China's Risky Bet Against History (Page 3 of 10)

Germany’s authoritarian regime also inflamed British anxieties by limiting access opportunities. ‘Access is shorthand for intervening in another state’s decision-making processand can take the form of lobbying officials, playing off rival bureaucracies, or cultivating influential societal groups that in turn pressure the government. Because Germany’s political system centralized authority, only one point of access existed: the Kaiser. This point of access was unfriendly. As one British diplomat serving in Berlin put it: ‘the Emperor and his people are actuated by feelings of hostility against England which are only limited by the German regard for law and by the practical fear of reprisals…’ With the Reichstag and other domestic actors inside Germany deprived of real authority, the British had nowhere else to turn for access, and thus, little prospect of shaping Germany’s future course.

Mistrust begets rivalry. Great Britain, fearing Germany’s intentions, took steps to hedge against its rise. Germany countered, a maritime arms race ensued, and the two countries started down the long road leading to the catastrophic violence of World War I.

The ascendance of the United States followed a different path. Institutions underpinning US democracy—rule of law and transparent governance—reassured Britain that the rising power of the Western Hemisphere posed little threat. Ultimately, the US political system reduced British fear of policy surprises. Because Congress played a critical role in foreign policy, and its deliberations were public and reported in the press, the British could readily discern the US position on the leading issues of the day. In addition, through reading newspapers, the British could monitor the outlook of a key domestic actor—the American public. The British therefore had sufficient information to trace changes in US foreign policy before they were manifested outwardly. In essence, the nature of the United States’ democratic regime made it predictable.

The transparency that accompanied a free press also forestalled the growth of British mistrust. US actions that at face value appeared to signal enmity could be contextualized. A good example of this dynamic was the British perception of President Grover Cleveland’s threat to delineate the Venezuela boundary by force. Surveying the US political landscape in late 1895, British observers could readily determine that the Democratic Party faced an uphill struggle in the coming presidential elections. The pressure to pander to Anglophobe sentiment was clearly evident. Accordingly, the British were able to interpret Cleveland’s public ultimatum for what it was—an ‘electioneering dodge’ in Lord Salisbury’s words—rather than take it as a sign of real antagonism. Transparency similarly prevented US posturing on the Panama Canal and the Alaskan border from fuelling British mistrust.

Also, domestic US institutions reassured the British by creating myriad opportunities for access. In the decentralized political system of the United States, foreign policy was the purview of executive branch officials, members of Congress, the media, the business community, and even the public at large. This presented the British with numerous groups to lobby, manipulate, and cultivate. They consciously fostered an ‘English faction’ in New York and Washington, and established close personal ties with US counterparts. This translated into unparalleled access; British diplomats regularly hobnobbed with senators and cabinet members. The results were more than social: the British could actually shape an ascendant United States’ foreign policy. A case in point was the Open Door notes, which were essentially spoon-fed to US Secretary of State John Hay by his British friends.

Comments
81
thu nguyen
December 26, 2011 at 12:39

@Observer: I want to ask every China who believes that we depend on them for everything culture-related to reply me on these questions:
-If a people, after a millenia being enslaved by the Chinese, being forbidden from following their old customs or building a cultural heritage of their own, being forced to talk, write, act… like the Chinese, in short being forcibly converted into Chinese, still come out of that and self-identify themselves as non-Chinese, does that say something about them and their culture?
Our people and country cannot be destroyed for the same reason countries like Greece and Egypt cannot be destroyed, while a lot of (once) bigger, stronger, wealthier nations don’t last against the flow of history. Because it was once home to a strong native civilization, and somehow that is marked into the nation’s subsconsiousness and it makes this people strong. A lot of things, tangible and intangible, can be destroyed, but we never forget that we are Vietnamese, we are not Chinese, that we are “the South” and not “the North”, that we are different. Even if they’ve destroyed almost all our distant memories , we create things again, we create a new memory again.
-If our cultural inventions had such little value, why did Zhu Di (Minh Thanh To) have to order his army to destroy or rob us of everything that has something written on it?
And to thinks that many of the heroes who’ve noted that there are differences and fiercely protected those differences are people who have quite some Chinese blood in their veins as well (Tran kings, Nguyen Trai, for example)!

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