Tag Archives: Books

Coming Around to Mann's Book: A Valuable Polemic

After my initial reaction to James Mann’s China Fantasy, I was ready to be disappointed by the rest of the book. As it turns out, rhetorical excesses aside, the book is a valuable read for anyone interested in how the U.S. political world discusses China, especially those of us who discuss the U.S.–China relationship every day.

The crux of Mann’s criticisms of the U.S. discourse on China is this: He sees the discussion in the United States as centered around an assumption that more trade will inevitably bring more democracy to China. His core message is: maybe not. That’s it. The whole book is devoted to cutting down what Mann sees as a widely-held assumption.

I’m always in favor of tossing out rhetorical conventions that have no relation to reality, and I agree with Mann that, as far as trade leading to democracy, “maybe not” is an important possibility to consider. In fact I can’t imagine any transition to democracy coming about through means so simple as more trade with the United States and greater integration in the international community.

However, the book can be frustrating. In addition to certain logical problems when Mann attacks people he disagrees with (see my previous post), he has not set out to find evidence one way or another on the central question he says faces us. The book is, as advertised, purely about how people talk about China-U.S. relations, not about the relationship itself.

But that’s why it’s valuable to those who read and write about China and the United States. Whether you agree with his positions or not, many of the clichés of the field are laid bare. As Mann predicts, the 2008 Olympics will be venue for much discussion about China, and let’s hope journalists and governments give due consideration to what they say.

Perhaps another day I will have more to say about Mann’s online debate with David Lampton.

Sloppiness in James Mann's 'China Fantasy'

I’m half done reading journalist James Mann’s The China Fantasy: How our Leaders Explain Away Chinese Repression, and it’s an interesting, if controversial, read. One thing stands out so far: Mann’s relationship with evidence is strained, and he sometimes fails in logic.

In his defense, Mann notes in the first lines, “This is not a book about China itself. This is a book about the China I have encountered outside of China.” That might be fine, if it were true. But writing about the way U.S. media and politicians talk about China, in Mann’s book, entails trying to make points about how China actually is or might someday be.

Mann has clear opponents. He brings up writings by David Lampton, who later took him to task in a debate on ForeignPolicy.com. What’s most bothersome so far is the rhetorical excess Mann displays in opposing some other commentators. In one case, he criticizes “logical problems” in another argument one sentence after screwing up the logic in his own argument. He writes on page 37:

But this seemingly punchy aphorism, “If we treat China as a threat, it will become a threat,” bears further scrutiny. The suggestion is that the reverse is also true—if we don’t treat China as a threat, it won’t become a threat. But there are all sorts of logical problems with this notion, because one can imagine other possibilities.

Let’s take “treat China as a threat” and call it A. And “China will become a threat” will be B. The argument Mann seeks to refute is then:

If A then B.

His rhetoric turns to deriding a completely different position:

If not A then not B.

In fact this is not implied at all by the statement he’s opposing. He may be thinking of the contrapositive, through which in this case:

“If A then B.” would imply “If not B then not A.”

Anyway, there are indeed “all sorts of logical problems with this notion,” but I don’t suppose Mann was referring to his own logic.

UPDATE: In a later entry, I come around to appreciating Mann’s book despite misgivings about the rhetoric he uses to criticize others’ rhetoric.

Nixon in China Part One: Keeping Japan in Line

This is the first of two posts in which I will outline some historical context on U.S.–China–Japan relations surrounding Nixon’s 1972 China visit. This material is all drawn from Margaret MacMillan’s Nixon and Mao, which I recently finished reading. (Page citations are included.) The book was full of engaging reconstructions of the diplomatic maneuvers and rhetorical subtleties of the visit and the extensive preparations. Its only weakness is the sometimes elementary background information that is interspersed throughout.

Nixon, in conversations with Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai,* tried to make the case that U.S. involvement in Asia was good for China. Its ability to keep Japan in check was a primary reason, along with balancing India and of course the Soviet Union. If the United States withdrew from providing Japan with security, he argued, Japan may rearm, which would be disagreeable to China and the rest of Asia. He said the United States could keep Japan under control.

“But,” Nixon warned Zhou solemnly, “if the U.S. is gone from Asia, gone from Japan, our protests, no matter how loud, would be like—to use the Prime Minister [Zhou]’s phrase—firing an empty cannon; we would have no rallying effect because fifteen thousand miles away is just too far to be heard.”

In response, Zhou paid little attention to the suggestion that having American troops in Asia helped China. Indeed, he pointed out, their presence in Indochina was only helping the Soviets increase their influence there. (236)

Meanwhile, Zhou had brought up the suffering Japan had caused China in the past with Kissinger frequently in the 1971 talks leading up to Nixon’s visit. Noting Japan’s developing market and appetite for raw materials and markets abroad, Zhou told Nixon, “Expanding in such a great way as they are towards foreign lands, the inevitable result will be military expansion.” (238) Quoting directly from MacMillan:

The Americans, Zhou charged, had been careless in helping Japan rebuild after the Second World War: “You helped Japan fatten herself, and now she is a very heavy burden on you.” It had also been a mistake to receive the Japanese emperor in the Unite States; as Zhou had said earlier to Kissinger, he remained the basis on which a renewed Japanese militarism could be built. … Although the Chinese wanted the United States to reduce its forces in Asia, Zhou in his talks with Kissinger and now with Nixon repeated expressed concern that Japan would move its troops into countries such as Taiwan and South Korea to fill the vacuum. (238–9)

I may just have missed it, but the emperor seems to have fallen out of the debate over Japanese rearmament these days. Much of the rest of the sentiments seem to resonate quite a bit 35 years down the line.

