China also has worked to take advantage of American policy mistakes, Kurlantzick contends. Joshua Kurlantzick is special correspondent for the New Republic and visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He has covered Southeast Asia and China as a correspondent for U. It is a must-read for anyone interested in the future of American foreign policy.
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In Maputo, Mozambique, the ministry of foreign affairs—built with Chinese money—sports an elaborate pagoda roof. It is, however, an important story and well worth telling in book form. Kurlantzick begins his analysis, appropriately enough, with Mao Zedong. His attempted insurgencies, however, generally failed, poisoning relations with many nations for a generation. Even after Deng passed from the political scene in , Beijing had trouble making friends due to its constant threats against Taiwan, its seizure of reefs to enforce its ludicrous territorial claims to the entire South China Sea, and other hostile acts.
But Kurlantzick notes that Beijing has expanded the concept to include almost any non-military effort at accumulating power. Today, Chinese diplomats and officials have dropped their old, aggressive posture. It provides aid for less developed nations and joins any regional and multilateral organization it can find and, if none exists, creates them.
International agreements? Beijing signs treaties, compacts, and covenants by the dozen. Neighbors are not its only targets: all over Asia, China uses its newfound strength to exclude the United States from regional economic and political affiliations successfully convincing the Uzbeks to end American basing rights in their country, among other policy victories. Is this behavior, however regrettable, merely the normal rough and tumble of great-power diplomacy?
But Kurlantzick raises a far more pertinent question: can an authoritarian state work within the existing framework of a liberal international system? Charm Offensive is loaded with evidence that suggests a potentially disturbing answer.
Kurlantzick observes correctly that China courts and champions authoritarian leaders in the arena of global politics. It sustains hostile and unstable states—like Iran and North Korea—that threaten world order. It directly intervened to keep the contemptible Robert Mugabe in power in Zimbabwe, and it is stands behind the regime in Sudan that sponsors the genocidal janjaweed militia. Name any anti-democratic government in the world today, and you will find a connection to Beijing.
Worse, China challenges one of the principles that define the West—free markets—with visible success. By producing spectacular economic growth for almost three decades, China shows that nations do not have to follow the free-market Washington Consensus in order to advance economically. Today, dictators and strongmen of all stripes take comfort in how the Beijing Consensus permits the maintenance of anti-democratic governance in a modernizing world.
Kurlantzick ends his fine book by making suggestions as to how Washington can compete with charmingly offensive China. His prescriptions range from the tactical—stationing at least one China watcher in every American embassy—to the strategic—reconsidering our opposition to multilateral institutions.
But this second, broader piece of advice presents a problem. China is now a major player in nearly every regional and international organization, and it has garnered enough power in the international community to be able to block Western initiatives and everything but lowest-common-denominator solutions. Does this not suggest that multilateralism, for the U. Kurlantzick, at several points in Charm Offensive, scolds the United States for abandoning strategic interest in the world after the end of the cold war.
His book reminds us that this is no time for America to forgo its leadership position or to accept consensus management, especially when that means empowering authoritarian states—like newly, charmingly offensive China.