The rise of China poses perhaps the most far-reaching challenge
to the international status quo. While there is much that can
be done to engage China, it is unclear what policies might constrain
China's undesired activities. China is, and increasingly will
be constrained by the need to become interdependent with the outside
world, but interdependence is not enough. In the long term the
only effective constraint on great powers is a wider process of
liberalism that turns them into Lite powers. If China is to be
"enlitened", then it will be both through some of the
features of interdependence, but also through a firm constraint
on its unwanted activity while it is in the long and uncertain
process of turning Lite.
Learning to Adapt
There are a number of different ways in which we can attempt to understand Chinese behaviour. Alastair Johnston's struggle with the distinction between "learning" and "adaptation" in Chinese policy is a valiant attempt to tackle what is essentially the question of whether China has come to see the common sense of real interdependence, or whether it has merely been forced to adjust to superior force while it is still relatively weak. There are, of course, a number of problems in any such attempt to divide Chinese action into "learning" or "adaptation". It can be argued that even those states who now seem to embrace the post-modern sense of interdependence and reduced sovereignty did so initially out of a sense of the futility of confronting superior force. Do the states of the Atlantic like having their economies swept by the force of the global financial markets and do they not wish they could restrain those forces? Do they enjoy being Lite powers who can barely use military power, even in their own backyard? It is far from clear that the states of the developed world accept their post-modern condition because they have learned to see that it is a better system.
What seems most likely is that the developed world has learned to adapt to seemingly inexorable realities. Modern great powers have become Lite Powers in the sense that they have undergone deep structural change because of powerful social, economic and political forces. They adapted to the forces of change in advanced capitalism and pluralist democratic systems. If they were to prosper and remain free, they had to open their economies and social systems to outside influences and surrender key aspects of control over their economic, social and foreign policies. These changes are not just manifest in open trading economies or global media companies, but it is also evident in the aversion to the use of military force and the development of small, professional armed forces. The former heavyweight powers of the Atlantic world (and Japan) have become Lite Powers in what looks like the inevitable path of development for rich and free people.
This apparent digression is relevant to China. The most obvious connection is the conclusion that if other great powers eventually learned to adapt and became Lite, then we should expect no less from China. It is unlikely that China will embrace the powers of economic interdependence and enjoy the loss of sovereignty that is part of the process, but in the long term it cannot have prosperity without becoming Lite. If China wants to become rich it will eventually not only be forced to adapt to interdependence, it will also become enlitened.
Before the critics erupt in cries of "Western determinism" and denounce this view as "pidgin scholarship", let us acknowledge that each country adapts somewhat differently to the process of modernisation and democratisation. As Francis Fukuyama has noted, some 20% of the character of the modern political economy of developed states is probably the result of "culture". But the overwhelming determinants of the character of developed states are the result of the deep structural forces of modernisation and democratisation. The lesson for China, as it was for Japan, is that if it is to modernise, it will democratise, and as it does both, it will be forced to adapt to the international system.
Nevertheless, it may be that China, by virtue of its size and
grand traditions has a greater ability to change the international
system as it joins, and therefore a greater ability to resist
the deep structural forces. When Japan, with its population a
tenth the size of China, became a major player in the global economy,
it accounted for less than 10% of world GDP. As China joins the
international economy, it is somewhat larger, although still roughly
the size of the modern Japanese economy (in purchasing power parity
terms). In terms of military power, China is far less impressive
than the Soviet Union when it tried, and failed, to transform.
Adaptations So Far
The clothing worn by Chinese leaders and many of the Chinese people has changed out of all recognition in the past 20 years. The days are long gone when China could be described as the "nation of blue ants". Also long gone are the days when the "Mao suit" was de rigeur for Chinese leaders and even many others in the developing world. Although we should avoid the temptation to get carried away with the significance of these sartorial adjustments, they do signify a degree of surrender to forces of global socialisation. To be sure, there still are some world leaders, most notably in the African and Arab worlds, that turn up at international gatherings in local dress, but East Asians (less so in South Asia) have more-or-less abandoned the practice. The batik-shirts on display at the APEC meeting in Bali were so much derided because they were obviously unconvincing symbols of a supposedly common Asianess (and informality). The standard dress for these leaders, whether around a conference table or on the golf course, is best described as mid-Atlantic in origin. When Chinese leaders choose, as they still do from time-to-time to wear a "Mao suit", they are well understood to be making a statement about conserving basic values, usually of a Marxist kind. Thus the change in dress is still symbolically important, still resisted in some quarters, and yet still unavoidable for Chinese leaders in the modern world.
