The China Mirage and Congagement

The China Mirage and Congagement

One of  the best lecture and book I’ve ever heard and read about Sino-American relations which is s really worth spending time on it is James Bradley´s  The China Mirage.

James Bradley shows that the Sino-American relations were driven by the US perception of China which were in turn dominated by a small group of US missionaries and merchants who focused on the China/Taiwan lobby as they projected their hopes for a new democratic, Christian China in Sun Yatsen, Chiang Kaichek, the Soong family. However, the Chinese counterparts were more authoritarian, Hitler-like rulers, corrupt, ineffective warlords making fortunes and getting power due to the Chinese mirage. This US mirage caused a totally unrealistic and manipulated image of the real situation in China and Asia and caused three preventable wars: The 2nd World War, the Korean and the Vietnam war. Franklin D. Roosevelt was a supporter of Europe first and that you had to bring down Hitler and that an oil embargo against Japan would bring Japan in a war with the USA. According to James Bradley, the China lobby stabbed Roosevelt when he was in Canada and secretly implemented the oil embargo against Japan which automatically lead to the attack on Pearl Harbour. It sounds like a conspiracy theory that Roosevelt didn´t know about the oil embargo and that it could be implemented without the knowledge of the US president.

Then Bradley says there have been fights between North and South Korea and then North Korea attacked South Korea. However, Chrustchov in his memoirs clearly documents that Stalin, Mao and Kim Il-sung had a meeting where they decided that North Korea should occupy and conquer South Korea. Therefore it was clearly a joint communist attack on South Korea. However, Bradley is right when he claims that the Korean war could have ended if the USA would have stopped at the 83rd demarcation line and not pushed to North Korea and the Chinese border, Mac Arthur even proposing nuclear attacks on China. This caused the Chinese reaction and pushed the USA back tot he demarcation line.

Bradley also claims that Mao and Ho Chin Minh would have reached out tot he USA and wanted an alliance with he new superpower. Mao and Ho Chi Minh wanted cooperation between China and Vietnam with the USA. While China had a lot of industrious people and working force, the USA should deliver capital and technology. However, it is unlikely that such an alliance or cooperation could become reality as Mao and Ho Chinmin at that time were hardcore communists who wanted a planned economy, wanted no investment or capital as this first occurred under „capitalist roader“ Deng Xiaoping and his economic reforms or 1987 in Vietnam with the Doi Moi policy. However, Nixon and Kissinger managed it to make a foreign policy alliance with Mao against the Sovjet Union and Vietnam. Bradley makes a lot of good points about the Sino-American relations and their perceptions by the US elites and the population. However, he forgets to speak about the China mirage of Nixon/ Kissinger and the US governments after them. There you had this engagement policy Bradley openly supports. But it was also based on the new Chinese mirage, that the CCP would become a democratic and capitalist partner by globalization, integration in the international institutions, the internet, the rise of a new middle class which wanted political freedom. Under Xi Jinping China now becomes a neototalitarian assertive and nationalistic, expansionist one-man-dictatorship which wants to become the world superpower. Therefore the Chinese mirage came to an end. You had three big factions in the USA: The supporters of engagement, containment and congagement. The Nation is describing the three factions in an article 2001:

„That there are divisions among President Bush’s senior advisers is hardly surprising. Much has been made, for instance, of the differences in outlook between Secretary of State Colin Powell and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. But the divide over China runs much deeper. More than a difference of outlook, it reflects longstanding schisms within the Republican Party over the ultimate objectives of US foreign policy. This divide was already evident during the Clinton Administration, when many Republicans in Congress voted with the President’s party to approve most favored nation (MFN) trading status for China, while others attacked Clinton for his conspicuous overtures to Beijing. But now, with the Republicans firmly in the White House, the divide has become a purely internal–and bitter–affair.

The sharp edges of this debate were not readily apparent in the EP-3E affair, as the White House strove to present a united front. But they are plainly evident in the next most important issues facing the President’s team: the decision on whether to supply Taiwan with advanced weapons systems, including the Arleigh Burke-class Aegis destroyer, and that over the scope of the proposed national missile defense (NMD) system.

On these key issues, the two wings of the party are strongly divided, with one side favoring the Aegis warship sale and the adoption of an explicitly anti-Chinese NMD system, and the other side opposing these options on the grounds that they would trigger an irrevocable breach in US-China relations. At this point, it is still too early to predict how these issues will be resolved–but there is no doubt that the current crisis will inflame the rhetoric and passions of key figures on both sides.

