Amitai Etzioni argues that the pivot is something like a “bluff,” and is motivated by election-year efforts to divert attention from other foreign policy questions—the actual conflicts in the Middle East.
He points to the challenge of getting the Chinese government to understand the domestic drivers of U.S. foreign policy, and also notes that the Romney-GOP side is pointing to Asia for similar distraction regions. [I would add that it would be nice for the U.S. government to understand the domestic drivers of Chinese foreign policy.]
Comment: It seems to me that Etzioni is suffering from traditional international relations bias—the idea that international issues should basically be explainable on their fundamentals without domestic politics. The election year element makes some sense, but how important is foreign policy this year? As my colleague David Firestein has argued, perhaps China is itself a domestic policy issue in this campaign.
A report emerged today that China is taking a more active role in international discussions about the situation in Afghanistan. This minor diplomatic news is a case study in China’s role in the international community.
Reuters reports that Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin made an uncharacteristically forward statement at an Istanbul conference, compared with what the reporters call China’s “wait-and-see stance” with regard to Afghanistan.
“The international community must support an Afghanistan run by the Afghans,” Liu said.
“We must pledge to respect Afghanistan’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity, to respect the dignity and rights of its government and people to be masters of their own country.”
This note of sovereignty and territorial integrity is familiar, and resonates with Amitai Etzioni’s recent argument in Foreign Affairs (paywall) that China has become a champion of Westphalian sovereignty in an era when many other countries are pushing a liberal international order that could be said to compromise sovereignty.
I find it interesting that, despite the strong note of national self-determination and strong sovereignty, anonymous “senior Western diplomats” welcome a more active Chinese role in the discussion over Afghanistan. Some of their comments from the Reuters article:
- “They realize that a policy of further being on the wings, watching what goes on and ready to pick up things, isn’t good enough.”
- “They were very vocal and raised several issues during the drafting. We weren’t even allowed to begin the final version until the Chinese delegation had arrived.”
- “Before, you would attend meetings on Afghanistan and the neighbours would be silent, and here you have them taking a lead and that’s what it is all about.” … “The Chinese for the first time were very comprehensive and constructive, you could really see an elevated role of China in the region and more outspoken than ever before.”
That last quote, of course, manages to be happy about China’s “constructive” role while still sounding the note of a Chinese rise: “more outspoken than ever.”
The world is going to have to deal with this combination in every area. If you want a “responsible stakeholder” out of a country with unique interests and great influence, you’re going to have to deal with an “outspoken” colleague.
At World Policy Journal, which I have just discovered has an interesting blog, Amitai Etzioni in July argued that mainstream U.S. views on India and China are deeply flawed. When people talk about balancing Chinese power with a democratic ally in India, Etzioni argues, we buy into a long-discredited ideology of international relations.
The very concept of balancing does not stand close scrutiny. What does it mean for India to balance China? China is developing a major navy and a string of ports of call in the Indian Ocean. India is doing the same. Most likely both are wasting precious resources because in the age of missiles and drones, ships are sitting ducks for low-cost smart bombing. …
About the only reason I can see that some are demonizing China is that some of our agencies need an enemy to justify their forces and budgets, which are still focused on conventional warfare rather than on terrorism, nuclear proliferation, and asymmetric warfare, and to stay the misbegotten course in Afghanistan.
This is far from uncontroversial, but it’s an argument conspicuously missing from the U.S. public debate on China.