The standard dress for Chinese in China is probably less explicable in such overtly political terms. What seems to have happened is that urban Chinese are more able to break the once rigidly applied strictures of a Communist Party state. As their incomes rise, and they come into greater contact (mostly through the media) with the outside world, they seek to express their individuality in their clothes, and they have the income to afford new attire and hairstyles. The process is far from universal in China, for the majority of the people still live in the countryside and their habits (although perhaps no longer their tastes) in clothing have barely changed. But what is clear is that there is a process of modernisation in the way the Chinese people appear, and it is in the direction set by the forces of globalisation.
One hastens to add that because so much of developed East Asia has already adopted these styles, most Chinese think of the styles as more modern-Asian than derived from the Atlantic world. Indeed, the strength of the process of modernisation is probably attributable to an important extent to the fact that other Asians are more easily accepted as role models and that these wealthier Asians have no particular problem in wearing designs set in some distant way by the fashion houses of the global market economy (including the designers of Tokyo). In short, as Chinese modernise, they become more like the rest of us in the developed world. At least as far as clothing is concerned, they do it because they want to, not because they are forced. Such is the power of the forces of global society.
A second adaptation is the extent to which China has opened itself to international tourism. China is now the world's most popular tourist destination, and even though there has been much exaggeration about the impact of tourism on local culture, there is a steady drip of influence from constantly seeing richer and very different people behaving in distinctive ways. Most tourism is packaged, and often tightly, so risks of "contamination" are reduced. The activities of tall, bearded, big nosed foreigners may be dismissed as zoological oddities, but the swarms of ethnic Chinese visitors who behave like other middle class big noses makes a greater impact in the long term. When the ethnic Chinese visitor speaks in support of economic choice and political pluralism, it is harder for mainland Chinese to dismiss the powerful forces as decadent Western exports.
Is China forced to accept tourists? In truth they willingly did so because it was a way to attract foreign investment. Deng Xiaoping was not terribly worried about the "flies" that come in through open doors, and he was persuaded of the financial benefits of investments in the service sector. Building better hotels and allowing more 747s ensured that the even more important business investors would be happier to come to China. Foreign investment does not depend on tourism, but it is part of the climate that makes foreigners confident about China. If China were to suddenly restrict the numbers of tourists, the business climate would be adversely affected. In that respect, China, with all its grand history that is so attractive to foreigners, had to open up to tourism if it wanted to modernise.
A third, essentially social transformation, is China's relative openness to foreign culture. Of course, China is much less open than OECD countries, but then openness, even in developed countries is relative and still the subject of much debate (viz. France or Japan). Nevertheless, in comparison to 20 years ago, Chinese can see more foreign films, television, music and art. As we have already suggested, the impact is perhaps greatest from the portion of foreign culture that comes from modernised and wealthy Asians, and especially those who are ethnically Chinese. Canto-pop is more popular than heavy metal. But even the hedonism of modern East Asian Chinese culture undermines authoritarian values and Marxist economics.
The power of the challenge posed by foreign culture is well understood in Beijing, even if the nature of the challenge is harder to grasp. Hence the periodic efforts to clamp down on the Chinese artistic scene, including dissident writers and film makers. Hence also the attempt to restrict access to the Internet or to limit satellite broadcasting. Even economically developed states like Singapore still try to restrict the power of external cultural influences. While some restrictions are possible, especially if Chinese authorities can work with the foreign broadcasters (such as Rupert Murdoch), the long term trend is that the process is unstoppable and powerful. Beijing can succeed in bumping BBC Television news from foreign satellites, but Baywatch, and soap operas are let through and in the end are far more corrosive of authoritarian values.
Was China forced to accept such limits on its ability to determine the culture and values of its citizenry? To a large extent the answer is yes. The Internet is increasingly a necessary tool for companies operating in the global economy or intellectuals keeping abreast of global trends, ideas and data. Access can be restricted, but not for long or with an effective comprehensiveness. Satellite broadcasters can be stopped from making much money if they are unable to work with local cable companies and arrange for payment. But where foreign broadcasts can change local tastes, for example in southern China that receives Hong Kong and Taiwanese influences, the local broadcasters must respond to popular demand. As these "pernicious" demands spread to neighbouring and eventually most other major cities, then local broadcasters do become anxious to strike a deal with foreigners. These forces worked in Eastern Europe and the Chinese autocrats are right to fear that they are no more successful in limiting the power of foreign ideas and values.
