Letter from the Editor: March/April 2011

A s we go to press, China’s President Hu Jintao has just finished his state visit to the US. The host was wary, the guest as inscrutable as the stealth fighter his military flashed just before he arrived in Washington. But, if the official statements were bland, soothing, and non-committal, the moment itself had the feel of a watershed.

For a generation the consensus that has guided America’s China policy has been driven by the view that given foreign investment, market access, and respect, China would evolve and emerge as a post-democratic great power whose people would enjoy increasing prosperity and expanding freedoms. The theory followed that a resurgent, prosperous, and increasingly free China would thus have a stake in regional and global stability—and, ever so naturally become a reliable partner, cooperating to solve the range of the world’s economic, social, diplomatic, security, and environmental challenges.

In recent months, however, the Obama administration, along with the spectrum of the American policy and opinion establishment, many of the world’s democracies, and even a few not-so-democratic regimes are having second thoughts about China’s goals and its capacity to exert them. The fundamental basis of the concerns is that China has used its “drop-dead wealth” (the kind of wealth that allows it to tell the world’s leaders to “drop dead” if they complain) to build a war machine that is vastly and rapidly expanding its offensive capacity to destroy land, air, sea, undersea, space, and cyber targets near and far.

Related Essay

Gathering Storm: America and China in 2020

Ian Bremmer predicts that the U.S. will face an uphill battle in the next decade as it tries to convince Beijing that it should still value American interests.

Commensurate with this growing military capacity, China has been up to all kinds of mischief to extend its reach and preeminence in Southeast Asia, with the Pacific and Indian theaters almost certainly in its sights. In this issue of World Affairs , Richard Weitz , an Asia scholar at the Hudson Institute, brings us up to date on China’s maneuverings in Southeast Asia, including a new boldness in its efforts to satisfy long-term claims on various contested waterways, seas, and islands. Weitz outlines how China’s increasingly aggressive approach has raised alarms in Southeast Asia and how, together with the United States, these countries have begun to recalculate, adjust, and realign policies and relationships to counter China’s increasingly menacing posture. For those who delight in the occasional slice of irony, it’s worth noting that while the US once played the China Card—making strange bedfellows of the US and China in their joint effort to balance the Soviet threat—today, it seems that Vietnam is playing the America Card to restrain China.

But China, employing the carrot as well as the stick, has ventured into an investment-based diplomacy as well as armament, leveraging its drop-dead wealth in the Third World to secure the mineral and energy resources needed to fuel its expanding economy and industrial output. Latin America is a fast-growing investment target, but Africa has been the key depository of its largess until now. To better understand the impact of China’s investments in Africa, we asked Rafael Marques de Morais , a human rights activist based in Luanda, to write about the benefits of Chinese investment in his homeland, Angola, where more than half the population is unemployed. Rafael offers a ground-level view that suggests China has launched a New Imperialism for the dark continent, a cash buyout whose benefits don’t trickle down and whose absence of strings means that the region’s dictators have little cause to entertain notions of market reform, let alone democratic institutions. Read this excellent report and you’ll wonder if China’s legacy in Africa will have been to retard development, strip away resources, and institutionalize dictatorship.

There was other news besides China, of course. With the New START Treaty having been passed, we asked Richard Perle to offer his thoughts on President Obama’s ambitious goal to eliminate all nuclear weapons—the so-called Global Zero approach, which was midwifed at the Hoover Institution and endorsed by a who’s who of former and bipartisan American defense chiefs and secretaries of state. A well-known defense hawk who was a central player in the United States’ nuclear arms strategy beginning in the 1970s, when he served as a high-profile aide to Democratic Senator Scoop Jackson, Richard subsequently served as an important architect behind Ronald Reagan’s historic nuclear arms reduction agreement with the Soviets that ended a thirty-five-year arms race of incalculable risk. We take his thoughts seriously—and think you might too—about what he regards as a utopian no-nukes vision.

Military historian Victor Davis Hanson , New York Times Magazine writer James Traub , and others get out their crystal balls and try to see what Afghanistan will look like in 2020. Drawing on WikiLeaks revelations, Jamie Kirchick shows that Middle East leaders view Iran’s threat to regional security with considerably more angst than do many policy and opinion makers in the US. Nile Gardiner looks at the Special Relationship post Blair and Brown, Clinton and Bush. And, of course, there’s much more inside.

As always, we appreciate your thoughts on the journal’s print and electronic edition at WorldAffairsJournal.org. Visit us there.

— James S. Denton

Correction: The original version of this letter incorrectly stated that Rafael Marques de Morais’s work as a journalist is sponsored by the Soros Foundation. This correction also applies to the print version of the letter.

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