China’s Good Cop?

When I read articles such as this one from the IHT, I have a hard time figuring out if China’s Premier Wen Jiabao is simply playing good cop to the PLA’s bad cop or if Wen actually believes the argument he advances at every opportunity.

If it’s the latter, then the bureaucratic infighting within the PRC’s government may be greater than it appears to the outside world, in which case every country in the region must be extremely careful not to act in ways that do not strengthen the PLA’s hand within internal policy debates.

For IR wonks, I’m led to think of a book like Jack Snyder’s Myths of Empire, in which Snyder looks for correlations between the unity of a regime and its tendency towards an “overstretched” imperial foreign policy. That’s not to say that China is imperial, but the concern that the more divided the Chinese government it is, the more its neighbors have to fear is, I think, very real.

All of which suggests that, as I wrote in this post, every country in the region, the US included, must think very carefully about the decisions they make now. Pushing too quickly for an organized “hedge” option without a parallel move towards an Asian “OSCE” risks encouraging elements within the PRC who favor antagonism — resulting in self-fulfilling prophecies about Chinese behavior and producing a vicious cycle that could rapidly spiral out of control.

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