Sunday, July 12, 2015

Figuring Out China: The Struggle Continues

Orville Schell
Arthur Ross Director of the Center on U.S.-China
Relations at the Asia Society in New York, and a
former professor and Dean at the University of
California, Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.
Orville Schell wrote about US-China relations in The New York Times last week. (See "Can the U.S. and China Get Along?", July 9, 2015.) It was a good reminder that US people would do well to think seriously about China.

(In fact, just about any time Schell puts his pen to paper, it's a good reminder to think seriously about China. I was similarly inspired last October by another Schell piece.)

China is new and different and complicated. Thinking seriously about it may require more of our brains than we have been prepared to devote to it. We may have to get used to ideas that require more than 140 characters to express. And we may need to reclaim some of the time that we've been devoting to sports, fashion, celebrities, food, and (fill in the blank).

I've been trying to think about China for nearly 40 years now and continue to be stymied by how hard it is to "figure out." (I had a reminder of this in the last few days as I read about a major decline in the stock market in China. I remembered sitting in a coffee shop in Rochester, NY, in the fall of 2010, thinking about how overvalued assets in China were, and thinking there was going to be a crash "any day now.")

Schell put forward recommendations in his New York Times piece - a series of "previously unthinkable" options we should start thinking about. I noticed quite a bit of alignment with ideas I have been trying to develop in posts in the past few years:

Giving climate change at least as high a priority as democracy and human rights in the management of our relationship with China; (!!! see How Do You Say "Suicide Narcissus" in Chinese? on Scarry Thoughts)

Acknowledging that China is entitled to some kind of “sphere of influence” in the South China Sea, just as the United States has in the Caribbean, without completely yielding to all of its territorial claims; (see SOUTH CHINA SEA: No End of American Grand Designs on Scarry Thoughts)

Imposing new limits on flyovers by American military intelligence aircraft near China’s coastal waters; (see Boeing: Where There's Trouble . . .  on Scarry Thoughts)

Openness to discussing terms for the end of arms sales to Taiwan;

Guaranteeing that, if Korea unifies, the United States will place neither troops nor nuclear weapons in the North; (see The Cynical American Scapegoating of Korea as a Cover for Nuclear Terror on Scarry Thoughts)

Exploring new ways of giving China a greater governing role in the International Monetary Fund and other institutions of global governance; (see Democratize International Economic Institutions (WTO, IMF, IBRD) on the World Beyond War website.)

Investigating how the United States could actively support Mr. Xi’s new economic reforms to spur domestic consumption, as the success of those policies is also in our national interest. (Hmmm ... this seems to be in conflict with the first point - see China and USA - Like a Moth to the Flame on Scarry Thoughts)

Schell had some recommendations for China, as well, including, "Allowing Hong Kong more autonomy to work out its timetable for attaining universal suffrage." (see Empire, Chinese Style ("Why the Leung Face?") on Scarry Thoughts)

Schell's piece served to remind me that, though my attempts often feel like a struggle, I have been making some progress toward at least getting into the right universe of ideas about China, and about what the relationship of the US to China is and could be.

All of which seems to suggest we can figure this out. We should make the effort to try to "figure out" China . . . or at least try to get part of the way, and meet China halfway.

A possible follow-up piece by Orville Schell (or by me!): what might be different if the US and China were able to adopt a non-provocative posture toward each other, and toward the rest of the world?

Related posts

"Although we know the end from the very beginning," says Walker, "the story is no less compelling to watch." A man, gloriously alone (except for his own reflection) on an ice-covered lake; the soothing pastel colors of the distant sky; and what seems surely to be a circle he is digging around himself with a pick-axe. A perfect parable for our headlong rush toward climate crisis?

(See How Do You Say "Suicide Narcissus" in Chinese?)

Strategic analysts are pointing out that the South China Sea is an area through which a vast amount of the world's trade passes.  And some of them have made the modest suggestion that it would be a good idea for the U.S. to dominate it now, in much the same it dominated the Caribbean at the turn of the 19th century.

(See SOUTH CHINA SEA: No End of American Grand Designs)

Just as it did in 2001, the U.S. has had another close dangerous encounter between one of its surveillance planes and a Chinese fighter in the air near the coast of China.

Like the 2001 event, it's making a lot of people ask what the hell the U.S. is doing provoking China where they live.

(See Boeing: Where There's Trouble . . . )

So there are these terrible things called nuclear weapons, and it just turns out that they hover around the Korean peninsula, as if "Korea" and "crazy nuclear terror" belonged together. And I thought to myself, "Where have I heard this before?"

(See The Cynical American Scapegoating of Korea as a Cover for Nuclear Terror )


The United States may set the standard for human desire -- for the mindless pursuit of the bright and shiny object -- but, heaven knows, China is not to be outdone.

(See China and USA - Like a Moth to the Flame)

In the days and weeks ahead, we have an enormous opportunity to better understand how people in one of the most important places in the world think and operate. What would be truly valuable would be for us to convene many more conversations about the underlying issues, and the big emerging directions.

(See Empire, Chinese Style ("Why the Leung Face?") )

Could I point to some analogous concepts and practices that I felt characterized the Chinese approach to being in the world? I rolled the idea around in my mind for a while, and then landed on the word "cultivation."

(See "Puja" in India; "Cultivation" in China )