Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Same Bed, Different Dreams: Managing U.S.-China Relations, 1989-2000

David M. Lampton. Same Bed, Different Dreams: Managing U.S.-China Relations, 1989-2000
David Lampton draws on what he calls his “extended exposure to China, its citizens, and its leaders, as well as to U.S. counterparts and the overall Sino-American interaction,” to add and emotional human feeling to the cold analysis that other writers utilize when examining the Sino-American relationship.  He believes that his high level of personal contact with both American and Chinese leaders allows him examine events and decisions in conjunction with the “biases, prejudices, goals, aspirations, and a will to survive that can never be disentangled from their decisions.” There are several drawbacks to this methodology: the tendency to credulously accept the statements of political actors, the risk that the observer may unknowingly end up a pawn in a political struggle, and the temptation to value ties to sources that interfere with objectivity.

This unique understanding Sino-American relations led Lampton to choose the title of his work, Same Bed, Different Dreams, from a Chinese folk expression that describes, “two people whose lives are intimately intertwined but who do not fundamentally communicate with each other.” In the context of Sino-American relations after 1989, Lampton see the processes of trade globalization and security requirements as inescapably drawing the United States and China into an ever more dependent relationship while their domestic cultures and politics prevent mutual understanding and create tensions in the relationship.  It is clear that Lampton views the Sino-American relationship as both critical to the future and challenging to manage because the core values of each nation are radically different, and that both cultures hide potential pitfalls for outsiders.

Same Bed, Different Dreams marries a narrative of events with analysis of cultural, institutional, economic, and other influences on Sino-Soviet relations.  This separates it from works like Bruce Cumings’ Parallax Visions: Making Sense of American East-Asian Relations, which focuses on analysis and has no concern for developing a consistent narrative.  Because Lampton establishes the historical narrative before delving into his analysis, it is easier to comprehend his analysis, as the reader is approaching the topic from the same vector.  This makes Same Bed, Different Dreams more useful to readers that do not already possess in-depth knowledge of the subject matter.

To develop background for his analysis, Lampton provides five themes that increased strain in post-Cold War Sino-American relations, and four turning points in Sino-American relations during the eleven years Same Bed, Different Dreams addresses.  The five themes provide the base for understanding the four turning points, as well as the later analysis.  First, rapid Chinese modernization fueled American fears of a growing colossus and Chinese concerns over potential American action to reduce Chinese growth.  Second, Taiwan’s economic success and desire for greater global recognition inflamed tensions in the Taiwan Strait.  Third, the fall of the USSR allowed domestic political issues to take a higher importance in both China and the United States.  In the United States this caused Congress to pursue a greater role in foreign policy.  Fourth, the end of the Cold War allowed both nations to focus on labor policies and globalization issues, with Americans growing concerned over the trade deficit with China.  Fifth, American military dominance in the Persian Gulf War and Bosnia caused Chinese leaders to fear future American interventions in China.

As important as the five themes adding to stress in the Sino-American relationship are, Lampton’s four turning points in Sino-American relations enjoy pride of place, and address issues of potential and economic conflict.  The first turning point the Tiananmen Square Massacre in June 1989, which sharpened American focus on Beijing’s human rights record, and witnessed Congress’ insistence on a greater role in determining American foreign policy.  The second turning point was President Bill Clinton’s linkage of Most Favored Nation trade status to Chinese improvements in human rights, and then retreated from this stance within a single year.  The third turning point occurred in 1995-96 when Congressional and Taiwanese leaders separately made moves that increased tensions in the Taiwan Strait.  Lampton’s fourth, and final, turning point was the NATO bombing campaign in Yugoslavia, which caused Chinese leaders to fear that the United States and NATO would allow concerns over human rights to triumph over issues of sovereignty.

After providing a historical narrative of the eleven years in question, Lampton turns to analysis based on what he calls the state, local, and individual levels.  While there is much to offer in his analysis, particularly in his recommendations for managing the future of the Sino-American relations, there are also some definite problems.  The first and least important problem with Lampton’s analysis is in his almost casual treatment of the “Chinese victim mentality”.  The second and larger problem with Lampton’s analysis is his conflation of American domestic political pressures with those experienced by Chinese officials.

Although he acknowledges that the “Chinese victim mentality” springs from the belief that China had a long and glorious history that was ended by the unjust treatment of China by foreign powers, and that it combines with the desire for international respect and acknowledgement as a great nation to create a sense of entitlement among Chinese leaders, Lampton dismisses the potential impact the victim complex might have on the actions of those leaders.  Jian Chen argues in Mao's China and the Cold War that the Chinese victim complex colors all of China’s dealings with foreign powers, especially in Mao’s definition of “equality” to mean a subservient role by other nations toward China because they owe it to compensate for past wrongs.  Chen also believes that the victim complex interacts with the Chinese concept of the “Central Kingdom” to exacerbate Chinese leader’s desire for external validation.  The difference in analysis between Chen and Lampton might be dismissed as the result of different focuses.

Lampton’s analysis of the domestic politics’ influence on Chinese leaders is a much bigger problem than his apparent minimizing of the “Chinese victim complex”.  While implying that Chinese leaders face fundamentally the same challenges American politicians do from domestic sources.  However, he fails to show that China’s political system contains the same components as the American.  First, the power and roles of the media are quite different.  Lampton writes that the Chinese media exist primarily in order to support state policy, to promote solidarity, and maintain the status quo.  In contrast, American media attempt to objectively report both good and bad news, and are generally independent of government control.  This means that media pressure cannot force Chinese politicians to change foreign or domestic policy.  Similarly, Lampton does not show that domestic political pressure can force a policy change.  Rather, he shows that Chinese leaders must be circumspect only while consolidating their power or attempting to make major domestic policy changes. Claiming that Jiang Zemin and Zhu Rongji could not make concessions regarding Taiwan while rooting out corruption in the People’s Liberation Army is not the same as a forced change to an announced policy, particularly because Lampton does not show that Jiang or Zhu wanted to make concessions regarding Taiwan.

These few flaws are not fatal to the purposes of Same Bed, Different Dreams.  Lampton not only provides a coherent and concise narrative of recent Sino-American relations, but he also includes valuable analysis of the influence of third parties, global institutions, culture, and domestic politics on Sino-American relations.  Particularly important is his analysis of the lack of impact economic sanctions have on Chinese actions.  Other than the issues of identified above, the only thing that Lampton could address to improve Same Bed, Different Dreams would be to update it to include issues arising from the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the subsequent American invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.

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