Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Arthur Waldron and the Rightward Drift of U.S. Discourse on China

In Joseph Kahn and Chris Buckley’s article in the New York Times, China Gives a Strategic 21-Gun Salute to Visiting Uzbek President, a China expert parses the Chinese desire to cozy up to Uzbekistan as follows:

"Energy is clearly one driver for China in the region," said Arthur Waldron, a China expert at the University of Pennsylvania. "My sense is that they also tend to think that anything that throws sand into the face of the U.S. is a good thing."

Hmmm. Not exactly the way I read it.

In the interests of full disclosure, I think Kahn and Buckley should have identified Waldron as affiliated with the self-identified “Blue Team” of confront-China enthusiasts seeking to permeate the Pentagon and State Department.

Waldron is the former Director of Asian Studies at the American Enterprise Institute; signatory to Project for the New American Century statements on Taiwan and Hong Kong; served on the boards of various right-leaning foundations, and testifies to Congress on the China threat.

In the feisty days when Clinton was president and the Blue Team boasted of its virtuous conspiracy to tilt policy and perceptions toward a harder anti-China stance in the face of panda-hugger persecution, Waldron openly called for regime change in China.

He provides academic credibility and cover for the Blue Team, which is composed largely of anti-PRC enthusiasts with limited backgrounds in Asian affairs, in role similar to the one Bernard Lewis played for the neo-cons over Iraq.

It may be unfair, but I see Waldron, like Lewis, as an academic at best prescribing tough love for his area of study and at worst sounding positively Sinophobic.

In considering 20th century Asia, Waldron has a strong pro-Japan tilt. A flavor of his views, and how he applies them to the current situation, can be gleaned from his piece Japan Emerges, published earlier this year:

So perhaps we should listen to other historians, less well known than those who concentrate on Japanese domestic history {for the origins of the China invasion}, stressing instead a series of completely unexpected developments in the region that even the most liberal Japanese leaders saw as threatening to their country’s security.

Most important of these was a strong but erratically guided rise of Chinese power that saw that country’s government, goading and reacting to the resentments of her people, flout many of the undertakings she had made at Washington {at the Washington Conference of 1921-22--CH}.

Almost simultaneously came political splits and then civil wars in a China that at the time of the Conference had seemed politically stable and set on a course of peaceful economic development. These wars threatened continental interests that Tokyo considered vital, and when the allies who had promised at Washington to consult on such threats and act to protect legitimate interests failed to do so, Japan attempted to do so herself—in a catastrophic way that saw both democracy and millions of Japanese people perish.

One element of a parallel to these developments is already in place. North Korea’s nuclear capability has deeply unsettled Japan…

Translation: The Chinese were asking for it in the 1930s and now they’re asking for it again today.

Most students of the period tend to blame Japanese belligerence and imperial ambition for the catastrophe of the Pacific War, not Chinese provocation.

As Waldron himself admits, he’s in the minority in his reading of modern Asian history.

So it seems to me a sign of the rightward drift in the popular discourse about China that he nevertheless appears to be a go-to guy for the New York Times when some academic insight about the PRC is called for.

When Waldron depicts China’s outreach to the Uzbekistan regime primarily as a move touching on the mother of all American strategic interests—oil—and a provocative nose thumbing at the United States…

…instead of a clumsy embrace driven by China’s fear that weakening of authoritarian regimes in Central Asia will give the Muslims of Xinjiang a thirst for the same kind of populist, anti-government activism and promise of democratic self-determination that has roiled Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan…

…it makes me wonder if he’s trying to create a pressing issue for America in China’s relationship with Uzbekistan that really isn’t there.

If anything, China may be using its ostentatious show of support for Karimov to signal to the United States that China is fully vested in the survival of this pro-American tyrant and the U.S. government should not feel there is any need—or compelling alternative—to abandoning him.


Arthur Waldron said...

Dear Colleagues--

I am still squinting from the limelight your blog has directed on me. A few

First, no one who spends thirty plus years of his life on classical and modern
Chinese can have anything but a very high opinion of Chinese civilization. No
one who knows me would question that.

Second, no one who is named for a young American who died fighting in the
Philippines in May 1945 could be pro-Japanese.

Third, the only point of being an intellectual--and I am, in the sense that I am
paid, for life, to think about things and comment, is to CALL THINGS AS YOU SEE

Fourth, while I am pleased to see the great changes in China since 1976 I don't
see much eagerness to attack the fundamentals: freeing the press, freeing the
prisoners, allowing elections and opposition parties, making the currency
convertible, etc. The longer this is put off, the more difficult change
becomes, the more opportunities are wasted amd the more difficult the problems
are when the inevitable crash comes.

Fifth, I note a distinct unwillingness on the part of many colleagues to face
directly the worrying aspects of China such as internet censorship,
surveillance, and wasteful military buildup.

Having these views does not make you anti-China. And I would hate to think that
supporting democracy, freedom, and dignity now places me on the "right." Note
that the real hard line communists in China are conservatives. Those like me
who are against them are also called conservatives. This makes no sense.

The Blue Team is not a team and is very loose, it exists mostly in the mind of
those who fear it.

As for your comments on the one phrase extracted from a long interview, they do
not adequately convey my full views on a subject I have studied for many years.
Read my books and articles, not just the stuff that turns up on the net. I am
difficult to pigeonhole.

Rather than follow personalities, follow the facts. As Zoellick's fine speech
made clear, these are not ideal.

I have never sought to be an intellectual leader. I just try to say what I
believe and stick by it, damn the torpedoes. I have taken some hits. What do
you do?

Lets get back to the facts. They provide plenty to discuss.

