November 06, 2003

Trade with China: Threat or Menace?

Some correspondents have questioned my claim--which I thought was completely unexceptionable--that the Bush administration's National Security Strategy's desire to prevent the emergence of other great powers translates as a desire to keep China and India poor for as long as possible.

I therefore call to the stand Aaron Friedberg of the Vice President's office, Deputy National Security Adviser and Director of Policy Planning, to tell us what he thinks of the idea that the policy of the United States should be to expand trade with China in order to speed economic growth in both countries; to create powerful interest groups in China that benefit from peace, prosperity, and trade; and to make the Chinese more like us by maximizing economic, social, cultural, and political contact. Aaron Friedberg doesn't think much of it. If, as he writes, the "second dimension of... [the] struggle for mastery in Asia will be military," he has no doubt that the first dimension will be economic:

Without heavy inflows of American capital and technology, and without access to the huge U.S. market, China would not have been able to progress as far and as fast as it has.... the United States [did not try to use] its position of relative economic advantage for strategic purposes.... U.S. economic pressure was half-hearted... ineffectual...

According to advocates of "engagement" with the PRC, international trade and investment will fuel economic growth, economic growth will speed democratization, and a democratic China will be far less likely to use force or threats against other democracies, including the United States. It is... possible that... [a] richer China will also become... more benign. But... this may not happen... the United States will be faced with a challenge with which it has not had to cope in over a century: a strategic rival that is economically and technologically dynamic... whose total output may come eventually to approach America's own...

...the sheer size of the potential Chinese market has also helped to create powerful business lobbies favoring... the PRC... these groups can be expected to pressure their own governments in favor of policies that happen also to be in Beijing's interest.... The activities of pro-PRC lobbying groups may be perfectly legitimate and predictable; but... they... dull the reactions and limit the strategic repertory of governments. These effects have been especially pronounced in the United States...

...trade with China will continue to exercise its muffling influence on American strategy...

...imagine, during the cold war, the debates on strategic policy that would have gone on within NATO if the members of the alliance had also been, to varying degrees, deeply engaged in economic exchange with the Soviet Union...

Beijing uses access to the Chinese market as a means of rewarding or punishing foreign firms and, through them, influencing their home governments. Ross Munro and Richard Bernstein relate in The Coming Conflict with China (1997) that PRC officials promoted an unusual array of business deals with American companies in the spring of 1994, just as the Clinton administration was considering revoking China's most-favored-nation status over human-rights violations...

BEIJING CLEARLY hopes to use economic threats and inducements, then, to discourage the United States from ever pursuing a more confrontational policy toward it. The same economic instruments could also prove extremely important in efforts to affect American interests in Asia, discouraging Japan and Korea from participating in the development of theater missile-defense systems, for example, or persuading Singapore to abandon its present policy of permitting U.S. naval vessels to dock at its ports. The PRC could also do more than in the past to separate the U.S. from its European allies by shifting business from American firms to their EU competitors...

During the Asian crisis, China extracted the maximum diplomatic benefit from its (self-interested) decision not to devalue its currency.... It thereby earned plaudits as a responsible regional "citizen," an upholder of stability.... But China's much-vaunted restraint... carried... [a] menacing message: the PRC is now, as one senior official of the People's Bank put it at the time, "a big player," and what it does or fails to do in the economic realm can have large and potentially devastating effects on the well-being of other, lesser players...

Friedberg holds these views in the context of an overall view of U.S. China relations that sees the future as probably containing a new Cold War, this time between the U.S. and China as they contest for "mastery in Asia":

...a good chance that the United States will find itself engaged in an open and intense geopolitical rivalry with the People's Republic of China (PRC). Indeed, there are reasons to believe it is already under way...

China "wants to become the preeminent Asian power," which necessarily means that it will seek ultimately to displace the United States as the preponderant power in the region...

