Brzezinski's wild take on China
Zbigniew Brzezinski fancies himself a "realist" in foreign affairs. But his outlook (for example his notion of an imposed peace deal in the Middle East or, worse, his suggestion to shoot down Israeli planes en route to attack Iran) evidences little recognition of the real-world interests and motivations of America's allies and foes. Moreover, he supposes, oddly for a self-proclaimed realist, that personal relationships and personalities trump long-term national interests. His latest offering, in the form of an op-ed in the New York Times, is regrettably no exception:
The visit by President Hu Jintao of China to Washington this month will be the most important top-level United States-Chinese encounter since Deng Xiaoping's historic trip more than 30 years ago. It should therefore yield more than the usual boilerplate professions of mutual esteem. It should aim for a definition of the relationship between the two countries that does justice to the global promise of constructive cooperation between them. . . .
For the visit to be more than symbolic, Presidents Obama and Hu should make a serious effort to codify in a joint declaration the historic potential of productive American-Chinese cooperation. They should outline the principles that should guide it. They should declare their commitment to the concept that the American-Chinese partnership should have a wider mission than national self-interest. That partnership should be guided by the moral imperatives of the 21st century's unprecedented global interdependence.
But what of the fundamental differences between the countries? Are we to simply accept China's increasingly belligerent actions?
Others share the view that Brzezinski's take is decidedly unrealistic. Jamie Fly, executive director of the Foreign Policy Initiative, e-mails me, "China's actions over the past year, including its continued repression of its citizens, its unwillingness to cooperate in confronting common global threats, and its bullying of its neighbors call into question whether U.S. and Chinese long-term interests really are aligned. Unfortunately, Brzezinski seems to think that the United States is just as much of the problem as China is."
Stephen Yates, a former Bush official and national security expert, is even more blunt, deeming Brzezinski's take, "wrong, borderline silly." He takes issue with the op-ed's title ("How to stay friends with China") and theme , observing, "Countries do not have emotions. People do. Obama can choose to make Hu his best pal, but he'll find it difficult as Communist Party survivalists bury their emotions (and morals) deep. And the core point for defining relations between countries is meaningful mutually beneficial action -- toward one another and collectively." He continues, "There is a long list of targets for collective action that cheerleaders for China point to while dutifully explaining why the U.S. must play nice -- the global economy, nuclear breakouts in North Korea and Iran, energy and other strategic resource supplies, etc. But these are hopes, at best, for collective action not yet in evidence."
To the contrary, there is little indication that China wants to behave in a responsible manner befitting an international power. Even Brzezinski concedes, "China's seeming lack of concern over North Korea's violent skirmishes with South Korea has given rise to apprehension about China's policy on the Korean peninsula." Indeed.
Moreover, as Yates points out, a single meeting is hardly going to obliterate these fundamental differences. "The breathless declaration of this January visit being the most important in 30 years is wildly hyperbolic. Neither leader enters this encounter with the combination of power and intention to make great change. Obama may have the intention, but all Hu wants is for the U.S. to play nice with China. And both leaders have question marks in terms of personal power."
A true realist would take note of China's growing belligerency and its dangerous stance toward North Korea. A realistic policy would seek to use carrots and sticks to advance American interests and condition further advances in the U.S.-China relationship on progress in China's international behavior. Let's hope the Obama administration is more realistic in its assessment and approach than the faux realist Brzezinski.
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