November 18, 2007


New book on China raises a storm (Richard Bernstein, November 18, 2007, International Herald Tribune)

[A] recent book, which argues that on human rights grounds, American policy toward China has been both a failure and a fraud, is making a considerable stir among China policy makers and scholars in the United States.

The book is "The China Fantasy" by James Mann, a former correspondent in Beijing for The Los Angeles Times and now author in residence at the Johns Hopkins School for Advanced International Studies.

Mann's thesis, adamantly rejected by many, though not all, experts on China, is that the American policy of what is called "engagement," pursued with some fits and starts by every administration since Richard Nixon's in the 1970s, has not delivered on its main promise, which was Chinese democratization.

When, for example, the Clinton administration ended linkage between trade benefits for China and progress in human rights, the argument to skeptical members of Congress held that delinkage would lead to more economic growth, more economic growth to the emergence of a middle class and the emergence of a middle class to real political reform.

Andrew Nathan, a China expert at Columbia University who supports the Mann thesis, put it this way in an interview: "The strategy of engagement has been incredibly successful in supporting the stability and prosperity of China and allowing the regime to survive as an authoritarian, repressive regime, but the American people are not being told that that is the strategy."

According to Nathan, everybody involved in the debate would be perfectly delighted if China were to turn into a stable democracy, but in the meantime policy makers are actually pretty happy with the regime in China that they have.

"That's because they know who to call in Beijing and who to talk to about problems like currency, trade, North Korea and Taiwan," he said. "There's somebody in charge and they're basically pretty cooperative with us."

The chattering class is going to be stunned by the political capital to be made--especially among Evangelicals--in being the first presidential candidate to insist that we boycott the PRC Olympics. Bill Clinton intuitively understood how to exploit the China menace and bludgeoned GHW Bush with it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 18, 2007 8:48 AM

Clinton had the memory of Tianenman on his side. There's not much capital to be made out of bashing China now and the business wing of both parties certainly doesn't have any time for it.

Posted by: Ali Choudhury at November 18, 2007 11:23 AM

It's not about Tiananmen but about race and religion.

Posted by: oj at November 18, 2007 1:50 PM

We were told we could not impose democracy on Iraq, could we impose democracy on China?

Posted by: ic at November 18, 2007 6:37 PM

How can you prevent them becoming democratic?

Posted by: oj at November 18, 2007 7:20 PM

Of course, Clinton's 1992 words on China were just that - words. He was far more embedded with the PRA than Brent Scowcroft even dreamed about.

And the guy who seems so taken with engagement and Chinese "stability" - obviously he never read the limerick about riding the tiger. And he probably hasn't read much about how China has been governed over the past couple of hundred years.

Posted by: jim hamlen at November 18, 2007 11:44 PM