Despite the signs that China's civil society is gradually changing under the relentless pressure of these foreign forces, progress in entrenching deep structural change is often uneven. One key area is the possible emergence of new legal systems. In some technical areas, such as methods of accounting and measurement, China has made good progress in reaching international standards. There are often serious reasons to doubt the reliability of Chinese data and the inclination to "cook the books" and produce bogus figures is clearly very high. Chinese officials know that foreign investors want reliable indicators of results, productivity and profit. They need a real sense of trends in inflation, unemployment or the money supply. There can be little doubt that China has become more transparent in this respect, but there is still a long road to travel. China's inflation figures do not add up, even using official data. Corruption has grown so rife that international rankings of such ills now put China among the top three.
The cheekier economists will tell you that corruption can be seen as merely a useful market mechanism at a time of major economic transformation. But foreign investors are increasingly worried that there is much more sham than reality to China's supposed move to a more regular international legal standard. Compare India and China. Both are well known for official corruption, but at least Kentucky Fried Chicken in India had recourse to the courts to reign in corrupt or arbitrary officials, while McDonalds in Beijing had to succumb in a system essentially without recourse to law.
The key test of China's adaptation to international legal norms is not so much whether they adopt Western laws, for other East Asians have adapted legal systems in much more subtle ways. The real test is whether there is blind justice--whether there are clear rules objectively adjudicated. In this respect, China has so far resisted significant change. Where it has adopted foreign rules and norms, it has clearly done so because that is what is required by foreigners to do business. China has been forced to adapt, but there are still severe limits to the process of adaptation.
Of course, China has become far more open to international trade. In the first decade of reform, from 1978, China's foreign trade more than tripled (GNP increased by 2.5 times). Total trade in 1995 was ten times that in 1980. Trade as a ratio of GDP roughly doubled since the economic reforms began in earnest 15 years ago. Whether or not the ratio of trade to GDP continues to increase depends primarily on the extent to which barriers to internal trade come down fast enough to allow China's internal market to develop. So far, it has often been easier, especially for coastal provinces to trade with the outside world than with the rest of China.
Total foreign investment in 1978-82 was about $1 million, and increased to $4 million in 1991. But by 1993 the level of foreign investment also increased ten-fold, with some 85% coming from ethnic Chinese outside China. For much of the 1990s China received more foreign direct investment than any other developing country, and in 1995 it ranked second in the world to the United States as a host country for foreign investment. Foreign-funded enterprises account for more than 14% of total Chinese industrial output (1994) and they produce 40% of Chinese exports. According to the Chinese Ministry of Trade, nearly half the Chinese economy is "related to the international market"
China was not forced to open up to international trade in the sense that it was in the Opium Wars. But China has grown to understand, in large part because of the trends in its home region in East Asia, that autarky could not be a route to prosperity. China was not compelled to learn that lesson or draw those implications (viz. North Korea and for a time Albania), but once it decided that it wanted greater prosperity, it was "forced" to open up. There was no necessary recipe for how, or how much it would open itself to international trade and finance.
It is important to remember that the degree of connection with the outside world varies a great deal in different parts of China. The growth in GDP and trade and investment are far from synchronous, with some regions doing well with relatively less foreign investment. The decentralisation of economic policy has meant that different parts of China have different degrees of commitment to interdependence, and those who are interdependent, are tied to very different trade partners. Thus it makes little sense to discuss the impact of interdependence on China without understanding that in many important respects, there are different Chinas and different forms of interdependence.
The results of these economic reforms, the new foreign connections, and the decentralisation are well known. Coastal China grew faster than the hinterland, setting up major disputes over resources and uneven prosperity. Different regions integrated more closely with their foreign neighbours and in some cases trade grew faster with the outside world than with other Chinese provinces. Central government lost important levers of economic control as regions and entrepreneurs were newly empowered by their access to the outside world. These risks of decentralisation are sometimes exaggerated, but what is clear is that they result from an economic reform strategy that was necessary in order to effectively open up to the outside world. Beijing is reaping what it sowed. Although Beijing tries to portray itself as in strategic control of this process and working to a blueprint, in reality it is often merely pretending to rule.
Few can doubt that the opening of China to the global economy has had far reaching consequences for the way in which China is governed. Important elements of sovereignty have irrevocably slipped from the grasp of a once far more centralised authoritarian government. Beijing has serious difficulties controlling the money supply, fiscal policy, reform of state-owned industries and various other key aspects of policy because of this decentralisation. China's foreign policy is also affected, for Beijing cannot implement international accords, such as on intellectual property rights, because it does not control those parts of the economy. For the time being, it still pretends to make such solemn agreements (as do foreigners), even though all concerned know that China cannot make them reality. Neither China, nor even the outside world, seem ready to start dealing with a China that has changed shape.
This is not so much China learning to lose sovereignty, as a China that is not yet ready to acknowledge the consequences of having lost sovereignty by virtue of its decision to engage in economic reform and to open to the global market economy. This is neither evidence for learning nor formal adaptation, as much as it is an attempt to pretend that it can have the benefits of openness without the consequent loss of control. Real learning and formal adaptation will come later.
In the security sphere China has also made some far reaching changes of policy. But a change is not necessarily the same thing as accepting the constraints of interdependence. Take for example the issue of China's cessation of support for revolutionary movements. This change of policy is often considered a sign of China's acceptance of the constraints of interdependence. But the evolution of Chinese policy can be read in a different way. China used to support revolutionary movements around the world, and especially in Southeast Asia. When China improved relations with the capitalist world because of its fear of the Soviet Union, it began to dump old revolutionary comrades. The initial motive was geo-strategic and only secondarily reinforced by an appreciation that the benefits of international economic relations were unlikely to come if Beijing was trying to foment revolution in its neighbours. It might also be recalled that none of these revolutionary movements were on the brink of success and therefore their abandonment carried few costs. Also, at a time when China was reforming its own view of markets and capitalism, it was illogical to be supporting "Maoist" radicals.
The change in Chinese policy was in fact far more an assertion of China's new-found faith in a system of sovereign states. Support for revolutionary movements had been an expression of a Marxist world view. The problem with China's conversion to 19th century state sovereignty was that this modernism was increasingly anachronistic in a post-modern world where sovereign states were said to be of fading importance. To be sure, many other states in East Asia which had only recently gained full sovereignty, were (and still are) loathe to move into the post-modern world. But the truth remained that the abandonment of revolutionary movements, as beneficial as it undoubtedly was, was not so much a sign of the acceptance of the constraints of interdependence, as it was the precise opposite.
What about arms control? It is said that China is learning to accept the constraints of interdependence and the need to surrender sovereignty because it has signed important arms control agreements. China joined the NPT, the Chemical Weapons Convention, the Biological Weapons Convention, takes part in the United Nations conventional arms register and signs confidence building measure agreements with India and Russia. Is China learning that true security is interdependent and that it must agree to international inspections and in fact a surrender of sovereignty?
Alastair Johnston's careful study of this issue revealed little in Chinese behaviour that could be accurately described as learning. Of course he found much evidence of Chinese adaptation to the realities of power in international security. China will sign arms control agreements with neighbours when the agreement is in its favour. India accepted the line of control as China had wanted. Where Russia and China have reached agreement, it has been on Chinese terms. Nothing surprising or difficult here.
Less tractable territorial disputes have not been the subject of arms control agreements. In the South China Sea, China refuses to accept international arbitration or even to accept that anyone else has a claim to sovereignty. The notion of shared sovereignty is nowhere to be found. This is a situation where China feels it has the power to take what it wants, and will do so in time. In 1995 it made more explicit commitments to apply the UN Law of the Sea to the South China Sea, but this was done while asserting that UNCLOS terms would only be applied on the basis of Chinese assertions of sovereignty. And then of course there is Taiwan, where China refuses to contemplate any form of sovereign status for the island. Once again, the picture is of a 19th century approach to sovereignty.
China's signature on multilateral arms control accords offers more support for the notion that Beijing is learning to see security as divisible. For example, the NPT imposes real restrictions on Chinese behaviour. Is this learning, or just China seeing, in good old fashioned balance of power terms, the virtue of being inside rather than outside the NPT system? What was most notable about the timing of China's decision to join the NPT or to join a moratorium on nuclear weapons testing, was that it was the last of the declared nuclear powers to do so. Is it too cynical to suggest that China did not want the opprobrium attached to being the only power seen to be standing in the way of arms control? If so, things could be worse. China could decide to stand outside the system no matter what-that would be the action of a confident non-status quo power. But China is less confident and more worried about being seen to be a bad citizen. That is not a wholly admirable spirit, but it is better than sheer cussedness.
This sullenly pragmatic spirit of accommodation to the flows of
international power is also apparent in the way China comports
itself on the United Nations Security Council. Being a supporter
of the Victorian value of sovereignty China does not like the
notion that the international community, through the Council,
can intervene in the domestic affairs of states. When the Council
sanctions such intervention, China regularly grumbles, does not
participate in the detailed discussions, and then does not block
the action through its veto. It regularly expresses qualifications
and makes it plain that the international community should not
take such intervention as a change in the definition of acceptable
international practice. The conclusion could not be more obvious:
China is the rear guard great power when it comes to the erosion
of state sovereignty. Nevertheless, China does follow where others
lead, for fear of being left behind. Amid the cynicism, there
should be reason for some optimism about China's ability to change
when given no other option.
An Agenda for Interdependence
The story so far is of a China that has changed in very important ways because of its far reaching decision to seek prosperity through economic reform. But that need for economic reform has also required growing interdependence with the outside world. This is also a story of reluctant change, for China has resisted the constraints imposed through interdependence. Chinese leaders know full well that the changes they are forced to make are changing Chinese society and the way China is governed. And yet they seem to be locked into a process that requires increasing concessions to the outside world, even as China grows rich. As is the case with already much more Lite powers, China is finding its state power weakens, even though it is growing more prosperous. Chinese leaders had long assumed that as they grew wealthy they would grow stronger in their ability to resist the outside world. It has been the experience of all other modern great powers that eventually they grow to be Lite powers bound by the constraints of being a democracy and living in an interdependent world. The challenge for the non-Chinese world is to ensure that China follows the same path of enlitenment.
The key to enlitening China is a determination to continue to
urge China down the path that will lead to economic, social and
political liberalisation. Chinese leaders often complain that
the West keeps changing the "goal posts" for acceptance
into the international system. Beijing asks (to change the metaphor)
for a road map. What follows is a sketch of a road map that should
lead both to China's further acceptance into the international
community, and the enlitenment of China. But as we work our way
through the map, it is important to remember that should China
stray from that path, then it will need to be constrained. If
China is left unconstrained, it is more likely to undergo the
dangerous nationalist stages of enlitenment as seen in earlier
phases of German or Japanese power.
The main method of enlitening China has been, and will continue to be the lure of economic prosperity. A weak and weakening Communist Party knows that it needs to produce the economic goods for its essential legitimacy. China knows that it cannot sustain economic growth without continuing to open up to the outside world. It needs access to foreign markets on favourable terms that comes, for example, from membership in the World Trade Organisation. China must export to the developed world in order to pay for imports of technology, and increasingly the imports of vital food and fuel.
An organisation aspiring, as the WTO does, to be a "World" body, can see the virtue of Chinese membership. But if only because of the scale of the potential Chinese economic challenge, it is obvious why the developed world wants China to join the WTO under a strict set of rules with an effective dispute settlement mechanism to ensure that China is more changed by the rules than the rules are changed by China. Therefore a key starting point for the enlitening of China is the desire to see China reduce its current average tariff level from 23% to at least 16% (the average level for developing countries). But this is not a one-time concession to the West, the WTO or even to common sense. The opening of the Chinese economy is an ever-demanding and perhaps even never-ending process. As the nature of the Chinese and global economies change, the pressure will always be there for further opening to the outside world. Indeed, it may be that one of the reasons for the seeming softening in the Chinese desire to join the WTO is the recognition that a deal is not a one-time negotiation and the pressure to reform will be constant and intense, even when it is inside the WTO. For those Chinese leaders who feel that concessions to the outside world are just short-term necessary evils, the WTO issue begins to look increasingly like a major trap. Chinese planners are beginning to make more explicit their desire to see international trade bodies, including APEC, as "non-binding".
