Date: February 14, 1996
Dr. Harry Harding, Dean of the Elliot School of International Affairs at George Washington University gave a talk last night here at the University of Kansas about China's foreign policy, and how history has helped to mold and shape it. It was the most lucid discussion of China's foreign policy I have heard in a very long time.
Dr. Harding described four areas where history shapes policy. The first is the spatial concomitant of the dynastic cycle, wherein weak central governments lose control over peripheral areas and strong central governments prove their strength by regaining control. With the reversion of Hong Kong and Macau only Taiwan will lie beyond the PRC's authority. The problem lies in the fact that culturally, economically and politically Hong Kong and Taiwan are no longer peripheries, but strong centers in their own right. A second area is distrust of foreign influences on domestic population. From missionaries to the internet, Chinese authorities have sought a high degree of control over foreign ideas. However, the technology of access will continue to out pace the technology of control. A third area is China's relations to Asia generally. And while there is no desire to re-establish a "Middle Kingdom", China increasingly sees itself as the center of gravity in Asia, with a concurrent rise in deference to its own interests and desires. The fourth area is China's experience with international law and regimes. China's first glimpses of international law (the Treaty of Nanjing, 1842, for instance) have conditioned it to look upon such regimes as ruled made by the strong to impose upon the weak. Consequently, it sees obedience to international agreements, like the missile control regime, not as goods in themselves but as things for which a quid-pro-quo can be demanded. However, as China takes a more prominent role internationally these attitudes can change, as witnessed by recent agreements on intellectual property and nuclear proliferation.
A most interesting discussion.