Introduction: We are very happy to invite Dr. Thomas P.M. Barnett to our Crosstalk interview. This is the first time that the China-U.S. Friendship Exchange, Inc. hosts an interview with a renowned expert on U.S.-China relations. Dr. Barnett has had a very distinguished career as an academic entrepreneur, an expert on U.S. defense strategies and a New York Times best selling author. From his new book we also learned that he has an adopted daughter Vonne Mei who came from China when she was nine months old, whom he calls Mei Mei, and three other “Made in America” children. He is a staunch supporter of the American System-cum-globalization: we might say that he has started this endeavor by first making his own family truly global. Let’s learn from Dr. Barnett some of his creative thoughts about this world that seemingly has lost its direction lately.
Q1: In your new book Great Powers: America and the World After Bush, you wrote that America is the “source code” for today’s globalization.
But many people begin to think that the notion of a borderless world in which business can disregard political boundaries is under serious challenge for the first time since the fall of the Berlin Wall nearly 20 years ago. The flat world described by Thomas Friedman, where production, capital and even people can shift from nation to nation according to whatever the markets signal—has collided with the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.
The current “one world, one crisis” clearly indicates that this “source code” has serious “bugs.” They say: globalization has hit the rocks in part because its champion has tried to reap its benefits without accepting enough of its discipline; the problem has been and is still that national governments are reluctant to wield power. And that includes the U.S., which represents the systemic contradiction of being the world's biggest debtor while also holding the world's reserve currency (http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,24986195-7583,00.html). A recent article “America’s Hard Sell” by Bruce W. Jentleson and Steven Weber (Foreign Policy, November/December 2008) reminds readers that “outside the United States, people no longer believe that the alternative to Washington-led order is chaos,” and “other international players have their own strengths and shortcomings, but they will compete with Americans on a level playing field.” An example: the China model is “one world, one dream,” and “harmonious society, harmonious world,” versus your American System-cum-globalization, that is “all about connectivity and connectivity comes as a result of deals made—not broken,” and “shrink the Gap.”
Many people in the world think that America now has a credibility problem caused by its financial failure. The world is also afraid of America’s supreme hard power that can launch wars at will against sovereign nations like Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan.
How will America restore the world’s confidence and trust in the midst of this unprecedented crisis to avoid a crisis without an end?
ANSWER: First off, China needs to recognize how this situation came about and how China’s rise was enabled by America’s financial practices of the last 50 or so years.
America engineered the Bretton Woods agreement after World War II, whose organizations and ethos reflected a desire in the West to regulate currencies by fixing them against a gold standard. That structure, when combined with America’s willingness to finance Europe’s recovery with the Marshall Plan and Europe’s willingness to outsource its security to America, allowed the West to flourish incredibly over the next quarter century. That worked as a model until the end of the 1960s revealed that limiting the West’s growth to the artificiality of the gold supply was no longer tenable, so Nixon takes America off the gold standard and currencies are allowed to float in the West, backed by the dollar as the reserve currency.
Starting in or about the time China begins to marketize itself in the early 1980s, an informal successor regime to Bretton Woods emerges. It was basically an Asian rerun of the same strategy America used to pacify Europe (i.e., end great power war there) and make it prosperous. This informal system, known to many as “Bretton Woods II,” consisted of an implicit agreement between America and Japan that we would finance Japan’s “rise” by allowing it to maintain a large trade surplus with the U.S. in return for using the proceeds of that trade to buy American debt and relying on America to supply its Leviathan security role in Asia to Japan’s great benefit. That informal agreement was also extended to South Korea, the Asian “Tigers” and eventually to China itself, which has long essentially pegged its currency to the dollar. This East Asian Dollar Standard, as some economist called it, made Asia’s “rise” possible through export-driven growth and the avoidance of arms races and military confrontations among great powers (Japan, China, Korea, India) which have long had disharmonious relations and great rivalries. Moreover, China’s rise causes a lot of real anxiety in the region, which I think Beijing has handled admirably, but again, without the U.S. playing regional Leviathan, that could have gone very badly.
My point is this: without America’s willingness to serve as reserve currency and take on massive debt, AND provide its Leviathan security role to quell Asia’s long-standing rivalries, there is no rising Asia, but rather a region that by now would have been engulfed by great power war. Asia has never, on its own, managed to have a strong and prosperous Japan AND China AND India AND Korea, and America’s grand strategy gets a lot of credit for that, just like helping a similar, historically-conflicted quartet to rise all simultaneously in Europe (UK, France, Germany, Russia). So for Asia to now turn around and decry this situation without acknowledging both that grand strategy and its immense success would be most hypocritical—not to mention dismissive of history.
Having said that, of course, all sides must recognize that this American grand strategy has come to an end. We cannot leverage ourselves much more and we are overstretched militarily. But the bad news for China is that, although it’s hard for some in our government to admit it, we now need China to step up and become a global power—both militarily and economically—far faster than I’m sure Beijing is ready to pursue. Now, we need China to become a serious demand center in the global economy, so your stimulus package better work. Now, we need China to move in the direction of ultimately creating a basket of Asian currencies that become the third reserve pillar after the dollar and euro (and yes, that means your yuan must become convertible far faster than you want). And now, we need China’s PLA to quickly rebrand itself as a force for global stability and be able to assist the rest of the world’s great powers in peacekeeping and in hot spots to a degree far larger than it has managed in the past.
