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The Grandest Strategy of All

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Ye, Zicheng, “Inside China’s Grand Strategy: The perspective from the People’s Republic,” edited and translated by Steven I. Levine and Guoli Liu, The University Press of Kentucky, January 2011, 320 pages, $35.00, ISBN: 978-0-8131-2645-6

(University of Kentucky Press)

The biggest problem with Ye Zicheng’s book is that it is full of lies and incredible omissions.

A more minor problem is that it is difficult to take seriously because of its pretensions to a style of grand and comprehensive narrative, which fell out of favor in the West a long time ago. This may be a byproduct of the current environment of Chinese scholarship.

In any case, the fact that Ye Zicheng is one of China’s most prominent intellectuals, and produced “Inside China’s Grand Strategy” as a serious work, says everything about the struggles that country faces in its attempt to come to grips with the world.

The main argument of Ye’s book is the same as that promoted by Chinese officialdom. This shouldn’t be a surprise. Briefly, it is that under the stewardship of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), over three decades of reform and opening up, China has become a rising world power and its broad trajectory is set. China will integrate into the world system, but it will change that system as it does so. And in the years to come it will displace the United States from being the one great power.

This of course neglects all the counterarguments—that China could have developed sooner and better if it were not for the CCP at all, that development to the current point has been unsustainable, that the point where political factors block further growth is being quickly reached, that grave domestic problems may make the music stop, and so on.

Ye is a scholar after the CCP’s own heart, offering implicit justifications for the Party’s rule and conflating the interests of the Chinese regime with that of the country and its people. The idea that the regime acts for its own benefit and interests, while those of the Chinese people are in many cases separate from those of the regime, does not enter into the discussion.

The main argument of Ye’s book is the same as that promoted by Chinese officialdom.

This can be seen in Ye’s discussion of democracy in China. “China must become a great democracy,” Ye says, “but certainly not along the lines of Western democracy.” He says that his book “clearly spells out the concept of Chinese-style democracy, a concept that more and more people accept.”

What is this curious idea, of “Chinese-style democracy”? He returns to it again on page 82, but does not nail it down. The closest he gets is to say: “Chinese democracy will include the experiences of Western democracy but surpass it with the infusion of uniquely Chinese characteristics. This new formulation will symbolize the force of China’s presence in the world.” Seriously?

He later writes: “As a result of reform, a new political and economic system has developed in China. The functions of the CCP have been separated from those of the state, and China is moving toward political democracy and a state based on the rule of law under the principle of CCP leadership.” Those who pay attention to current politics, however, know that none of this is really true.

When not simply lying, Ye tells half-truths. Some of the half-truths in Ye’s book include the idea that China has “clearly accepted and implemented international norms and procedures, despite the considerable costs involved. So too with regard to the principles of protecting intellectual property rights.” As evidence, he refers to the closing of 15 factories between 1994 and 1995. How many factories are there in China?

Ye also writes that in joining the World Trade Organization, “[China] has been recognized throughout the globe as a responsible and constructive participant in international affairs.” Many experts who have studied China’s trade practices would strongly disagree with this statement.

The part of it all that is stranger than fiction is that many of the arguments justifying the status quo that Ye makes are already prominent in the United States. Chinese scholars with views practically identical to that of Ye are hosted at the Brookings Institution, as though their ideas have serious intellectual merit, or were even meant sincerely. Ye’s book was in fact originally written, in the main, in 2002 and 2003. It shows that the lack of scrutiny of these ideas has persisted a long time.

Ye’s book also shows a grand audacity on the part of the Chinese regime in dealing with the United States: at the same time as the regime emphasizes cooperation, understanding, and its benign intentions, it carries out systematic cyberwarfare, sends spies to the United States to steal technology, fails to respect intellectual property rights, continues a military buildup against Taiwan, and runs a market-Leninist trade regime to the detriment of the United States. And if the United States tries to respond, it is accused of being the aggressor. Taken as a strategy, it is a grand one indeed.

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