Tue, Jun 26, 2012 - Page 8 News List

China’s divided route to dominance

By Ian Inkster

Finally, China could have exploited the world’s major political hot spots — North Korea, Iran, Syria and the Sudans — as highly visible sites to demonstrate global sympathies as well as commercial concerns. This would fit well into US — especially US Secretary of State Hillary Rosham Clinton’s — vision for global diplomacy.

In summary, if we believe that many of the tensions between Taiwan and China, or indeed between most of the world and China, can be boiled down to the worry over an imminent contradiction within China between economic growth and political stagnation, then a relatively speedy and lucrative turn of the political screw could be earned by China through wiser attention to each and all of the above seven issues. This would cost money, but the expense would be justifiable in terms of long-term economic growth.

I am one of those who believe that China is not stupid. There are several factors causing the present global stand-off, or delaying Chinese political responsiveness to the outside world.

In a tight analytical approach that incorporates a great variety of foreign policy issues in China, my colleague at Wenzao Ursuline College in Greater Kaohsiung, Mark Lai (賴文儀), has concluded that Chinese behavior that appears irrational or illogical on the surface has emerged not from stupidity, but from “the rising sense of frustration, the combination of over-confidence and self-doubt, which makes foreign policy choices reflect national interests at some times and not at other times.”

What factors contributed to such a combination of frustration, ultra-confidence and self-doubt and how might we optimistically expect some transition away from them?

First, the recession began to bite strongly in China from the middle of 2008 and led to a series of economic measures that went well beyond the conservative financial strategies of today’s eurozone. China reacted with a combination of restrictions and massive infrastructure and social expenditure. The complexity of this response, which was triggered by the failure of Western financial systems, may well have slowed down a potentially faster move toward a more liberal political economy. If true, this would mean that the US and others have actually inhibited Chinese political responsiveness.

Second, senior Chinese politicians are divided and there are factions that do not have a consensus on the internal political economy, nor what I have labeled the seven sinews of soft power. These factions are all post-Mao Zedong (毛澤東), in that, with a few exceptions, individual members of the factions are not directly linked to Maoist struggle or dominance. Of course, in some cases they are the children of those key players in the Maoist struggle, the so-called princelings, but this does not make them Maoist. Until these factions can come to a consensus, greater coherence on foreign policy will be elusive.

Third, there is much reason to put faith in the political changes forged by a growing middle class. Not only is the Chinese middle class now very large (between 250 million and 300 million, depending how the group is defined), but its social and institutional characteristics are already on a par with those of developing and transitional non-communist systems, and even matches rich capitalist nations on some international measures. In time, this middle class will have a great impact on internal Chinese politics.

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