The Myths of Empire and China.

Over at the Duck of Minerva, Robert E Kelly has a two part blog post discussing the applicability of Jack Snyder’s “Myths of Empire” theory to China.

I urge you to read the full threads because it’s a very interesting take on international relations theory and eminently readable, but a short summary goes like this:
1. Snyder’s theory posits that late development states will turn to Imperialism because the state-led industries that fuel this development creates political incentives for aggression. (This has to do with the creation of oligopolies and is something of a variation of regulatory capture)

2. Kelly examines how this model applies to China. Kelly concludes that overall, China seems to fit some of the patterns Snyder suggests in his theory, but with key caveats.

3. These caveats are: CCP seems to be focusing more on internal nationalism. The current oligopoly running China doesn’t seem too interested in Imperialism. (For the time being.)

Give the whole thing a read. Once you have, let me know if there’s interest in a similar style of blogging here with regard to general international relations and historical books.

First post on the subject, which introduces the theory.

Second post which looks into the implications of the theory on China.

Please do be so kind as to share this post.

12 thoughts on “The Myths of Empire and China.

  1. The world, and foreign policy aren’t my strongsuit. But I remember when I was in college and there were fears of an imperalist China, at some point I glanced over their constitution and oddly felt a lot better. It was not an imperalist document. It did not read as a document that was even trying to suppress imperialist instincts. Rather, it read as a document whose interest began and ended with China (granted, a China that does include some disputed territory, but doesn’t extend beyond that).


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  2. Interesting posts. Thanks for sharing. Consider this one “yes, please” vote for more like this on the League.

    I agree that Snyder’s theory seems to suffer from the fact that his sample set for “empires” seems to be mostly WWII-era Germany and Japan and the USSR.

    I suspect “imperialism” in the 21st century, and particularly in the case of China, will focus less on violent land acquisition and more on control of markets and information, areas where China is investing vast attention and resources.

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  3. At this point I think it is probably cheaper, relatively speaking, to lobby for freedom of trade (ever cheaper for a state to tolerate, given advancements in technology and bureaucratic practice) than to lobby for war (ever more expensive, for the same reasons).

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  4. China’s leadership seems more interested in avoiding the sad fates of other states which made Great Leaps Forward (GLF) only to find themselves ass-over-teakettle.   It learned a great deal from Japan’s GLF and even more from its own.

    Deng Xiaoping had five principles, which I will attempt to translate, though I have never been particularly good with Chinese

    Dì y?, bùd?ng”tóu”, zìrán y? bù jiéméng;

    Foremost, watch out for the “head”, form natural alliances. My interpretation:  don’t form factions for they are unnatural.

    Dì èr, bù d? qí, bù ch?ngd?ng m?u zh?ng lìliàng hé m?u gè qúnt? de”dàiyánrén”;

    Secondly:  do not hit the flag and do not act like a group of forceful advocates.   My interpretation:  nationalism and causes are to be avoided.

    Dì s?n, bù zh?dòng zh?or? shìf?i. Yào bùb?ibùkàng, chénzhuó yìngfù, bù g?o duìkàng;

    Third, be unassuming.  Do not blindly take the initiative. Exhibit reasonableness, maintain  composure and avoid confrontation;

    Dì sì, jízh?ng j?nglì f?zh?n j?ngjì.

    Fourth, concentrate on economic development.

    Dì w?, zhìlì yú hé su?y?u de guóji? f?zh?n y?uh?o gu?nxì, bù zài y? yìshí xíngtài lái huá xiàn.

    Fifth,   Be committed to form friendships with all countries: regardless of the dividing line of ideology.

    Deng Xiaoping guided China through its most perilous hours.   We in the West remember him for the Tien An Men massacre but he suppressed a far more serious revolt from within the CCP itself.   Had that revolt succeeded, China would have lapsed into a civil war for at least a decade by my reckoning.   The Chinese people remember him with great respect:   he outlasted his critics and put China on the path to progress.

    The PLA remains as much a threat to democratic reforms as it was in the days of Deng.  As go reforms within the Chinese military, so goes it with the rest of the country.


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  5. There’s one sentence, from the second linked-to blog post that needs more attention:

    Its also probably true that a break-out war would badly isolate China, generate an enormous counter-coalition (including likely even Russia and India), and would result in a major defeat that would entrain independence for its periphery, most obviously Tibet.

    I think any assessment of China’s imperialist proclivities needs to address the issue brought up in that sentence, namely, its nationalities policy.  The state’s propaganda campaign, however it seems directed toward an “encricling” enemy, is also directed toward the places in its existing empire in which large portions of the local, non-Han, population sees the state’s claim to rule as illegitimate.  These places are Tibet, the Xinjian-Uighur Autonomous Region, and the Outer Mongolia Autonomous Region.

    None of this needs mean that Snyder’s theory doesn’t apply.  But it adds two qualifications.  One, China is already an imperial power.  Two, any expansionist vision it might have would be directed toward Central Asia (as Kelly recognizes when he raises the possibility of a Russia-India coalition) as well as to the East (Japan, South Korea, and by implication the US) and to the South (Vietnam).

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  6. Clyde Prestowitz over at FP

    The fundamental premise of all U.S trade/globalization talks and discussions is that the participants are all playing the same game of liberal, neo-classical, free market, resource endowment and comparative advantage based free trade. This is a totally false premise that immediately gets the discussions off in irrelevant directions. The global economy is, in fact, sharply divided between those who are playing the free trade game and those who are playing some form of mercantilism. Of course, there is a spectrum of attitudes and policies, but roughly speaking the Anglo/American countries, North America, and parts of Europe are playing free trade. Most of Asia, much of South America, the Middle East, Germany and parts of Europe are playing neo-mercantilism. It’s like watching tennis players trying to play a game with football players. It doesn’t work, and insisting on playing by the rules doesn’t help, because both sets of teams are playing by the rules — of their game.

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    • This why I don’t understand many of the libertarian policy ideas on international relations.  From what I’ve read (which isn’t a lot, but enough to give me a rough idea) these ideas state that the shouldn’t have trade deals with other nations, and instead we should let the free market sort things out.  But this doesn’t make sense to me because even if we play by free market rules that doesn’t mean everyone else will.  And, in my opinion we end up with the rug pulled oput from under us.

      I guess we could assume that we will overcome these problems if we stick steadfastly to our free market beliefs, and then everyone else will come around to our way of thinking.  But, that seems very naive.

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  7. I’m not sure I could add much, I would say that plenty of SOE’s in China are also exporters, so I’m not sure that they provide the cosmopolitan counter-weight to the PLA as one might think. Of course, it’s a pretty basic overview so Kelly might already be taking that into account and still believe that there’s plenty of counterweight among exporters.

    I’m very interested in this stuff, Nob, keep it coming!

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