Wednesday, June 22

China's anti-democracy foreign policy: The fight of our lives

"Dear Pundita:
I just want to say thank you so much for the thinking and writing you do on your blog. I'm thoroughly enjoying your discussion with Simon. My 'circle' and I are thrilled to read sites like yours, Simon's, Rebecca MacKinnon's and others who are putting serious, nonpolitical thought into these issues.

Regarding your comments about natural disasters, I am thinking about China and North Korea and the African continent; I tend to forget just how influential natural disasters can be when it comes to policy.

I pretty much agree with the Bush idea of the domino theory of democracy. After reading your ["Yes and Back Again"] post, where you talk about the more countries that make a try at democracy reforms the easier it is for even more to try it -- what do you see as the tipping point?

I'm also curious if you've thought or written much about the effects of 9/11 and the resulting Bush doctrine in say, a quarter century. What are the chances we'll be looking back at this time as one of the biggest revolutions in terms of real changes for the better for the greatest number of people?

Another topic that fascinates me is the factor of technology in the spreading of "freedom" in places like North Korea and China. Have you written on that?

I guess I'm an optimist in that I see capitalism as inevitably leading to more democracy. Your writing helps me understand more of the issues better.
Beth in the Midwest"

Dear Beth:
I'm not going to sugarcoat this. We're in for the fight of our lives. This is because in many cases we're trying not so much to institute democracy as undo conditions we set in motion during the Cold War. But first some review. And to clarify for overseas readers, by 'we' I mean the American people because in a democracy the government is the will of the people. So we don't have the luxury of calling our government 'them' when we have to confront past mistakes.

In one sentence, the US position during the struggle against the Soviet Union pitted the US against genuine democracy. The reasoning was that a genuine democracy in many parts of the world would vote in pro-Communist governments; ergo, such governments would ally themselves with the Soviets. Ergo, genuine democracy had to be suppressed at every turn in key regions.

I interject for young readers that the above should not be interpreted as recrimination. It was the way things were. The US was engaged in a cold war; not to have engaged with the Soviets would have created conditions far worse than we find today.

However, we can't work out effective pro-democracy strategies unless we confront the fact that it's much harder to tear down and rebuild than to start from scratch.

So Condoleezza Rice's Cairo Speech was very important, very necessary; it was a landmark speech because it squarely acknowledged the past. One can't move forward without noting how one got to the present.

However, the task before us is daunting. This is because we're having to undo the conditions during a very difficult time. Not only are we engaged in a hot war and facing the Arab Problem, but we're also up against America's Frankenstein, which is China. China is actively working against the Bush Democracy Doctrine at every turn -- in Asia, in Africa, in 'Latin' America, in the Middle East.

Beijing has a formal anti-democracy foreign policy, which meshes perfectly with the anti-democracy arguments posed by Islamic fundamentalists and their militant wings. They actively support any government that is trying to suppress democracy movements and organized opposition to a tyranny.

The policy is engineered and overseen by China's military and fully backed by China's business community. So this policy is not the brainchild and sole property of the CCP clique in Beijing. The anti-democracy policy has four aspects, one of which arose in the post-9/11 era.

1) Geostrategic -- a means to challenge America's hegemony.

2) Survival pragmatism. China's bottom line is that they must go outside their land to purchase huge quantities of critical natural resources and they must compete with other countries for those purchases. This often calls for negotiations with dictatorships and supporting the tyrants' line at the UN.

China's permanent seat on the UN Security Council gives them tremendous power to block censure measures directed at tyrannies. Indeed, without much in the way of natural resources to trade, China's UNSC seat is a big playing card.

3) Divestment. Just as long-established crime families in the US began to divest criminal enterprises during the 1980s and settle for a cut of profits, China's government has been divesting ever since they joined the WTO -- WTO membership meaning closer international scrutiny.

China became International Crime, Inc. during the Cold War. Their crime syndicates had the advantage over the Yakuza because the Chinese versions had the full support of the Chinese military and CCP government. Many of the world's narco states and narco-terrorist movements were set up by the Chinese and run by them. And much of the early Shanghai Miracle was factories that processed dope and made counterfeit products -- often with startup funds from siphoning money from development loans.

They're trying to divest the dope factories and at least some of the counterfeit manufacturing. This means any government in the world looking for large infusions of hard currency is a target for China's offshoring enterprises, shall we call them. These enterprises include manufacturing material for nuclear weapons/dual-use for export to any regime with the money to buy.

4) China's leaders view the Bush Democracy Doctrine as a signal that the US government is taking a harder attitude against China's regime and that the hard line will only increase.

If you put the four factors together, it's easy to understand why some observers are seeing a new cold war developing, along the lines of the struggle against the Soviets. However, the situation is completely different; e.g., the Soviets did not hold US debt. And American businesses didn't depend on cheap Soviet labor to help US companies stay competitive in global markets. The Cold War was a pre-globalization struggle.