There are already plenty of signs that China is increasingly torn between the need to bend to the global economy and the desire to make the outside world bend its knee to China in order to enjoy the benefits of the Chinese market. Consider the question of the restrictions China imposed in early 1995 on the operations of providers of global financial information such as Reuters and Bloomberg, or its attempts to restrict use of the Internet. China may have been merely trying to ensure that Xinhua reap the profits of such services, or this might have just been a foolish decision taken at a relatively low level, but even if these were the more benign explanations (rather than a desire to censor the outside world), then it is a clear violation of WTO rules. It is either a sign that China is determined to resist the logic of economic interdependence, or that, as Hu Yaobang once said, "the main foe of the Chinese communists is their own ignorance and their main task is to overcome that ignorance". Whether the explanation is greed, ignorance or political fear, the result is resistance to the strategy of opening China up to external constraints.
The free trade in financial service information is merely a recent prominent example of a much wider problem concerning China's attempt to resist the power of the global economy in shaping China's domestic system. Similar motives lie behind China's imposition of quotas on items which can be imported and even on the number of companies who can import specific goods. Therefore a key challenge is to reduce the myriad (formal and informal) regulations on how foreigners can access the Chinese market. Many of these regulations are subject to arbitrary and changing rules by corrupt officials. A China that joins the international economy will find all these activities subject to intense external scrutiny. As the Chinese economy continues to grow, and its exports continue to do well in American, EU and Japanese markets, the pressure will increase, not decrease, for further reform.
A related challenge for China is the need to move to a fully convertible currency. By remaining outside the stormy seas of the global financial markets, China believes it can avoid the buffeting of national policy by international pressures. China was only too aware in 1994-5 how the Mexican economy was forced to conform to external dictates and China can see how even developed economies in Europe or East Asia are upset by the power of the global market economy. It is therefore not surprising that China has slowed its move to a full convertible currency. China seems most likely to accept a convertible currency for current account transactions (i.e., trade in goods and services) in the near future, but will resist full convertibility (including for capital account transactions). Full convertibility is probably not sustainable without far-reaching reform of the dinosaurs of state-owned industry, and reform of state-owned industries obviously requires far more progress in building a welfare system and in breaking through powerful political logjams. In short, China recognises that opening its economy to the constant and powerful scrutiny of the international money markets will reduce the power of the Chinese state, help push China down the road to being a Lite power subject to the whims of outside forces, and even help re-shape Chinese society and lay the basis for a pluralist civil society. The stakes could hardly be higher.
Convertibility of the currency, as with the notion of free trade, in the end require China to abide by internationally agreed standards and accords. In the days before China barely signed on to any international agreements, it used to be said that when China did sign something, it was good at keeping its promises. But since China has opened up to the outside world, there has developed far more doubt about whether China can be trusted. What concerns Western business leaders is whether China can be trusted to abide by agreements and what pressures can be brought to bear in case China breaks the rules.
The reasons for China's deteriorating record in abiding by agreements are as myriad as the features of its economic and social reform. The complexity of the problem is well evident when assessing why, for example, China has violated the intellectual property rights agreement with the United States in 1995. Even before the accord was signed, it was clear that the central government would have great difficulty in ensuring compliance. Those parts of the Chinese economy that were violating intellectual property rights were in the free-wheeling entrepreneurial sector, often with good connections to the children of senior leaders or key parts of the establishment such as the armed forces. In a chaotically decentralised economy, Beijing found that it had little control and therefore its solemn pledges to the United States could not be implemented, even if there was the will to do so.
It is obvious that there is a great need for China to implement agreements already reached and there are growing doubts about China's ability to ensure compliance on its own territory. Chinese public security units are engaged in piracy and other crimes. Smuggling is so rife, often with official sanction, that the likes of Motorola find that more of their products are smuggled into China (and sold at a cheaper price) than are produced within China. Chinese authorities are unable to provide effective help in controlling the swelling drug trade, nor are they able to stop thugs closing the anti-intellectual piracy office established in China. The list could go on and on, but even a Chinese paper reported in 1995 that China had more trade and investment disputes with foreigners than any other in country.
Without a better record of implementation and control over what
goes on in its territory, China's signature on a WTO entry accord
is equally meaningless. Of course, part of the problem is political.
