Jimmy Carter Succumbs to Pax Sinica

Former president's yearning for "peace" -- on China's terms -- jeopardizes American values

Jimmy Carter’s credulous op-ed in New Years Eve’s Washington Post refreshes one’s recollection of how he’s more suited to the role of “One-World Humanitarian” than clear-eyed geopolitical strategist.

"While president, forty years ago,” Mr. Carter recalls, he and Deng Xiaoping “normalized diplomatic relations . . . putting an end to three decades of hostility” which enabled the two countries to become engines of global prosperity.” Mr. Carter celebrates this Ruby Anniversary of that great triumph, as “a testament to the ability of countries with different histories, cultures and political systems to work together for the greater good.”

That “critical relationship is in jeopardy,” Mr. Carter warns.

Because, today, he worries, prominent Americans claim that China poses a threat to the American way of life, the United States government reports that China has declared its determination to drive the United States out of Asia and reduce our influence around the world. Mr. Carter does not dispute that those are China’s announced ambitions.

So much for “working together” for “greater good.”

If that's the relationship in jeopardy: Rightly so.

Today's Jimmy Carter is surprisingly tolerant of China’s “deficiencies in Internet censorship, policies toward minorities and religious restrictions,” which he acknowledges “should be recorded and criticized” – that is, challenged only by words. “Americans must acknowledge,” according to Mr. Carter, that we “have no inherent right to dictate to China how to govern its people or choose its leaders.” That’s a remarkably blithe attitude coming from one who took up a post-presidential career of certifying elections in countries around the world. But not in China, where there are no elections.

The 1980's Jimmy Carter declared that the United States would use military force to oppose any takeover (by the Soviets or Iran) of the Persian Gulf. The Carter Doctrine of yore evidently does not apply to the South China Sea.

It does not seem to matter to Mr. Carter whether his yearned-for “peace on earth” is a Pax Americana or a new Pax Sinica. But it should. An American modeled peace projects the classical liberal and democratic ideas once so dear to Mr. Carter (and still to the rest of us): limited government by the consent of the governed, individual civil rights, due process of law, freedom of speech, expression, association and religion. Contrast a “peace” imposed by Chinese hegemony: a totalitarian regime obsessed with subjugating its population with high-tech thought-policing surveillance.

These are not immaterial differences, let alone equivalents, justifying Mr. Carter’s ambivalence. Ours is better than theirs.

Perhaps, as Mr. Carter fears, ceasing to countenance China’s obvious human rights abuses, discontinuing tolerance of its predatory trade practices, pushing back against its military projections in the Western Pacific, can lead to a new Cold War. There is, indeed, even the risk that China, tempted by Western indifference, will violate those “carefully defined rules of engagement” in the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea and trigger one hot battle. Which the West must be prepared to win, not compromise.

Or, like a schoolyard bully confronted and contained, China may stand down.

In 1979, Mr. Carter says, he and Deng knew they “were advancing the cause of peace.” Over four intervening decades, that “cause” has plainly not “advanced” to Kuwait, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Gaza, Yemen, Afghanistan, Myanmar – nor has it emanated from Mr. Carter’s own quagmire, Iran. Or Tienanmen.

Meanwhile, during those decades, that backward despotism that is North Korea became a nuclear powered one – which could only have occurred through China’s aid and abetting, funded by its ill-gotten gains from its illegitimate trade with the West.

China has gained much from the West’s wilful oblivion – and wishful thinking – but given little. A peace built on the sand of such blindness to its existential challenge to our fundamental values, history teaches, is delusional and ephemeral. It strengthens our adversary beyond the point of our safety.

Such was once called “appeasement.”