Fri, Sep 21, 2018 - Page 8 News List

US engagement has failed in China

By Joseph Bosco

China scholars and policy practitioners are increasingly accepting a painful and long-denied reality: Four decades of Western engagement have failed to induce critical changes in the domestic and foreign policies of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

However, the experts still avoid facing the logical follow-on reality: Sustainable peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific require (a) regime security in Taiwan and (b) regime change in China.

For Taiwan, this imperative does not mean perpetual rule for any particular party or leader — it does mean preservation of Taiwan’s de facto independence and its democratic system of government.

Similarly, regime change in China does not necessarily mean the end of communist rule through outside intervention or violent internal means.

However, it does require Chinese leaders to make the historic decision to transition to a multiparty political system over a reasonably finite number of years.

Richard Nixon, declaring in 1967 what would become the rationale for his opening to China, said the threat that China presents to the world is its communist system: “The world cannot be safe until China changes. Thus, our aim, to the extent that we can influence events, should be to induce change. The way to do this is to persuade China that it must change, that it cannot satisfy its imperial ambitions.”

Nixon saw Western engagement as the only peaceful way to induce such change: “We simply cannot afford to leave China forever outside the family of nations, there to nurture its fantasies, cherish its hates and threaten its neighbors.”

However, as US president, he viewed the long-term abandonment of Taiwan as the price to be paid to start communist China’s long path to political moderation. His implicit strategic formula was regime change in Taiwan to a communist dictatorship and then regime change in China to a more moderate, tolerant rule.

By that “realist” reasoning, China must be allowed to swallow one more piece of claimed sovereign territory, having seized Tibet and East Turkestan at the outbreak of the Korean War. Its aggressive appetite then sated, Nixon seemed to calculate, it would be able to turn to domestic development and more humane policies at home and abroad.

Henry Kissinger, Nixon’s junior partner in the great China project [as national security adviser during his presidency], readily bought into the first step the part that was enfolded in Nixon’s understanding with Mao Zedong (毛澤東): At some point, Taiwan must be absorbed by China.

When Mao told Nixon that China could take Taiwan within 50 or 100 years, Kissinger joked to Mao that he was surprised the People’s Republic [of China] would wait so long.

However, Kissinger never had illusions about political reform in China and had no interest in Washington pursuing that end. As years passed and transformation of the two governments across the Taiwan Strait failed to materialize, the one-time realpolitik partners took divergent courses on regime change in Taiwan and China.

Nixon, the intellectual and political force behind the overture to China, became increasingly concerned that the communist government showed no signs of moderating its world outlook.

Still, he wrote in his 1978 memoir that the West must intensify its peaceful efforts to encourage change: “We must cultivate China during the next few decades while it is still learning to develop its national strength and potential. Otherwise we will one day be confronted with the most formidable enemy that has ever existed in the history of the world.”

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