Tag Archives: George W. Bush

Two plausible views of Xi Jinping's rise prove we're clueless

Is Chinese Vice President and presumptive next President Xi Jinping a hard-liner who will return China to confrontations with the west? Or could it be that only a hard-liner could convince domestic nationalists that a more cooperative stance is beneficial to the CCP and the Chinese people?

Bruce Gilley argues Xi could end the reform era:

It may be time to concede that China’s leader-in-waiting, Xi Jinping, is not the moderate that many have assumed. Indeed, evidence from his past suggests that Xi is going to steer China in a more aggressive direction, both domestically and internationally. As his time in office nears, Xi is evincing signs of being a narrow nationalist on foreign policy and of having a penchant for police actions in dealing with domestic frictions. Hence, his rise could signify that the long struggle between Maoists and reformers that characterized China’s “reform era” is now ending.

Daniel Drezner proposes that the opposite might be true:

The phrase “only Nixon could go to China” refers to the idea that only someone who sounded as rabidly anti-communist as Richard Nixon in the past would be able to have the dometic political clout to meet with Mao Zedong and cut a deal with the People’s Republic of China.  Could it be that Xi is simply buttering up his base before taking power in order to make it easier to do business with the United States?

I don’t know the answer, but I suspect even hardcore China-watchers don’t know either.

I’m with Drezner, not because I think Xi Jinping is a Chinese Nixon, but because I think these arguments are rooted in nothing but speculation. Sure, it’s fun to speculate, and we’d be delighted to know more. But the personality of a leader is hard to interpret.

If you’re from the United States, consider less “exotic” leaders such as George W. Bush and Barack Obama. The former was supposed to be an isolationist and started two big wars. The latter was supposed to bring the wars to an end but has escalated the conflict in Afghanistan while participating in a new intervention in Libya. There’s no sense in arguing about these events, but there’s also no way we could have known how these events would unfold.

Put another way, consider the “only Nixon could go to China” aphorism. It may be true, but then, we never would have known that when Vice President Nixon was assigned to make the most strident anti-communist statements by President Eisenhower. Nor did Americans know in 1968 that Nixon was such a complex and conflicted figure, an anti-Semite one moment and a great proponent of Henry Kissinger the next, a leader who desperately wanted the United States out of Vietnam but decided the best way to do so was to enter Cambodia.

My point is that we don’t get to predict these sorts of things, and that there is nothing special about “Pekinology” in this sense. Intuiting the future by interpreting public statements and speculative psychology of leaders is a fool’s errand. Our effort would be better spent working on concrete problems and preparing for the actual negotiations and dilemmas the United States and China are likely to face: environmental regulation, cybersecurity, sovereign debt and currencies, and the like.

Here’s hoping that future leaders in the United States as well as China are motivated to work together and able to overcome domestic resistance to cooperative outcomes.


Obama Says He Would Hear From Dalai Lama Before Going to Olympic Ceremony

Credit: Center for American Progress Action FundWithout saying definitively he would not attend the Olympic opening ceremony in Beijing one month from today, U.S. Senator Barack Obama said as president he would skip the ceremony without hearing from the Dalai Lama that there had been progress on the Tibet issue.

“In the absence of some sense of progress, in the absence of some sense from the Dalai Lama that there was progress, I would not have gone,” Obama said at a news conference, according to the Associated Press.

From a Chinese perspective, the statement that Obama would take cues from the Dalai Lama is quite bold and constitutes a public articulation of which side the candidate has chosen in the Dalai Lama–P.R.C. disputes. While few would be surprised to hear a Democratic candidate support human rights in Tibet, it’s diplomatically significant if enunciated.

The AP article notes that Obama had encouraged President George W. Bush to skip the ceremony, as had Senator John McCain in April.

McCain, Obama’s Republican opponent, also issued a hypothetical ultimatum, similarly saying that he would only attend the ceremony if he saw improvements on human rights issues. McCain’s April statement was in some ways stronger than Obama’s most recent one, though he did not allude to taking cues from the exiled Tibetan leader.

“If Chinese policies and practices do not change, I would not attend the opening ceremonies,” said the Arizona senator, who has clinched the GOP nomination for president. “It does no service to the Chinese government, and certainly no service to the people of China, for the United States and other democracies to pretend that the suppression of rights in China does not concern us. It does, will and must concern us.”