So this is what China learns when some in its ranks start crowing about “America’s decline” and how America “no longer runs the world”: with great power comes great responsibility. China has great power and demands much in the way of resources and finances and trade from the world, but China does not give much back in return. It hides behind diplomacy, denying that its troops should ever spill their blood in defense of Chinese economic interests that are now protected by American blood spilt in the Middle East. It pretends it does not support evil dictatorships around the planet. It simply does not fulfill its rising—and already enormous—responsibilities as a great power. So, yes, if you were waiting for the time to declare America to be no longer omnipotent, that time has arrived. But the bad news is, now is the time for China to stop simply talking and start actually doing something. Slogans are not enough. Socializing every problem by declaring it a “global issue” is not enough. China needs to start pulling its weight. It may be only 30 years old—measured in Deng years—but it must now start acting much older and much wiser and much more willing to play a seriously active role, because the days of hiding behind the skirt of the U.S. Leviathan and pretending Beijing can always play the “good cop” to America’s “bad cop” are over.
You ask, “How will America restore the world’s confidence and trust in the midst of this unprecedented crisis to avoid a crisis without an end?” Why not tell me what China is going to do besides ask questions of other great powers?
Q2: In “Fading Superpower?” (Los Angeles Times, 09/09/2007), David Rieff challenges the assumption that the United States is “the guarantor of international security and global trade, for the foreseeable future.” This is like saying: every man grows muscle and should learn how to defend himself in his own way. You mentioned in your new book that many in the Pentagon still prepare for a Grand War, ignoring that it costs a lot more to win on the battlefield than elsewhere.
The Chinese believe that the 21st century’s challenge to national power is one that offers dignity to people and produces a just society, which is fundamentally different from containing communism or defeating terrorism. The Chinese would like to know: In your new globalization, will war be eliminated? And if not, who has the right to decide to start war?
ANSWER: War is already being eliminated in the traditional sense. We do not speak of global war anymore, and only the fear-mongers speak of the possibility of nuclear wars among great powers. Since nuclear weapons were developed, there has been no great-power war—64 years and counting. Wars between small states are also disappearing in frequency.
Frankly, all that remains is civil strife within nations, failed states, and terrorism—and the periodic efforts by great powers to intervene in these situations to promote peace. All of America’s wars going back to Korea have been waged as police-actions. During the Cold War, there was definitely the element of superpower rivalry with the Soviets, but since the end of the Cold War, all of America’s many interventions have been on the behalf of the international community—whether or not we got sufficient permission. China’s official position has long been, only the UN Security Council can mandate such acts, but we all know that the UN is dysfunctional in this regard and is only but rarely able to actually follow through when it should. Frankly, NATO has been the functioning executive for such decision-making in the post-Cold War era, but NATO is an insufficient quorum in a world of new rising powers. And yet, it will continue to function as that executive decision-making body until new understanding is reached among America, Europe, and the so-called BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) countries about a new and better venue for such great-power decision-making. You may say, “Such decision can only be made by the entire world,” but that is naïve in the extreme. I put it to you that if we can reach rough agreement among the world’s top 20 economies (the G-20) that such-and-such a military intervention should be pursued by some constellation of great-power militaries, that is enough, because that G-20 represents 90 percent of the global economy. Yes, it would be nice to have global agreement on every police-action taken by the world’s great powers, but again, that will never happen, so better to be realistic about what constitutes a quorum for decision regarding sensible action.
Again, my turnaround question for China is, “Are you ready to participate in actions like Afghanistan today? Or do you plan to remain forever on the sidelines, letting others do your fighting and killing and dying in defense of your economic interests?” Because unless you are willing to participate, you should not be asking these questions. They are the question of a true great power, not of a state that only pretends to be one.
I do make these statements lightly or simply to provoke China’s anger. I intend to provoke China’s sense of honor and responsibility to a world that has facilitated its rise and now demands something in return.
So, to conclude, war in the traditional sense of state-on-state war has already largely disappeared. What is left is subnational violence, transnational terror and the occasional need for the world’s great powers to collectively deal with those situations. Don’t pretend that these “weeds” constitute a “forest.”
Q3: You estimated that globalization has created 3 billion capitalists in the world and increased the middle class. Nevertheless, in the U.S., since 1980, the 40% with the lowest income did not have an actual increase in their income, while their basic living expenses have increased. The 1% with the highest income received nearly ¼ of America’s total income, the highest number since 1928. In short, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. A study by the Brooks Institution in June 2006 revealed that middle-income neighborhoods have dropped 17% from 1970 to 2000 (“Poverty Facts and Stats: American Middle Class”, Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia). During the Bush administration, he generated a few million jobs, but also a few million became the new poor. There is even talk that the American middle class is diminishing or collapsing. China has lifted 300 million people out of poverty during the past 30 years. But China is distraught with its environmental degradation, and its explosive Gross Domestic Product (GDP) grows at the expense of social welfare and medical benefits. Moreover, almost half the world—over three billion people— live on less than 2.50 U.S. dollars a day and, for 80%, 10 U.S. dollars; also, the world’s poorest 40% account for just 5% of global income (“The No-Wealth Factor” by Peter Krammerer, www.scmp.com, 01/30/2009). Yuzhong Zhai, a financial critic and columnist in Beijing, pointed out in his article entitled “The Globalization You Do Not Know About” some of the fundamental problems in the globalization theory (www.ChinaUSFriendship.com, 11/01/2007).
1) In your new globalization, how can these kinds of poverty be abated effectively?
2) What can be done to shrink the rich-poor income gap in America?
