How do you spell ‘China’?

by Dave Schuler on May 18, 2005

In my Catching my eye feature yesterday I mentioned the sabre-rattling with respect to China I was seeing. Zenpundit Mark Safranski has noticed it, too, and offers a critique of Robert D. Kaplan’s recent article in The Atlantic, which is one of the flashpoints for the sabre-rattling. Here’s the basis of Mark’s argument:

This is not an argument that China is a friend or ally of the United States. It is not. Nor will I argue that China’s economic and geopolitical rise does not represent a shift in the global order and a strategic challenge for American policy makers. It does. What I will illustrate is that China in 2005 is not the Soviet Union of 1945 and that to base our strategic policy of how to relate to China as “Cold War II” is to create a self-fulfilling prophecy.

One crucial difference that Mr. Kaplan does not seem to be aware of is that the fundamental economic and foreign policies of China today and the Soviet Union circa 1945-1949 differ by approximately 180 degrees.

I agree with that completely.

I’m stealing my own thunder but the points I’m trying to make in my as-yet-unfinished “China’s time bombs” series are that

  1. China has problems of its own.
  2. China is focussed on China in a way that Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States have never been.
  3. We should be encouraging China to solve its problems rather than worrying about what China’s plans for us might be.

As a simple illustration of my point take a look at the characters over at the top left of this post. Those are the Chinese characters for the name of their country: Zhong Guo. The double ax character on the left is the word for “Middle”. The character on the right is the word for “Country” (America is Mei Guo, the Beautiful Country, and England is Ying Guo, the Brave Country).

But look more closely at the character for “country”. It has two components: the inner character is the character for “region” and it is enclosed by a border. A country is a region enclosed by a border. Remove the border and it’s no longer a country, just a region.

So there are two important thoughts here. For the Chinese, China is the Middle Kingdom, the center of the world. And a country has a border. When you think about Chinese policies and actions, keep these two things in mind.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

David May 19, 2005 at 5:07 am

“It has two components: the inner character is the character for “region” and it is enclosed by a border”
Actually, isn’t it enclosed by the character for ‘mouth’? That would make a country a region with a big mouth … sounds about right :)

Zhang Fei May 21, 2005 at 6:48 am

I think rejecting the idea of a China threat because the nature of this threat isn’t like that of the Soviet Union is a vestige of what people might call a Cold War mentality. Not every threat is like the Communist threat. The only threat that bears a remote resemblance to that is Islamism, and it doesn’t have anywhere near the unified resources or the universal appeal of Soviet Communism.

We have faced other threats similar to the Chinese threat in the past – Nazism and Japanese militarism. These were not ideological challenges – they were purely the ancient and traditional military challenges of countries with the potential to expand their territorial boundaries.* In neither case did they broadcast their territorial ambitions until just before they were ready to strike. They talked about the greatness of their peoples, armed themselves to the teeth and stoked resentment against foreigners. In other words, exactly what is happening with China today.

To sum up – the threat from China is of an ancient nature – the threat from a hostile and potentially expansionist country. Unlike Islamism or Communism, it is not a threat with a universal ideological appeal. We do not need to be on guard against Chinese ideology – the threat comes from its armed forces.

* Our beef with Germany and Japan were only incidentally with their ideologies – if they hadn’t launched their bids for empire, we wouldn’t have fought them. Communism was unique in using proxies to do its dirty work. In a way, this was what made it so frightening. Plant a Communist Party in some country and provide it with significant resources, and it would metastasize, devouring the host.

The first major failure of this strategy was Afghanistan – the Afghan Communist Party could not only not kill enough of the non-Communist opposition to destroy it, it was finally destroyed by the opposition. Even though that Communist Party was supported with significant resources from the Soviet Union. That was a real eye opener. A Communist Party strong enough to take over the government had not only been removed from power, it was extinguished without a trace, despite the support of the Soviet Union.

Dave Schuler May 21, 2005 at 1:14 pm

I’m not sure I understand the point of your comment. I don’t question the nature of the Chinese threat because China is not the Soviet Union. As should be clear from my post, I question the nature of the Chinese threat because China is China.

If China is, in fact, expansionist, then I agree with your point completely. Is China expansionist? The evidence of that seems rather slim. I’d certainly like to see more.

What if China is not expansionist? Treating a country that is focussed on its own needs, people, and development and is not expansionist as though it were aggressive and expansionist seems to me to be the surest way to turn that country into a military threat.

In my opinion the greatest threat that China poses is as a honeypot. We should be much, much more cautious about investment in China, commerce with China, and, especially, borrowing from China than we are.

sandra May 31, 2005 at 3:40 pm

can u help me to spell the name MARK into chinese symbols thank u Sandra

Dave Schuler May 31, 2005 at 3:51 pm

It’s a little more complicated than that, Sandra. You really should pick both a Chinese first name and surname together. Here’s a web site that will help you do that. I hope that’s helpful to you.

Stan Smith June 14, 2005 at 1:55 pm

how do you spell mark in chinese symbols?

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