The New York Times on Jan. 25 ran Harvard political science professor Joseph Nye’s article “Work With China, Don’t Contain It,” which the International Herald Tribune then ran on Jan. 28.
This distinguished Democratic strategist, who defined “soft power” and “smart power,” might have intended to influence policy, or create a certain atmosphere in the media while new policy emerges during the building of US President Barack Obama’s new Cabinet. However, the message is decidedly mixed.
Taking into account economic and social factors — unlike former US national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski’s single focus on geopolitics — Nye presumes that US-China relations do not parallel US-USSR relations.
While the containment policy against the USSR was conducted with little economic or social engagement between the two powers, the US and China have shared one of the broadest and most sophisticated relationships in the world.
Accordingly, Nye has envisaged the US working “with,” not “merely over,” China, though simultaneously devising the “integrate-but-hedge” mechanism in 1994 to provide a cushion.
Unfortunately, Nye’s vision relies too heavily on how Beijing sees Washington, which means the chances of success depend on China’s feelings toward the US, rather than hard facts in their relationship.
After 20 years’ observation, Nye “was struck by how many Chinese officials believe [the containment] policy is already in place and is the central purpose of Obama’s ‘pivot’ toward Asia.”
Beijing has frustrated Nye’s benevolent strategy, which proves much more reactive than proactive.
On Nov. 11 last year, former US deputy assistant secretary of state Christopher Ford underwent a distressing epiphany at the fourth Xiangshan Forum, which was sponsored by the Academy of Military Science of the People’s Liberation Army and ostensibly focused upon strategic mutual trust.
Ford was shocked to realize that the Chinese way of thinking was on a very different track than he and other Westerners had imagined. He found Chinese strategists ready to overleap facts and jump to conclusions based on nationalist sentiments.
Habitually mixing up historical facts with mere opinion, the Chinese insisted that the outside world should recognize the Chinese mental map first: I was invaded a century ago; therefore, I hold the moral high ground and Western countries, as well as Japan, should forever work to expiate their sins of invading the Qing empire.
Deploying a “string of pearls” strategy to contain New Delhi, while accusing the US of containing China, a China immersed in the mood of people’s revolution is not so willing to “work with” the world.
“Only China can contain China,” Nye wrote.
HoonTing is a commentator in Taipei.