A Beijing that admitted it was having trouble controlling its
economy and society, and sought help and understanding from the
outside world, might get a more sympathetic hearing than one that
pretends to rule but cannot. Beijing is disinclined to be realistic
because to do so would be to admit just how much it is constrained
by its own reforms and the process of interdependence with the
outside world. The result is a China that is harder for the outside
world to handle. But it is difficult to see why the outside world
should believe the fiction that Beijing tries to sell when it
claims to be abiding by international accords. The outside world
has an interest in seeing Beijing recognise its more Lite reality
and come to terms with its diminished ability to act like an authoritarian
The international economic agenda will obviously be the most important battleground in the effort to ensure that China becomes enlitened. China can see the benefit of economic interaction and therefore will be more willing to make concessions in order to bring prosperity. A much more difficult battleground will be in the security realm where a China that is growing strong will see less reason to be constrained through interactions with the outside world.
A key concern for the world outside China will be to ensure China does not use force to settle territorial disputes. In 1994 China ejected fishermen from the Philippines from Mischief Reef and established a military facility on the disputed territory. In 1995-96 China closed air and sea lanes and conducted major military exercises in its attempts to scare Taiwan into backing away from seeking a greater international status. While the specific rights and wrongs of Chinese claims to such territory remains in dispute, what is of concern to the international community is the right to have these issues settled without the resort to force. In the case of the South China Sea, China has agreed not to use force, but it used coercion when ejecting the fishermen. In the case of Taiwan, China even refuses to pledge not to use force.
These issues are crucial tests of the extent to which the world is prepared to constrain China and therefore defend the long term strategy of enlitenment. It will take time for Chinese society and politics to be changed by the liberalising forces: in the meantime, a firm line needs to be held against the use of force. The outside world need not defend Taiwanese independence or the claims of ASEAN states to the South China Sea, but it does seem more necessary to defend the right to settle such issues peacefully. If no defence is offered, then China will feel that it can use, or threaten the use of force, in order to manage its neighbours. It was in part concern about such a future that led Indonesia and Australia in December 1995 to sign a defence accord, and led Japan in 1996 to formalise its claims under the UN Law of the Sea and include territory disputed with China. It was similar concerns that led the United States to take a firm line against Chinese pressure on Taiwan in 1996 and to reconsider the wisdom of its previous policy of "strategic ambiguity". In short, there is a growing concern that China will use force to settle territorial disputes, and that China's neighbours need to resort to the balance of power as well as a long term trust in economic interdependence in order to constrain Beijing.
In theory there are also possibilities of tying China into arms control accords that might limit its propensity to use force. While China refuses to discuss any such accords in its maritime disputes, much has been made of its willingness to sign confidence building measures with India and Russia. Yet what is instructive in both these cases is that China has done little to constrain its behaviour and nothing to constrain its realistic territorial claims. India has essentially accepted the "line of control" as China has long demanded. Russia has given up only its absurd claims that the frontier should run along the Chinese bank of the river, but all other major issues remain unresolved. Where tiny bits of territory have changed hands, it has always been Russia giving up land to China.
The pattern seems to be that where China is strong, it finds it easy to accept accords that confirm its superior position. Where China feels it will grow in relative strength, it sees little point in being constrained through arms control. This pattern is also evident when we consider current arms control negotiations such as the Comprehensive Test Ban Talks. After France and Russia agreed to a zero-level CTBT, China, at first demanded exemptions for peaceful nuclear tests, and then capitulated when it was clearly the last power holding up an accord. As was the case in previous arms control accords, China eventually signs on once it is clearly the last power standing in the way.
The case for the virtues of the interdependence of security, which is often used in discussing arms control, has also motivated some attempts to get China to agree to schemes for military transparency. China does comply with the United Nations Conventional Arms Register and it published a "White Paper" on arms control. The latter revealed nothing that had not appeared in Xinhua press releases and adherence to the UNCAR was hard to avoid when other arms importers and exporters already provided embarrassing detail concerning China. Where transparency measures would really show that China understood the need to be more interdependent about security-for example on the defence budget-China has been particularly unhelpful.
