Tag Archives: China

Book Review: Engaging China: Myth, Aspiration, and Strategy in Canadian Policy from Trudeau to Harper

Engaging China by Paul Evans

Engaging China: Myth, Aspiration, and Strategy in Canadian Policy from Trudeau to Harper by Paul Evans is the history of Canadian-Chinese relations over the last forty years. Evans is a professor at the University of British Columbia and currently teaches the Masters of Arts in Asian Pacific Policies Studies. He has an impressive academic history and is well published in his field. 

I chose this book primarily because of my background in international relations and wanted to compare United States policy, which I studied, to Canadian policy: Neighboring countries with a very similar background and heritage, but with different priorities in world affairs. For many Americans, this is an important book to read. Far too many Americans think of Canada as United States little brother falling lockstep with us much the same way they did with the British years ago. 

The United States likes having a well defined enemy and since the fall of the Soviet Union we have been looking for a suitable replacement. The terrorists are too vague, non centralized, and too intertwined into many friendly countries to be a suitable long term foe. China on the other hand, makes the perfect strategic rival and boogeyman for American policy… and they are communists too. Canada has taken a different road. 

Canada was late in recognizing the communist Chinese government. It took a while for Canadians to forget that they had fought Chinese soldiers in Korea. The Canadian approach was different than the US. Canada did not see China as leverage against the Soviets in the Cold War. Rather, it saw China as a market for its wheat and the opportunity to be China’s link to the West. It was a practical rather than a strategic relationship. Canada also differed from the United States in its policy of engagement, which is not as confrontational as it sounds. The Canadian policy has been one of inclusion rather than isolation. Inclusion tends to minimize confrontation and maximize cooperation. The Chinese would be much more willing to reform if they were an active member of the community rather than isolated. As an example, the United States isolated North Korea, but opened to Vietnam. Vietnam is allowing private businesses and trade with the West. The people are living better than they have been, but admittedly it is not perfect and has a ways to go. There have been improvements in Vietnam, but none in North Korea. Inclusion brings change; Isolation brings confrontation. 

Engaging China is a forty years study of of the policy of inclusion. It is also Canadian history. Perhaps the most interesting part is that there are no ideological tensions between, what Americans saw as life and death battle of, communism and capitalism. There are bumps in the road on issues like human rights and a slow evolution of peaceful policy. It is a very detailed diplomatic history. I do not think I highlighted a book this much since graduate school. It is a good history for all North Americans. For Americans, it will also provide a good comparison of policies. It is interesting how differently a country so ideologically, historically, and culturally similar to the United States has dealt with China.

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Book Review: The China Choice

The China Choice: Why We Should Share Power

The China Choice: Why We Should Share Power by Hugh White examines the China as a rising power. He is a professor of strategic studies at Australia’s National University and formerly a a senior official at the (Australian) Department of Defence from 1995-2000. White has an impressive background and well versed in in foreign affairs. 

Three things are needed for a nation to be considered a super power: Military strength, political strength, and economic strength. During the Cold War, the United States had all three strengths. The Soviet Union had the political and military strength; and managed to fake economic power. Americans worried about Japan’s rise as a power starting in the 1970s. Although Japan still has the third largest economy in the wold, it has no military power and limited political power. Today China rising, not as fast as it had earlier, but still rising. 

China today exhibits economic power. It is a regional military power and arguably a political power (keeping North Korea on a short leash is not working well). Previously, military power has been demonstrated by large naval fleets and aircraft carriers. China does not have the naval strength to invade Taiwan, but enough of a navy, particularly submarines, to make an on coming carrier fleet ineffective. The image of military might has changed since the Cold War. There is little doubt that the United States has the most powerful and technological military in the history of the world. But not all battles are fought head to head. The United States failed in Vietnam and the USSR failed in Afghanistan. Unless the United States can get it’s military to China, it’s military threat is ineffective. Granted the US has nuclear weapons, but what would it take to use them in Asia and risk nuclear retaliation?

United States has a long history as a power in Asia. Even during Vietnam, when things looked bad for the United States in Asia, Kissinger and Nixon opened relations with China. China gained political clout and the United States retained its role as a power in Asia. United States and China are not the only players in Asia. Japan, although a major economic power, relies on the United States for military security. In the event of conflict with China, what would Japan be able to contribute and what risk will it take for the United States to remain a regional power? South Korea has a vibrant economy and also enjoys United States’ protection, but its primary concern is North Korea either defending itself or reunification. What is Russia’s role on Asia? 

China presents a different challenge to the United States. Our economies are intertwined and as the top two economies the world, the world depends on our peaceful existence. Although China has a miserable record on human rights and repressing its population, it is not exporting revolution or communism. China wants stability and with it a growing share of influence. United States has three options: confront China, share power with China, or leave Asia. The American public may lean towards confrontation, but that is not always practical . Leaving Asia would not serve America’s economic and security interests. Sharing power may be the practical solution and the option that White supports. China’s rise will unlikely lead to the old Cold War bipolar world. Examining China’s rise in power and the effects it has on the United States presents an interesting study of how two major powers who are not enemies can go about sharing power and not create havoc in the world. An excellent read on current foreign affairs and one of the larger challenges facing the United States.

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Book Review: The Dark Road

The Dark Road

The Dark Road, by Ma Jian is a novel about Kongzi, Meili, and their daughter Nannan. Konzi is a direct relation to of Confucius and a school teacher. Things are well for the family until Meili becomes pregnant with a second child. The one child family policy is in full effect and the family does not have state permission to have a second child. The Family Planning Commission enforcers are ruthless. Reminders f the one child policy are all around including a sign “ Severe the fallopian tubes of poverty; insert the IUDs of prosperity.”


