Tao Guang Yang Hui (韬光养晦) as a strategy - is China a threat? (I)

Fareed Zakaria in Newsweek made a great observation in China's strategy on Tao Guang Yang Hui (韬光养晦), literally translated as "Hide brightness, nourish obscurity" (see Mike Pillsbury for a good introduction in English, but some of his conclusions would be argued against in part II of this blog) or "Bide our time and focus on building ourselves". Zakaria also praised the wisdom of Lee Kuan Yew's comments on education for China's next generation, whom he worries may not understand the importance of being humble. LKY's deep insight contrast sharply with the views from some low ranking officials in China and many western observers (perhaps including himself) who seem to have missed one of LKY's points. LKY's comment has two fold meanings, about popular education / indoctrination of TGYH and about the need to ensure that TGYH will be adopted as the long term strategy in future generations.

I googled the word TGYH and found a few extremely insightful essays on the issue from China's respected strategists (plus amateur interpretations by writers such as Liu Xiaobo, who is not a strategist). Unfortunately these are mostly written in Chinese. In Part II, I will recap the key point of an excellent discussion in this link here by Xiao Dong, and another by Wang Yusheng, who in my opinion truly understand the essence of TGYH. I hope this view would help those who are worried about "China threat" to understand the implication. Even if Chinese GDP/cap is on par with the Japan, which is at least 25 to 50 years away from today, they argued that it still serves China's best interests to remain TGYH.

First, an approximate translation (with a little of my elaboration) of the synopsis of the TGYH (see link of Pillsbury's description in English for some background information) strategy, as laid out by Deng Xiaoping in early 1990s (see the end for Deng's original quote in Chinese ) -- the basic idea of Deng is to "mind our own business and be humble in world affairs"
  1. avoid leading or forming faction in any international conflict, stay neutral in all circumstance, "Don't stick your head out"
  2. do not try to lead an opinion in international politics, do not try to represent any interest group, stay away from any sphere of influence
  3. avoid any trouble, controversy or antagonism in world politics, be humble but try not be humiliated, and even accept minor humiliation if you have to, "yield on small issues" in every possible occasion
  4. concentrate on economic development
  5. focus on forming a friendly relationship with ALL countries in the world, irrespective of the ideology of the countries you deal with. i.e., forget the old "party ideology"

Note Deng's instruction was very specific, perhaps he feared his successors may not able to implement the strategies correctly. Note also that Deng's instructions depart from the common proverbial connotation with Guo Jian (越王勾践) and Liu Bei (刘备), which implies that being humble is a means, an indirect way to realize ambition in future (Pillsbury got it wrong here, because he failed to notice the significance of Deng's elaboration of TGYH). Deng probably needed to choose a proverb with a connotation to ambition so that his successors will be motivated to follow, and he cleverly defined his true vision in the five principles above. Deng's hope was that by the time his great grand successors are ready to think about being ambitious they would have been benefited from being humble so much that they would then recognize that TGYH should serve as the 'permanent' strategy like Xiao Dong stated in his great essay (LKY, himself a great visionary, obviously understood Deng's intention very well). Deng saw the world of his time as one 'tending towards greater relaxation' in which 'peace and development are the main themes'.

I hope the above description and links explain the TGYH strategy, the history and the present situation well enough for us to proceed to the discussions in Part II. i.e. is China a threat, or will China ever become a threat to world peace? or to US? The question that has also attracted discussion and hearing in the US Congress.

(to be continued here)


the original in the above essay copied below, other discussions can be found here and a generic search result here, where you can see the majority of opinions.
  新华网2005年6月20日消息 美国侨报近日发表萧冬的文章,说随着国力的增长﹐中国将更偏重“有所作为”﹐但绝不应放弃“韬光养晦”。同时﹐也要向世界表明﹐“韬光养晦”不是一种“诡道”﹐不是一个“阴谋”﹐不是权宜之计﹐而视为一种“正道”,一种立身之本﹐不仅应行之于中国崛起之前﹐而且还会行之于崛起之后。
  对中国“韬光养晦”政策含义的理解﹐见仁见智。最近的一个例子﹐就是据报导﹐美国五角大楼中国军力报告的起草人﹐“中国通”白邦瑞(Mike Pillsbury)曾宣称﹐战国时代越王勾践“韬光养晦”,最后灭了吴王夫差。如果今天不遏制中国,30年后,美国也会像吴王夫差一样完蛋。白邦瑞是以兵不厌诈的“诡道”来解释“韬光养晦”,以弱肉强食的“霸道”来管窥中国的行为。


The 5 principles Deng Xiaoping instructed to the Chinese leadership for the implementation of TGYH in early 1990s as below
-- source (note the author in this source understands TGYH a bit differently)


Sun Bin said...

Lee Kuan Yew talked about China's "peaceful development" in Der Spiegel.

"... The Chinese have worked out that they need 30 to 40 years of peace and quiet, perhaps 50 years, in order to catch up with the lead of other countries and turn their communist system into a market economy. At all cost they want to avoid the mistakes made by Germany and Japan..."

Anonymous said...

The estimate now in 2008 is that China's economy will surpass the US by 2030 or thereabouts, and perhaps even go on to quadruple in size eventually. Once the per capita income of a sizeable part of the economy reaches developed world status, the emergence of a large services based sector should be sufficient to keep it all going, even if manufacturing were to become uncompetitive vis a vis other less developed parts of the world. I think the key to continued prosperity and harmony is to make sure that income distribution does not get too far out of whack. The existence of a large and growing middle class ensures a sufficient tax base for the government to govern well. I think the risks for China are (1) a sudden toppling of the current regime, leaving a power vacuum; (2) war over Taiwan that results in the destruction of large parts of China and Taiwan, thereby slowing down China's development; (3) the formation of an out-of-control military industrial complex, which will suck wealth out of the economy (of course, a sizeable defence force is necessary to ensure that China, which has been occupied three times in the past -- actually four counting Hong Kong -- is never reoccupied); (4) a repeated violation of the principle of posse comitatus, which sets a bad precedent for future generations of military leaders; (5) megalomania and arrogance. China needs only to maintain the status quo and it will become the richest and most powerful country in a couple of decades. On political reform, I believe the communist party congress will eventually morph into a people's congress or parliament of some kind. From the documentaries I've seen, elections are appearing at the local level it is said as a means to keep corruption at that level out. Once the per capita income is fairly high and education is widespread, a democracy would then be more workable. It is in nobody's interest for a nut to run the country, however popular the person might be. I think these are interesting times. If China were to ever become great again, Tao Guang Yang Hui!