...the United States... will not be willing to abandon its own present position of preponderance in Asia or to surrender pride of place to China. To permit a potentially hostile power to dominate East Asia would not only be out of line with current U.S. policy, it would also mark a deviation from the fundamental pattern of American grand strategy...

In certain respects, the next ten to fifteen years may thus come to resemble the early stages of the cold war...

...China may hope to cultivate a much closer relationship with a more independent and perhaps openly anti-American European Union...

...China... may provide assistance to states or nonstate actors around the world that see themselves as being opposed to the United States. Like the Soviet Union before it, albeit more for geopolitical than for ideological reasons, China could become a low-key but important supporter of rebel movements, "rogue states," and terrorist groups.

...if Chinese leaders feel the need to flex their muscles, and perhaps also to demonstrate the limits of American power and commitment, they may pick a fight they think they can win, most likely by provoking and then pummeling Vietnam in what their military planners have called a quick "local war with high-tech characteristics."...

Of course, it is one thing for Chinese strategies to fantasize about easing the U.S. out of East Asia without firing a shot; actually doing so is another matter altogether.

... the first order of business is to see the situation plain--namely, that in several important respects a U.S.--PRC strategic competition is already under way, and there is a good chance that it is only going to become more intense and open. In recognizing these realities, the Chinese are well ahead of the United States.

...China will be a very different kind of strategic competitor from the Soviet Union. The PRC's size, dynamism, and relative openness confer a much greater ability to shape the behavior of other countries, thus helping to dissuade the United States from confrontation, diminishing the effectiveness of any unilateral American attempt to use economic instruments against it, driving a wedge between the U.S. and the other advanced industrial nations, and enhancing China's own capacity to exert influence over the countries in its region. The threat all this holds out to American interests can be countered, but first it must be acknowledged...

To point out that rich and stable democracies are relatively peaceful, that it is thus in the U.S.'s interest to try to make China as rich as possible, as peaceful as possible and as democratic as possible as quickly as possible, and that the U.S. has no more need to be "master" in Asia than Britain, France, or Germany has to be "master" in Europe--empire-builders like Aaron Friedberg dismiss such points of view as naive, lilly-livered, and foolish.

I, by contrast, see Aaron Friedberg's position as poorly thought-out and analytically badly flawed. Perhaps the most powerful and important of the many reasons we won the Cold War was that we regarded western Europe as a region to be strengthened and developed, rather than an area in which we needed to remain "master."


Quotes from Aaron L. Friedberg (2000), "The Struggle for Mastery in Asia," Commentary (November).

Posted by DeLong at November 6, 2003 12:27 PM | TrackBack

Comments

rich and stable democracies are relatively peaceful, that it is thus in the U.S.'s interest to try to make China as rich as possible, as peaceful as possible and as democratic as possible as quickly as possible

While I agree emotionally, I also understand the fear that nations on their way to becoming rich and democratic usually go through an adolescent period of asserting their power, recklessness and dominion.

Posted by: clew on November 6, 2003 12:44 PM

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Stunning argument. Imagine the absurdity of not supporting the aspirations of 1.3 billion Chinese and 1 billion Indians for economic affluence, especially when we are gaining all while. Imagine what a well developed more equitable Brazil or Nigeria or South Africa might mean for all.

Posted by: anne on November 6, 2003 12:48 PM

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China is not post-war Western Europe. The notion that one economic strategy should be followed across all political and strategic contexts is no less poorly thought out or analytically badly flawed than the notion that all competitive environments are the Cold War redux(tm), and that all we need against China, or in the global war on terror, is a good dose of NSC 68 and a Muslim (or Confucian) Solzhenitsyn.

You may be right, Professor DeLong, that an analytical approach that treats our economic relations with China as a geostrategic asset, rather than as economic flows of goods and service, is ultimately self-defeating. But many, many countries have done very, very well for a long, long time by adopting just that approach -- the mercantilist early days of the U.S. and Bismarckian Germany are a couple of examples. Were they counterproductive in the long term? Probably. Did they have productive political knock-on effects for the countries in question? Yep.