ANSWER: First, it is not “my new globalization,” but the same globalization that has been expanding around the planet since Franklin Delano Roosevelt launched America’s vision of an international liberal trade order for a post-WWII world. What is new about this globalization, which is as much “yours”—meaning, China’s—as ours, is its pervasiveness around the planet. Only about a “bottom billion” live largely disconnected from globalization and failing behind the rest of the world in income. And yes, both India and China have large numbers of rural poor whose poverty must be addressed. Your rural poor are much like the “bottom billion”: they are poorly connected to the global economy, so China must do for its internal West not unlike what America did to its West in the late 19th century: it must integrate those “frontiers” as quickly as possible. The same process is ongoing now in Africa and in other remaining parts of the world, like Central Asia, that suffer from poor connectivity. So how to cure poverty? The same way it’s been cured in various places like China over the past quarter century: more connectivity, more globalization, better rules and regulation, and so on. We push to complete the Doha Round in the WTO. We encourage more regional economic integration in Africa so that countries there demand more from China than a repeat of the mercantilist strategies that European colonialists pursued a century earlier. We get the West to end their agricultural subsidies to their own farmers that are immoral. In short, we make globalization advance further and faster, always supplementing the process with as many new rules as are necessary.
As for the American middle class, rumors of its death are wildly exaggerated. It is true that this latest boom did not enrich many beyond the upper elite, and this is both unfair and dangerous, so, in our new reality of austerity after the financial panic on Wall Street, we will have to address those issues and buttress the standing of our middle class in the years ahead. The temptation here will be to indulge in trade protectionism, but I do not advocate that, because American cannot stand in the way of a rising global middle class in any misguided effort to protect its own middle class. Accommodation must be made.
I realize this answer contains many generalities. I am not trained as an economist and so I do not pretend to have all such answers at the level of detail you might desire.
Q4: America needs China now more than at any time in history; besides inseparable economic needs, Beijing’s co-operation is essential in tackling global problems like climate change, Middle Eastern turmoil, nuclear issues of North Korea and Iran, non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and impoverished Sudan, Zimbabwe and Myanmar.
In his 8 years in office, U.S. ex-president George W. Bush has changed his stance away from “Japan first, China second” and China is not our “strategic partner,” towards calling China a “responsible stakeholder,” and the relationship with China a strategic partnership.
The Chinese are eager to know: What kind of U.S.-China relations may be developed during the Obama administration to avoid such a tortuous path?
ANSWER: I agree with your analysis of the recent Bush period. In my new book, I state that his handling of China’s rise is clearly the most positive and important achievement of his tenure—far more important than any mistakes made in Iraq. That is how important China has become to global stability.
As for Obama, I am concerned that virtually no one in close proximity to the president has any clear understanding or deep experience with China, meaning I fear ignorance more than antagonism. Arguably, Lawrence Summers is the most qualified to steer America’s relationship with China, but I fear Secretary Clinton, who has already declared that America’s relationship with China must move beyond mere economics, will prove to be a complicating factor, because—again, she may possess more strong ideas than wisdom and experience on the subject of China.
I do believe, however, that President Obama himself will be the most important player in determining the nature of America’s—by my estimation—growing and completely natural strategic alliance with China. His life experience of growing up in Hawaii and—for a period—in Indonesia is crucial. Also, the fact that he was a “child of the 1960s” but came of age in the 1970s is crucial. Obama came to adulthood after the Cultural Revolution and after Nixon went to China, so “his” China has always been opening up to the world and seeking friendship and economic progress. This is crucial, because it is true that most global leaders have their views of other countries greatly formed by the time they reach adulthood, thus the generation shift from Bush (a “Boomer”) to Obama (post-Boomer) is very important.
Q5: You wrote that “The choices America made over the past 8 years have shifted the global landscape in ways that simply cannot be reversed with a new American president or new American policies, ” but “This is still America’s world, and if we have the will to step up to the plate, we can make things right─right now.”
Half of the Chinese agree with your viewpoint; the other half think: It is conceivable that the “American Century” may not end immediately, but the traditional meaning of “American Century” may end; namely its economic growth model has failed, its position in leading the international financial system is challenged, and the international framework of one superpower plus many great powers may undergo transformation. The international relations among the great powers will shift to a new equilibrium and the international status of the U.S. dollar will face adjustment. America will have to make changes and even concessions. Both camps agree that globalization progress is being dampened, since the current financial tsunami is forcing all nations to look inward (domestically) for solutions.
Similarly in the U.S., hard debates are going on: Parag Khanna claims that globalization has negated “Americanization” in The Second World: Empires and Influence in the New Global Order, and that the new order will center around three great powers: the U.S., the European Union (E.U.) and China (although Beijing has decided to avoid challenging U.S. interests around the globe). Fareed Zakaria thinks in The Post-American World that the U.S. is utterly out of touch with the broad development of the world and its power shift, namely the “rise of the rest”; the central role of the United States has to shrink and Washington needs to move from being the dominating hegemony to a role that is more like an honest broker. The 21st century is a new era and America is at a crossroads.
Can you tell Chinese and Americans what made you think differently? And how your Grand Strategy proposed in your new book Great Powers: America and the World After Bush will provide a smooth transformation that will bring America out of this slump peacefully?
ANSWER: I believe this is still a most “American” world because we have purposefully shaped globalization’s rise to be modeled on the American experience of states uniting, economies integrating, networks growing, mass media content flowing freely, and religions competing peacefully with one another for adherents. Do I pretend the entire world has reached these same levels of peaceful integration? No, I do not. Do I pretend that if the world follows in these footsteps, the regions of the world will all become carbon copies of the United States? That would be foolish in the extreme. I state merely that America has the longest experience as the world’s first multinational political and economic and security union, meaning we have the longest experience in creating all the rules, institutions, regulations, procedures, etc. that make such deep connectivity possible among our 50 member states—all of whom has distinct identities and all of whom feature significant and growing non-European populations.
