Thursday, March 8, 2007

Expect More Transparency in China

Expect more transparency when it comes to China's government budget and military affairs. Wang Jisi of Peking University spoke to the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations last night at a Jones Day office in NYC. Stephen Orlins moderated. Wang Jisi argued that while China's main security concern remains Taiwan, it understands the role of transparency in strengthening East Asian peace. But this transparency "takes time," so the United States "should be patient," he said.

Why are Chinese military budgets skyrocketing? Military equipment is poor; military salaries are inadequate; and "the Taiwan issue" persists. Moreover, China's economy is growing at nine percent per year, and its military budget therefore cannot be compared to that of, say, Mongolia or Myanmar, Wang Jisi said. But he said we should expect more transparency both within China and with China's relations to the world.

The issue of transparency in China came up last week in Chicago at the ISA, too, and was the central theme of a 2005 article I wrote in the Asia Times Online with Larry Wortzel. We argued:

"Nations that believe in the principles of open, accountable and transparent government should encourage China to move toward a civil society. Such a change would respond to the values and principles these nations live by, and would also reduce apprehension that there are secret threats behind China's policies."

Last week at ISA, a panel of Chinese scholars argued that China sees military value in "concealment." I could feel Sun Tzu's spirit in the room (read Sun Tzu's passages on concealment here). I asked the panel, "Which is more credible? A military that can be observed or a military that cannot be observed, especially when it comes to nuclear strategy?" The scholars answered that in fact China wants "translucence"---it can be seen but only through shadows and mist.

1 comment:

Evan O'Neil said...

China's true comparative advantage at this stage might be the Communist Party. Well, not the CP per se, but certainly the semblance and exercise of more government unity than the U.S. has mustered on climate issues. The country that solves the energy innovation imperative will give its people and economy a solid footing in the 21st century. Perhaps a touch of concealment would allow China to cook up a Shanghai Project -- the environmental equivalent of America's push for the atomic bomb. That would make for quite an ironic twist, since environmentalism has largely been viewed as the wedge with which to pry open China, allowing democratization and civil society to flourish.