There are several themes in the book most notably the Confucian idea of a male heir played out by Kongzi. He also shows the primitive side of the male sex. The dual role of independent and free thinking woman rising in China and a mother who values motherhood and the spirit of her unborn child. Nannan, the daughter, whose name sounds like a boys name deals with the confusion of her sex and her role in society.


Perhaps the most disturbing role is played by the government and its minions. The brutality of the Family Planning Commission’s forced abortions to out right murder and forced serializations and IUD insertions are described in shocking detail. To make matters worse for all of the above the women are expect to pay for the services. Corruption and fraud exist in every aspect life including migrant permits, “tolls”, and fines. The same corruption allows for environmental devastation, work camps, and brothels.


What ever glimmer of hope we in the West see in China are totally and thoroughly destroyed by this book. The Dark Road is very well written and an extremely compelling read. With that being said it is also extremely disturbing. Jian does little to candy coat his views and at the same time the read feels he is not embellishing them either, yet the message is extremely powerful.

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Book Review: China’s Silent Army: The Pioneers, Traders, Fixers and Workers Who Are Remaking the World in Beijing’s Image


China’s Silent Army: The Pioneers, Traders, Fixers and Workers Who are Remaking the World in Beijing’s Image, was put out two years ago in Spanish by Juan Pablo Cardenal and Heriberto Araujo both who are Spanish reporters with extensive experience in mainland China. Initially I was expecting a different view on China than the current American view, I later learned that China has bought a great deal of Spain’s debt too.

Growing up in the mid 1960s and 1970s, I learned America feared two countries: The Soviet Union and Japan. The Soviets were out to take over the world and threatened us militarily and politically. Japan threatened us economically with cheap, low priced goods and trade deficit. Much later in graduate school I learned there are three things that make a superpower: Military, economic, and political power. The Soviet Union had two and faked the economic power. Japan had only economic power. Now in a new century, the world faces the rise of what could be a new superpower in the world, China. China does have the economic power and growing political power as seen in its head to head meetings with the US over Taiwan and the 2001 mid air collision and forced US landing in China of a US Navy EP-3 plane which lead to an apology from the US. Militarily, China is growing; it released pictures of its first aircraft carrier which did not alarm the US military as much as the anti-aircraft carrier missile it has developed. Although China does not have the blue water navy that was a sign of power in the last century, this is a new century with new signs of power.

The causal look into China’s growing world wide power may seem benign. China comes to a developing country and builds infrastructure. Railroads, highways, power plants, and even stadiums are built to improve the lives of the people lin the developing country. In return China gains rights to minerals, oil, and agriculture. It appears to be a win-win situation, or at least better than the conquest, enslavement (of the natives), rape of the land conducted by European nations in the Americas and Africa. In Argentina, China will help/fund the cultivation previously unfarmed land in return for a portion of the land. Costa Rica will get a new stadium and aid in return it will break relations with Taiwan. African nations receive roads and railways in return for raw materials (which are hauled out of the country on the roads and railways China built).

China needs oil to fuel its growth and has been very successful in getting it from America’s and the West’s enemies. Iran has oil and need nuclear technology and imports that are currently banned by Western embargoes. China did not and does not support the embargoes and trades, although rather quietly in banned goods. When approached on the issue China has enough political clout to ignore the concerns of other nations or when the material is too sensitive, it uses North Korea to transport goods. China is now Iran’s largest trading partner. China also befriended Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez (who was still alive at the writing of this book) and is the second largest importer of Venezuelan oil. Sudan has oil but needs to get it out of the ground and transport it. China is Sudan’s only choice. The west does not want to invest the unstable country. Russia has the technology, but not the money. China has the money and the need for oil. China has other ways of getting what it wants too. It made loans to Angola to build an airport. The loan money disappeared within the corrupt Angolan government. A second loan was made with similar results. Now it is time to repay the loan and the money is gone and the infrastructure not built, so Angola must pay back the loan with oil. Through trade or corruption China will get want it wants.

China also exports its people. The Soviet Union used to keep immigration tightly controlled, but China sees an advantage in letting its people emigrate. Chinese emigrate to developing countries because they see opportunity that they don’t have in their rapidly developing homeland. People move to countries live Egypt where even low paying jobs are more than they made in China. By hard work, under cutting the competition they can monopolize sections of the economy, like the textile industry in Egypt. Unlike other groups of immigrants who generally want to blend into the new country the Chinese remain very loyal to China. The Chinese also enjoy something Westerner’s do not: China does not have a history of colonization and the Chinese who come to build the infrastructure keep to themselves. They remain almost invisible. They live on company compounds in nicer housing than they had in China. They have little reason to go out into the city because their goal is to save money, they have everything they need on the compound, and they have no understanding of the local language.

Problems do exist. Local recognize the higher pay, better food, and conditions the Chinese workers receive. In several countries this has lead to strikes and even riots. Chinese companies avoid legal problems with bribes.

China is on its way to becoming a superpower. Looking out for its interests, it finds countries that need its help or money and slowly move in. It moves not with colonial ambition, but under the guise of friendship and mutual benefit. It’s methods are not the export of revolution, but rather a no holds barred, all out capitalism. Cardenal and Araujo present a well written and thoroughly documented work on China in the twenty-first century. A very worthwhile read for anyone interested in economics, trade, and foreign affairs.

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