| Rumsfeld's Home Truths on China
To hear some of his critics, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld should have devoted his speech in
Singapore last Saturday to . . . well, we're not sure what. He's certainly being criticized for being candid
about the recent surge in Beijing's military spending, and how this trend, coupled with China's lack of
political freedom, may be a cause for concern.
It was a conference on security in Asia. China's military is already the third largest in the world, and it is
expanding at a rate that will allow it to project power not just in the region, but around the world. Was
there a more worthy topic?
His comments led within a day to a flood of introspective articles on how U.S. "hawks" are now turning
their sights on China, and how Asians are fretting that they may now have to take sides. The Australian
Financial Review opined that Sino-U.S. ties should not "be left to Rumsfeld and his factional allies,
including neo-conservative remnants among the administration's unreconstructed hawks."
At the conference, Kishore Mahbubani, who was once Singapore's ambassador to the United Nations,
even warned Mr. Rumsfeld that his views might lead people to think that the U.S. wants to destabilize
China. The diplomat was later further quoted as observing, "My feeling is that the Chinese are alarmed.
For them the nightmare scenario is for the U.S. to start believing that this tide of democracy should
Heaven forefend. Surely, Mr. Mahbubani must be confusing the Chinese government with the Chinese
people, who presumably would not consider it a nightmare if their leaders consulted them occasionally.
As for democracy's tide, it is difficult to see anything new in that. American governments since at least
Harry Truman have made promotion of democracy abroad the stated policy of the United States, and the
present administration more than any other has pinned its colors to this mast.
Perhaps it is best to rewind the tape and see what exactly Mr. Rumsfeld said in his speech and
subsequent question-and-answer session that was so unacceptable.
His remark that China's economy and military had expanded, but "growth in political freedom has not yet
followed" was but a statement of the obvious. His view that Beijing "will need to embrace some form of a
more open and representative government if it is to fully achieve the political and economic benefits to
which its people aspire" is an opinion that many, including us, have held long before this administration came into power.
It is faulty logic however to conclude that those stating these facts or holding these views must by
definition be hatching some grand plan to derail China's emergence in the world. As the secretary himself
quickly responded to Mr. Mahbubani, "the implication that freedom means destabilization, I believe, is
Far from being China-bashers, those who argue that it is in the Chinese government's own interest to
respect the rights of its people, and that the men and women who make up the Chinese Communist
Party today should put this evolution in motion, are giving both government and party advice they need
to hear. Those who lavish empty praise upon Beijing may be saying what a few authoritarians prefer to
hear, but hardly are thinking of the consequences.
Likewise, those who dare air potential difficulties in public also do China a greater favor, as it is better to
debate matters in the open than allow them to fester unattended. At any rate, this seems to be the view
of Mr. Rumsfeld, who told the conference's participants, "transparency is critical to fostering trust and
In this regard, Mr. Rumsfeld revealed that a forthcoming Pentagon report concludes that China's military
expenditures are "much higher" than the already robust 12% increase in the defense budget Beijing
admitted to this year. China is arming, moreover, at a time when it faces no threat from anyone.
China's leaders may feel that the country's large foreign exchange earnings are best spent on expanding
military power, with advanced technology and, as the secretary noted, a "significant rollout of ballistic
missiles opposite Taiwan." But has Beijing shown itself to be so benign that its neighbors need not be
concerned about its growing ability to work its will in Asia?