Winning Without Fighting

By Lord William Rees-Mogg

Last week, I had breakfast in London with a senior, but relatively young, Chinese official. I was strongly reminded of visits to the White House 20, perhaps even 30 or 40, years ago. He was exactly like the White House aides of the Kennedy, Nixon, or even the Carter years: friendly, polite, immensely well informed, reasonable, and able to answer with confidence any question of national policy that might be thrown at him. He is one of China’s “brightest and best.”

The picture he gave me of Chinese policy was also rather like those distant years in the White House. It combines self-interest, which every government has to follow, with recognition that other nations have their own interests, and a willingness to try to fit together the jigsaw puzzle of national interests. He might almost have been a student of Dean Rusk’s.

We discussed the issue of nuclear proliferation, which is worrying the present White House. China has been accused of helping some other nations, such as Pakistan, to create nuclear programs; so Chinese protestations should probably be treated with caution. But there is nothing but reason and reassurance in the official line.

I raised the question of China’s ugly neighbor, North Korea. He replied that China’s policy was a nuclear-free Korea, North and South. China did not want to have a nuclear neighbor herself, but also recognized that a nuclear North Korea would be a potential threat to other Asian countries, such as South Korea or Japan.

China believed that the best way to secure a nuclear-free Korea was a policy of negotiation and diplomatic pressure. It has the same attitude toward Iran. China does not want Iran to become a nuclear power and sees the problems that might cause. But it believes that negotiation is the best way to prevent that. In this respect, Chinese policy is very similar to that of Britain or the European Union.

I can see that there are people in Washington who would shout with derision at this outline of Chinese policy. I do not. My own view is that China needs another 20 years of peaceful economic development, in which the United States and Japan would be the most important economic partners. I believe this is the real basis of Chinese policy.

China’s average economic growth rate has been 9.5% for the last 25 years. That has allowed Chinese industry to absorb about 20 million new workers every year. The United States is China’s largest market, absorbing huge quantities of Chinese manufactures. The Chinese currency, the renminbi, is tied to the dollar. China has benefited hugely from American technology. Not surprisingly, the Chinese government, which is much more Chinese than it is Communist, does not want to upset this apple cart. China puts a very high priority on its good working relationship with the United States.

On Sky Television, of which I watch quite a lot, we can view CCTV, the Chinese English-language 24-hour news service. It is reassuringly old-fashioned, like the BBC used to be in the 1960s: polite to everybody and surprisingly impartial.

The young official and CCTV tell the same story. China is becoming a major power, but is still in a stage of cautious development. Those Americans who treat China as an equal partner will, I think, be rewarded. One thing is clear. The Chinese are at least as clever as the Westerners, and perhaps a little bit cleverer. So were President Kennedy’s young White House aides.