So even when we speak of a post-American world, as Zakaria does, I find this amusing. I definitely see a post-Caucasian world, but that is hardly a post-American one—even in America! Already our biggest cities see European descendants no longer constituting a majority. This is also true for our biggest state, California. It is also true for our population under the age of five—the truest indicator of our future. So if we’re talking about a world that intermixes all the world’s populations, is there a better example of this phenomenon on the planet than the United States? And if this is the case, do you not recognize that we have a tremendous asset in our diversity? Not just in the people we attract from all over the world but also in the rules we have created to make that diversity possible and profitable and harmonious?
And if you do not consider that a huge achievement, imagine a China where Chinese were not the majority. Where you had so many Africans and Latinos and Arabs and Slavs and Europeans that Han Chinese were less than 50% of the population. Would you consider that a stronger and more powerful China or a weaker and more divided China? Because if you would consider it weaker, than I might suggest that China has more to learn about the future of globalization than the United States does.
In the book I describe five great compromises America—as well as other great powers—must make with the world. On economics, in return for joining this globalization-of-our-making, America must not make demands of emerging markets that threaten their ability to develop their own middle class. This is true even on global warming. In the diplomatic realm, America must allow cultures that join globalization’s many networks to employ information controls over the media flows that enter their society. We cannot expect new members of the globalization community to allow all available media content to enter their societies at will—especially pornography. In terms of security, if the world accepts the need—as America argues—for tighter rules on the movement of people and goods and services, in order to quell the rise of transnational terrorism, then America must submit its enforcement of those rules to ethical standards upon which the world’s great powers can agree. In the realm of networks, if the world allows America’s networks and transparency to enter into their societies so that we can feel comfortable that future interactions between our nations will not lead to bad actions by bad nonstate actors, then America must promise those nations the right to gain “fast pass” access to America’s markets. Finally, in the realm of social relations, if states that join globalization can manage to allow religious freedom inside their countries, then America must respect the desire of certain fundamentalist religions to seek an isolated existence, in which they are disconnected from what they perceive to be an “unholy” world. America already accommodates many such small religious groups inside our country, but we must extend the same logic to the world.
Q6: You describe the globalization founded by America as a global Americanization. But the concept “Americanization” is not well received outside the U.S. If America is aiming at a globalization that is truly global, wouldn’t the U.S. have to bring in all world nations and major organizations for inputs to this new brand of globalization by sharing global benefits as well as responsibilities? Do you expect that the April G20 economic meeting in London will achieve its intended goal of reaching a global consensus on the new world order?
ANSWER: You misquote me here and misrepresent my meaning badly. I never say that globalization equals Americanization. In fact, I make the opposite argument: that globalization will always be customized to local tastes. My argument on America as the source code for globalization states merely that we are the furthest along in this common and universal experiment of states uniting and economies integrating, thus we have the most experience and the most advanced rules in this regard. We set an example but it is hardly cast in stone. Already, America has always been a miniature form of globalization, drawing peoples from all over the world, so to say there is one form of Americanization is incorrect even for America! Because the America of tomorrow, just like globalization, will have a much higher Asian quotient along with a much higher Latino quotient.
So again, we may “lead” this process in terms of experience, but leadership is not the same as control and our very leadership on this issue is subject to constant and profound evolution—just like globalization.
In truth, globalization will be shaped decidedly by China and India in the coming decades, and China and India will be decidedly shaped by globalization in the coming decades. Will we declare China to somehow “control” this process all by itself at some point? I think not, but the rise of China will put an end to all this nonsense that globalization is somehow a plot to turn everyone into a carbon copy of an American. This is silly thinking that is dismissed with ease. But just as easily, we can dismiss the notion of a post-American world when the logic than animates globalization is the very same logic that has animated America’s rise for well over 200 years.
Or to put it another way: if I am a bird leading a flock of birds in flight, and I start flying off in a direction that no one else wants to follow, will I still be the leader? So long as America remains true to its founding ideas, it will always be a huge influence on globalization. Frankly, it is China and India that will have to change more in coming decades than America will.
Q7: On January 6, 2009, Japanese trend expert Kenichi Omae said that America needs at least 5 trillion U.S. dollars to recover from the economic crisis and that, in the midst of the global economic depression, the worst part of the financial tsunami has not yet arrived. He predicted that it will come in the next 10 to 15 years; the tremendous economic shockwaves in the past few months have made 30 trillion U.S. dollars evaporate and Wall Street has destroyed more than the terrorists (on the average, every man and woman, young and old on Earth has lost about 4,400 U.S. dollars); but if America is willing to make apologies, the world nations may be able to use their foreign reserves to raise 5 trillion U.S. dollars. Earlier in December 2008, The Atlantic Online published “Be Nice to the Countries That Lend You Money” written by James Fallows based on the advice received from an interview with Gao Xiqing, the man who oversees $200 billion of China’s $2 trillion in dollar holdings.
Here are other hard facts: The International Labor Organization reported that in the worst scenario, 51 million people will lose their jobs by the end of 2009; America, with an unemployment rate at 7.2%, has 6.5 million people living on unemployment pay checks and China also has 20 millions of workers who lost their jobs. In the last quarter of 2008 the U.S. GDP dropped by 3.8%, the fastest pace in 27 years; China’s GDP dropped from 13% in 2007 to 9% in 2008, owing to its sharp drop to 6.8% in the last quarter.
Amid all this bad news, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner blamed China for “manipulating its currency.” “’Manipulation’ is a charged word, and it is politically incorrect in financial circles,” said commentator William Pesek (www.bloomberg.com, 01/29/2009). Not surprisingly, China reacted angrily to Geithner’s statement. Chinese premier Wen Jiabao told the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos that the economic crisis was caused by “inappropriate macroeconomic policies,” “unsustainable model of development characterized by prolonged low savings and high consumption,” the “blind pursuit of profit” and “the failure of financial supervision” (www.nytimes.com, 01/30/2009).
