights and to pose talk of human rights as the enemy of friendship."  Indeed.

He has many other great observations. Read the full review here.

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