In fact, Kevin Drum also linked to Ho’s article before I got around to posting on it, a sure sign that I’m way behind the China-blogging curve.
I’m not averse to the anti-Blue team snark which pervades Ho’s article. Pillsbury comes out looking like quite the blowhard, equally intent on inflating his importance, his academic credentials, and the China threat.
But I don’t want to set up an “us vs. them” “left vs. right” “blue team vs. panda hugger” dichotomy. In fact, it’s an interesting and important characteristic of the China debate that China watchers don’t split neatly into two camps.
…the China field itself has some unusual features. Its members don't like to disagree with each other in public. We all like to pretend that we think the same way and we are moderate and objective, and this cheats outsiders from a rigorous debate where somebody would say, you are a panda hugger, and somebody else would say, you are a McCarthyite.
Well, I personally hope that the rigorous debate about China does not end up looking like a crapfight in a monkey house.
China is complicated. It still defies efforts to simplify it—and frustrates attempts to achieve the moral clarity needed to mobilize public opinion, set armies on the march, or even push an agenda up Capitol Hill.
As China is concerned, I think the elements on the right rely excessively on the containment era assumptions that George Kennan defined in his seminal 1946 article in Foreign Affairs, The Sources of Soviet Conduct.
Writing under the cool pseudonym X, Kennan declared that hostility between the United States and the Soviet Union was inevitable—and containment inescapable—because the Soviet Union needed an external enemy to justify the domestic repression necessary to preserve its ever-tottering empire.
But there is ample evidence that the stress laid in Moscow on the menace confronting Soviet society from the world outside its borders is founded not in the realities of foreign antagonism but in the necessity of explaining away the maintenance of dictatorial authority at home…
…Today the major part of the structure of Soviet power is committed to the perfection of the dictatorship and to the maintenance of the concept of Russia as in a state of siege, with the enemy lowering beyond the walls. And the millions of human beings who form that part of the structure of power must defend at all costs this concept of Russia's position, for without it they are themselves superfluous.
This doctrine had more than a grain of truth in it, and it was incredibly useful as well. It was a politician’s dream Declaring that pure Soviet psychosis drove the Cold War made questioning the moral and intellectual foundations of American policy a less than legitimate field of intellectual endeavor—unless you were interested in being labeled a Comsymp, fellow traveler, or worse.
The doctrine has also been applied to China.
Testifying before the same committee as Pillsbury in 2000, Arthur Waldron testified:
All of us will recall, of course, in 1947 a rising young diplomat with great expertise on Russia wrote a paper which made his reputation, in which he argued that the problem with the Soviet Union and the reason that it was behaving in a hostile manner toward the United States was not what we had done, but rather it was the type of regime that the Soviet Union had. This was an unelected authoritarian regime that relied on oppression of its own people. Such regimes, in order to justify what they do, have to have enemies. If you have Hitler, it is fairly easy to convince the Russians that there is an enemy and they will pull together, but once Hitler is defeated you have a problem. You no longer have an external enemy. People in Russia start saying, shouldn't we have a better standard of living and more freedom? Well, you can give them that, or you can come up with an enemy, and the enemy that they came up with was the West, and I think it was largely an imaginary enemy. And this was a tragedy that Russia made this decision. And that young diplomat was George Kennan, and that article was his famous ''X Article'' in Foreign Affairs in 1947, and I think it has a lot to tell us about China.
To add to this problem of the regime type and the need that this regime has, if it is not going to give its people freedom, then it has to justify a kind of garrison mentality, a stress on military values and obedience and so forth, something that was never true in the Soviet Union; namely, that is China is growing wealthy. That is not to say that ordinary people are seeing a great improvement in their lives. My travels indicate that this economic miracle is genuine up to a certain extent. But a great deal of money is available for military supplies.
You have a dictatorship with potentially dangerous foreign policy goals wedded to a functioning economy, which is going to be able to pay for the things that they need, and this is worrying.
Applying containment assumptions to China is not simply a matter of political convenience. China in the 1970s looked a lot like the post-World War II USSR: a sclerotic, paranoid, and repressive socialist cripple-state.
However, today’s China viewed through the containment lens looks all wrong.
If the Soviet Union had developed the way China has, forty years after Krushchev announced he would bury us we’d be buying our TVs from Minsk, our underwear from Pinsk, shipping our jobs to the Ukraine, and selling a large part of our government debt to Moscow.
To a significant extent, Communist China’s current leadership has staked its claim to legitimacy on providing peace and prosperity to its people and an increase in its prestige, influence, and legitimacy abroad, not as an embattled beacon of socialism. We can’t continue to pretend that our foreign policy is shaped in reaction to the PRC’s existential need for a clash of civilizations or a cage match between Communism and capitalism to sustain its rule.
We also can’t get away with announcing a compulsion to forcibly democratize the world, plant a Godzilla-sized military footprint in East and Central Asia and then ask querulously, as Donald Rumsfeld does, why do the Chinese feel they need an army?
The containment doctrine has become a politically useful but strategically dangerous crutch for the X Men and Women of our foreign policy establishment.
We need a different paradigm, with greater explanatory value—one that accommodates the existence of a repressive, unstable, but economically vibrant single-party state seeking to expand its regional opportunities through the development of its economic and military power; and a militarily and economically dominant democracy that opts out of the international system when it believes it can serve the national interest through the selective destabilization of undesirable regimes.
Wonder what letter of the alphabet we’ll use to describe the new China doctrine?