If a decaying governance structure grasps at the straw of Chinese nationalism to prop itself up, and offers protectionist walls and diversion of 10, 20, 30 percent of GDP to defense spending as a sacrifice at the altar of that nationalism, will we hasten its demise by trading or by refusing to trade? (No fair telling me I have just described the United States, neither, hey...)

Don't pretend to know the answer myself. But I do know Aaron Friedberg, and I know he has thought about China for a long, long time, and his position is not arrived at through the blind application of ideology or anything else. And it requires more than the casual (and badly misguided) use of "empire-builder" and "analytically badly flawed," much less a badly analytically flawed hand-waving reference to Western Europe, to refute it.

Posted by: Mark S. on November 6, 2003 01:02 PM

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"Threat or menace":What's the difference?

Posted by: Bernadette on November 6, 2003 01:21 PM

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Internal Chinese economic and cultural conditions are surely going to be taking up the majority of the PRC's plate for the next generation at least. By the time China is ready to be master of Asia, it will already occupy the chair by fait accompli, and America will be glad of it. Don't worry about the size of slices of the pie, grow the pie!

Posted by: cynical joe on November 6, 2003 01:22 PM

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"Threat or menace":What's the difference?

Posted by: Bernadette on November 6, 2003 01:24 PM

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That speech could have been written by Jesse Helms.

Posted by: bakho on November 6, 2003 02:12 PM

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Even accepting Mark S.'s argument in favor of employing trade and capital flows as a geostrategic asset, we need not conclude that such an asset is best employed in a way that keeps China (and India) poor. An asset is an asset, not necessarily a weapon. Even accepting that we need to carefully employ this asset in ways that would not be possible if all were left to markets, there would presumably be a wide range of choices available to us. The US offered extraordinary access (for the time) to its domestic markets during the early post-WWII era, then went about using further market opening as bait to lure other countries into economic and military alliances. The geopolitical outcome was favorable to us, and the textbook assertion that free trade in one direction is better than free trade in no direction suggests we benefited economically as well.

So, setting aside Brad's policy of making Chinese and Indian citizens prosperous regardless of geopolitical outcome, we still must consider that a policy of detente, affiliation, encouragement and extensive, mutual economic ties might be superior in a geostrategic sense. If that is the conclusion, then we might further want to consider whether an overt effort to manage a geopolitical relationship isn't counterproductive. Isn't it possible that the example of open-handedness, courage and conviction we would offer by embracing open relations with China (and India) might not lead them closer to doing the same with us.

Just a thought.

Posted by: K Harris on November 6, 2003 02:13 PM

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"Threat or menace",what's the difference?

Posted by: Bernadette on November 6, 2003 02:32 PM

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Mark S., Aaron Friedberg's strategy would be flawed in so many ways as to make it a fool's errand. In trying to isolate China, we would be reinstituting a two division world where people can play China and us off against each other.

The very real costs on both the U.S. and China would ultimately be worthless. At least one of India, Brazil, Russia and Indonesia are also likely to rise over the coming decades. Exactly how many countries do we isolate? It is indeed a fool's errand.

There is no proof that the theory of democratic peace will always hold, but I place a lot more faith in it than any attempt at isolating the rest of the planet. Aaron needs to do some more thinking.

Hegemony is a temporary condition. Negative efforts to maintain it are futile and dumb. Positive efforts that extend it will have much less negative backlash. Either way, time spent as hegemon must be spent with the ultimate knowledge that that hegemony will end.

Posted by: Stan on November 6, 2003 02:36 PM

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"Threat or menace":What's the difference?

Posted by: Bernadette on November 6, 2003 02:37 PM

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It always annoys me when National Security types talk about "China." They should talk about "the leadership of the Communist Party."

Every attempt possible should be made to separate the government of China from the people of China.

As I understand it, Public Choice theory would hold that National Security types would act to keep as many U.S. enemies as possible. Aaron Aaron Friedberg's writing will probably help him to ensure that we have about 1.3 billion enemies in China...instead of only a couple hundred in the top Communist Party leadership.

This is part of why it constantly amazes me that people seem to want more government. Isn't the government we have enough of a problem?

Posted by: Mark Bahner on November 6, 2003 02:38 PM

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"As I understand it, Public Choice theory would hold that National Security types would act to keep as many U.S. enemies as possible. Aaron Aaron Friedberg's writing will probably help him to ensure that we have about 1.3 billion enemies in China...instead of only a couple hundred in the top Communist Party leadership."

My god, you're right. More evidence to not pay attention to Public Choice.....

Posted by: Jason McCullough on November 6, 2003 03:19 PM

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here's a reprint:

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http://www.findarticles.com/cf_0/m1061/4_110/66762446/p1/article.jhtml

"One final possibility: because China promotes exports while restricting imports, it has run substantial trade surpluses in recent years and accumulated large foreign-exchange reserves. In 1998, for example, the PRC's reserves stood at over $140 billion, second only to Japan's. If China continues to amass large reserves and if, as seems likely, the bulk of these are held in dollar-denominated assets, they could provide Beijing with an economic weapon against the United States. By dumping its reserves at the right moment, China might hope to trigger a run on the dollar, an increase in U.S interest rates, and perhaps a stock-market crash. It is true that such an attack, if it produced the intended immediate results, could also do serious damage to China's economy; the mutually destructive effects of attempts at currency manipulation and financial coercion have caused some analysts to compare them with nuclear weapons. But the prospect of mutual devastation does not necessarily provide an ironclad guarantee that a weapon will never be used."

neocon paranoia? china has only bought more since 2000. china's reserves stand around $400 billion now, and adding in hong kong and taiwan puts "greater china" over japan's $600 billion--so altogether they're holding $1.2 trillion.

in august foreigners (public and private) bought 81% of US treasuries.

friedberg is right that china dumping their dollar reserves would trash not only the US economy but their own. but rather than coming to the conclusion that this rules out the possibility of economic warfare on the scale of mututally assured destruction, he thinks we need to contain them. nevermind that japan and the UK also hold substantial dollar reserves.

why is china different then? well, in friedberg's mind they're a "strategic competitor" and as such relegated to "them"-status if not the "enemy." but, you might recall, the whole point of "engagement" with china is to bring them into the community of nations to prevent that "final possibility" from happening in the first place.

in this sense, engagement has been demonstratively working. to alienate china now as friedberg seems to want would be "poorly thought-out and analytically badly flawed."

Posted by: doho darat on November 6, 2003 03:33 PM

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China may "promote exports." But it is not "restricting imports." With the notable exceptions of agriculture and financial services, China is open to imports. In fact, I think this year it's the third-largest importer in the world, and its ratio of imports to GDP is twice that of the U.S. And it's open to foreign investment, so that products it might otherwise import -- like, say, Coca-Cola -- are instead made in China. Nor does China run huge trade surpluses with the world. In fact, over the past couple of years, almost its entire trade surplus has been the result of its trade with the U.S. The idea that China has adopted a mercantilist strategy along the lines of Japan is a complete canard.

And yes, this business about foreigners accumulating American assets in order to eventually dump them and crash the dollar is paranoia -- I'm not sure whether it's neocon paranoia, but it is paranoia -- at its worst. If the U.S. is going to run huge trade deficits, then foreigners are going to acquire American assets, a large chunk of which will predictably be U.S. treasuries. This isn't some sinister strategy. It's reality.

As for this grouping Taiwan in with China and calling this "greater China," I'm sure Taipei will be thrilled to hear it.

Posted by: James Surowiecki on November 6, 2003 03:49 PM

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Yes. And then if they decide to "dump" them what that amounts to them selling them back to us at half price. Usually borrowing money at par and then settling the debt at half price is regarded as an advantageous thing to do...

Posted by: Brad DeLong on November 6, 2003 04:15 PM

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add "incongruent to the facts" in addition to "poorly thought-out and analytically badly flawed" then :D

and yeah, that's why i put "greater china" in quotes, point being sinister intentions and unholy agency being ascribed to china is silly as they're hardly alone in continuing to "amss large reserves."

as for "neocon paranoia" check out the PNAC and NSS reports on "american grand strategy." before pathologically irredeemable pan-islamic fundamentalism established itself as the preeminent threat to US security, most of the focus after the 2000 elections was on china, apparently for the purposes of hanging foreign policy on. missile defense?

now china's invested in the EU's GPS substitute "galileo," which the pentagon has decried as compromising US defense, and it barely rates a mention!

Posted by: doho darat on November 6, 2003 04:40 PM

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The notion that prosperity automatically leads to democracy seems empirically fragile. Awhile back China and Singapore went on record at the UN proclaiming their intention NOT to democratize, claiming that the idea of "human rights" was a Western cultural value inapplicable to Asian peoples. (I've always thought that Pres Lee of Singapore, who I presume was the brains behind that argument, took particular pleasure in using a cheesy Western Anthro 101 relativistic argument on this point.)

China has been pretty determined and patient in keeping their territorial claims alive, and in exterting their power otherwise as possible. They haven't renounced much, though they are very prudent.

China and Saudi Arabia are two issues on which I sometimes agree with the hawks.

Posted by: Zizka on November 6, 2003 07:10 PM

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Mark Bahner writes:
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It always annoys me when National Security types talk about "China." They should talk about "the leadership of the Communist Party."

Every attempt possible should be made to separate the government of China from the people of China.
----

This is a common fallacy held by many Americans who don't have day-to-day contact with "the people of China".

The people of China are extremely nationalistic, and deeply resentful that a brief period of bad management (150 years or so) caused China to fall from its long-standing and rightful place as the world's most powerful nation. If China were run by politicians who had to periodically pander for popular votes, you would see far more jingoistic foreign-policy belligerence than now.

It was little noted abroad at the time, but one of the early threats of the Internet to the Chinese Communist Party was in the aftermath of the anti-Chinese riots in Indonesia, when lurid descriptions and pictures of raped and murdered ethnic Chinese circulated widely online, outraging "the Chinese people" that the official Chinese government response toward Indonesia was so pathetically timid.

Posted by: Michael Robinson on November 6, 2003 07:30 PM

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Brad DeLong writes:
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Yes. And then if they decide to "dump" them what that amounts to them selling them back to us at half price. Usually borrowing money at par and then settling the debt at half price is regarded as an advantageous thing to do...
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A much more shrewd (hence, more likely) approach would be to spark a panic by appearing that they were starting to dump, and then quietly pick up a bunch more assets (which they pretty much have to do anyway) at fire-sale prices.

The worry isn't that the PBoC is going to suddenly stop wanting dollars. The worry is that the PBoC is now in a position to manipulate the dollar for speculative advantage.

Posted by: Michael Robinson on November 6, 2003 07:43 PM

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Their are an awful lot of ex cathedra claims here about what "China wants", whether that refers to the CCP leadership or the population as a whole. Before deciding what they imply, let's ask a simpler question : why should we believe any of these claims? We have seen this crowd lie before about the strengths of the Soviet Union. We have seen them lie about pretty much everything to do with Iraq. We have seen them repeatedly lie about matters related to the US.
And yet suddenly when they claim that China wants to do something, we're debating not whether or not China really does want that, but simply what that means for us.
WAKE UP PEOPLE.

Posted by: Maynard Handley on November 6, 2003 08:32 PM

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Michael --

I don't understand the strategy here. Let's assume for the moment that the value of the U.S. dollar can, in fact, be manipulated like a penny stock. The Chinese hold tens (hundreds) of billions of dollars in U.S. or other dollar-denominated assets. So their strategy will be to drive down down the value of their own assets in order to buy other dollar-denominated assets cheaply? How do they then guarantee that the dollar returns to the value it had before they started the panic (since if it doesn't, they will have just have made a significant chunk of their own assets less valuable)?

Also, since the yuan is pegged to the dollar, wouldn't a sharp devaluation of the dollar (which is what the strategy you suggest depends on) accelerate inflation in China and make it significantly harder for China to continue to import the vast supplies of parts and goods they now import from other Asian countries (in order to reassemble them for export), which in turn would threaten its new position as linchpin of the East Asian supply chain? And all this for a payoff that seems sketchy at best? This seems improbable.

Posted by: James Surowiecki on November 6, 2003 08:45 PM

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Agree with BDL and James. China-USA are in the position of, "Owe the bank a dollar, you have a problem. Owe the bank a billion, and it's the bank's problem." China holds so much of the dollar, and so much of that dollar in Treasuries, that it is more the U.S. rather than China which is in the driver's seat when it comes to the dollar and dollar assets.

The quickest way to render China poorer, is simply by letting nature take its course - higher U.S. interest rates or a cheaper U.S. dollar.

Mind you, that's only relative of course. Over time China will get richer.

Posted by: Andrew Boucher on November 7, 2003 12:04 AM

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...imagine, during the cold war, the debates on strategic policy that would have gone on within NATO if the members of the alliance had also been, to varying degrees, deeply engaged in economic exchange with the Soviet Union...

They were, and these conflicts absolutely *did* go on within the Coordinating Committee for Multilateral Export Controls (COCOM), a "gentleman's agreement" by NATO members to restrict advanced technology exports to the Warsaw Pact. This role is played in the post Cold War period by the Wassenaar Arrangement. China is not a member....

The big difference between then and now is that Mr. Friedman seems to be suggesting that inexpensive clothing and (gasp!) region-free DVD players constitute a strategic threat to the US.

Posted by: trevelyan on November 7, 2003 01:11 AM

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Argg... that's Friedberg!

*hits head on wall*

Posted by: trevelyan on November 7, 2003 01:15 AM

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Before shifting the goalposts to consider whether the policy advocated by Mr. Friedberg is overall wise or even just in US interests, it seems fairly clear that Brad's original charge, that US policy is a conspiracy to keep the Chinese and Indians poor and stupid.
After that Mr. Friedberg's policy should have to meet tests of morality. Assuming it passes them by dismissing them as naive, the risks involved in the plicy need to be assessed. Can the policy succeed? In other words can the US actually keep China poor or will it merely delay its rise to surpass the small and effete US. If the latter then the policy will surely have a heavy price in US terms. If they have not forgotten what US policy was, as the struggle becomes more evenly matched it will surely become more bitter.

As for Chinese popular nationalism, it won't be diminished by isolating China will it?

Posted by: Jack on November 7, 2003 01:46 AM

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a threat is overt, a menace is perceived.

Posted by: big al on November 7, 2003 03:58 AM

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Sounds like Mr. Friedberg didn't have the opportunity to "clear" John Taylor's testimony last week on US-China economic relations: http://www.treas.gov/press/releases/js956.htm. Taylor was clear that a prosperous China is in US interests.

I would think that the Treasury Under Secretary for International Affairs would be a more reliable guide to the Bush administration's views than an article that was written before that the administration took office.

Posted by: Tom on November 7, 2003 05:53 AM

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Sounds like Mr. Friedberg didn't have the opportunity to "clear" John Taylor's testimony last week on US-China economic relations: http://www.treas.gov/press/releases/js956.htm. Taylor was clear that a prosperous China is in US interests.

I would think that the Treasury Under Secretary for International Affairs would be a more reliable guide to the Bush administration's views than an article that was written before that administration took office.

