Michael H. Hunt: How Beijing Sees Us
By Michael H. Hunt
What is China going to do? Now that our Middle East wars are winding down, this question has fixated the U.S. policy community and policy commentators. Even aspirants for high political office feel compelled to have an answer. Will a rising China accommodate to international norms and institutions or try to reshape or undermine them? Is Beijing predisposed to cooperate with countries along its long land and maritime border, or will it seek domination? Are the Chinese bent on displacing the United States as number one internationally, or will they limit their aspirations the better to focus on domestic affairs?
While everybody has an opinion, no one has a compelling answer. And with good reason. Chinas Communist leaders make their decisions behind closed doors so outsiders are necessarily left in the dark. In any case, leaders at the top may not have a shared, coherent notion of the path ahead. And even if they do, their planslike all plansare hostage to contingent events.
If the future is fuzzy, the past is not. A substantial historical literature offers solidly grounded insight on how Chinese officials and commentators have viewed the United States from the nineteenth century to the 1970s. (The single most helpful work is David Arkush and Leo Lees Land without Ghosts; for other relevant works see the bibliographical essay in the forthcoming Arc of Empire: American Wars in Asia from the Philippines to Vietnam.) Let me suggest three conclusions drawn from my reading of that literature. Each is pertinent to any attempt to interpret recent developments and predict the future.
An interesting, if not a bit muddled look at American imperialism in Asia and how we've fallen into a sort of trap of miscommunication.
The reverse is true also; I think that Chinese motives continue to puzzle us too. The only correct possible conclusion is that nationalism is overblown and that we are more alike than we would care to admit. China is not strange, it was never a dream, it is exactly as it appears; the counterpart to the United States, a conglomerate behemoth that rose up and threw off the ropes of oppression of a colonial master and is seeking a new path. Like the PRC, we too tell ourselves that our revolution is the truest of revolutions. I am optimistic about the future; every time I read a prognostication of a future war with the PRC or impending doom, I just chuckle. I think it is only a matter of time before we see relatively bloodless change in the PRC as new blood replaces the old in the ranks of leadership. Who twenty years ago would have told you that a man named Barack Hussein Obama II would be President of the United States of America? The world is growing closer together every day, and as Ban Ki-Moon remarked today on Syria and the Arab Spring, without perhaps fully considering the full breadth of his statement: "The old way, the old order, is crumbling. One-man rule and the perpetuation of family dynasties, monopolies of wealth and power, the silencing of the media, the deprivation of fundamental freedoms .... To all of this, the people say: Enough." We will figure one another out.
To be frank, our motives have long puzzled me.
I think everybody badly underestimates how fast things are changing, so I quite agree with your point there.
You might want to check out this thread on the Taiping Rebellion and Globalization: http://www.democraticunderground.com/1166129
My apologies about the missing images, I overloaded my photobucket account and am too cheap to pay 2.99 to get them back for a week!