Patience Not a Virtue as Our Problems with China Grow

In a column for The Daily Beast, Gelb notes with favor that "Obama administration officials have been trying much harder than the Hu team to find solid common ground in the danger zones, precisely to head off increasing right-wing influence on policy." He characterizes those concerned with China's "rise" as follows:

In the U.S., this phalanx consists of military leaders and arms manufacturers who seek to justify high defense expenditures, their congressional allies, and neoconservatives looking for a new enemy.

Yet there are facts too clear even for Gelb to ignore. He acknowledges that Chinese leaders "are not inclined to do much by way of getting tough with North Korea or Iran, potential nuclear problems, if it requires economic or other sacrifices." What he cannot digest is that Beijing's support for the nuclear ambitions of the Tehran and Pyongyang regimes is part of a strategy to deter American pressure that could overthrow these rogue states with whose interests China identifies. Gelb notes that "the Chinese assert that virtually the whole South China Sea loaded with oil, gas, and other minerals, belongs to them." China's maritime claims triggered diplomatic confrontations backed by military exercises all along the Pacific Rim from Japan to Vietnam last summer.

On the economic front, Gelb knows that "Beijing has done very little to curb its citizens and corporations from stealing U.S. copyright materials and its subsidies to its exporters. These Chinese practices damage the U.S. economy more than the unfair exchange rates." Most damning, he understands:

Chinese officials are sending off signals that they think they are completely in the right about every matter in dispute, and that Washington is totally in the wrong on every count. In sum, many Chinese leaders, businessmen and youth are feeling their oats.

Thus, compromise will not come from Hu's side of the summit. It must come from Obama's side if confrontation is to be avoided and the "right wing" kept in check.

Gelb believes compromise will undermine the hardliners in China, trotting out again the old argument made during the Cold War about detente with the Soviet Union. The problem is that in Beijing today, as in Moscow thirty years ago, the hardliners are running the show. Indeed, President Hu has reinvigorated Marxist indoctrination within the party. As Willy Lam, one of the most insightful observers of internal Chinese politics, laid out in an essay for the Jamestown Foundation last spring:

Cadres responsible for ideology and the media are sparing no efforts to push forward President Hu’s slogans about “Sinicizing and popularizing Marxism” as a means to ensuring socio-political stability and promoting national cohesiveness. At a recent forum on “Promoting Popular Contemporary Chinese Marxism,” Director of the CCP Propaganda Department Liu Yunshan urged cadres to “deeply grasp the laws of Marxist development, and to better arm the entire party — and educate the people — with the theoretical system of Chinese socialism."

The Communist regime's new 5-year plan (2011-2015) calls for continued integration of the civilian and defense industrial sectors and double-digit growth rates in military output. One product of this effort, the J-20 fifth generation stealth fighter, conducted its first test flight while Secretary Gates was meeting with President Hu last week. (For more on the Chinese military buildup and how it is focused on defeating U.S. forces, see the work of Russell Hsiao, Richard D. Fisher, and Andrew S. Erickson.)

As long as Beijing's hard-line policies are meeting with success, Hu and his successors have no reason to change them. In contrast, the "patient" policies of the Obama administration, many carried over from the Bush and Clinton eras, have not worked and do need to be changed. In the wake of another failed summit, the U.S. must take direct action to protect its interests on both the economic and security fronts.