*I use the Pinyin spelling. Macmillan uses Wade-Giles. I have changed her renderings for my style.

Next time: Japan’s reactions to the Nixon visit.

A Passing Passage: When the U.S. was a model for China

I’m reading Margaret MacMillan’s Nixon and Mao: The Week That Changed the World these days. Here’s a paragraph to consider from page 97.

In the early days of the republic, many Chinese looked to the United States as a model—of government, but also of a society. President Woodrow Wilson’s promises of a new world order founded on justice and peace, his talk of national self-determination, and his evident antipathy to Japanese attempts to dominate China and the rapid expansion of Japanese forces into Siberia in the wake of the Russian Revolution made him, briefly, a hero to nationalistic Chinese. That came to an abrupt end in 1919, when Wilson took a prominent role in the gift of former German posessions in China and Japan. The americans, so many Chinese concluded, were simply imperialists in republican clothing

Sometimes, it’s useful to remember that arrangements of the China–United States–Japan triangle have been so different in the last century as to seem a fantasy hypothetical—something out of a Star Trek: The Next Generation allegory.

Japan and the U.S. 'Beyond Bilateralism': Introduction

“Challenges to Bilateralism,” T. J. Pempel’s wide-ranging introduction to 2004’s Beyond Bilateralism (which he edited with Ellis S. Krauss) lays out a compelling narrative for post-WWII U.S.–Japan relations. One of modern history’s strongest and most enduring bilateral relationships, he writes, is giving way to a complex network of ties involving other actors: in short, moving “beyond bilateralism.”

The story goes like this: From occupation through the 1980s, the relationship was characterized by common priorities, established means for negotiations in important policy areas (which were kept separate by a tacit “non-linkage rule”), all in an overtly asymmetrical relationship. The countries were on the “same side in the bipolar international arena,” their economies were intimately related, and they shared a commitment to democracy, albeit in different forms.

Since the mid- to late 1980s, Pempel writes, these strictly bilateral relationships have been increasing in complexity and ambiguity. Among the causes for this change are (1) the end of Cold War geopolitics, (2) the development of other Asian economies, coinciding with a huge growth in cross-border capital flow, (3) the rise of regional and global multilateral institutions, and most recently (4) the effects of 9/11 on global politics.

This frame for the book starkly coincides with the perspective of my current line of thinking when Pempel takes on the issue of China as an element of the changed U.S.–Japan arena.

For the three countries, the relationship has clearly become trilateral, as Mochizuki’s analysis in Chapter 3 shows [I will address this soon]. U.S. unilateralism pushes Japan and China closer together, while any warming of ties between either Japan or China on the one hand and the United States on the other forces a re-calibration of interests by the party left out. Japan fears that closer U.S. ties to China may come at Japan’s expense. Japan–China ties remain the triangle’s weakest link, but American policymakers have long worried that closer links between those two countries would come at the expense of American influence in Asia. And as China grows economically, some people in Japan feel similarly threatened, despite the short-term profitability to many Japanese corporations derived from investment in and trade with China. (17, emphasis mine)

This is the most concise statement I have yet seen on the significance of the U.S.–Japan–China triangle as grounds for analysis. (It also courteously underlines the importance of the thesis work I did, phew.) The chapter also demonstrates the importance of taking other actors into account in any set of relations, whether bilateral, trilateral, or multilateral. I look forward to the remainder of this book.

While I get ready to read the rest of this book, here is a brief summary of some other key points:

  • Pempel alludes to a U.S. idea that helping Japan to develop economically “was all calculated to assist Japan in becoming an economic success story that could be projected as a model for much of the rest of Asian development.” (7) I wonder whose rhetoric this was.
  • There was little unofficial influence on pre-“beyond” U.S.–Japan ties. Non-governmental actors had little pull. (8) Additionally, “Functionally specific agencies in both countries worked with their counterparts on matters within their joint domains relatively independently of agencies dealing with issues in other areas,” (9) meaning that issues were kept separate in negotiations—”a non-linkage rule.”
  • Similarly, when disputes arose, the U.S. president or Japanese prime minister rarely engaged in negotiations, instead depending on counterpart bureaucratic organizations, representing “a network of connectors [running] from one country’s government to that of the other.” (11)
  • Japan being concerned about increased U.S. engagement with China in the ’90s, 9/11 escalated those concerns. “Japanese concerns were enhanced by the American warming toward China and its SCO [Shanghai Cooperative Organization] allies [Russia and four Central Asian states] as a result of the U.S. post-September 11 antiterrorism campaign, as well as by China’s willingness to utilize the antiterrorism label to justify actions against dissidents.” (16) (The latter concern refers to China’s defining Muslim separatists in Xinjiang Province as terrorists. That may be, but the Uighurs in northwest China are not aligned with any strains of the much feared “global Islam.”)
  • President Clinton “personally took the initiative to upgrade the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) to include a national leaders’ meeting,” yet the Bush administration has opposed multilateral arrangements. (27)
  • Japan has supported regionalism because “after the many trade frictions of the mid- to late 1980s, Japan was anxious to reduce its dependence on the United States and also on those global multilateral organizations in which U.S. influence was overwhelming.” (29) This last point relates to a recent proposal by Japan to study the creation of a massive free trade area that would exclude the United States, which I will examine later.