(Here.) Every single word is worth reading. He has brilliant comments on Europe, and the likely prospects for India and China.
I was most struck by this exchange:
Mr. Lee: About eight years ago, I met Liu Huaqing, the man who built the Chinese Navy. Mao personally sent him to Leningrad to learn to build ships. I said to him, “The Russians made very rough, crude weapons”. He replied, “You are wrong. They made first-class weapons, equal to the Americans.” The Russian mistake was that they put so much into military expenditure and so little into civilian technology. So their economy collapsed. I believe the Chinese leadership have learnt: If you compete with America in armaments, you will lose. You will bankrupt yourself. So, avoid it, keep your head down, and smile, for 40 or 50 years.
SPIEGEL: What are your reservations?
Mr. Lee: I don’t know whether the next generation will stay on this course. After 15 or 20 years they may feel their muscles are very powerful. We know the mind of the leaders but the mood of the people on the ground is another matter. Because there’s no more communist ideology to hold the people together, the ground is now galvanised by Chinese patriotism and nationalism. Look at the anti-Japanese demonstrations.
LKY is saying that China can peacefully dominate its region in 50 years if it avoids confrontation with the USA, and that it plans to do so. However, the leadership may not be able to hold this quiet course for that long, because as China gets powerful over the next decade or two and nationalism is the only thing that will give the government legitimacy. He puts the period of danger at circa 2020-25.
This is precisely the Kaiserian Germany scenario which I discussed here. In his classic assessment of Germany’s bid for world power, Ludwig Dehio argued that hegemonic challengers always launch their bid too early, they seem to be possessed by a “demonic power” when they feel that they are ready to take their rightful place in the world and are being denied the respect they are due and the voice in world affairs they are entitled to. Spain, France, Germany and Soviet Russia all attempted to achieve world power, and were thwarted in turn. Will China follow this path? I hope not.
Thomas Barnett cited to the LKY interview. Barnett focuses on the many positive assertion that LKY makes, which support his usual view that takes as given that the Chinese economic rationality will prevail over darker forces. This points up my most serious area of disagreement with Barnett. While I think there is a strong possibility that China will develop peacefully, it is also apparent that there are a lot of ways this could go wrong. Peaceful development of backward countries into major powers is not what usually happens. Also, Barnett is an American optimist who sees a world full of half-full glasses, or even empty glasses that can and should be filled. He sometimes seems to lack an awareness of the tragic dimension of international politics. Barnett’s likely response would be to point out that with nuclear weapons, any major power military confrontation is simply off the table, the old dynamic is gone. This may be so. I hope so. But counting on rationality in leadership, even in an age of nuclear weapons, is not the best bet.
The first phrase I learned in a poli-sci class was “the security dilemma”. Attempts to make yourself more secure necessarily make others feel less secure, which provokes responses from those other countries, which also ratchet up, which leads to a spiral of insecurity and military tensions and clashes. China may be acting “normally” by creating a large navy, just as Kaiserian Germany believed that it needed a navy to protect its overseas commerce. Of course, any navy strong enough to do that was a knife held to the throat of Britain, a country which otherwise was not interested in conflict with Germany. Similarly, any Chinese navy, precisely to the extent that it protects China’s access to Mideast oil threatens access by others. The only way out of this is for China to build trust embodied in agreements and divisions of responsibility, essentially buying into the existing order. This is the Barnett scenario, the happy ending scenario. It may happen, but it is not inevitable. I see that kind of thing emerging with Japan and India far more easily than with China, due to any number of factors. (Discussing those factors is a separate post, so I will for now simply point you to William Jenner’s troubling essay China and the Irrelevance of Freedom.)
We do need engagement with China, trade with China, lots of it … and hard deterrence. Carrots and sticks. Not either/or, but both/and. The kind of authoritarian rule that prevails in China is unlikely to be sustainable in the long run, no matter how competent it may be at delivering many public goods. And in fact, the Chinese regime has in recent years made extraordinary strides in doing so. This is well-described in the recent article in Foreign Affairs by Kishore Mahbubani.
If there is “regime change” in China, the process may not be orderly or even bloodless. The USA needs to preserve its deterrent in the region against any such scenario. That way if there is political turmoil in China a “Falklands option” will obviously fail and it will not have any appeal to the leadership when all Hell is breaking loose. This does not mean unnecessarily confronting China or assuming that a war is inevitable. It is not. China is not a new USSR and a new Cold War is not necessary. Unlike the USSR, China presents no ideological threat, it is post-communist in all but name and has shed its communist myths of revolution and warmaking, nor is its economy warped into focusing over-heavily on making weapons as the Soviet Union was. Nonetheless, making even the prospect of a war against the USA or its friends or allies, on its face, unwinnable, will help to keep the peace as China goes through the difficult decades ahead.