James Traub on China
James Traub is a contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine, where he has worked since 1998. From 1994 to 1997, he was a staff writer for The New Yorker. He has also written for The New York Review of Books, Foreign Affairs, The Atlantic Monthly, The New Republic and elsewhere. His articles have been widely reprinted and anthologized. He has written extensively about international affairs and especially the United Nations.
In recent years, he has reported from Iran, Iraq, Sierra Leone, East Timor, Vietnam, India, Kosovo and Haiti. He has also written often about national politics and urban affairs, including education, immigration, race, poverty and crime.
His books include, The Best Intentions: Kofi Annan and the UN in the Era of American World Power; The Devil's Playground: A Century of Pleasure and Profit in Times Square; City On A Hill, a book on open admissions at City College; and The Freedom Agenda: Why America Must Spread Democracy (Just Not the Way George Bush Did). He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.
James Traub: China wants what it calls a peaceful rise. That is to say China’s goal is to work out the enormous internal contradictions of the country. They grew a tremendous growth of wealth in urban areas, tremendous impoverishment immobility in rural areas and the fear of the political explosion that could cause. China’s goal is to work that stuff out in as quiet a setting as possible. They don’t want to cause international upset. They don’t want to get into public fights with the United States or anybody else for that matter. Nevertheless, their political values are profoundly different from ours. I don’t think we can have much expectation of changing China’s internal political culture. What I think is a really complicated challenge though is that China much more than Russia has a kind of exportable model. That is to say they too have something to promote, but it’s not democracy. It’s capitalist, it’s autocratic capitalism. Russia doesn’t feel that way because it doesn’t seem to have a system. What they have is a lot of oil, which just keeps their coffers refilled. China has no such inherent advantage. China has figured out a means of economic and social and political organization whereby they can be an incredible economic dynamo, but keep a lid on politically. Now, this is, of course, a tremendously appealing model, if you’re an autocrat in some impoverished third world country. And China goes around the world especially to resource rich countries and offers a kind of deal. You allow us to have a [wok] on your oil, a certain amount of your oil, so we have a guaranteed amount at a guaranteed price. We in turn will give you concessional loans and grants. You in turn will use those funds, turn around and pay Chinese construction and engineering companies to build your infrastructure. It’s a great deal from the point of view of the recipient countries. The only problem is that it cements in place these authoritarian political structures. And so, that’s a problem for the West not just for the United States, for other donors, for institutions like the World Bank and IMF, how do we come up with this efficiently appealing counteroffer? And that’s an ongoing problem.
If you are an autocrat in the developing world, James Traub notes China offers an unbeatable deal.
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