Have I Mentioned Recently That the Chinese Are Shooting Themselves In the Foot?

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on January 16, 2011

Why yes, I do believe that I have. And I have also written that the Chinese are not nearly as strong as many seem to think that they are. Both points are worth recalling when we consider a couple of new links to add to our consideration of China’s standing in the international community.

The first link comes from the Economist, and confirms that China is not nearly as adroit in the realm of diplomacy as she used to be:

In the past few weeks China has made a splash with progress on an anti-ship missile and a stealth fighter jet. Every country has legitimate interests and the right to spend money defending them, especially a growing power like China. But even if their purpose is defensive, such weapons will inevitably alarm America and China’s neighbours. In the harmonious world China says it seeks, assertiveness needs to be matched with reassurance and explanation. Yet China undermined the confidence-building visit this week to Beijing of Robert Gates, America’s defence secretary . . . when it staged a test flight of the new jet (see article). It was an unfortunate curtain-raiser for the visit of China’s president, Hu Jintao, to Washington on January 18th.

Sino-American relations have been deteriorating for a year. On his first visit to China in 2009 President Barack Obama was treated with disdain, and the Chinese government reacted with fury when he sanctioned arms sales to Taiwan that were neither a surprise nor game-changing and saw the Dalai Lama—also routine for American presidents. China broke off military-to-military contacts and officials suddenly stopped returning American diplomats’ calls.

[. . .]

China’s recent behaviour is in part the product of a miscalculation, dating from the global financial crisis. Many Chinese believe that America’s power has gone into an inexorable decline. Chinese leaders’ preoccupation with sweeping changes to the Communist Party hierarchy in 2012 may be helping to reinforce this belief. At a time of domestic uncertainty, running down the foreign opposition is popular.

America is certainly losing clout in relative terms, but it will remain the world’s most fearsome military power for a very long time. If China behaves as though America is weak, and seeks to push back its power, a querulous but well-tended relationship could slide into competition and confrontation and bring about a cold-war stand-off or rivalry for influence in neighbouring states. Already, China’s tough new attitude is having an effect. America has redoubled its commitment to policing the South China Sea. Japan and South Korea have just announced closer defence co-operation. This does not serve China’s interests.

I continue to be amazed at the sudden Chinese propensity to pull a reverse Dale Carnegie on the international stage by angering would-be friends, and influencing countries to balance against Chinese power. (I also continue to be amazed that many commentators who lost no opportunity to excoriate the United States for a supposed loss of soft power are not doing the same when it comes to China, but I suppose that is another issue for another time.) China’s newfound belligerence may well be a predictable outcome of the sudden Chinese propensity to hypernationalism, but the appearance of a rush of power that seems to have made Chinese policymakers febrile with dreams of an exalted hegemonic status has led the Chinese into some very bad decisions on the diplomatic front.

Notice that I wrote about an “appearance of a rush of power.” Appearances, of course, oftentimes fail to match reality. And the reality of the Chinese situation is, well, I’ll let Tom Clougherty have the microphone:

I’m always a little surprised to hear free market economists waxing lyrical about China. True, China has taken some extraordinary steps forward since they began to liberalize their economy, and many people have been lifted out of poverty as a result. But we should not lose sight of the fact that China is still dominated by the state and run by central planners, and that all of the failings of socialism remain present and correct. Indeed, there is a strong case for arguing that much of what we are witnessing in China now is not real growth at all, but rather a bubble driven by easy credit, with resources being misallocated on a grand scale.

[. . .]

I’m no China expert. I don’t know how big the bubble is, and I don’t know when it will burst. But I do know socialism doesn’t work, and that you can’t buck the market forever. Somewhere down the line, central planning always ends in tears.

Read the whole thing. One wonders when the Chinese will realize that they don’t hold the high cards they think they hold.

  • http://tomgrey.wordpress.com TomGrey

    A lot of Chinese manufacturing prowess is based on huge, human-disfiguring pollution. The commie leaders are in danger of being successful enough in allowing their people to learn the truth about how willing the corrupt & hypocritical leaders are. Industrialized socialism without looking at pollution always looks better than it is.

    OTOH, the commie leaders seem to genuinely want to be Platonic Philosopher Kings, more like Singapore than Moscow.

Previous post:

Next post: