Time to Return to the Blogosphere


So it’s time to rejoin the blogosphere!

I apologize to all of you who might have looked to Rising BRICSAM for news and views on the BRICS and the other Influentials in the global order.  It was an extended absence, I know, but it was not time ill-spent.

Over the last months we completed the chapter on ‘concert diplomacy’ for the volume the Next Great War? The Roots of World I and the Risks of US-China Conflict – a work edited by Richard Rosecrance and Steve Miller from the Belfer Center at Harvard.   And then there was the paper for the ISA in New Orleans entitled, “The Challenges to Contemporary Global Order” that can be found at my ResearchGate site.  But the most critical work has been the effort by myself and many others from the Global Summitry Project at the Munk School, The Rotman School of Management and especially from Oxford University Press to get the lights on for the new OUP journal, Global Summitry: Politics, Economics and Law in International Governance. Hopefully the lights will be fully lit by the end of this month.  This latter project is a ‘real labor of love’.  Working with Don Brean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, we hope

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The Flood of Remembrance – 100 Years Since the Great War

WorldWar I British_55th_Division_gas_casualties_10_April_1918

With the recent turn of the calendar to 2014, we find ourselves closing in on August 4, 2014.  That date records a civilization-shaking anniversary. On that date 100 years ago the European powers went to war – to be joined by the Ottoman Empire and Japan and then later, the United States.  August 4th thus marks the commencement of World War I. Not surprisingly there is a growing flood of historical analyses and reflections on the ‘War to End All Wars’.

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At Least a Better Tone – On Sino-US Relations

Xi-Obama at Sunnylands

A noticeable difference in tenor.  That is the first thing that struck me about this Dialogue meeting just recently concluded in Beijing.  The tenor of this Harvard-CASS Think Tank Dialogue on “Towards a New Model of Major-Country Relations between China and the United States” differed significantly from the Harvard-Beida Conference of January 2013.  The earlier Harvard-Beida Conference was filled with defensiveness and harsh questioning by our Chinese colleagues over the ‘American pivot’.  Chinese experts made repeated references to US efforts to contain China.  The suspicions over US policy and its intentions in Asia – especially US efforts to contain China – were largely absent from this meeting – apparently the 9th in the series.  Instead, in this meeting there were numerous references to the 35th anniversary of US-China relations.

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Tiptoeing to Freer Markets – China and the Shanghai Pilot Free Trade Zone

Shanghai Waterfront


I apologize to all those who regularly read these posts.  They have, unfortunately, failed to be regular recently.

But I have been out there in the wide world – first in Russia at the St. Petersburg Summit and all last week in China. I shall report more on both these trips in the near future.

I did want to report, however, on an interesting experiment now underway – at least as of Sunday September 29th – China’s Shanghai pilot free trade zone (FTA).The FTA, it appears, is the cutting edge of the new leadership’s effort to bring more market and less regulation to China’s economy.  The FTA is 29 square kilometres in the north eastern section of Shanghai – stringing together areas of docks, hangars and warehouses in the Pudong district.

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Operating from Weakness, Not Strength – the CPC and Xi Jinping

Xi Jinping

Chris Buckley of the NYT reopened yesterday in the main western press the question of Document No 9 (sounds like a title to a movie).  This document first identified, apparently, by the Economist is supposedly a “secret” CPC document, according to Buckley, that has “undertaken a “mass line” campaign to enforce party authority that goes beyond the party’s  periodic calls for discipline.”  The document calls on the Party to oppose the promotion of western constitutional democracy. The narrative suggests that leftists in the Party have also picked up the anti-western critique to oppose the market reforms that Xi and the leadership are pressing for.

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Democracy and Economic Development in India


Well once again I must apologize for a prolonged silence. These past two weeks I have been travelling through parts of India most particularly Delhi and Agra and then through Rajasthan – Jaipur, Udaipur, Jodhpur and Jesilmar – etc.  This trip was deliberately far from the more rarified halls of global governance discourse.  It is always good to step away from the conference schedules and think tank encounters. Such action is an effort to get some tangible feel for the country.  But I always find it is well worth it – no more so than India.  India from the palaces and forts and bazaars is, as I found, an endlessly fascinating place.  The colors, smells and busy human activities are enticing and suggest possibilities for the future for this ancient/new land.

One of the continuing discussions I had with one of our Indian hosts was the state of progress for economic development in India.  This discussion emerged in a generally jocular discussion over the state of India’s roads.  But there was also a serious discussion as well.  It was an experience travelling on the roads through Rajasthan and Utter Pradesh.  They were, however, from a North American perspective – but for one road/expressway – quite dreadful.  The expressway was terrible for another reason that I shall relate in a moment.

These roads were filled with an enormous variety of vehicles from camel-pulled or buffalo-pulled carts, to the famous tuk tuks, to large trucks and small, bicycles and the ever-present motorbikes, all crowded on to generally badly paved and far too small carriageways.  But enough of the description.  The roads in fact are emblematic of a much larger societal issue – the tension between democracy in India – which as best as I could tell is alive and well – and the demands of development, market growth and prosperity more generally.  The ongoing discourse went something like this: the roads are inadequate for the demands of commerce, the market and people.  Their inefficiency burdens the movement of people and goods throughout the nation.  On the other side a strong Indian push back.  You, meaning me, see the roads from a “western perspective”.  These roads are satisfactory for Indian needs; Indians don’t crave what the system in North America provides.

Now it is not to say there are aren’t some expressways – I travelled on one – the Yamuna Expressway from Agra to Noida – about 10 km outside Delhi.  It is an amazing – amazing especially in the context of highways in India – but it was largely empty.  Most notably absent were the trucks – the big colorful loaded trucks.   There were some evident features that explained this rather haunting emptiness.  First there were almost no exits from Agra to Noida.  Truckers I was told prefer to connect from one community to another – offloading and taking on goods. That is impossible on this super expressway and in addition the stops really don’t accommodate trucker lifestyle, which includes stops conversation and sleep.  The end result is a magnificent highway for the tourists and individual vehicle occupants – that’s it.  Thus the critical goods and services transport is assigned to secondary hugely overcrowded roads.  Indeed in our travel from Delhi to Jaipur we ended up in a several hour delay surrounded by trucks in a very narrow stretch of this so-called main road.

So why are the roads the way they are?  And do the state of the roads threaten economic development?  Let’s look at the first issue – the terrible state of the highway network.  Here the tension with democratic wishes is evident.  Voters in the rural areas – a powerful influence in India – don’t set a high priority in enlarging and improving the road system.  This is especially the case where enlargement and improvement requires the confiscation and compensation of rural folk principally farmers.  Most farmers – with little enough land as it is – want nothing to do with shaving off portions of precious land.  Opposition abounds.  Politicians in India are not blind to the opposition and the voter impact.  So roads aren’t built, or they are built without reference to need.  Now obviously there are alternatives especially rail.  But don’t get me started on that.  My experience tells me that the rail system suffers from serious infrastructure underfunding, but I’ll need to explore further on that.

Now I don’t have the numbers on cost and time delivery but I have to assume that what I saw really suggests an inefficient costly system.  It is why many experts have come to believe that in the contest for economic growth and prosperity China and no India will achieve the better results in raising the poor from poverty.  Steven Rattner, a long time Wall Street financier and some time public policy participant has recently drawn that conclusion in a January piece in the New York Times entitled “India is Losing the Race”:

Many Westerners fervently hoped that a democratic country would triumph economically over an autocratic regime.  Now the contest is emphatically over. China has lunged into the 21st century, while India is still lurching toward it.  That’s evident not just in columns of dry statistics but in the rhythm and sensibility of each country. While China often seems to eradicate its past as it single-mindedly constructs its future, India nibbles more judiciously at its complex history. … Democratic it may be, but India’s ability to govern is compromised by suffocating bureaucracy, regular arm-wrestling with states over prerogatives like taxation and deeply embedded property rights that make implementing China-scale development projects impossible.

Maybe we “westerners” do not have the right frame of reference, as suggested by my Indian colleague, but I am willing to commit to a standard of economic growth, opportunity and increasing prosperity for India’s poor.  And right now India’s politics are failing India’s economic development needs.

What do you think?

Image Credit:  ithappensinIndia.com


“What’s on Second”

So let’s stipulate – I like acting like a US lawyer – that the US grand strategy  of the second term seems fixed on Asian rebalancing or  a ‘Pivot’, and that we have at least some acknowledgement in the halls of Washington that the new grand strategy is as much about economic diplomacy as political and military actions, as I wrote in the last blog post – ‘Determining Who’s On First‘.  Well how does this then line up the US-China relationship in the face of new leadership in Beijing?  That requires us to look at both the domestic and foreign policy stance of the new leadership.

On the domestic front are we likely to see significant economic and even political reform?  On the foreign policy front are we likely to see a more reflective and restrained Chinese strategy in the Asia Pacific in the light of the need to build or rebuild economic alliances and wider collaborative behavior?

Now a quick examination of likely domestic policy moves.  First, let’s dispel the impossible.  There was little likelihood, asymptotically approaching zero I’d say that these new leaders – from this generation of leaders – would on their own adopt democratic political reform.  As China expert Susan Shirk put it recently in the FT.com in the run up to the new Standing Committee choices:

This is a question of legitimacy and popular support for the party,” says Susan Shirk, a US expert on Chinese politics put it ft.com in “China wrestles with democratic reform (November 7, 2012): “They need to show that they’re moving in the direction of democracy but they are very fearful of losing actual control.

So their might be musings of reform – in fact there were such thoughts expressed by some in the old Standing Committee, but actual reform – not likely.  To seemingly underscore this, the two candidates most likely to favor political reform – Li Yuanchao the head of the Organization Department (and an early attendee to Harvard’s Kennedy School) and Wang Yang the Communist Party Chief of Guangdong Province – were both left off the Standing Committee. As Iain Mills, a freelance writer in China saw it:

Also of note was the public reappearance of ex-President Jiang Zemin alongside one of the instrumental figures in the Tiananmen crackdown, ex-Premier Li Peng. Although Jiang had taken on the state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and secured China’s accession to the World Trade Organization during his presidency, in terms of social and economic policy, the influence of this generation of leaders would seem to be highly retrograde. Jiang loyalists took senior positions in the Central Military Commission, while conservative factions appear to have blocked the promotion of reform-minded officials such as Wang Yang.

Okay so little likelihood of serious political reform.  But what of significant economic reform.  Certainly the previous leadership including Premier Wen Jiabao pointed to the need  to tackle the growing economic power and corruption of China’s State-owned Enterprises.  Now of course The Premier only began to talk about this at the twilight of his career.  And it would appear that the collective message, including from the new Chairman Xi Jinping,  is a broadly anti-corruption message.  Unfortunately this message is conservative and not reformist.  The anti-corruption message is an internal Party message to root out bad guys -if they can be found – and not indicative of major structural reform. Again Iain Mills reflections on economic reform seems apt:

It should also be noted that the renewed pre-eminence of conservative elements on both the Standing Committee and the Central Military Commission comes ahead of potential changes of the heads of key civilian institutions including the People’s Bank of China, the state-run power sector and the National Social Security Fund. How these institutions will be aligned and function under the new administration remains unclear. The broader picture, however, seems one of an economic reform agenda that will continue at a gradual pace, while hopes of major political reform have been pushed out to 2017 at the earliest.

Finally, what then of foreign policy action? Now it was positive that the new Chairman took over the the Central Military Commission.  It is evident that foreign policy has suffered from a number of voices.  China’s behavior in the Asia Pacific has seemingly become more assertive.  The pattern has yet to end.   A new policy to take effect on January 1st provides that border patrol police will have the right to board and expel foreign ships entered disputed waters in the South China Sea.  China has also begun to issue new visas that includes a picture including disputed territory in the South China Sea.  Various South China states including the Philippines and Vietnam have publicly objected to the new visas and refused to validate them.  Officials seem to be continuing policies that reflect the assertive China strategy in the South China Sea, not to mention the East China Sea.  In the face of little moderation, China policy, as described by Mills, appears to continue to be an assertive nationalist approach:

Beijing has often been unable to speak with one voice on major external events and has offered no clear articulation of how it would operate as the largest power in Asia. This vacuum, coupled with still-fervent nationalist sentiment in many quarters, appears to have been filled by those who favor a more forceful approach to enforcing China’s foreign policy objectives.

The assertive China approach has driven a number of ASEAN states to encourage a US return to Asia; it has even enabled Japan to play the military card with a number of Asian players.  There is little to hinder the new leadership if it chose to moderate its stance in the Asia Pacific.  Let’s watch closely for a more collaborative China approach of the new China leadership.

Image Credit:  Reuters

Determining Who’s On First

The last couple weeks have concluded busy leadership contests.  The two contemporary great powers of the international system – The United States and China – both have chosen new leadership.  The methods could not be more different.  Many observers have commented on the dramatic contrast.  And the contrast is stark –  Barack’s democratic national election voted on by millions upon millions of American citizens, as opposed to the backroom horse-trading by unelected Party seniors concluding shortly after the 18th Communist Party Congress, with the traditional march on stage of the seven – all men – Standing Committee Members of the Politburo.

But this yawning gap in the reliance on popular will and accountability is no surprise.  This has been, and sadly continues to be, the CPC modus operandi.  Nor is it a surprise to witness the dramatic electoral slog by sitting Presidents – all to the good – and the US contenders “dukeing” it out – in this instance President Obama and Governor Mitt Romney – and billions spent by both sides in this electoral contest.  Instead let’s look at the expectations and consequences of the choices made.

Certainly, the reelection of Barack Obama keeps fixed in place – at least for now – the signature American foreign policy thrust – the rebalancing of US policy toward Asia – the so-called pivot. And indeed Obama’s first foreign sojourn has been to Asia and to the leaders EAS gathering in Phnom Penh.  And on the way Obama – a son of Asia in part – visited Thailand and more startling – Burma – indeed the first American President to make such a visit.  But it was at the EAS, the Leaders forum, where the United States made its presence known.  One of the agreements signed was with the ASEAN, a key player in Asia, where the US and ASEAN signed the “Expanded Economic Initiative” or E3 -an agreement as the White House Press release declares is:

… a new framework for economic cooperation designed to expand trade and investment ties between the United States and ASEAN, creating new business opportunities and jobs in all eleven countries

ASEAN at this time has a combined GDP of USD$2.2 trillion and is the fourth largest export market for the US and largest trading partner overall.

But this agreement signals a more nuanced and sophisticated foreign policy.  US policy has been so militarized over the last decades and in particular by the initiatives in Iraq and Afghanistan that many officials and observers fail to recognize today the critical nature of economic diplomacy.  But the US rebalancing is not just about – and indeed possibly not primarily about – repositioning of forces, though this is important as well.

It is more than evident that foreign policy officials, especially Secretary of State Clinton see that US grand strategy is about – economic diplomacy.  In fact just before the announcement of the E3 initiative between the US and ASEAN, Secretary Clinton delivered a speech at the Singapore Management University entitled, “Delivering on the Promise of Economic Statecraft.”  This important speech includes the ‘startling’ admission that:

For the first time in modern history, nations are becoming major global powers without also becoming global military powers.  So to maintain our strategic leadership in the region, the United States is also strengthening our economic leadership.  And we know very well that America’s economic strength at home and our leadership around the world are a package deal.  Each reinforces and requires the other.

Now in fact the myopia of the Washington beltway is rather breathtaking when you think about it.  Geez foggy bottom has discovered economic diplomacy.  It is not just about guns boys and girls.  I would gently point to my mentor, and indeed a mentor to many in the international relations field  – Richard Rosecrance – now at the Harvard Belfer Center that wrote way back in 1986  The Rise of the Trading State: Commerce and Conquest in the Modern World. The book focused in part on Germany and Japan that had chosen the path of territorial conquest only to discover post war – and following the enormous destruction brought by territorial conquest – that power and plenty and great power status could be acquired through trade, investment and commerce and without the resort to territorial aggrandizement.

In the context then of current US grand strategy then, as Secretary Clinton states:

In short, we are shaping our foreign policy to account for both the economics of power and the power of economics.  The first and most fundamental task is to update our foreign policy and its priorities for a changing world.  … Responding to threats will, of course, always be central to our foreign policy.  But it cannot be our foreign policy.  America has to seize opportunities that will shore up our strength for years to come.  That means following through on our intensified engagement in the Asia Pacific and elevating the role of economics in our work around the world.

Of course the path of US grand strategy is equal parts domestic and foreign policy.  The so-called ‘fiscal cliff’ and debt accumulation of the US do need to be addressed.  To counter China views of US decline, US domestic policy needs to repair its economy – and not on the backs of others.  But US economic initiatives of the sort that Clinton reviews in the Asia Pacific will be critical in raising US economic growth from the anemic to the robust and ensuring the US a continuing influence in the Asia Pacific.

But what about China and its new leadership?  Stay tuned.

Image Credit:  Daily Telegraph – dailytelegraph.com.au

The Fear of the “Boogey Man” And Other Thoughts – China as a Great Power

I suppose it is partly due to US electoral season but the “China Threat School” has been rather busy in the last while.  Stephen Walt blogger  at foreignpolicy.com and professor of international relations at Harvard has noticed it as well.  In a recent blog post “Inflating the China Threat” he chronicles stories  from several mainstream media where the talk is all about China raising its nuclear deterrent capability.  As Walt argues:

The discussion is all pretty Strangelovian, of course, but nuclear strategists get paid to think about all sorts of elaborate and far-fetched scenarios.  In sum, those fiendish Chinese are doing precisely what any sensible power would do: they are trying to preserve their own second-strike deterrent by modernizing their force, to include the development of multiple-warheads missiles that would be able to overcome any defenses the United States might choose to build.

I won’t dwell in the ‘ghoulish world’ of counterforce, countervalue, first strike and second strike capabilities, but international relations’ experts remain dogged in their efforts to describe the Grand Strategies for the United States and China and to establish a path for both to avoid the rivalry, competition and even conflict that historically has occurred in great power relations with so-called power transitions.

It is that vein that I recommend back-to-back pieces by two American experts writing in the September/October issue of Foreign Affairs.  First there is the piece by Aaron Freiberg a professor of the Woodrow Wilson School of Princeton University who previously served in the George W. Bush Administration as the Deputy Assistant of National Security Affairs in the Office of the Vice-President – yes, the Darth Vader of the Bush Administration.  The article is “Bucking Beijing: An Alternative U.S. China Policy”. The other perspective is tackled by well known China expert Andrew J. Nathan of Columbia University and his co-author Andrew Scobell at the Rand Corporation – their article “How China Sees America: The Sum of Beijings Fears”.

It is now common to describe the China-US relationship as the most important relationship of the 21st century.  In this instance this common declaration is in fact – right.  But then how each should engage the other remains opaque. It is particularly difficult when when it comes to China.  The fact is China experts or others are unable to see into the “blackbox” of Chinese decision-making.  Most critically, we  have little idea of how the Chinese military influences China’s Grand Strategy.

But then we don’t really  have a good handle on what China’s Grand Strategy is, anyway.  Think how we’ve been speculating in the last few years on what China’s core interests are? Whether China since 2010 has exhibited a “new assertiveness”? Or what military modernization strategy China is following – and to what end?

Into that opaque environment the China Threat School wades in with relative ease.  For realistically in the face of such uncertainty a “hedging strategy” is not unreasonably a favorable option.

Now Aaron Freiberg’s analysis provides a sophisticated two-headed US hedging strategy. This strategy is two-headed because it requires the US to both balance China’s growing power and to seek economic engagement as well. As he declares:

Developing and funding a credible strategy for countering China’s [military] buildup and adopting a tougher approach to economic engagement will both be important. So, too, will be continuing to stand firm on issues of principle. … What China’s current leaders ultimately want—regional hegemony—is not something their counterparts in Washington are willing to give.  …  Short of Beijing’s genuine democratic transition, however, Washington will not willingly abandon its policy of balancing and withdraw from the region.

Freiberg then underscores the vital nature of  firm US actions in this region:

The stakes could hardly be higher. Since the mid-1990s, China has been piecing together what Pentagon planners describe as asymmetric “anti-access/area-denial” (A2/AD) capabilities. … Absent a strong U.S. response, Chinese planners might eventually come to believe that their growing A2/AD capabilities are sufficiently impressive to scare the United States off from intervening or provoking a confrontation in the region. Worse still, they might convince themselves that if the United States were to intervene, they could cripple its conventional forces in the western Pacific, leaving it with few options other than the threat of nuclear escalation. Maintaining stability requires reducing the likelihood that China’s leaders could ever see initiating such an attack as being in their interest.  A direct U.S.-Chinese military confrontation is, of course, extremely unlikely. But the aim of the balancing half of U.S. strategy must be to ensure that it remains so, even as China’s power grows.

It is a get tough/stay tough kind of policy – with effective military pushback from the United States and a credible commitment to allies in the region and avoid any incipient appeasement by these allies toward China:

In the absence of strong signals of continuing commitment and resolve from the United States, its friends may grow fearful of abandonment, perhaps eventually losing heart and succumbing to the temptations of appeasement.  …  When it comes to Asia, the United States does not have the option of what The New Yorker first described as the Obama administration’s penchant for “leading from behind.

So a renewed firmness – apparently that has slide in the recent Obama years. But suggests Freiberg there is the need to promote engagement with China as well.  But this economic engagement needs to be “righted”.  Freiberg declares:

Rather than treating engagement as desirable for its own sake, the United States needs to take a more clear-eyed and results-oriented approach. The place to start is trade. The bilateral economic relation- ship still provides benefits to both sides, but it has recently grown increasingly lopsided. Beijing uses its currency policy and subsidies of various kinds to boost its exports.

Here it is then – strong on defense, strong on balancing against the rise of China, and a tough but fair economic policy.

So let’s look across the divide to the piece by Nathan and Scobell.  Shortly.

Image Credit: WWE – the Boogeyman






It Takes Two to Tango

As I mentioned in the previous post, “‘Pivots’ and Great Powers – Both Sides Now” I thought I should dwell a bit on former Australian Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd’s speech/article called “The West Isn’t Ready for the Rise of China” (for the article grab it at the NewStatesman.com).  The fact is Rudd – prime minister or not, or foreign minister or not – is one of the smartest foreign policy dudes, especially when it comes to China, in all of the Asia-Pacific.

So what did Rudd say and what did he write?  Now the title comes from a quote in the article “It Takes Two to Tango.” It was Rudd himself who drew attention to the quote.  It was Rudd’s assertion in his recent Munk School of Global Affairs speech – that closely tracked the New Statesman article – that the quote comes from Mae West.  My exploration suggests – “it ain’t so”. Of all the quotes attributed to the famous Mae West no list seems to include that quote.  But the quote itself is a reminder of the impact the powers have on each other.  More on that below.

So what is Rudd’s basic point?  Well it comes from the sub-title.  China’s rise to dominance in the international system is, as Rudd suggests, “imminent”.  In fact what he actually says is, “… the west is completely unprepared for China’s imminent global dominance”.   More pointedly Rudd then poses the key question: we seem unable to determine whether China is prepared to accept the international order the west created over the last 50 years or not.  Will China, as Rudd says, “accept the culture, norms and structure of the postwar order?  Or will China seek to change it?”:

Importantly, some might say disturbingly, the matter remains unresolved among the Chinese political elite themselves.  … At present, there is no centrally agreed grand design.  In other words, on this great question of our age, the jury is still out.

While there are some elites in China that favor the continuation of the liberal economic order – obviously those in particular that have benefited from reform and opening – there are political forces in China – conservative political forces and the military – that do not.  It is not that they haven’t benefitted from the dramatic sustained economic growth but they certainly are resistant to greater domestic political reform.  Moreover, the military – like militaries everywhere adopts hedging and worst case scenario strategies – which raise countermeasures and mistrust in the region and heightens rivalry and competition. The most evident arena of tension recently is the South China Sea but there is tension between China and Japan in the East China Sea.  Nevertheless, it remains possible for the west (this is the term Rudd uses but the inclusion of Korea and Japan etc., make this an odd reference) and others, according to Rudd, to have an impact on China’s views and to help China’s leaders to accept a continuation of the current international political order:

Moreover, the rest of the world’s ability to shape the contours of China’s future global role constructively represents a limited window of opportunity, while China’s international debate is still fluid, while Chinese influence continues to be contested, and well before final strategic settings become entrenched.