The Chinese yuan has risen 21 percent (with respect to U.S. dollar) since mid-July 2005 until 2008, but the trade surplus with the U.S. was not reduced. The Chinese government thinks that China’s trade surplus is the result of globalization’s labor division set up primarily by the U.S. China did not have much influence in setting its game rules. The Voice of America said on January 30, 2009, that this was not the time to push Beijing on its currency. U.S. ex-President Bill Clinton admitted at the Davos WEF that America is the chief culprit of this global economic crisis, but "we cannot escape each other. Divorce is not an option."
China held 681.9 billion U.S. dollars in U.S. Treasuries as of November 2008. Since the U.S. is expected to issue new debt, worth 787 billion U.S. dollars, to help pay for a huge economic stimulus package, China’s holding could grow further. Heavy U.S. dependence on Chinese capital may limit Obama’s options against Beijing. Obama told Hu Jintao in a phone call on January 30, 2009, that the two countries must work together to correct global trade imbalances and fight the world crisis.
Many readers would like to know:
1) How do we resolve this crisis?
2) Will Obama undercut the anti-currency message or will Geithner’s comments raise the possibility of the U.S. taking a tougher line with China than former President George W. Bush did?
ANSWER: I cannot imagine how any one expert could magically come up with the correct answer to the question, "How do we resolve this crisis?" This is the first global recession in a globalized economy. There is no precedent, so clearly new answers will have to be found, but since this involves many large economic powers, it is not possible for any one person to outline what the final cluster of successful solutions will be.
Clearly, we need what I mentioned earlier: China and Asia in general must develop domestic consumption greatly, and Asia would be smart to create a third global reserve currency based on a basket of its major currencies. China needs to make the yuan fully convertible at some point, but I have no crystal ball to tell me how fast that evolution may occur except to say that it will occur faster than you want. More global free trade agreements through a passage of the Doha Round would be welcome as well.
But overlaying all of this must be an essential restructuring of America’s relationship with the world. We have been enormously successful in simultaneously playing the world’s Leviathan military power and promoting export driven growth in Asia, but now that primary set of relationships must be recalibrated with America importing less and Asia consuming more, and Asia moving ahead far faster on regional security integration (why is there still no NATO-like alliance in Asia?) so that America’s military resources there can be better applied elsewhere. Asia must also step up its collective contribution to global security efforts outside of Asia—not just talking about it and sending small numbers of peacekeepers but far more.
America tries to do too much still because we have not yet learned to trust the rest of the world’s rising great powers, who themselves collectively have also not done enough to earn that trust by assuming more robust responsibility. America also, under Bush-Cheney, betrayed much trust in the world by acting unilaterally, so on both sides there is much to make up in terms of lost opportunities for advancing our strategic cooperation.
As a security expert, I will always tell you that, until the security relationship is strong, taking the harder steps to correct imbalances in the economic relationship is often too difficult to achieve, so these issues are highly inter-related.
As for Obama, I am hopeful that such early strong words, such as those offered by Secretary Geithner (and later dismissed by Vice President Biden), are primarily designed for “domestic consumption” in America (as many of Beijing’s words are designed for similar consumption inside China) and will not result in serious actions. I consider such mistakes to be the common “growing pains” of a new administration.
Q8: In an article entitled “Reasons Why Obama Needs New Start with China” (www.ChinaUSFriendship.com, 01/01/2009), George Koo lists five reasons for Obama to reboot U.S. relations with China based on mutual respect and shared interests. Among them, reason 4 calls for expanding high-tech exports to China. He said: “China is too important a market for American high-tech goods for us to continue to tolerate a policy that undermines our own competitiveness.” It is conceivable that the increased high-tech exports to China can be the most effective method to immediately reduce China’s trade surplus with the U.S.
The American high-tech industry and Chinese companies would like to know: Will the Obama administration make new improvements on high-tech exports to China and help make globalization truly global as you have suggested?
ANSWER: I certainly hope so, because it would ease our trade imbalance while simultaneously aiding in China’s further development. Of course, China itself could greatly facilitate this process by showing far more respect for our Intellectual Property (IP) rights, which means Chinese courts must vigorously prosecute such theft inside China. China would also be wise to reduce the amount of industrial espionage it conducts inside the United States. We can pretend such things do not happen but both sides know that it does. Yes, these are the “sins” of a nation trying to catch up, and they are sins that America knows well because we committed them quite frequently in our youth, armed with all the same excuses that China offers today. But again, we are asking China to grow up very quickly into a global power, and if this is to happen at a speed that benefits both sides, more attention will have to be paid by Beijing to IP issues.
I will say that I was greatly pleased to see China call for more military-to-military cooperation with the United States on the day of President Obama’s inauguration. This was a wise move. The more cooperation there is, the less afraid America will be to share high-technology with China, and the more we share with China, the less China will feel the need to steal.
Q9: Obama’s economic recovery plan seems to be the greatest investment plan for America since World War II. It obviously moves in the direction of the national intervention of Keynesian Economics; namely, increased energy resources, health care, educational reform, government budget, benefits, etc., in total contrast with the traditional neoconservative ideology. Some people give Obama’s approach the name “capitalism with American characteristics” in comparison with China’s market-oriented “socialism with Chinese characteristics.”
The Chinese might say that the U.S. and China are now moving towards the center lane in their economic policies. They are pondering: Will this also bring America and China politically closer and thus avoid ideological saber-rattling?