Posted by: Tom on November 7, 2003 05:56 AM

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James, Andrew,

One thing you need to keep in mind is that the Chinese government is in the position, due to complex policy reasons, of needing to purchase large amounts of dollar-denominated assets (Treasuries, MBS, etc.) which they have no foreseeable opportunity to sell.

If they could game the price lower short-term, there's every reasonable expectation that this would eventually prove a net benefit when the someday comes that they do have an opportunity to sell.

Which is not to say that this will happen--it won't. It would be destabilizing, and the Chinese leadership is acutely allergic to instability.

The point is that the U.S. has gotten into a position where potentially unfriendly hands are on the levers of U.S. interest and currency rates.

Posted by: Michael Robinson on November 7, 2003 06:10 AM

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"A key reason for the recent crash in U.S. Treasuries, according to a plausible rumor recently circulating, was a buyer's strike on the part of the Bank of China to protest the Bush administration's campaign to cajole Beijing to revalue the yuan upward. If true, it would show how relevant the Chinese currency debate is to something as basic as American mortgage rates -- which shot up to a one-year high as bond prices plunged. It's an interesting coincidence that bond prices improved in the past week as U.S., Japanese and Korean officials cooled their anti-yuan rhetoric."

http://www.thestreet.com/_tscs/funds/supermodels/10107938.html

Posted by: Michael Robinson on November 7, 2003 06:17 AM

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Zizka,

"The notion that prosperity automatically leads to democracy seems empirically fragile. Awhile back China and Singapore went on record at the UN proclaiming their intention NOT to democratize, claiming that the idea of "human rights" was a Western cultural value inapplicable to Asian peoples."

Just prior to democratization leaders in Korea and Taiwan were saying the same things as those in Singapore and China. There are no guarantees, but continuing economic development has appeared to need increased access to information. Increased information exchange increases the ability for opposition to organize. We should be concerned if authoritarians are able to maintain control of any advanced economy. The methods employed would signify a major potential threat to our own liberty.


Micheal Robinson,

"The people of China are extremely nationalistic..."

Every developing country is extremely nationalistic. Radical nationalism seems to be one of the chief tools politicians use to cope with the Huntington's "lag/lead" problem (where rapid economic change causes social resistance and violence). It is one the major reasons why we really don't want to delay development any longer than necessary. Try inserting Mexico into your description of China and see if you find a meaningful difference on this point. For something even closer to home, try talking to somebody from the "heartland". Extending ignorance is a dangerous thing to advocate.

Posted by: Stan on November 7, 2003 07:07 AM

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The democracy=peaceful connection seems fragile to me so far. There hasn't been a democratic country with the population size, the natural resources, the economic wealth and military power comparable with the USA. Because of this is impossible to know if the tendency of democratic, rich societies to have peaceful, pro american policies is determined by their intrinsic nature or by their inability to compete.
Would relations between USA and France be so peaceful if France had size and military power similar to the USA?

Posted by: Carlos on November 7, 2003 08:44 AM

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Carlos, as I said above: "There is no proof that the theory of democratic peace will always hold, but I place a lot more faith in it than any attempt at isolating the rest of the planet."

The question really isn't whether or not there are holes in the theory of democratic peace. The real question is whether there are viable alternatives. Isolation would only be viable if most nations were certain that abiding by it is in there own interests. The Soviets made our case for us. Can we show that others must fear China, India, Russia, Brazil, etc.? No nation is going to believe that U.S. hegemony is in their best interests.

Posted by: Stan on November 7, 2003 09:09 AM

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I wrote, "As I understand it, Public Choice theory would hold that National Security types would act to keep as many U.S. enemies as possible."

Jason McCullough responds, "My god, you're right. More evidence to not pay attention to Public Choice..."

Yes, reality is to "liberals" as holy water is to vampires. ;-)

Posted by: Mark Bahner on November 7, 2003 09:20 AM

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"Would relations between USA and France be so peaceful if France had size and military power similar to the USA?"

