Friday, September 09, 2005

Interpreting China's Rise

The last day or so has offered up many different interpretations of China's rise. Among those opining were former Prime Minister of Singapore Lee Kwan Yew, Journalist Howard French, China scholar Michael Pillsbury, and the potty-mouthed panda hugger Thomas Barnett.*

  • Lee Kwan Yew, possibly best known for his controversial advocacy of "Asian Values," gave an interview to the German magazine Der Spiegel. He deals with a wide variety of issues facing Asia, including the rise of China. The interview has been translated into English and is available in its entirety here. Excerpt:
    In 50 years I see China, Korea and Japan at the high-tech end of the value chain. Look at the numbers and quality of the engineers and scientists they produce and you know that this is where the R&D will be done. The Chinese have a space programme, they're going to put a man on the Moon and nobody sold them that technology. We have to face that. But you should not be afraid of that.

  • Howard French, reporting from Singapore, brings us a wonderful summary of different views on China's "peaceful rise." Excerpt:
    Recent Chinese statements on its critical relationship with the United States have tried to deflect perceptions of a brewing confrontation by projecting China as a 'force for peace.' Such statements highlight the carefully woven rhetoric that has accompanied China's emergence as a global superpower. Although it is often dismissed as shallow propaganda, silver-tongued diplomats in Beijing have skillfully used this diplomatic lexicon to create the illusion that China is the polar opposite of a superpower that acts unilaterally and uses military power to achieve its goals.

  • Michael Pillsbury, long time China hand who currently advises the Pentagon, has been featured in a front-page story by the unlinkable Wall Street Journal ("Inside Pentagon, A Scholar Shapes Views of China," 8SEP05, A1). He is described as an influential China hawk who listens to what the Chinese defense and political leaders are saying and takes what they say at face value.

  • Last, and most certainly least, is the vitriolic Thomas Barnett, author of The Pentagon's New Map and blogger. Barnett posts on the WSJ's profile of Pillsbury and accuses Pillsbury of confusing Chinese aspirations and capabilities as was previously seen in analyses of the Soviet Union.

*Note: I refer to Barnett as potty-mouthed because of his tendency to lose his cool and spew forth a stream of expletives whenever anyone, be they Michael Pillsbury or Robert Kaplan (PDF), imply that China might be a threat. He often accuses anyone who sees China's rise as worrying as being a hack in the service of the U.S. Navy, who tries to play up the China threat to gain more funding "[b]ecause Al Qaeda has no submarines." (PNM, 362)