ANSWER: I believe it will and certainly hope so. China is purposefully moving to an economic model much like America’s: big dominant firms surrounded by a sea of smaller, innovative, entrepreneurial firms. This is the best model, one that took us decades to discover. China has reduced state control of the economy from 100% in 1980 to about 30% now. America’s state role creeps up from about 20% to 25%. So yes, we meet in the middle more and more, and given the similar evolutions of our economies, I think the chances of strategic cooperation will blossom dramatically in coming years, making our bilateral relationship the most important of the 21st century—something I have preached for three books now.
Q10: In July 2008 the U.S. magazine Diplomacy proposed a China-U.S. G2 Caucus. In mid-November 2008, Zbigniew Brezinski during a private meeting in Washington D.C. raised again the G2 concept to a high-level Chinese official. The Chinese official was silent about it. C. Fred Bergsten and Caio Koch-Weser have proposed that the E.U. and U.S. form a “G2 Caucus” previously (“Out with the G8, In with the G20” by Colin L. Bradford, Jr. and Johannes F. Linn, Transatlantikip, March 2004).
In your mind, what special functions can the G2 accomplish? Why was the Chinese official silent about it? How do you compare G2 with G8 and G20? In your opinion, will globalization work better with a more concentrated power basis than an extended one?
ANSWER: We should definitely have a G-2 and a G-9 or -10 (with India and China added) and also a G-20. All combinations will be useful and productive, and fears about special relationships need not hinder such developments. So long as decisions are transparently relayed to the rest of the world’s great powers, these are all positive possibilities.
Q11: On January 27, 2009, in Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said that she would pursue a broad dialogue with Beijing extending beyond the economic concerns emphasized by former president George W. Bush; while Secretary of Defense Robert Gates had a different tone in a House of Representative hearing, saying that the U.S. military has the capability to deal with any threat from China in the foreseeable future.
The Chinese readers would like to know: Does this mean that the U.S. policy towards China is still along the strategic line of “engagement” and “containment” or do these incoherent signals reflect divergent views in the U.S. government on China?
ANSWER: It is safer to bet on the latter (divergent views) than the former (the assumption of coherence). Americans assume China’s government is a monolith and too often the rest of the world assumes the same about America’s government. Remember: in Washington, what you say depends on where you sit, especially when your chair stands in front of a Congressional committee!
So Gates speaking to Congress is naturally going to declare that America’s military can handle any possible threat from China. That statement simply reflects the immature state of our military-to-military cooperation. If you want to end such comments, then Beijing must accelerate such cooperation. We would never expect Secretary Gates to make such a statement about the United Kingdom. France, maybe, but never the British! So again, this statement simply reflects the evolution of our relationship.
I will tell, you, though, that Secretary Gates is a big advocate of more cooperation with China in the military realm. He has many masters to serve in his job, but given the right opportunities by Beijing, he will act to make this happen.
As for Secretary Clinton’s remarks, this may indicate a get-tough strategy or simply a desire to expand cooperation further. We will have to wait and see. But don’t assume it represents a trade protectionist sentiment just yet.
Q12: Obama has decided to send more brigades to Afghanistan and the U.S. is making heavy missile attacks in Pakistan to keep up the military pressure on the Taliban. Obama took office with the promise of change, but he has not changed Bush’s policy on Afghanistan. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has heralded the arrival of “smart power” for U.S. foreign policy, but the American war on terrorism is still using old-fashioned hard power. Since China borders Pakistan, India, Afghanistan and Kashmir, it is closely watching the situation there. Beijing says it intends to keep peace and stability along its southwest corridor.
Our readers would like to know:
1) What is America’s goal there?
2) Does the U.S. intend to use unlimited resources to destroy the Taliban and force a connection of Afghanistan to the outside world? Or does America have a time table set for the globalization of the Muslim world?
3) You urge the Americans to be patient with China’s democratization and seem to have accepted that China can have its own time table for democracy; Obama also did not even mention the word “democracy” once in his inaugural speech. Can we say that the U.S. is adopting a pragmatic political stance to avoid ideological confrontation with China in order to save globalization?
ANSWERS: Our baseline goal is to make sure Afghanistan and Pakistan don’t remain staging grounds for transnational terrorist groups to attack the advanced states of the world—to include China. Beyond that, we hope to create permanent stability in these countries, but the truth is, that’s impossible unless other regional powers like China and India and Russia step up more to help.
Indiscriminate bombing never works, so “unlimited power” applied to the Taliban wouldn’t work either. Naturally, I believe that a country like Afghanistan can only be stable after connecting itself up to the outside world, and although Bush had great ambitions to make this happen with the Islamic world in general and with the Persian Gulf specifically, I don’t sense the same impatient timetable with the new administration.
Having said that, it is my belief that globalization is connecting up the Islamic world at a stunning pace no matter what “plans”—real or imagined by outsiders—may exist in Washington. And quite frankly, “rising” China causes that rapid integration process as much or more than America does. That’s what gets your oil workers targeted by militia in Eastern Ethiopia and South Korea’s missionaries targeted in Afghanistan. Pretending that globalization is all America’s doing and Asia is just along for the “harmonious” ride is fast becoming unbelievable. More and more in the coming years, EVERYONE around the world is going to start viewing globalization’s advance as more an Asian-driven project than any American one, and that’s because Asia—not America nor Europe—is the logical frontier integrator of this age, sitting where it does on the production-chain ladder (mostly in classic manufacturing and wanting to move up fast). So, increasingly its your “sweat shops” running this show and that means anti-globalization elements—including the extremist Islamic ones—will increasingly target your interests overseas.