One might take a philosophical view about China's anti-democracy policy, given the interconnectedness of today's trade. After all, China remains heavily dependent on American help and trade. So in theory (so the argument goes), the Chinese are limited in how much they can work against the US.

And many in the West strive to put China's tyranny in a historical perspective. China's growing middle class is interpreted as a sign of progress (so the argument goes), which will eventually lead to liberalization of government policies.

Both arguments view China in a vacuum -- disconnected from their foreign policy and geostrategic aims. And they overlook the single most important factor in China's success story. To the extent that China a success, it has been carried there on the back of Western democracies. How much they've been carried is not understood by people who don't know of the huge role that the World Bank played in helping China -- a role that was pushed hard by the US government.

To their credit, the Chinese made much better use of the help than Russia and other FSU countries. But China's claims that their dictatorship is compatible with democratic capitalism, and that autocratic government is a key to success in many developing countries, are lies.

Yet it's just those lies that China has developed into an argument against democracy. It's an argument they are pushing everywhere in the world that they can.

So that is why I think of China as our Frankenstein. America did not make the Soviet enemy. To the extent that China is an enemy, that's our creation in large measure. As to how we're going to reprogram our creation -- got any suggestions?

If America's European allies showed a united front in criticizing China's support of dictatorships, that would cause China's leaders to review because they are very concerned about maintaining Face on the international stage. However, our allies can't even show a united front about Tehran's regime, which poses clear and present danger to Europe as well as America.

All the above is by way of saying that it's too early to ponder a tipping point for democracy in any region. Everywhere a situation might appear near to tipping, the Islamic radicals (backed by big money from oil despots) and China's government will race in and attempt to push back the tip.

Any pressure the US puts on the oil despots can be offset by China rushing in to make up the shortfall. For example, if the US put sanctions against Saudi Arabia or even cuts out all oil purchases, China will rush in and make the buys and support the Saudi regime. That's the way things are.

With regard to your question about the use of technology in the spreading of "freedom" in places like North Korea and China, I touched on the issue in Democracy Stage Show Kit and a rebuttal to criticism of the essay. (See the links under the Pundita sidebar category "Phony Democracy"). And I mentioned the issue in the Riots in China... essay, which was written after I received your letter.

When one thinks about it, there is no way to have anything but a 'stage show' national democratic government in many regions of the world. This is because rural peoples (often the vast majority of the population) don't have access to the means that allow democratic peoples in developed nations to participate in the voting/campaign process.

The World Bank has recognized the problem but in typical fashion the Bank has turned to the Juggernaut approach to problem-solving. So while the operation might be successful, it's open to question whether the patient will survive! I'll discuss that situation in tomorrow's post.

I was delighted to discover Rebecca MacKinnon's blog, RConversations. I note that I found her blog via a link in one of the essays you wrote for your web log. From what I've read, she is doing good work at reporting on the connection between democracy movements and media freedom. (* 1:20 PM - see the caveat, below)

A note about your kind comments: The blogosphere gods tend to inflict brain furballs -- or worse, Rugby -- on Pundita when she displays a puffy head, so generally I delete praise from letters I publish. However, I'm sure Simon will appreciate your thoughtful praise; I know I do. Cross-blogging is time consuming -- time being the most precious thing for serious bloggers (for those readers who don't blog). So the project, which spanned days, was -- well, a project, in addition to our routine blogging chores.

Until tomorrow, then.

I will let the note about Rebecca MacKinnon stand, as a grim reminder to myself to carefully read a blog, at least for a several days, before providing an unqualified recommendation to Pundita readers. MacKinnon's latest post (June 22) reveals that she has gotten herself embroiled in the kind of argument that in an earlier century caused droves of Catholics to flee to the Protestant faith:

"I agree, China is better off -- and the future of democracy in China is better off -- thanks to the existence of Cisco routers in China. But to me, there is an important difference between selling routers to China and providing software services to China in general -- with the understanding that one can't control how the technology ultimately gets used -- and the sale of technology directly to Chinese government entities whose intentions are rather obvious."

This would be the same important difference as making a sharp distinction between the number of seraphim and cherubim that can be stuffed on the head of a pin. By what leap of blind faith does MacKinnon assume the future of democracy in China is better off, after her nine years of living in China and observing how " created by foreign trade and investment have vastly improved the lives of urban Chinese, helped create a nascent middle class, and helped millions of Chinese gain much greater control over their lives because they're no longer economically dependent on the government?"

Rebecca MacKinnon's muddled view, which sees a cause-and-effect relationship between growing affluence and embrace of democracy, only underscores my observation that China is America's Frankenstein.

This said, MacKinnon is indeed doing good work at reporting on the issue of media freedom in China and thus, with warnings and imprecations, I recommend her site as a source for raw data on the widening debate about China's suppression of many blogs.

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