Forget about the military threat from China, risks of war in the Taiwan Strait, Beijing’s purchase of US debt or its dislocating effect on jobs at home — all are manageable challenges that have been blown out of proportion by pundits and government officials.
So argues Stefan Halper in The Beijing Consensus, a timely little book that turns conventions on the “China threat” upside down and argues instead that the real challenge from Beijing — one that the Obama administration has so far unwisely neglected — lies in the transformative forces, operating at the global level, associated with China’s rise.
China is undoing the West, Halper writes, not by a calculated strategy that seeks such an outcome, but rather as a result of its authoritarian model and the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) need to maintain a high level of economic growth at home to ensure its legitimacy and survival. In so doing, it has turned to every corner of the earth for natural resources and energy to meet its growing domestic requirements.
While there is nothing unusual, or even alarming, in this development, Beijing’s policy of non-interference in the domestic affairs of other countries means that it has no compunction in dealing with the world’s worst human rights offenders, as long as they have certain commodities to offer. As Halper rightly argues, the West — from big oil companies to George W. Bush’s “war on terrorism” White House — has its own checkered past from turning a blind eye to abuse when it is convenient to do so, but in recent years a certain consciousness has arisen that imposes limits on how Western firms and governments can and will engage serious human rights abusers.
One unforeseen consequence of China’s rise and Western conditionality is that rogue states, as well as a large swathe of the developing world, now have an alternative. While in the past states wishing to sell their natural resources or seeking financial assistance had no choice but to turn to the West or Western-dominated institutions like the IMF and the World Bank, they can now turn to Beijing. Given the choice between the painful economic restructuring and democratization imposed by Western institutions and Beijing’s no-questions-asked type of engagement, a growing number of states are “learning to combine market economics with traditional autocratic or semi-autocratic politics in a process that signals the intellectual rejection of the Western economic model.”
The implications for the ability of the West to influence development on its own terms and traditions are dire, Halper says, especially as trade between groups of developing countries such as Brazil, Russia, India and China, along with other emerging markets, now oftentimes surpasses trade with major Western economies. In other words, China’s substantial financial resources and willingness to trade and provide loans, added to the preference of a number of developing economies to adopt the semi-autocratic model espoused by Beijing and perfected by Singapore — stability through economic development, while the public stays out of politics — are creating large zones where the West’s appeal is quickly dropping. It is also weakening the ability of Western institutions, such as the UN or rights NGOs, to influence policy. In a number of cases, this translates into rising authoritarianism and human rights abuses.
The author argues that the eight years of George W. Bush administration, with its invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan and rejection of international consensus, dealt a severe blow to US credibility in many circles, thus creating a moral vacuum that China quickly managed to fill by playing the equivalency card.
At the same time, Western sanctions against rogue regimes like Iran, North Korea, Sudan and Zimbabwe allowed China, which had no qualms about dealing with them, to step in and take advantage of their untapped resources.
Despite what alarmists want us to believe, this isn’t some grand Chinese design to undermine the West. It is, rather, the outcome of a domestic process that forces the CCP to seek access to natural resources and markets wherever it can find them. Beijing’s fear of instability is such that it cannot afford to be discerning in who it deals with. It is, ironically, locked in a cage of its own making.
This, in turn, has implications for the school of international politics that believes that by engaging Beijing economically and encouraging it to integrate into the global community, the West will be able to foster democratization in China. In Halper’s view, such beliefs are misguided and ultimately naive, because China plays by different rules that emphasize stability over liberalization, in which economic growth is divorced from political freedoms, as Premier Wen Jiabao’s (溫家寶) rejection of the Western democratic model in 2007 clearly showed. In that regard, Beijing learned the lessons of the Soviet collapse, which in its view resulted from Mikhail Gorbachev’s failure to rein in politics just as he was promoting economic liberalization, a mistake that the CCP will not repeat.
The Western model, whereby a growing and increasingly affluent middle class will eventually demand more political freedoms, meanwhile, also fails to apply to China, where the leadership has succeeded in co-opting that segment of society by making its economic welfare increasingly dependent on the central authority.
For the time being, Beijing appears to have beaten the West at its own game, using capitalist techniques perfected over the decades to ensure its ascent while slowly transforming a system that, not so long ago, pundits claimed represented the “end of history.” If the process of China’s inadvertent reconfiguration of the international order is to be stopped, a reassessment of how we engage Beijing — it is not either a competitor or a partner, friend or foe, but all these things simultaneously — is in order. Thankfully, the contradictions that compel Beijing to act the way it does, its need for constant domestic growth, its focus on stability, fear of confrontation and aversion to humiliation, offer some leverage by which to influence its policy choices. At the same time, Halper argues, the West must also give some serious thought to how it engages the developing world and, just as China did, adapt to the new realities.
Panda bashers and panda huggers alike will likely dislike this book, which for those in between offers a refreshing new way of looking at the “China threat.”
Oct. 18 to Oct.24 To chief engineer Kinsuke Hasegawa, the completion of the Taiwan Railway Hotel was just as important as the launch of Taiwan’s first north-south railroad. Many guests — most notably Japan’s Prince Kotohito — would be coming to Taiwan for the Western Trunk Line’s inauguration ceremony on Oct 24, 1908, and it was imperative to host them at the extremely lavish new establishment. Hasegawa personally presided over its construction for the final months, which carried on day and night with over 1,200 workers toiling in shifts. They just made it — four days before the official ceremony. Designed
Yuguang Island (魚光島) is a rarity among islets. It wasn’t formed by volcanic action, by the natural accumulation of sediment or by humans dumping rocks. Like Kaohsiung’s Cijin (旗津), it was a peninsula until the authorities decided, for the sake of economic development, to sever it from “mainland” Taiwan. Back in the 17th century, at least 11 barrier islands made of mud and grit flushed out from inland Taiwan dotted the coast near Tainan. Likening them to humpbacked sea creatures, early Han settlers dubbed them kunshen (鯤鯓), and numbered them from north to south. Due to the huge amount of sediment washed
It’s not even a road yet. At the moment it is merely a hint of upturned sod off Highway 11. When I visited last week the digger was sitting there unattended for the holiday. And yet, there it was, terrifying. On the site plan the locals obtained, the road goes down to the south end of Taitung County’s Shanyuan (杉原) Beach. That beach now hosts the infamous Miramar hotel, built on land taken from aborigines by the government in 1987 and handed over to a developer to build a hotel in 2004 as a build-operate-transfer (BOT) project. The hotel became the
Hong Kong dissident artist Kacey Wong (黃國才) bounces around his spacious studio like a kid in a playground. First to a towering cardboard robot, Attack of the Red Giant, which he pulled through the streets during Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement protests in 2014. Then on to the face drawing box used to draw the portraits of protestors the same year. And finally landing on the llama on wheels, created in 2011 after the arrest of Chinese artist Ai Weiwei (艾未未). “It says fuck you, but in a cute way,” Wong said, referring to his satirical artwork, born from the political unrest in