March 25, 2008

Somewhat of a concern

Brad De Long is someone worth adding to your RSS feed. Here's the end part of a post title Free vs Fair Trade:

Think of it this way: Consider a world that contains one country that is a true superpower. It is preeminent--economically, technologically, politically, culturally, and militarily. But it lies at the east edge of a vast ocean. And across the ocean is another country--a country with more resources in the long-run, a country that looks likely to in the end supplant the current superpower. What should the superpower's long-run national security strategy be?

I think the answer is clear: if possible, the current superpower should embrace its possible successor. It should bind it as closely as possible with ties of blood, commerce, and culture--so that should the emerging superpower come to its full strength, it will to as great an extent possible share the world view of and regard itself as part of the same civilization as its predecessor: Romans to their Greeks.

In 1877, the rising superpower to the west across the ocean was the United States. The preeminent superpower was Britain. Today the preeminent superpower is the United States. The rising superpower to the west across the ocean is China. that was the rising superpower across the ocean to the west of the world's industrial and military leader. Today it is China.

Throughout the twentieth century it has been greatly to Britain's economic benefit that America has regarded it as a trading partner--a source of opportunities--rather than a politico-military-industrial competitor to be isolated and squashed. And in 1917 and again in 1941 it was to Britain's immeasurable benefit--its very soul was on the line--that America regarded it as a friend and an ally rather than as a competitor and an enemy. A world run by those whom de Gaulle called les Anglo-Saxons is a much more comfortable world for Britain than the other possibility--the world in which Europe were run by Adolf Hitler's Saxon-Saxons.

There is a good chance that China is now on the same path to world preeminence that America walked 130 years ago. Come 2047 and again in 2071 and in the years after 2075, America is going to need China. There is nothing more dangerous for America's future national security, nothing more destructive to America's future prosperity, than for Chinese schoolchildren to be taught in 2047 and 2071 and in the years after 2075 that America tried to keep the Chinese as poor as possible for as long as possible.

Living in Taiwan, China is somewhat of a concern. I've been here for 10 years in May, but before here I was in China for nine months. I decided to come out here because I wanted to spend time where things looked like they were going to be happening for the rest of my life, and I may have made a bad bet in not going to India or Shanghai. But Taiwan is free country, and it's been far better than staying in England.

Still, some problems with the post above. First up, the UK and the USA had a lot more in common than the US and China - not least a shared language, cultural / religious traditions, and dominant race. A natural affinity was not that hard to foster, and America could thus be seen as a natural successor and partner to Britain rather than as a challenger. To think that any of this applies to China is to assume that people are far more willing to ignore the obvious differences than seems likely. And this is not a bash America post - does anyone in China really feel the same way about the US as Americans could about the UK as the 19th century turned into the 20th?

But the basic idea of De Long's post hold true - if China is going to keep on rising, do we really want their history to show that we opposed them at every turn, or that we were an active partner?

Still, a second problem [at least] remains. However expedient it might be to embrace China, to do so without being critical of its policies with regard to human rights and so on would surely cheapen the effort - the school kids will eventually learn that the West did all it could to turn a blind eye to such abuses while propping up a corrupt oligarchy. That is, if the children of the future even bother with history. Britain's closeness to America didn't stop it from taking a lead in ending the slave trade - but is that widely known in the US, is it relevant? The powerful on each side made their deals while everyone else got on with their lives.

There are no easy approaches to China.

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