To better understand the issues embedded in this debate and to appreciate its long-range implications for American security, it is necessary to look more deeply into the divisions among top Republican policy-makers.

The current divide has deep roots within the Republican Party. In essence, it is a contest that pits those whose primary commitment is to the promotion of free trade and extensive overseas investment against those whose principal aim is the containment–and, ultimately, the liquidation–of China’s Communist system.

During the early cold war period, from 1949 (when Mao Zedong and his followers gained control of the country) until the end of the Vietnam War, the militantly anti-Communist faction prevailed in Washington. This was reflected in lavish military aid to the Kuomintang regime in Taiwan, US support for covert Taiwanese raids on the mainland and US military intervention in Korea and Vietnam. After Vietnam, however, this camp lost its hold on power when a more pragmatic (or opportunistic) faction, led by Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger, brought China into America’s anti-Soviet alliance and opened China’s immense market to US products.

Although China’s perceived value as a strategic ally in the US-Soviet rivalry evaporated with the end of the cold war, its attraction as a market for American goods only grew stronger as the Chinese economy expanded. Hence, President Clinton was able to assemble a coalition of Democratic centrists and Republican free traders to grant Beijing permanent MFN status. Clinton also espoused a strategy of “engagement” with China, claiming that an increase in US economic and political ties with that country would expand the space for political liberalization and give the Chinese leadership a stake in the stability of the existing, US-dominated international system.

Most Republicans went along with Clinton in his efforts to open the Chinese market to an ever-widening range of US goods and services, but they never bought into the basic premise of engagement: that China’s Communist leaders will mellow out as a result of growing exposure to Western values and become good, upstanding global citizens. Instead, they believe that the Chinese regime is an obstacle to progress and thus must be eliminated–whether through the pressure of relentless capitalist competition or by direct military action. This difference in outlook was aptly summarized by Senator Fred Thompson in a February talk at the Conservative Political Action Conference. The Clintonians, he noted, believe that “with the advent of the Internet and modern telecommunications, along with free trade, China will become more free and open.” Most Republicans, on the other hand, believe that “our efforts to reach out to China have borne little fruit. Instead, Chinese bellicosity and disregard for US interests have actually increased, particularly with regard to Taiwan.”

But while the Republican leadership is united in its rejection of the Clintonian approach, it is divided on what to put in its place. Although there are many gradations of outlook, most senior policy-makers fall into one or the other of two rival camps. At the most extreme wing of the party is a group that calls for the containment of China combined with US military support for an independent Taiwan. The other camp, drawn more from the center of the party, calls for a scaled-back version of engagement combined with a toughened US military stance in Asia. To describe this view, its proponents sometimes use the term “congagement,” an expression coined by Zalmay Khalilzad of the RAND Corporation to embrace both containment and engagement.

The advocates of “congagement,” or one of its many variants, insist that increased trade with China remains America’s best vehicle for bringing about fundamental change in China. “The power of free enterprise to limit the scope of government control in China should not be jeopardized,” says Stephen Yates of the Heritage Foundation in a characteristic expression of this view.

These policy-makers acknowledge, however, that the very prospect of a reduction in government control could trigger a militaristic backlash by Chinese leaders, leading to increased pressure on Taiwan and a possible clash with the United States. “Increased trade and engagement may help open up China in the long run,” Thompson observed in February. “But while hoping for the best, we must prepare for less desirable scenarios.” This means, he argued, that we should provide Taiwan with sufficient weaponry to offset China’s own arms acquisitions, and we should strengthen our alliances with such friendly powers as Japan and South Korea. Thompson also calls for the deployment of a “robust, multitiered” NMD system–although not one aimed explicitly at China. Similar views are expressed by China experts at the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute (AEI).

Proponents of this approach recognize that some of the proposals they favor–stepped-up arms sales to Taiwan, a robust NMD and stronger ties with Japan–will provoke dismay and anger from Chinese leaders. But they believe that an outright breach in China-US relations can be averted if Washington avoids crossing certain “red lines” set down by China. Most significantly, this would mean eschewing any military sales to Taiwan that would link Taiwanese defenses to those of the United States (e.g., advanced radars like the Aegis system that could be integrated with US missile defenses) or that might otherwise give Taipei the impression that it could safely declare its independence from the mainland.

Clearly, implementation of the congagement approach will be fraught with recurring crisis and tension. But, say its advocates, it can be sustainable in the long run if US leaders provide Chinese leaders with sufficient incentives (in the form of economic ties) to overcome their repugnance for US military moves. Those who adhere to this view “believe that we can push hard on China,” explains Bates Gill of the Brookings Institution. “They think that the Chinese will give in, because they need us–for trade, technology and so forth.”

