China's power, and how they use it
By Ezra Klein
Americans don't necessarily like funding the military and aid expenditures that go along with being the world's single superpower, but they're pretty into the idea of being that superpower. That's why the conflict with China that's implied in American political rhetoric is that they're going to "catch up" to America, or they'll have the fastest train and we won't. They have more people, faster growth, a bigger class of freshly-minted engineers, and so on. To the American mind, it stands to reason that they'd want to make a play for the crown.
And maybe they will, eventually. But the more common policy conflict between America and China right now is that we want them to step up and do more on the international stage and they want to be left alone to do less so they can focus on domestic development. Afghanistan, global stimulus, global warming, Iran, and North Korea all follow this pattern. The Chinese phrase for their approach is "Keeping a Low Profile and Taking a Proactive Role When Feasible,” and they're putting a fair amount of effort into arguing for it. The American phrase for what we want from China, at least back in the Clinton administration, was "responsible stakeholdership."
But they don't really want to be treated like major stakeholders. And they've made a bunch of arguments to us as to why. Among them: America's sense of urgency is driven by an election-cycle impatience that's not always wise, China doesn't have the bureaucratic expertise to be involved in everything, China has more than 20 countries on its land and maritime borders that it's got to worry about while America only has two friendly borders, China is not a rich country and shouldn't need to act like one, and so on.
I don't have too much to say on this, but it's a reminder that the things that worry the public about China in the long term and the things that worry policymakers about China in the short term are almost perfectly opposed. On the one hand, we get a bit uncomfortable when other countries amass too much power too quickly. On the other hand, we want other powerful countries to use their power to take some of the burden off of us. That might say something about whether we really want and need to play the role that we do (say, ridding the world of Saddam Hussein, and almost trying to rid the world of the leadership of Tehran), but that's another question.
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