Ambassador Roy's Policymakers Seminar Series Lecture, July 22, 2005
Will the US Be Able to Adjust to an Expanding China?
Ambassador Roy identified the major trends have affected China over the past twenty-five years. First, China has experienced unprecedented economic growth, with a simultaneous opening up. Second, this opening up has also occurred alongside political reform. This political reform has not occurred in a Gorbachev-like fashion, but has deliberately been begun by the government which has changed how it interacts with the people. A new technocratic regime focused on economic development has replaced the totalitarian regime of the Maoist years.
The ambassador believed that in the future China will certainly see the reform of the Communist Party, but he also argued that the end product may not be what the West expects. He argued that first and foremost China must have a middle class and that economic growth is a necessary precondition for a middle class to develop.
On ideology, Ambassador Roy explained that China is no longer a Marxist-Leninist state. He said that under modern Chinese theory, developed by the former Chinese leader, Deng Xiaoping, China has reversed the Soviet concept of leapfrogging capitalism by arguing that China converted to communism too fast. Thus, a century or two of capitalism is necessary to properly prepare China for its communist future. Because of this change in ideology, today China has a level of government ownership similar to France.
He pointed out that there are obvious possibilities for internal disagreement within the party. For example, while both President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao represent interior provinces, the rest of the standing committee represents the major commercial areas of China, including Shanghai, Beijing, and Guangzhou. In determining how funds for economic development should be spent, there is an obvious divide among those who wish to represent their urban constituencies and those who wish to represent the neglected west of China.
Roy attested that China has emerged into a new phase of development. She is no longer a child, but an adult—who is just beginning to flex her muscles. As a result, China faces new challenges, from nationalism to trade disputes to determining its place within the international pecking order.
Roy further explained that in five years, China will find itself in an even less sure situation. The US will have a new president, as will Japan. China, however, will have a leadership with thirty years of experience. Elections involving China in the US seem to follow the regular pattern of fervent China-bashing followed by collaboration post-election. Roy attributed the relatively smoother transition of Bush, Jr.’s foreign policy to the legacy handed down to him by his father. Roy argued that we may not be so fortunate in the future to have such easy transitions.
Ambassador Roy then began a discussion of military factors surrounding the recently released Pentagon report. He said first, we must put China’s situation into a historical context. In its recent history, it has had conflicts with India, Vietnam, and the US. Second, China also considers external factors such as the overall development of weapons high technology around the world, especially the US’s showing of its military prowess in Iraq. Furthermore, the US has talked of extending missile defense to China following the remarks made by General Zheng that he would “nuke the west coast” if the US came to the aid of Taiwan. Third, China’s military budget should be taken into consideration, compared to Europe’s and Japan’s, it is not particularly astounding.
Ambassador Roy finished his remarks with a call for rational thinking on China’s rise, and said that, yes, the US should and must be able to handle China’s growth.