These statements, which apparently promise to show symbolic support in exchange for concessions on human rights issues, recall the early Bill Clinton administration principle of conditional engagement: The United States would work with China on trade in exchange for rights improvements. What the candidates haven’t mentioned is that when Clinton tried this tactic, it either failed or was abandoned in favor of, say, less-conditional engagement.

Could the candidates be reacting to George W. Bush’s friendly behavior toward China in the way that Clinton reacted to George H. W. Bush’s? The current president, for one, comes near toeing the Chinese line in his most recent statement, promising to attend the ceremony. Skipping the event would be “an affront to the Chinese people,” he said.

Olympic Threats, Bush's China Crutch, North Korea, and the Environment (U.S.–China Links)

Olympic threats: really dumb. China: Bush’s diplomatic savior? The North Korea deal: not what the White House hoped. And China meets the U.S. Congress to plan for a post-Bush climate reality. Recent China–U.S. relations news.

  • Steve Clemons agrees with me (OK, he agrees with James Fallows, whom I agree with) that “Boycotting the Olympics today or trying to preempt China’s hosting the games as Perle suggested in 2001 are hollow threats that perpetuate the mistaken notion that America is in a serious position to isolate China.” Clemons’ post today on China and his comments in the item below are worth attention.
  • In a New York Times Week In Review piece today Steven Lee Meyers argues that George W. Bush is using China’s influence in Iran, North Korea, and Burma as a “diplomatic crutch”—that having spent much of his country’s international political capital, Bush is lucky to have China to turn to. Myers quotes U.S Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill as saying “China has become the first stop for any American diplomacy.”
  • Not that the result in North Korea has been exactly what the Bush administration was hoping for, writes Richard Bernstein.
  • I’m a bit late posting this, but Der Speigel reported a “secret” meeting between members of the U.S. Congress and Chinese National Development Reform Commission (NDRC) Deputy Chief Xie Zhenhue. The White House was reportedly left out of this meeting addressing post-Bush administration environmental policy. According to Speigel:

    High-ranking sources close to the participants of the meeting between the Chinese delgation and Congress said the Chinese sought to find out how determined Congress is to push through rigorous climate protection laws in the future. During the discussion, members of Congress made clear that they would soon like to vote on legislation that would set binding emissions limits. However, the members of Congress said they didn’t provide the Chinese with a firm timeline for when this might happen.

Fun With Abe-Bush Rhetoric

Shisaku has a snarky roundup of Abe Shinzo’s recent visit to the United States. Here’s the blog’s response to Abe’s hinting that maybe “the past is the past.”

“The 20th century was a century that human rights were violated in many parts of the world. So we have to make the 21st century a century — a wonderful century in which no human rights are violated. And I, myself, and Japan wish to make significant contributions to that end. And so I explained these thoughts to the President.”

First–uh, Abe-san, we are already six years into the 21st century. Believe me, rights have been violated.

Second–are you out of your freaking mind? Just because the date on Gregorian calendars start with a 2, we have to kiss off thinking about what happened in the past? (For all you on Jewish, Chinese or Hejirah calendars, you are not in the 21st century. You are on your own as to whether to violate or not violate human rights)

Does Death Toll Alone Determine Global Response?

At Global Voices Online, John Kennedy translates a Chinese-language blog post called “Waiting for Bush to Reciprocate” (等着布什的回礼) The idea is that 33 people die on a pretty regular basis in China, and President Bush doesn’t always send his condolence straight away.

In America, everybody lowers the flag to half-mast for a week, and Mrs. Bush visited the campus where the slayings took place to express condolences in person. If our nation dealt with things this way, I imagine there wouldn’t be many days when the flag in Tiananmen Square would ever rise to the top of the flagpole, and our national leaders wouldn’t ever have much time to leave the country for visits. After these two disasters took place in our country, except for their relatives, how many people expressed sorrow for them? Yet the American government has turned the slayings into national mourning.

The ensuing argument seems to ask the United States to be more personable—that is to say, less statist. The implication is that if the Chinese government doesn’t respond as massively as the U.S. government might for a similar death toll, people should appeal to see how the communities affected are dealing with it. And if the “poor” people are mourning in earnest with little attention from the “rich,” the writer would have the United States show solidarity with the mourners.

If an exceptionally poor family approaches the bereavement of its family members with earnest, people from all corners of the land will come show their respects. To not go would be disrespectful.

I just wonder if this is actually true.