Occasionally, academics make more sense than either journalists or politicians. “We do want an accommodating relationship with Red China, if we can have it,” Harvard’s Ross Terrill said earlier this year. “But because of the political structure of China, tomorrow is unknown.”
“We have to engage fully but keep ourselves and our allies strong.” Terrill is a research associate at Harvard’s Fairbank Center for East Asian Research.
He spoke in February at an event sponsored by Hillsdale College. “But in the final analysis, no dictatorship is strong if the U. S. retains the will to stand against it, as we did against the Soviet Union,” Terrill told the audience in Ft. Myers, Florida. “The average lifespan of the Leninist regimes in Europe was 27 years.”
“The Chinese communist regime is 57 years old, 17 years short of the lifespan of the Soviet Union.” Terrill spoke at the college’s National Leadership Seminar, making remarks that were captured in the July issue of Hillsdale’s monthly newsletter Imprimis. His most recent book, of nine, is The New Chinese Empire, published in 2004.
“I don’t think the communist party’s monopoly on power will last beyond 20 years,” Terrill predicted. “But neither do I think China will break up into pieces.”
“The communist party may itself break up, which would lead to political competition between the different pieces.” Terrill acknowledges the economic growth in China that has occurred since the death of Mao Tse-Tung. Where he parts company with other Western observers is in his take on what China is doing with this booty.
“China’s GDP quadrupled in Deng Xiaoping’s two decades from 1978 to 1992,” Terrill recounted. “Since then it has been growing even faster at 10-11 percent per year.”
“Foreign trade increased tenfold during Deng’s reign.” Nonetheless, “China’s economic advance has led to military expansion, diplomatic sophistication, a relentless quest for markets, enormous oil consumption, an enhanced capacity to import and swelling nationalism.”
Terrill has made many trips to Mainland China including a historically memorable visit in 1989. He was there in Tiananmen Square when Red Chinese troops opened fire on peaceful student demonstrators.
“While Beijing does enormous business with us, it regularly launches anti-American diatribes,” he explained. “And while it advocates a world free of arms, it has lined up 800 missiles opposite Taiwan.”
“The prospect of China achieving its international aims—especially outstripping the U. S. and expanding its territory—depends on two things: the future of its political system and whether the U. S. and other countries acquiesce in China’s rise.”
Although China is usually portrayed in the popular press as a competitor to western economies, the relationship is actually more symbiotic. As Terrill shows, China’s supposedly miraculous economy, like Tennessee Williams’ Blanche Du Bois, is heavily dependent on the kindness of strangers.
“Last year, 57 percent of China’s exports were produced by joint-venture enterprises, which means foreign money is behind this boom,” Terrill points out. “What will be the implications of that?”
“Will foreign investment continue at a high level?” Moreover, Terrill shows, the U. S. may not only be the target of the competitive juices of Red China but the source of its strength as well.
Thus, the U. S. can also weaken and even defeat Red China by withdrawing its patronage. Given the Mainland government’s human rights record at home, not to mention the quality of its exports as seen in recent recalls of same, American consumers may want to do just that.
“There are other reasons to doubt that the current system will last,” Terrill stated. “Since Beijing has told its people that economic success is now the measure of communism’s success, one severe recession might be enough to finish it off.”
“And do not forget that the loss of the American market due to any Sino-American rupture, would mean the loss of 30 percent of China’s exports, and that would probably end the regime.” Would it now?
Malcolm A. Kline is the executive director of Accuracy in Academia.