France and Britain have similar sizes and military power. Or, France and Germany combined have much more military power than Britain.

In fact, many of the countries in Western Europe are of similar sizes and military strengths, but since they have become democracies, they have not been at war.

When The People tell the government what to do, rather than the government telling The People what to do, governments tend to go to war less.

To date, to my knowledge, there has never been a war when BOTH sides are true democracies (i.e., all adults, including men and women, electing all government leaders).

Posted by: Mark Bahner on November 7, 2003 09:38 AM

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I don't pretend to understand US trade policy with China--not an area I know much about. I do know, however, that our military is not in a position to begin a cold war with China, and therefore we should do whatever we can to keep competition with China as mild as possible.
We have pressing military obligations in Iraq and Afghanistan that we cannot cover with our military at the size that it is. We are already abusing our troops with overlong tours of duty and a leadership that seems tone-deaf to the concerns of Army leaders about the ability of the current size of deployment in Iraq to accomplish its mission. All this means that we are going to begin to have serious manpower issues over the next few years. Even if you accept Friedberg's argument that we need to get tough on China, will the benefits of doing so be worth the extraordinary cost of being able to do so successfully? I, for one, am very skeptical.

Posted by: Abby on November 7, 2003 10:17 AM

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To make things clear, I'not in favor of Mr. Friedberg position that the USA must try to keep China poor for as long as it can (or so it seems).
The struggle for eternal preminence is futile. Dominance is always temporary. My point was that the evidence for the democracy=peace argument is not very solid, so far. To put it simply, it's too soon. There hasn't passed enough time since the advent of democratic regimes (and these haven't been widespread enough) for us to reach conclusions about the issue.
Democracy is the best option (when it's possible) for its own reasons, not as an international peacemaker.
An international system that discouraged wars (hot or cold) and provided assurances of a fair resolution of conflicts would be a better alternative.
As long as someone can dominate the world completely, there is gonna be the risk of an armed conflict; the reward is too great. The beauty of democracy is that it provides a peaceful system to replace the dominator.

Posted by: Carlos on November 7, 2003 10:53 AM

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To make things clear, I'not in favor of Mr. Friedberg position that the USA must try to keep China poor for as long as it can (or so it seems).
The struggle for eternal preminence is futile. Dominance is always temporary. My point was that the evidence for the democracy=peace argument is not very solid, so far. To put it simply, it's too soon. There hasn't passed enough time since the advent of democratic regimes (and these haven't been widespread enough) for us to reach conclusions about the issue.
Democracy is the best option (when it's possible) for its own reasons, not as an international peacemaker.
An international system that discouraged wars (hot or cold) and provided assurances of a fair resolution of conflicts would be a better alternative.
As long as someone can dominate the world completely, there is gonna be the risk of an armed conflict; the reward is too great. The beauty of democracy is that it provides a peaceful system to replace the dominator.

Posted by: Carlos on November 7, 2003 11:00 AM

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rich and stable democracies are relatively peaceful,

Is that really true? There is such a small sample, after all, of those that I'd be
cautious about making generalizations.

Certainly, its not like the US gets in less than its share of armed conflicts, whether or not you look only at direct conflicts, or expand it to look at where we sponsor proxy wars, and if the US isn't a "rich and stable democracy", who is?

Posted by: cmdicely on November 7, 2003 11:02 AM

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Stan writes:

"Every developing country is extremely nationalistic."

Yes, but not every developing country was the world's most advanced and powerful nation for most of recorded history.

"Try inserting Mexico into your description of China and see if you find a meaningful difference on this point."

The meaningful difference on this point being that the average Mexican doesn't have any reasonable expectation of Mexico becoming the world's most advance and powerful nation.

The idea that, under a democratic government, the Chinese people would be content for China to be treated by the U.S. the way Mexico is treated by the U.S. is a dangerous misconception.

Posted by: Michael Robinson on November 7, 2003 11:23 AM

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