Book: Dealing With China
Author: Henry M Paulson Jr
Price: Rs 599
Writing and publishing books on China is now a flourishing growth industry. Hundreds of books, covering all aspects of life in China, are churned out by the month. Most of these books have short shelf lives. Henry M Paulson’s book will have a longer one.
The author is among the few high profile Americans, with the possible exception of Henry Kissinger, who has extensive contacts with the Chinese leadership. Paulson has established a working relationship with three generations of Chinese leaders — Jiang Zemin, Zu Rongji, Hu Jintao and Xi Jinping. This is, no doubt, of immense importance to get work done in a communist country. Kissinger’s forte was diplomacy and international realpolitik; Paulson’s field is economy, trade and balance of payments, among others. While Kissinger has made 50 trips to China, Paulson has doubled that figure. Both maintain that the relationship between China and the US is pivotal in ensuring world peace and global well-being. Both also hold that this relationship is fraught with booby traps.
Paulson is not starry-eyed about China. His admiration is tempered by realism. He knows that China possesses the fastest supercomputer, the biggest wind-power base, the longest sea bridge. China uses more coal, cement, iron ore and steel than half the world. “By one estimate, China will soon account for nearly half of all of the new buildings under construction on earth…. China is the United States’ biggest creditor owning just under $ 1.3 trillion of our government debt,” writes the author.
Whether it is diplomacy or the economy, fundamentally, the Sino-US relationship is adversarial. The US is no longer the sole superpower in today’s multipolar world. Nevertheless, “It remains the world’s biggest and most dynamic economy.” But the US cannot push China around. Its “middle kingdom” dream has been revived. There is an American method to do things and there is the Chinese method. Is their room enough for both in Asia? Let’s wait and see. However, distrust between the two is endemic. Both keep an eye on one another, both are slowly aiming to work toward a wary co-existence.
China’s aggressive economic policy is spreading its tentacles all over Asia, Africa and Latin America. Paulson writes, “One day we read of a Chinese entrepreneur’s grandiose plans to spend $ 50 billion to carve a passage through Nicaragua, twice the size of the Panama Canal; next we learn that a Chinese developer wants to buy a chunk of Iceland; then its manufacturer turned builder who hopes to erect the world’s tallest building from pre-fabricated units in six months.” It’s mind-boggling.
But there is the dark side as well, which leads to daily anxieties in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangdong. More than 100 million people live in poverty. China’s per capita GDP ranks 80th in the world, but the country’s wealth is not shared equally and corruption is widespread.
Environmental degradation is all too evident, regional disparities create daily tensions and there is marked urban and rural divide, not to mention serious risks of unrest in places such as Tibet and Xinjiang. The one-child policy has made China an ageing nation. Threats to health are common and people earning more than $ 1 billion are leaving the country. “The paradox, painfully obvious to the Chinese leadership, is that the very prosperity that has ensured the legitimacy of the ruling Communist Party now threatens to undermine it.”
The author’s belief is that both countries should seek accommodation, rather than conflict. It is in America’s interest to do so. He stresses that almost every global challenge the US faces, from environment to food to energy security to nuclear proliferation to terrorism would be easier to resolve if the two countries act in “complimentary ways”. Any US attempt to exclude, ignore or weaken China would limit its ability to influence choices made by China and thus risk turning the worst-case scenario into reality. This would only make China more belligerent.
Economics and politics are two sides of the same coin. In today’s world, it is the economy that gets preference. To resort to a pre-motor car metaphor, economic and politics are the two horses that take the state coach to safer grounds. Paulson is aware that once America has satisfactorily dealt with its own problems and once it becomes “comfortable” in projecting its strength economically, militarily and diplomatically, it would find it easier to cope with China.
At the end of this absorbing and prescient book, the author, rather unnecessarily, lays down a banal list of “eight principles” for managing Sino-US relations. For a man so enlightened and worldlywise, this lapse into banal obiter dicta comes as an anti-climax.
The writer is a former foreign minister
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