INFLUENCING CHINESE FOREIGN POLICY IN THE NEXT DECADE RULES FOR ENGAGING THE NEW CHINA AS A FOUNDATION OF CANADIAN FOREIGN POLICY
Now that the Olympics are over and a success, we have to reassess where China is in the emerging new political environment. The success of the Olympics makes options available that might not have been there in the counterfactual alterative reality. China is not alone in the new world order. A Russia which is indifferent to its terms of participation in the world economy runs the risk of failing, as Judy Shelton wrote in the September 3rd Wall Street journal, “The Market Will Punish Putinism”. The larger question is how the next generation of Chinese decision-makers will view this emerging international order: Islamist threats, reckless Putinism, new sources of capital formation from sovereign wealth funds. The question for Canadian and other G7 decision-makers is how to influence the way China sees this. Two months ago in foreign policy circles, the question was how the 2008 Olympics provided an opportunity for foreign policy makers to influence China on Burmese democratization and China’s support of the Sudanese regime. That agenda has been submerged in the inevitable discussion of the relationship between China and Tibet and in the debate over how we want China to fit into the post-Georgia new world politics.
The foreign policies of Washington, Ottawa, London, and Paris, Berlin will, of course, be debating how to “influence” China for decades ahead. The partnerships are well established at the economic level with the economic symbiosis hard-wired through the role of Chinese sovereign funds, the manufacturing strategies of European and North American multinationals and the importance of the exponentially expanding Chinese middle class as a market for goods and services that are key to economic renewal in North America
The politics of managing Chinese foreign policy have been complicated by the Tibet agenda. Tibet has become a rallying cry for democratic idealists opposing a real time cultural assimilation which troubles many well-motivated people. Tibet has also become an excuse for expressing concern about Chinese economic power, something which has seemingly become an “overnight” phenomenon, while U.S. decision-makers were distracted by a foreign policy that focused on Iraq.
It is in China’s interests that the Tibet, Burma and Darfur issues be managed in a way which enhances China’s image and role as a great power and moves China towards a pattern of economic and political institutions that facilitate the emergence of an innovative post-industrial economy. It is in Tibetan Buddhist interests that Tibetans become the new Kurds, expertly managing a complex geographical position between India, Kazakhstan, China and the emerging Central Asia, and not the new Tamils, losing the legitimacy of their aspirations in a negative politics and a counterproductive strategy. It is in the global democratic interest that these issues proceed in a way which creates viable and sustainable political systems while not challenging China’s sense of its own sovereignty and strategic interests.
So where do we go from here?
The limited resources available to Canadian decision-makers (and American for that matter) have to be deployed strategically and, it unfortunately must be added, with patience.
There are at least two schools of thought. The optimists see China moving towards a Chinese form of post-modern democracy. This view is best represented by the recent brilliant Foreign Affairs piece of John Thornton. Thornton sees Chinese democratic decision-making at a local level growing and the impact of China’s integration into an Intel-Siemens-Goldman Sachs global economy progressing slowly and inevitably towards a world where economic integration leads to new China-invented forms of organizational decision-making. The pessimists see China developing a form of protectionism and this is fueled by current economic insecurities in North America.
The expression of social network-led democracy around the world has made Tibet a moral template and this will not (and should not) go away. Tibet has become an understandable rallying point for those concerned with the crudeness of homogenizing globalization and for human rights movements conscious of minorities in a number of post-colonial geographical realities. The superpower status of China in a new global economy (even adjusted for other concerns about financial bubbles) makes the foreign policy agenda of “influencing China” an even greater imperative and a greater strategic challenge.
The two foreign policy questions for Canadians are “how do we influence China without grandstanding and exaggerating our leverage?” and “what is the correct response to the legitimate demands of the Tibetan diaspora that we ‘do something’ to promote Tibetan cultural and human rights?”
