Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Joe Nye, Soft Power Guy ... and China

This article from the Financial Times argues that future clashes between the United States and China (like the current Google dust up) are inevitable. Rachman cites the Google situation as a demonstration of misdirected foreign policy, noting that China has failed to develop into a liberal democracy, despite decades of free trade with the liberal democratic West.

Economically and politically, our countries are opposed in many ways, and China is particularly well suited to resist hard and soft power pressure to change. As I wrote in a paper recently, its leaders are not subject to electoral accountability and dissidents are silenced. Its geopolitical and economic strength enable China to resist many of the external pressures that might influence less powerful countries, and China's history demonstrates a fierce allegiance to its own sovereignty. China's immunity to public opinion is particularly notable in the case of non-state actors, such as NGOs which rely on methods like monitoring and petitioning to achieve their aims. Amnesty International, for example, has attempted to improve human rights around the world by shedding light on violations and shaming the offending actors. Its limited success in a country that suppresses dissent is hardly surprising.

Rachman's chief concern seems to be avoiding a trade war, an objective few would oppose. He argues for policy change, but despite his claims that "protectionism seems to be becoming intellectually respectable in the US in ways that should worry China," I don't believe U.S. businesses or politicians are on the brink of cutting ties with China, nor am I convinced that it's in their best interests to do so. Consider what happened when Bill Clinton, not long after the Tiananmen Square massacre, attempted to link U.S.-China trade with human rights. I'm not opposed to U.S. policy change, but at this stage in the game, I doubt an influx of new trade laws are going to have a transformative effect on Chinese culture or policy. That is to say I haven't got any easy solutions, just doubts and questions -- and it will take more than a quick Google search to find the answers.


Soft power guru Joe Nye gave a presentation for the British Council today, and though my own question (submitted remotely) about confronting China did not, alas, make it past the moderator, the last lucky attendant to pose a question did address a similar issue. Nye's response was that the United States should be willing to help China define a broader understanding of their self-interest to include global goods. Great goal, but I still want specifics...

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