Wednesday, July 28, 2010

China's biggest problem is China

In light of the appalling news that China sent back to North Korea an octogenarian South Korean POW who had escaped the DPRK and made contact with ROK activists, Joshua of One Free Korea has penned a post that goes very directly to the heart of why so many of us who who are involved with or closely follow North Korean issues, South Korean politics, or wider East Asian goings-on fear, loathe, or otherwise deeply distrust Beijing and its policies.

You may have read my own China Rant (the meat of which starts about a third of the way through), my feverish defense of the Pax Americana, or other posts with a similar theme (such as the scary reality of Beijing whipping up PRC citizens against South Koreans for political aims), but I was so impressed with the elegant simplicity of Mr Stanton's short essay that I wanted to reprint the second paragraph in its entirety:
In the end, all of our differences with China over Taiwan, Tibet, Xinjiang, Korea, and everything else come down to its contempt for the rights of individual human beings. If China recognized that the condition of humanity carries with it certain basic rights and liberties, it would be a threat to no one, it would have peacefully reunified with Taiwan decades ago, it wouldn’t be plagued with ethnic and labor unrest today, and wary Asian nations wouldn’t be looking for alternative structures to check its thuggish conduct, its hegemonic predations, and most recently, its aggression through its North Korean proxy. That is why Pacific nations need a military alliance, patterned after NATO during the Cold War, to contain China for next 20 years until demographics, economics, religion, and politics catch up with its anachronistic statism. There already is a new Cold War in Asia — it’s just that some would rather not admit it. But I suspect that historians will record that it was presaged by the ugly nationalism of the 2008 Olympics, and “officially” began with the Cheonan Incident.
Sometime in the just ended decade, when I was in grad school at Yonsei, one of my professors bemoaned how utterly clueless young South Koreans were on average (he cited academically gathered statistics) about Beijing's policies even while they praised China-Korean ties, and how they tended to support policies that would undermine the US-ROK relationship (and the Seoul-Tokyo relationship) in favor of joining Benevolent Big Brother China in the historical embrace of Chinese hegemony.

In 2008, my anger at the Chinese students attacking South Koreans and resident foreigners in my 'hood because they dared speak out against Chinese policies, abated only because I realized that the infamous incident made a lot of South Koreans stand up and take notice. I only hope the Ch'ŏnan incident will have the same result.

I'm encouraged that someone like Joshua, who seems generally distrustful of Seoul's attitude toward and reliance on Washington, feels that a "NEATO" (i.e., something like a Northeast Asia Treaty Alliance modeled after NATO) is needed. I don't, however, share his optimism that such an alliance or even the current form of the Pax Americana might be needed for only twenty years. I look back at China twenty years ago, and I don't see that a whole heck has changed politically, even if the economy has grown in leaps and bounds. Likewise, I see Russia regressing (hence their own support for Pyongyang vis-à-vis the Ch'ŏnan sinking), and that also makes me uneasy.

In other words, expect to be a stabilizing force in this region for a long, long time (but also be aware that the cost is worth it, and far cheaper in blood and treasure than the alternative).

I like China as a culture and a country and I have many friends from that land (no small number of whom feel exactly as I do). My beef is with Beijing policies, which I see turning some of my own Chinese friends into patriot-bots at times. Very scary to see such adamance and arrogance coupled with such ignorance, especially in people who are otherwise very knowledgeable and thoughtful when it comes to their own field of study.

And don't get me wrong about the United States. I am an American citizen and I am proud of many of the things my country has done or continues to do, but I am not living in some fantasy world where I feel it can do no wrong or that it should not be criticized. I think we have botched the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and I frankly don't think we should have been in the former at all, particularly as it prevented us from properly finishing the latter. America's enmeshment between government and corporate America is also something that can make me deeply anxious, both in terms of domestic and international policies. Nevertheless, I think in the aggregate it is clearly a force for good, one that its allies can rely on to help them achieve good as well, and, moreover, a place where we the people still have ability to change what we see wrong with it without fear of imprisonment, torture, or worse, while the people in allied countries ultimately have the power to ask us to leave.

Not so, I fear, with China.


  1. Chinese's potent patriotism of the Motherland actually reminds me of Koreans...we are very similar indeed.

    As for China's NK policy: of course, i dont agree with everything china does. The reptatriatiation of the old NK man is one exampple. However, it is important to see American military hegemony in a larger context, rather than a moral context, which Americans do too often. I agree that the Korean left (ex: yougn aKoreans) are very stupid, and I am sad for that. I always thought the Sunshine policy was a left wing fantasy dream failure.

    And while I highly support American military presence in SK, you have to understand why China feels threatened of Nk dying. Any major power who feels an antagonic presence right on their border feels insecure, and wants to avoid that. Like US vs Cuba.

    Also, i have been trying to learn US history, and i dont understand everything, but i feel i am understanding more. US hegemony has not always been so pretty, it has been ugly sometimes, but Americans dont talk about it. American activities of Latin American and Africa is very interesting, for the horrible things they did. For example, did you know on Sept 11 1973, US destroyed Chile's sovereignty by holding a government COUP ? ANd the pro-US govt killed many people? Sept 11! But how many American stalk about it?

    THis is the reality of geopolitics. Russia, China, US, France...everyone says their hegemony is GOOD and RIGHT, but look closer, and you may find ugly things...

  2. First off, Northeast Asia is not Latin America or Africa. I, too, agree there are many things to be angry or ashamed about as an American in Latin America especially (and no small number in East Asia), but the means and the ends in both places are quite different.

    And I have long been arguing that the US needs to quietly make a deal with China that if Beijing pulls the plug on the regime, the US will not place any US military bases in former DPRK territory. I do agree China needs to feel that it isn't going to be threatened (though I don't think the Yellow Sea military exercises would have upset the status quo and they should have gone through).

  3. I think the motive was where you said something like "US military hegemony - necessary and good" and I say "...sometimes!" And because of the "sometimes", not everyone likes the US and their power.

    in SK and JP, of course US presence has been very good. If youa re china, things change.

    For example, if you are China, you do not see yourself as powerful. Instead, you are in danger of losing sovereingty, in the long term. Have you heard of teh phrase "island necklace" or "island chain"? Japan-SK-Taiwan-philipines-Vietnam-malasia-indonesia....what do they have in common? THey are pro-US, anti-China, or both. Not totally of course, but from China point of view, they are a "wrap" that threatens China's long term security, if not military, then at least economic or diplomatic ways. THAT is the context that you must view the Chinese opposition to Yellow Sea exercises.

    If all you are thinkging is "Big Brother China aids NK by opposing Yellow Sea exercise", then you are missing the big picture.

  4. While I agree with religious freedom, I fear the effect it will have in China. We already have enough fundamentalists in the world with their fingers on the nuclear button... do we need Falun Gong members, who believe they can fly, and set themselves on fire, to gain influence in China?

    Rationalism and democracy is what is needed- real democracy, that includes minorities, on a secular level.


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