INFLUENCING CHINA: Prime Minister Kevin Rudd of Australia has started by using his unique role as the only Mandarin-speaking world leader outside of China to put some challenges before the next generation of Chinese decision-makers. This goes beyond the language of “responsible stakeholder” in the global economy and starts the project of engaging in a debate about “WHAT IS GOOD FOR THE NEW CHINA?” The expression “responsible stakeholder”, used by Undersecretary of State Robert Zoellick was a useful starting point when first made (2005), but events in the global economy have moved us beyond this concept to describe China’s role.
This will be, as any student of Chinese history will attest, a long debate. The “new China” is integrated into the global technologies. It creates world-class venture capital firms with networks into Silicon Valley and Europe which build the business models of the information economy in China. The new China goes to Hong Kong to see Lust: Caution without censorship. The new China has access to Google and Yahoo. The new China watches Korean films and television (leading cultural import) and listens to Taiwanese rock music. The new China may be sensitive to avoiding a cultural imperialism in Africa, but seems to retain a view on Tibet that is not significantly different from the view held by the current Chinese leadership.
The first task of those who would be partners of the new China is to ask what we would like China to be a decade from now. Ideally, we would like a China that assisted the democratic movement in Burma, led on environmental change, promoted the development of self-sustaining economies in economic satellites like Zambia and Gabon, negotiated a form of cultural “distinctness” (to use a Canadian expression) for Tibet , accepted the status quo in Taiwan as long as Taiwan is economically investing in Chinese growth, promoted a clean technology for China’s industrial development, and participated in the harmonization of international financial activities by a set of clear rules for sovereign funds and large investment pools.
To achieve this, it will be necessary to treat China as an historic great power. In a world where change in measured in nanoseconds, great historic powers like Persia, and China, northern India have a special meaning to those who live within these traditions. The return to the path of history that was taking place before colonialism is a unifying theme in much of the world, from Somalia to China, and differentiates the complex politics of Eastern Europe and Latin America from that of Africa and Southeast Asia. China is a special civilization in this world, the first superpower which was not defined by the European industrialization of the 16th to 20th Centuries. It is important that there be a continued engagement and a reassurance of China that, for example, the assumption of power in Rangoon of a democratically-elected government led by Aung San Suu Kyi in no way constitutes a threat to Chinese interests.
Influencing China means engaging China. In this context, nothing could have been more counterproductive to western interests than boycotting the Beijing Olympics, as was proposed by many individuals. This relationship is not going away. To succeed though, we have to be honest and say what is on our minds, in Chinese if we are as talented and skilled as Kevin Rudd, through Chinese-speaking surrogates if we are not, and through our actions and words as best we can.
Democratic networks are clearly taking shape in China, but obviously around issues of Chinese priorities. An environmental movement is unstoppable because the market wants clean air and consumer products. Young people from Shanghai, who listen to Brazilian music, eat Japanese food will insist on going to Hong Kong to watch uncensored versions of Ang Lee’s Lust: Caution. But all of these trends are taking place from within a Chinese perspective. A pro-environmental citizen of the new China, wearing Hugo Boss clothes and loving Ang Lee movies probably also supports a Chinese foreign policy that resists pressures to provide greater autonomy for Tibet and similarly is committed to Chinese priorities in Africa regardless of their impact on the Gabonese or Sudanese.
None of this will happen easily. And all of this will take place against a backdrop of China’s domestic policy challenges where economic inequality cannot be ignored indefinitely. Let’s start with some ways to assert our value system and superimpose it on the new post-Bush world politics which we would like to assist in designing:
(i) Zimbabwe and Burma provide cases where Canadians can engage Chinese citizens about their role in the world, about moving beyond responsible stakeholding. Enlisting Chinese active support in Zimbabwe and Burma is a good place to start to have China define itself as a player in global politics. A responsible stakeholder in the global economy would ensure that a stable, prosperous Burma and a stable prosperous Zimbabwe are added to the global roster. Anything less is unacceptable and shows that China will neither be an engaged stakeholder not an equal participant in the global economy. China should be asked to take the lead on transformation of Zimbabwe into a prosperous member of the international community. Either the Chinese political elite agree or refuse. Either way, the yardsticks have been moved.