Neither has China been helpful in international efforts to deal with piracy, illegal migration, or control of the drug trade. These are all areas of increasing concern because Chinese, and even Chinese officials, have become increasingly involved. The causes of these problems, as with the issue of violation of intellectual property rights accords, lie deep in the social, political and economic reforms in China. Decentralisation of authority has made Chinese more able to operate in these illegal manners and more difficult for the authorities to get a grip. Once again, the unwillingness of the Beijing authorities to admit the extent to which they have lost control, is part of the reason why China is so uncooperative in dealing with the challenge. Just like an IPR accord is worthless under these conditions, so would arms control with China, or even bilateral co-operation, for example in drug control. Only when China can implement such arms control, or seeks the outside world's help in dealing with problems that have internal origins, will China be truly said to have accepted the logic and constraints of interdependence. For the time being, China's resistance is a sign of its refusal to face the consequences of social change, and the need to recognise the consequences of its de-facto surrender of important powers.
A related testing ground of China's approach to international security continues to be how it reacts to the role of the United Nations in international security. Like the United States, but unlike any other permanent member of the Security Council, China is very wary about putting its soldiers under UN command. It is a difficult decision for any great power to allow foreigners to put your troops into harms way, but China refuses to do so. Although its non-combat units have been used in UN operations (for example in Cambodia), they have yet to be put into circumstances where foreigners would command Chinese troops at times when deadly force would be used. The United States does put its troops under these conditions when it is working with allies, but China has none. One trusts allies (and friends), but because China trusts no one with its security, it finds it very difficult to take serious steps which suggests it sees the value of interdependent security.
When issues of Chinese national security are at stake in the UN,
China even abandons its relatively passive role of allowing the
Security Council to intervene in other countries' affairs. Consider
the case of the UN mission in Haiti in March 1996. China blocked,
and then had amended, the efforts to alter the UN mandate not
so much because it disagreed with the operation, but because the
Haitian authorities dared to have ties with Taiwan. The old pattern
reasserts itself: China only takes an active interest if its direct
interests are involved. Otherwise it is content to neither block
nor support the wider will of the international community as expressed
through the United Nations (or arms control).
Making Enlitenment Work?
China is on its way to enlitenment. It may still be ruled by a communist party, but it is a much weaker party in far less control of its country. The Chinese economy is less than half state-owned. Economic and social power has been decentralised throughout a far more complex society. Chinese citizens have far more contact with the outside world than they have ever had before. Contact with foreigners helps feed the processes of reform, both because it helps provide economic incentives and offers alternative models of governance.
So far so good. But while enlitenment works its spells, in the meantime there are also the inevitable difficulties and risks in sustaining reform. It is clear that human rights in China will not substantially improve until there is a far more plural civil society and that will take generations. In the meantime, as is often the case in times of rapid modernisation, elites are shattered and old leadership structures shudder. When those who made the previous so-called revolution pass from the scene, the shudder turns to judder and the system can become even more unstable. Weak leaders, as so often in the past, find that dead ideologies can be replaced with nationalism as a way of building unity. The result is often simultaneous social and economic reform, accompanied by a very conservative political system. This picture of China is well within the experience of other rapidly modernising but destabilised societies.
The actions of outsiders can have an impact on such societies. There are groups within China who want the developed world to help them get beyond nationalism. There are groups outside China who do not want confrontation with China and would prefer to just wait for the forces of enlitenment to take their course. Of course, there are also those within and outside China who would relish confrontation. Can these diverse views be accommodated in a policy towards China?
A sensible strategy towards China requires four components-all of which are necessary but none of which are sufficient on their own. China needs to be 1) given more space in the international system, 2) engaged with the international society, economy and patterns of security, 3) kept to a rules-based international system, and 4) constrained when it undertakes unwanted action. Until recently, much of the debate about policy towards a rising China has been foolishly based on the notion that one or two of these components would suffice as a policy. The puerile "containment" versus "engagement" debate was a symptom of this underdeveloped thinking about policy towards China.
Where there is common ground is in the view that it is good that China should be engaged with the outside world. While the motives behind such engagement undoubtedly differ, the policy output looks similar. Some hope that engagement will hasten the enlitenment of China, while many Chinese expect that engagement will provide them with the tools to better resist the outside world. The correctness of one view or the other depends on how long enlitenment takes and how resistant China and its society is to liberalism?
It also depends on the policies adopted while we are awaiting to see how long enlitenment takes. While China grows Lite, will the outside world resist China's unwanted actions? Unconstrained authoritarians can resist liberalism for far longer than those who are constrained and forced to submit to liberal forces. The challenge for the world outside China is to both persist with the agenda for enlitenment, and to continue constraining China until it works.