As for Obama personally, I do see a recognition in his words and actions that democracy takes time and needs to arise organically within any state. History tells me that’s about a five-decade journey, and even China, at age 30, has a couple decades to get its act together before its rising middle class will become unduly restless and demanding.
Q13: U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said that “As our military presence decreases over time, we should still expect to be involved in Iraq on some level for many years to come, assuming a sovereign Iraq continues to seek our partnership,” and “The stability of Iraq remains critical to the future of the Middle East” (www.cnn.com, 01/28/2009).
The world would like to know:
1) Can the Obama administration stabilize the current Middle East situation?
2) What is your expectation for the Middle East?
3) Do you expect China to play a bigger role in the Middle East, and if so, what kind of role?
ANSWER: There’s not much that's unstable about the Middle East, quite frankly. Iraq is settling down nicely. Iran’s getting the bomb, but as China and the United States know, nukes are for having but not using, and we know how to deter “revolutionary” regimes armed with nukes because we’ve done it in the past quite successfully.
It’s really Israel and Palestine that remains the sore spot, but what’s new about that? Will Obama have some magical approach that’s eluded everybody before him in the White House? I doubt it. But a nuclear Iran better create more urgency among outside interested great powers like China and India (remember, that’s your energy at risk, not America’s; we don’t need the Persian Gulf—you do) to foster some sort of regional security dialogue, and again, that’s the most likely path I see on a sustainable solution for “Middle East peace,” such as it is.
I expect the Middle East to be fully integrated into globalization in about 20 years times. The region needs to generate somewhere between 50 and 100 million jobs for a youth bulge currently moving upwards, and the only way to do that is to connect up to the global economy in a much more comprehensive manner than currently exists. China can definitely help on that score, given its skyrocketing energy interests in the region.
What I’d like to see from China is a more explicit security presence, but that can only happen in a constructive way if it’s accompanied by a serious security dialogue with the United States. Right now the PLA basically has no effective dialogue with either Central Command nor Africa Command, and that’s pathetic given China’s skyrocketing strategic interests in both regions.
Again, China can’t play the role of a serious global power if it’s always going to hide behind bland slogans, the UN, and the lie that—despite all its growing economic networks—China is determined not to create any destabilizing socio-economic change in these regions. You can’t create that level of economic connectivity and NOT change these regions.
Q14: North Korea has just scrapped agreements with South Korea that both countries have signed to ease military and political tensions on the divided peninsula, including the agreement that set the Northern Limit Line.
You support Korean reunification. What is your take on this abrupt new development?
ANSWER: North Korea always takes a hard line with the South before trying some softer line with the United States (and vice versa). It’s Pyongyang’s usual trick.
China needs to get serious about pulling the plug on Kim Jong-il. He’s a huge and dangerous liability to your future, and there are plenty of scenarios for Beijing to engineer his quiet departure that don’t reflect badly on the CCP’s continued rule in Beijing. China is simply not being mature on this subject, and until it is, it will be hard for others to consider it a mature global power. Having some regime led by any leader as unstable as Kim in your neighborhood is simply bad for business.
China is already pioneering the outlines of an Asian Union centered on China in its careful and wise approaches to Hong Kong and Taiwan (i.e., generating economic integration and putting off the question of political union), but that process is not being accompanied by any serious movement toward an Asian NATO centered on China. Kim’s removal and the reunification are a perfect opportunity for China to demonstrate to the world its profound ability to make the world a better and more stable place, for such an act would constitute the cornerstone of such a new Asian defense alliance.
Frankly, American troops shouldn’t still have to be in Asia this long after the Korean War. Asian and American troops should be working side-by-side, in serious numbers, in other parts of the world that need more attention and reflect our shared growing strategic interests.
And if China doesn’t yet possess the power to engineer Kim’s quiet downfall, then Beijing should start thinking immediately about how to acquire such power. To let this useless scenario delay China’s logical emergence as a global power is a serious strategic mistake, in my mind.
Q15: The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) reports on China’s military modernization every year. The increase of the Chinese military budget has been used by DoD as the basis for invoking a “China threat,” irrespective of the small size of China’s military capability relative to the U.S. Amid China’s sending of three military ships to Somalia to protect against pirates, a spokesman from China’s Defense Department expressed that China might “seriously consider” building an aircraft carrier. Chinese experts expressed that the main purpose of the aircraft carrier is to protect China’s 3 million square kilometer sea territory, whereas the U.S. sees it as a means to prevent American interference in the cross-Strait conflict, if it occurs.
In “Reasons Why Obama Needs New Start with China” (www.ChinaUSFriendship.com, 01/01/2009), George Koo points out that “China is neither the belligerent state nor has the military might to compete with the U.S. China's defense posture has been that of a porcupine rather than a pit bull.”
Here are hotly debated issues between the U.S. and China that our readers would like to know your opinion about:
1) Do you think that China possesses the capability to make a carrier at the present time?
2) What is your viewpoint on the Taiwan issue?
3) Why does the U.S. insist on peaceful resolution of the two sides of the Taiwan Strait, yet it is waging wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan?
4) You support Korean unification. Do you also support Chinese unification?
5) The U.S.-China relations cannot truly move up to a higher level without resolving the Taiwan issue. What is your prediction of the Pacific state of affairs 10 to 20 years from now?
ANSWERS: Of course, China can build a carrier if it wants. The better question is, do you need one?
If you want one for the Taiwan straits, then I think the idea is both stupid and needlessly provocative. If you want one or more to do the same sort of security missions that the U.S. navy now performs in the Persian Gulf or in the Straits of Malacaa or off the Somali coast, then I think it’s a smart idea. But, again, take that path only in concert with dialogue with America about shared strategic interests.