(ii) Everything which advances the access to wired worlds is in the interest of developing an optimal Chinese foreign policy. On issues of freedom of speech, on protecting the internet, Canadians must continue to be vigilant and resolute. China is participating in a new global economy. We value its openness and cannot dilute its efficiency or its values for anyone. At one level, this is the easiest policy challenge. Ideas move rapidly in the modern world. There is no way to resist the tidal erosion of the internet on closed systems. Venture capital that expands the Chinese wired community is strategic and probably the most effective way to accelerate the global orientation of the next generation of Chinese decision-makers.
(iii) China is a great power and the story of Chinese history Canadians tell must acknowledge that. As the new global politics takes shape, we are also required to be aware of the residue of U.S. foreign policy naiveté in the last few decades. China, Persia, India are great powers with millennia-long pre-colonial histories. That reality underlies their foreign policy and frames the language of discussion. It is part of the way Chinese culture presents itself. The story of Chinese science and technology, of Chinese art and philosophical approaches is one which Canadians can broadcast. Confucius and Lao-tze make a very important part of a global history of ideas. A Canadian perspective on these issues is, as always, potentially very different than an American one.
(iv) This is not just a bilateral relationship; we are reinventing the entire international system in the post-Bush era. China is a superpower, but it is not alone in the new global arena. Iran, ASEAN, India, Dubai-South Asia are all new players with substantial roles in the new global order. It is important to understand that our relationships with China are never going to be strictly “bilateral”, but complex. There is a tendency in discussion of the new post-Bush foreign policy era to talk about “the rise of China”. The whole system is being reinvented. What is 35-year old Shanghai’s view of Abkhazia, of Georgia, of Zambian domestic politics? We don’t know, because it is being formed.
There are reasons to be optimistic about the future role of China in global politics. Its cultural industries celebrate its linguistic and cultural diversity as long as there is no challenge to political centralization. Its environmental politics are joining the mainstream of a post-Kyoto generation which is moving toward more practical environmental initiatives, the construction of clean power, the targeting of Beijing air pollution. Its business elite is dynamic and globally-connected, its middle class extraordinarily well-educated. It has a heritage of promoting secularism in public life and valuing science and rationality in decision-making which makes it an ally of Europeans and North Americans who appreciate the relationship between democracy and secularism.
It also has a form of isolationism that is rooted in geography and history, a form of value-free, self-interested decision-making which makes it ideally prepared to be an imperial superpower. This is the reason for our concern about the behaviour of post-Olympics China, as Chinese foreign policy supports centralizing regimes in Nigeria, Pakistan and Sudan while adapting a lackadaisical approach to the world’s next generation environmental issues. A Three Gorges + Sudan China are a worst case scenario for the world.
A Canadian foreign policy which builds networks with the people who understand this and coordinates our activities with the post-capitalist China through new networks can play a constructive role. The collaborative projects that are possible with China are exciting: Canada-China smart grid technologies for hydro management, Canada-China portable nuclear power research, Canada-China collaboration on technology commercialization. The Canada-China energy networks already function well. However, Canadian investment activities in China are at a comparably early stage with a rushed the-train-is-leaving-the-station approach to due diligence. The engineering, medical and business school alumni who have returned to China and who could be the nucleus of our future relationships are not well organized. Our universities do not have the alumni relationships of the American or British counterparts. The opportunity and responsibility is for Canadian foreign policy to engage at warp speed the new China, its concerns, its aspirations and its needs.
A China which is more than a “responsible stakeholder” will make demands of us. We must be prepared to make demands back. China will evolve its own form of modern politics, as unlike ours as that of India or Turkey. It is an attainable objective to imagine a China where the rule of law is attainable to its citizens. It will be designing a Chinese welfare state that will require enormous resources to counter the inequalities of hyper-rapid industrialization. Canadians can engage China as its charts its own role in the world as long as we are self-aware and self-confident about our values and objectives and strategic about the type of China we would like to influence.
