Sinology or Rome Seeks Barbarians
jpino at SPAMkent.edu
Sat May 20 10:23:29 MDT 2000
China Watchers Fighting a Turf War of
By KURT M. CAMPBELL
If business and political leaders have focused on China in recent
months, so too have the intellectuals and others who make up the
American "strategic class" -- that collection of academics,
and policymakers whose ideas help define the national interest. Yet
unlike traditional Sinologists, who have made a broad study of
complex history, intricate culture and social relations, this new
experts are preoccupied with a much narrower question: Will China be
the next enemy?
Within the circumscribed
world of strategists, this
sharpened approach is stirring
bitter debate over how to
study and interpret China,
while in the larger political
arena it is having an impact on
pressing policy debates in
Washington, including next
week's congressional vote on
China's trade status.
This week President Clinton
said in a speech: "One of the
biggest questions marks of the
21st century is the path China
will take. Will China emerge as
a partner or an adversary?"
Sinologists are enjoying more
attention as Washington
debates China's economic
future and military intentions.
But with this popularity has come an erosion of their traditional
on China. "This is the hottest and most high-profile China has
Tiananmen," said Bates Gill, a China scholar at the Brookings
referring to the 1989 student uprisings in Tiananmen Square in
"Business has never been better, in a sense, but with the increasing
attention has come greater political polarization. China watching
be a dangerous game, with political minefields everywhere you
Indeed, the newer crop of experts, who are much more likely to
background in strategic studies or international relations than
are generally much more suspicious, watchful for signs of China's
capacity for menace. They argue that the traditional China hands
a kind of intellectual protectionism. The strategists believe
they bring a
fresh perspective and some intellectual rigor into a world
dominated by "panda huggers" who had a romanticized view of China
and played down America's national security interests.
"The Sinologists have been hit with two great shocks in the last
said Philip D. Zelikow, the director of the Miller Center of
at the University of Virginia, a cold war historian who
Europe when he worked at the National Security Council. "The
the re-evaluation of Mao and the brutality of Chinese Communism that
culminated at Tiananmen. The early giants of the field, like John
Fairbanks, were almost uniformly blind to the harsh realities of
The second shock, he continued, is the current struggle with the
strategists and the traditional foreign policy elite "to wrest
control of the
formulation and execution of America's China policy away from the
Sinologists. The China specialists are losing their monopoly to
interpret U.S.-China policy because their narrow range of
increasingly inadequate to the task. The Sinologists have
variations on the theme of 'you don't understand China.' In some
they are right, but in most cases it doesn't matter.
expertise is more critical in policy formulation toward China."
Others in Washington agree. A number of congressional staff members,
Republican politicians, conservative journalists, former
officers and a handful of academics have created a loose
the "Blue Team" to prepare the nation for what they see as the
conflagration with China. (The term comes from a Chinese military
exercise in which the assigned opposition force -- presumably Taiwan
supported by the United States -- wears blue hats while the People's
Liberation Army are in red.
Certainly, some traditional Sinologists share this threatening
Waldron, a professor of Chinese history and international
relations at the
University of Pennsylvania, for example, argues: "There is a
potent mix of
xenophobic nationalism, historical persecution and renewed
authoritarianism that has been stoked and manipulated by China's
Communist elite. They are building more missiles and seeking to
externalize their internal problems . . .
But the motivations for war derive from a very different set of
the motivations for economic modernization. We underestimate, at out
peril, China's capacity to do us harm."
Still, many other longtime China scholars counter that the new
strategists, largely ignorant of China's complex culture and
exaggerate Beijing's geopolitical ambitions and as yet fledgling
"Character assassination has been so rampant and policy critiques so
politicized that the normal rules of evidence . . .
have been among the first casualties," said Robert S. Ross,
political science and Chinese studies at Boston College.
"Particularly egregious have been many of the claims of those
warriors . . . to follow a policy of containing the China threat."
To many China scholars, the strategists are suffering a cold war
hangover. Ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the
foreign policy establishment has at times turned its attention to
post-Soviet nuclear cleanup, international terrorism,
humanitarian aid and
the global economy. China, the Sinologists argue, is simply the
antidote to what one senior White House official described as "enemy
envy." Even the strategists concede that they now have a sense of
renewed purpose after a prolonged period of melancholy and
"Strategists tend to get excited by the rise and fall of great
they see China as the new antihero," said Jeff Legro, professor of
government at the University of Virginia. "And yes, there is more
the step since China's arrival on the international power scene."
Certainly, China studies have grown hotter as interest in Russia has
cooled. Stephen Rosen, the director of the Olin Institute at Harvard
University, said: "China's rise and other strategic developments
are very much on the horizon in the study of international
is a growing trend among our graduate students and fellows to
the big questions associated with China, namely its strategic
geopolitical mindset. This is part of an important redirection of
effort away from Europe and toward Asia."
David Shambaugh, director of the China policy program at George
Washington University, said that there were no solid measures of
interest, but added, "My class on China's military power is now
oversubscribed, as are similar classes taught by my colleagues at
universities around the country."
Meanwhile, several major foundations, including the Smith
Bradley, Scaife and Olin Foundations, have made sizable grants to
primarily conservative academics, policy think tanks and
recent years to explore the strategic ramifications of China's
over the last year, foreign policy journals like The National
International Security and Survival have featured extended
China's growing political and military power.
For much of this century, interpretations of China have been
A generation of China specialists at the State Department in the
were unfairly vilified during Senator Joseph R. McCarthy's public
hearings into the question of "Who Lost China?" Those political
are in some ways evident today.
As Mitchell B. Reiss, the dean of international affairs at
Mary College, said: "China has become a kind of national
for the United States onto which we project our hopes and fears.
is seen by some as the world's largest market for American goods, by
others as a repressive regime that violates human rights, by a
minority as a strategic partner, and by many strategists as a
threat to U.S. national security interests."
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