So Rudd carries a relatively positive message – though clearly not a starry-eyed one.  And as he argues, effective engagement with China that retains the liberal order will only come with concerted and collective effort:

But it will require collective intellectual effort, diplomatic co-ordination, sustained political will and, most critically, continued, open and candid engagement with the Chinese political elite.

Rudd has outlined a number of steps for the strategic engagement of China and its elites.  But before we get there let me comment on a number of aspects of this analysis that seem to me to raise questions over Rudd’s policy roadmap.  First, Rudd’s approach suffers from what I call, “Time Travel”.  Though it may be a helpful rhetorical device, I think the notion of China’s imminent global dominance is just wholly exaggerated.  Here I am focused on the “imminent”.   While China’s dominance in the international political order may come – it is no time soon.  There well may be a long period of rivalry and competition but given strategic-military deployments the China “dominance” will for the immediate future remain regional.  Which doesn’t mean that engagement of China is not required but it leaves global leadership and influences more fluid and less likely to be dominated by China.

The same “Time Travel” dilemma seems to me to be evident when he examines the emergence of China as the largest economy.  Now Rudd admits that it is likely to occur sometime over the next two decades – though he believes that it likely to come sooner rather than later. Fine, but we are still talking some significant time in the future – let’s be optimistic – ten to 12 years. That impacts then on the framing and immediacy of change to the political order and the character of the engagement called for in the global setting.  More critically is the reality that real economic power derives from GDP per capita and not just the absolute size of an economy.  And China is somewhere in the neighborhood of 100th in GDP per capita.  And beyond the low per capita GDP, we should be hesitant to predict China’s economic trajectory from past growth.  So while China’s growth has been phenomenal and sustained over thirty years there is still a significant distance to go.  And again that impacts on China’s position in the global political order.

On the policy roadmap Rudd believes that the fashioning of China’s engagement necessarily occurs in the Asia-Pacific and where Rudd suggests, “ … the new regional institution underpinned by shared international values will be needed to craft principles and practices of common security and common property for the future.”  Now Rudd, to his credit, has consistently over the years urged the need for a broad Asia-Pacific security community.  While Prime Minister Rudd promoted the Asia Pacific Community, now he believes that the East Asia Summit (EAS)  – from his perspective the successor to the APc – is the appropriate critical setting arraying together all the major powers of the region, including now India, Russia, the US and China, around a single table with, as he describes it, “an open mandate on political, economic and security issues.”

The security dimensions of the EAS and other multilateral settings, however, are contested by China.  In the recent ASEAN Ministerials and the ARF meetings China strongly resisted the discussion of the South China Sea territorial disputes, which China has insisted should only be handled bilaterally.  The EAS – the summit leaders forum – is just as likely to find China arguing that these disputes should not be included on the leaders’ agenda.  Rudd’s comments in Q&A at the Munk School argued that these territorial matters were taken up in any case.  Well, they were but at the cost of no communiqué and the discussions at the ministerials say little about the likelihood of placing it on the leaders agenda.  It is not the smooth path implied by Rudd.

Multilateral discussions are critical.  Engaging China is necessary.  But several conclusions can be drawn from contemporary events and behaviors.  First, the asymmetry of power with many ASEAN members make the inclusion of most of these states open to division, especially in the context of consensus.   Collective effort is important but the critical relationship is the bilateral US-China one.  The Australias, Indonesias, Japans and Koreas are significant and can assist in supporting the liberalizing elements within the Chinese system, but it is the engagement of the US that remains critical.  If the US-China relationship cannot maintain engagement and a collaborative spirit, I am doubtful the rest can ensure success

Image Credit: Wikipedia – Kevin Rudd