For all this to happen, engagement is critical. We need a hundred new initiatives for engagement, from film festivals to B-Schools, from projects on sharing China’s cultural and philosophical history with the world to the collaboration on CleanTech. All of this requires a balancing of core western values with the realities of the Chinese experience. U.S. approach to religion has little attraction in Canada, let alone China. Conversely, the Chinese legal system’s use of capital punishment is something which is anathema in the 21st Century, as it its similar use in another Great Power, the United States. Just as Canadians have wrestled with developing complex institutions for accountable aboriginal self-government, the Chinese need to find ways to provide for self-government within their borders for culturally distinct communities. Our commitment to these values needs to be articulated at every opportunity. To be effective, we need to be engaged.
Above all else, we need to challenge China. We need to know what the views are of the new China on economic development in Africa, on the role of petrodollars in the international capital markets, on the role of super-national regulators in the new global economy. This debate is not just government to government, but civil society to civil society and it will take decades.
INFLUENCING THE TIBETAN DIASPORA
The Tibetan diaspora and the pro-Tibet coalition run the risk of becoming counterproductive, for example the proposal for an Olympic boycott. The route to recognition of Tibet culture requires that pro-Tibetan G8 foreign policies have credibility and traction in China.
We will not resolve Tibet easily. A Tibetan culture must be nurtured through its global presence, through the same kind of social network which will sustain Kurdish, Kashmiri or Igbo identities regardless of geographically-based politics. This is a moral responsibility for everyone on the planet. The development of a Chinese rule of law is moving forward at a rapid rate. The development of a Chinese role in the world is an imperative which must be the basis of a dialogue with the “new China”. It has to begin at the 2008 Olympics.
The Tibetan political movement outside of China has to make some decisions and Canadian foreign policy can help inform this process with some historical lessons. The strategies of Tamil nationalist to create a homeland have been a dismal failure because of their loss of world opinion. The Kurdish leadership has endured enormous suffering and has maintained an international network which is producing today a culturally revived and economically prosperous moment in Kurdistan. The radicalization of the Palestinian movement has held back the Palestinians from the economic and cultural opportunities of a durable political arrangement with Israel.
Tibetan nationalism and Burmese liberation can be aided by global networks. All peaceful activities are consistent with the objectives of Canadian foreign policy and can be promoted accordingly.
The core rule for effective political strategies is that without engagement with “the new China”, there is no capacity to influence China. That scenario leads to very bleak options for Tibet. Impatience is always understandable, but not if it leads to counterproductive strategies.
This article is based on another essay written in January with a focus on “INFLUENCING CHINA – BURMA AND AUNG SAN SUU KYI AFTER THE OLYMPICS” . The other theme of “INFLUENCING CHINA - REALISM AND CANADIAN FOREIGN POLICY IN AN ERA OF SOVEREIGN FUNDS” grows out of a number of concerns about the way Canadian foreign policy has failed to find Archimedean points in dealing with China and has oscillated between symbolic stands and commercial trade promotion. The focus on Tibet has changed the way we think about China, the Olympics and the emergence of China’s foreign policy in a few weeks.
There is a “new China” ready to be engaged, but not from a position of weakness. There is no way western countries can lecture 35-year-old Shanghai any more than it could thirty years ago. History leaves long shadows. But just as U.S., European and Canadian foreign policies are trying to grapple with ways to influence China in a world that has changed dramatically since the last inauguration of a U.S. President, the new China is only starting to define what its foreign policy looks like.
That is the influence we seek to have: a China that looks outward with self-confidence that takes pride in facilitating a pro-Chinese democratic government in Burma that is tolerant of a cultural Buddhism in Tibet that starts to play a role in the economic development of Gabon and Zambia because that is what superpowers do. It is more than being a responsible stakeholder (that phrase diminishes China’s importance); it is being an architect of global prosperity (that reflects China’s role). That is the challenge we need to make to China. It should start with inviting China and India to the new G-10. What is good for the “new China” is to be charged with responsibility and held accountable for its role as an economic superpower in the global economy.