Establishment Voices Call for Appeasement

As tensions have risen in Asia, Establishment voices are coming to China's defense. Writing for The New Republic Dec. 2, Joshua Kurlantzick, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, argued that "China can't fix North Korea, so don't ask it to try."  Beijing's leverage over Pyongyang is  "far more limited than it often appears." The Kim Jong-Il regime has not adopted economic reforms, ceased its provocations, nor halted its nuclear program. Yet, Kurlantzick lays out what Beijing has done to support Kim, 

While prodding Kim, China has taken pains not to push too hard. It pointedly did not criticize North Korea for sinking a South Korean naval vessel earlier this year, which killed more than 40 sailors. And it has tried to water down U.N. resolutions sanctioning Pyongyang, while deflecting criticism of the North by highlighting Washington and Seoul's military maneuvers off the coast of Korea. Beijing has also continued to deliver lifelines of fuel and food aid to the North,  which have helped preserve Kim's regime, since much of the food likely went to the military.

Kurlantzick thinks "China is getting played by the wily North." Yet, Beijing has gotten what it has wanted on the strategic level, the continuation of a divided Korean peninsula that keeps democracy and foreign troops away from its border. China initiated the Six Party talks in 2003 out of fear that President George W. Bush had regime change in mind for North Korea as well as for Iraq. They have worked to blunt any decisive interference with Pyongyang as it has held nuclear bomb tests, fired long-range missiles, expanded its enrichment capabilities, and collaborated with Beijing's other rogue state ally, Iran.

Meanwhile, at The New York Times, James Zimmerman, a  former chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce in China, defends the progress of human rights under the communist dictatorship. His jumping off point, however, is the imprisonment of democracy activist Liu Xiaobo, who will not be present next week in Oslo to receive his Nobel Peace Prize.  Zimmerman's concern is with Beijing's vehement protest against the Nobel award, "The face China presents to the outside world does not resemble the modern and dynamic society that it is working to become."

His advice is to back off on criticism of Beijing and cooperate with the regime, as he and his corporate colleagues have done by investing in China's rise.

It is important to keep in mind the internal struggle between moderate and conservative voices within China. The Chinese people continue to view with suspicion any attempt to impose Western values on China. Liberal institutions need to be nurtured, rather than thrust upon Beijing. Keeping this tension in mind serves as a framework for productive engagement.

Political reform is coming to China and Western politicians should avoid prolonging the process through strident remarks and posturing that only give ammunition to Chinese hard-liners. Instead, we should encourage Beijing as it becomes more comfortable with its place as a modern, and increasingly open, power.

The same illogical line was used about "peaceful co-existence" with the Soviet Union whose hard liners it was alleged were only encouraged by U.S. resistance. In reality, what discredits hard-liners is when their policies fail and bring only high costs without gain to society. Appeasement rewards hard-liners and gives credibility to their argument that America is weak and can be pushed out of the way.  

The Kurlantzick-Zimmerman posture represents the two main elements of appeasement seen in the 1930s. A desire to ease tensions to avoid another conflict (in this case, a return to Cold War thinking) and the desire to "do business" with a powerful foreign entity. The cover for the latter is the idea that commerce will tame the hard-liners rather than empower them. It is the short-lived triumph of hope over history that always comes to a bad end.