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Arthur Waldron's Dissent to CFR China Report

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by Arthur Waldron, Ph.D
Published on June 21st, 2007

Council on Foreign Relations member and Vice President of IASC, Arthur Waldron, was a member of the Council Task Force the report of which, "An Affirmative Agenda, A Positive Course" was recently released. Task force members had the option of signing the report without reservation, signing with reservation, or--if they found themselves in complete disagreement--not being listed as taking such a position, but rather not being listed at all, even though they had participated. Professor Waldron chose to sign with substantial reservations. Owing to Council on Foreign Relations rules, however, he did not have the opportunity to present these in detail in the report as published, though he--and others having reservations--were permitted to publish brief dissents or additions, as he did.

The report contains much useful factual material and some worthwhile recommendations. Its basic approach, however, tends to discount concerns about China, though not completely by any means, and search for the key to peace in the Pacific in Washington's actions, rather than in changes in Chinese behavior and political system.

Therefore Professor Waldron found himself in disagreement on a series of key points. These included the failure of the report to deal with the fundamental nature of the Chinese regime, a dictatorship having no legal or electoral processes and thus fundamentally wanting in legitimacy; the report's overly optimistic assessment of China's military build up, which he believes is dangerous and clearly targeted on U.S. forces and U.S. allies; an upbeat assessment of the Chinese economy that fails to deal searchingly with the lack of market mechanisms or genuine private entrepreneurship, state allocation of capital through political bank loans leading to bad debt, stock market and property market bubbles, and unwillingness to make the currency convertible. He also noted the report's failure to deal with Taiwan realistically, as a state that will continue to exist as it has, independently now, for more than sixty years, and the need for the world to make a place for it. Above all,

Professor Waldron deplored the reluctance to look forward. Many members of the Task Force believed that China today is stable and on a track of economic and political development that will continue in the future as it has over the past several decades, and that the United States should take an active and affirmative approach to Beijing. While Professor Waldron opposes confrontation and believes that the relationship must be carefully managed in the interests of peace, he is also persuaded that because of the many internal problems China faces, Communist rule there will face a crisis sooner or later, as the Soviet Union did. The West, and Washington not least, were entirely unprepared intellectually and emotionally for the end of the USSR; indeed had not even considered the possibility of Soviet collapse and how we should respond, with the result that it was handled extemporaneously and badly.

Professor Waldron believes that it is essential that the rest of the world be prepared for a likely regime crisis in China. Indeed, thinking about and preparation for this likely eventuality are perhaps the most important and pressing task faced at present by the rest of the world with respect to China.

The Council declined to publish Professor Waldron's full dissent, but rather gave him -- and the other dissenters -- 250 words. Here are the links to the Council on Foreign Relations and the original report and dissents, as well as to Professor Waldron's full dissent, which is posted on his website at the history department of the University of Pennsylvania.

Orginal CFR Report:

Arthur Waldron's Full Dissent (PDF):

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