“A scary story” lurks behind today’s headlines about China’s increasingly aggressive foreign policy, John W. Garver, professor emeritus at the Georgia Institute of Technology, told Global Atlanta in an interview.
At the time, Oxford University Press had just published his latest book, “China’s Quest: The History of the Foreign Relations of the People’s Republic of China,” and he had recently given a Kiwanis address primarily focusing on the relations between China and Iran that gave the backdrop for the framework of the Iran Nuclear Deal announced in 2015.
Already the author of 11 books and many scholarly articles, Dr. Garver told Global Atlanta that he felt compelled to write his latest one because none other existed providing “the mosaic” of China’s foreign relations since Chinese Communist leader Mao Zedong declared the creation of the People’s Republic of China (PRC).
He considered the absence of such a work a glaring omission, especially as students attending his classes had little familiarity with the history despite the many articles and texts dealing with different periods. Dr. Garver’s interest dates back to his days as a junior high student, when he did a report on the uprising in Tibet, and was further piqued by the Vietnam war while he was in college.
Encouraged by his wife and a China scholar in her own right, Penelope Prime, Dr. Garver decided to pursue the book. It took 787 pages with an additional 70 pages of notes and an index to complete the task. But once accomplished, the book didn’t allay his fears for what might transpire in the future, especially if China followed in the footsteps of early 20th century Germany.
In a nutshell — not to be confused with the exposition in his book — he said that much like Germany at the beginning of the 20th century, China’s ruling party, the Chinese Communist Party, is following a course of “aggrieved nationalism” to maintain power.
Dr. Garver explained that a unifying theme of his book, as opposed to previous scholarship, is the focus on how domestic policies in China have affected its foreign policy, including its recent posture in the South and East China seas.
Since communist or socialist ideology no longer serves as a legitimizing or even unifying force except for the most dogmatic party members, he said that the current government has to keep improving the lives of its people to retain power. “When the economy goes down, it’s very dangerous for the government,” he added.
When the economy slows, the government has to fuel a sense of national pride and unity. “As a strong defender of the nation, the Communist Chinese Party has to act as if China is an ‘aggrieved nation,'” he said.
As in the end of the 20th century when the United States and Germany were the most rapidly industrializing countries, Germany embarked on a course of overseas entanglement and colonization to keep at bay the forces for democracy and socialism that were pressing the government of Emperor Wilhelm II, who had taken power after the resignation of Otto von Bismarck, according to Dr. Garver.
The result, of course, was that it became encircled by the Triple Entente, the understanding linking the Russian Empire, the French Third Republic, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, eventually leading to a disastrous world war.
Dr. Garver doesn’t think that China has gone so far in its quest for worldwide domination at the moment to provoke a world war. In fact, he added that while China may want to attain a dominant place in the world, it is acutely aware of the collapse of other world powers and is most likely to adopt a policy of patience.
“There have been countless books published in China about why the Soviet Union failed,” he said indicating that a rush to power as in Germany’s case before World War I also would lead to a loss of stature.
Nevertheless, he added that world peace probably hinges on the U.S. and China maintaining positive relations.
Dr. Garver provided the following overview of his book and engaged in a discussion about it at the National Committee on U.S. China Relations in New York on April 14, 2016.