Anything that you build solely for the Taiwan scenario makes China seem immature and unstrategic. Frankly, it’s pathetic to see your entire military’s force structure twisted around this one unplausible scenario. And the more you pursue it, the more you waste time and resources that could be better spent creating a military that’s an appropriate force for global stability. The same is true for an Indian military so myopically geared for the Kashmir scenario. It would be like a U.S. military entirely built to invade Cuba.
Taiwan will go the route of Hong Kong. That journey will signal the outlines of an Asian Union centered on China.
America insists on a peaceful resolution of Taiwan because Taiwan is a mature democracy and one of the most vibrant and powerful—for its size—economies in the world. Thus, the idea that the only way China can get Taiwan to integrate itself with the mainland is through force is simply preposterous. A China that foolish doesn’t deserve Taiwan’s economic integration. Honestly, I think it’s embarrassing for all three sides that we’re still having this useless conversation in the year 2009. My goodness, we’ll all got more important strategic issues to talk about than this.
I support an Asian Union and an Asian NATO with China as its main anchor. I consider the notion of Chinese unification outmoded. I suggest you leave it in the 20th century where it belongs. Your country is obviously slated to be THE center of Asian unification. Why do you still insist on thinking in such a small and backward fashion? Because when you so clearly obsess over such little things in the grand unfolding of history, you make your neighbors nervous. You make them think you do not have the wisdom for the obvious challenges and leadership and integration ahead. I simply do not believe this is the case, and thus I find your behavior on this issue puzzling. Taiwan’s economic integration with China is proceeding apace. If you want deep political integration, it is your job to make China more democratic—not Taiwan’s job and not America’s job. But again, this is not a helpful line of dialogue. We start controversies where none truly exist.
With all due respect, when China says that its relationship cannot advance unless the Taiwan issue is resolved, it tells me that China is not serious about becoming a global power and that it prefers hiding behind this insignificant obstacle. Again, I do not believe this is truly the case, so I await better leadership from Beijing on this subject.
Taiwan is clearly cooperating on this subject, and America does nothing of note to stop this integration process. With all trends working in its favor on this subject, China simply needs to act like an adult and move on to more important matters.
Q16: Here are the first 4 questions proposed by our reader Edward MacLean:
1) Why don’t you have a job with the new administration?
ANSWER: I believe I can create more powerful change, and have more influence where I wish to exert it, if I stay in my current position in the private sector. The job I want does not yet exist in the U.S. Government, although I would someday welcome the opportunity to serve as America’s ambassador to China, especially since my fourth child, adopted from China, could return to her homeland in that scenario.
2) How effective do you think Hillary Rodham Clinton will be as Secretary of State under Obama?
ANSWER: I am optimistic, given her intelligence and ambition, that she will be a powerful and creative subordinate to President Obama and have good impact on America’s relations with the world’s rising great powers—to include China. I have seen her approaching new areas that were previously unfamiliar to her, like defense issues as a senator, and she is a fierce student not to be underestimated in her ability to grow in wisdom.
3) How effective do you think Robert Gates will be?
ANSWER: Very effective. Whether China realizes this or not, Obama could not have picked a secretary of defense less likely to do something foolish or unstrategic when it comes to our bilateral relationship. The same is true about Russia. I believe him to be a very wise man and a very good leader. I also think he was Obama’s most important and best choice so far.
4) How valuable are your insights to the new administration?
ANSWER: They are as valuable as the new administration wants them to be. I am but one voice among many, but an unusual one in my ability to incorporate economics into my grand strategic thinking. Most defense experts don’t know anything about economics, and it is a serious deficiency.
Q17: Edward MacLean’s 5th question: What specific response in terms of hardware acquisition do you think the DoD will engage in to meet a perceived “military threat” by China? Who are the American national security personalities behind the various perceptions of China as emerging Pacific (world) power?
ANSWER: The real pressure on big-war platforms is not China but the continuing drain of our efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq. If you imagine you will discover the Obama administration’s true intentions regarding China in these choices, then you are wrong. The wars in southwest Asia come first, then domestic economic considerations, and then China and to a lesser extent Russia.
As such, the “personalities” behind any Pentagon focus regarding China are not particularly important to this outcome.
Q18: Edward MacLean’s last question: Based on your article “The Man Between War and Peace” on Adm. William Fallon (www.esquire.com/features/fox-fallon, 01/29/2009 5:18 PM), is there not a serious tension suggested by Fallon's remarks between the U.S. State Department and the DoD? If I recall, the Romans didn't send ambassadors, they sent tribuni militari. I wonder if Obama can and will correct this imbalance?
ANSWER: I think he can and I think he will. The military rose up against Bush and the ineffective secretaries of state that he picked (Powell, Rice) primarily because they viewed his major decisions in the national security realm as becoming increasingly unstrategic and therefore unsound.
I do not foresee the same intellectual weakness nor ideologically-based reasoning from Obama. He is arguably the smartest man we’ve had as president since Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and he’s certainly in the same strategic category as Richard Nixon.
FINAL COMMENT from Thomas P.M. Barnett: I thank you for your questions and the opportunity to answer them. I found them most stimulating. If I used harsh or offensive language in any of my responses, it reflects my desire to stimulate your readers in return. I welcome further dialogue.
CLOSING STATEMENT from Host Sheng-Wei Wang: I also wish to thank Dr. Barnett for participating in our Crosstalk. This is a good starting point for Americans and Chinese to engage in fruitful exchanges at the grassroots level. This bi-lingual website, www.chinausfriendship.com, will also publish further comments by experts and readers. Thank you, Dr. Barnett!