And here is my name: Arthur Waldron. You know where to find me. The person
behind this blog does not even have the guts to admit who he is. That is NOT
how I operate. Even if it is a negative tenure letter, I write it so that I
could present it in person to the subject. It might be difficult, but the words
would be straight.

Best to All Arthur Waldron

dged said...

Concluding that Arthur Waldron is "anti-China" because he is critical of what the Chinese Communist system has done to its citizens and Chinese culture is reminiscent of how the academic community treated Simon Leys (Pierre Ryckmans), the Belgian Sinologist and art historian, when he exposed the crimes of Mao and the disaster that was inappopriately called "The Cultural Revolution" in his book CHINESE SHADOWS. In fact Leys, and no doubt Waldron, criticize the Chinese Communist system precisely because they have a deep love for Chinese civilization and its people.

Cactus | Lily said...

As a current student in one of Prof Waldron's classes at the University of Pennsylvania, I cannot claim any depth of knowledge even comparable to his in terms of history.

However, having lived in Hong Kong for the majority of my years, and participated enthusiastically in various political movements, I have been in continual contact with the academic community therein.

Conversations with academics and officials would yield rather disturbing facts about the "Mainland" (as many Hong Kongers refer to China) across the border. These serve to build a sobering view of China internally as it currently stands.

Political apathy remains solidly entrenched in the minds of economically empowered urban Chinese youth. However, one must remember that the urban centres are being flooded by tens of millions of rural "illegal workers": second class citizens, unwilling to give up land rights back home, hence ineligible for care or even official employment in cities. I stress the term "official."
Unofficial employees live in factory dormitories, often earning nothing but food. They are unable to send promised remittances to poor, starving families’ in their home villages. This highly visible and growing gap between the urban rich and the pathetically destitute has created an explosive situation in which the average worker has been left behind. The faceless worker, left without the solace of farcical representation through rigged elections, may stand for these inequities, but only for a time. The People’s Republic is a nation in which the few reign. This, combined with the ability of the rich to bribe officials, has made virtual oligarchies of Chinese cities. The resulting unrest is, unsurprisingly, never reported in Xinhua, and information pertaining to such movements is heavily suppressed within China.

Execution figures are shocking even in their censored and massaged forms. Recently instituted Nazi-esque death vans allow executions to take place after kangaroo-court trials in the rural countryside. These vans embody the efficiency and attitude of the Chinese state. Transporting dissidents to urban executions is apparently too expensive and far too transparent for the government's liking.

A recent conversation with a respected Hong Kong University Prof digressed into the uneasy territory of official Chinese figures. He had the following to say:
Southern Chinese officials who possess a higher degree of freedom than their northern counterparts (which does not say much) have been leaking with all the eagerness of sieves. These officials have been divulging information that would border on hilarity, were it not for the highly apparent gravity of the situation. Routine reports that officials are being pressured to inflate figures in orders of magnitude similar to the good old backyard furnace days. Admissions that the accepted NGO estimates of five to eight thousand executions a year are not accurate, unless those already harrowing figures are multiplied by 10 or more. China is not only fooling the world but is in fact fooling herself into a sense of false internal stability and sustainable economic superiority.

Warnings of China specialists like Prof Waldron would suggest simply that China is not a threat in the present context. It is a threat that would manifest in the future in one way or another. China cannot sustain economic success & liberalisation (false or otherwise) and keep her current regime. One must be brought into line with another in an ideological sense. The logical solution would be to liberalise, and eventually democratise government as it is difficult, nay, impossible to roll back economic reforms once citizens have had a taste of the consumer's power to choose. However, those in power are hardly wont to leave without a fight and in this truth we find the bloody inevitability that China will face.

China will be a threat. It will either be a totalitarian, militarist superpower, or an internally unstable, bloody mess that radiates violence beyond its borders. We, who respect and love China for its rich culture and heritage, cannot be branded as heretics—we simply refuse to betray China to those who would destroy what we love. This, in my opinion, is the essence of the confrontational view-- the moral and practical, long-term view, as opposed to the myopic, naive Chamberlain-style policies of containment and salving diplomacy.

Unknown said...

This original post by “Chinahand” here is ridiculous and I'm shocked that Prof Waldron even responded. I was an student in Waldron’s classes while studying Chinese politics at Penn a decade ago, have read a lot of his material and have lived in China/Asia since graduating. I can unequivocally say that a statement like
"but I see Waldron ... at worst sounding positively Sinophobic..."
suggests to me, Chinahand, that you should have your eyes checked. In the months of lectures that I attended, Waldron never communicated anything resembling a right wing agenda. Waldron has been an inspiration for many thousands of fledgling Sinophiles at Penn. His unbridled and infectious enthusiasm for China and Asia in general inspired myself and others into further China-related studies. I’d recommend his research to any Chinese history/politics/IR students out there today trying to get a better understanding of the issues, regardless of your political affinities (In case anyone is interested, I’m quite “left wing”, if we’re using such ridiculous labels).
Chinahand’s discussion of Waldron himself, as opposed to just his ideas, is disappointing but perhaps necessary, since the argument he’s trying to make about Waldron’s right wing, inaccurate bias otherwise holds no water... I am honestly impressed that Chinahand got Waldron to respond though, so kudos for that I suppose.
To reemphasize Waldron’s own response, if you read anything other than a few snippets of his work (which seems to be all that Chinahand did read) you’ll agree that there is no Sinophobic agenda being put forward. I understand that in academia it is common to try and draw attention to one’s own ideas by taking pot shots at the established experts… I don’t work in academia so, Chinahand, please excuse my lack of subtly when I say your original post is complete nonsense. And please excuse my late posting!

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