This general outlook is favored by many of the corporate interests in the Republican Party and by those with a strong ideological commitment to free trade, such as Heritage Foundation president Edwin Feulner. It is also backed by Henry Kissinger and other prominent veterans of the Nixon Administration. Among the current leadership, it is favored by Secretary of State Powell and Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill. It is being attacked, however, by the vociferous and well-placed supporters of containment. This group–composed of like-minded figures in the military, the conservative think tanks and some of the Republican delegation in Congress–believe that no amount of trade or engagement can prevent a China-US clash. The only safe course, they argue, is to build up American defenses in Asia and integrate Taiwan into the US alliance system.

Central to this position is the view that China’s Communist leadership is inured to the use of violence, and thus will employ force whenever it sees a benefit–or a necessity–for doing so. “China remains a police state controlled by a self-perpetuating Communist dictatorship,” says Arthur Waldron, a historian at the University of Pennsylvania with ties to AEI. It is a regime “for which lawless coercion remains very much a fundamental tool of politics–not only domestically, but in foreign policy as well.” Hence, “China almost by definition poses a potential threat to her neighbors and to the US.” This being the case, it is said, the United States should abandon engagement in all its forms and surround China with an impregnable ring of US and allied military bases. Drawing on the arguments once used to justify containment of the Soviet Union, these analysts maintain that such a strategy will keep the peace by discouraging China from engaging in adventuristic behavior (such as an invasion of Taiwan); even better, it would undermine the coercive foundation of the current regime and thus bring about its eventual demise. Our ultimate goal, says Waldron, should be a “regime change” in China.

If, indeed, this is viewed as our ultimate goal, then the last thing that Washington should do is to promote increased trade with China, thereby assisting in the growth of its economy. The bigger the Chinese economy, it is claimed, the greater will be Beijing’s capacity to buy or develop advanced military systems. Those who adhere to this view, says Stephen Yates, believe that by trading with China “we’re feeding the beast that’s going to rear back and bite us.” Similarly, those who hold these views contend that the United States should view Taiwan as a valuable ally in its efforts to contain China and should provide the Taiwanese with any weapons they require to assume this role. Finally, they suggest that the United States should build a national missile defense system with the clear and explicit goal of eliminating the threat (however diminutive) of China’s nuclear retaliatory capability.

To promote these views, the advocates of containment have formed an unofficial lobbying and propaganda group they call the Blue Team (a reference to the friendly side in US military exercises). Among those who are often associated with this group are Richard Fisher, a former aide to Representative Christopher Cox; Mark Lagon and Jim Doran of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff (chaired by archconservative Senator Jesse Helms); William Triplett, an aide to Senator Robert Bennett; Frank Gaffney of the Center for Security Policy (a conservative think tank); and Bill Gertz of the Washington Times. They are supported financially by Richard Mellon Scaife, a Pittsburgh billionaire who has given lavishly to right-wing causes.

At present, this group is the minority faction in the Republican policy-making establishment. “The Blue Team does not represent powerful political/economic interests,” says Bates Gill of Brookings. Similarly, Stephen Yates of Heritage estimated their strength as representing about 30 percent of the senior Republican leadership, compared with 70 percent aligned with the “congagement” camp. On the other hand, the Blue Team is said to be better organized than the opposing camp (which they call the “Red Team”) and to enjoy the support of key figures in the Defense Department and the intelligence community.“

However, even under an US president Joe Biden there will be no return to the engagement policy of the Clinton or Obama era. Both Democrats and Republicans will favor a congagement strategy. Henry Kissinger is a proponent of the old engagement policy, would like the USA to become a member of China´s New Silkroad and Asian Infracture Investment Bank, make a compromise on Hongkong, the South Chinese Sea and Taiwan as nonproliferation and climate change and other topics of international interests could then be solved. James Bradley even thinks the USA should leave Hongkong and Taiwan to China and engage. On the other side of the political spectrum, you have Trump, Steve Bannon and Kyle Bass´ Committee on the Present Danger who want a confrontation and a psychological and economic war against China, maybe even a military war if this doesn´t work out well. It is also interesting in Jame´s Bradley´s book how the China/ Taiwan lobby was able to convince 75% of the US population, as well as large parts of the US elites, that Japan would not react with an attack on Pearl Harbor in the event of an embargo. TX Hammes Offshore Control could have the same results if the Sino-American conflict escalates and an embargo and China’s economic strangulation could trigger similar Chinese reactions.


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