THUNDER FROM THE SILENT ZONE:
by Paul Monk
Melbourne: Scribe Publications
Paperback: 336 pages
Rec. Price: $35.00
Paul Monk, one of Australia’s most original strategic thinkers, worked until 2000 in the Defence Intelligence Organisation, becoming head of China analysis and chairman of the inter-agency working group on China, where he was directly involved in the preparation of numerous working documents relating to China’s internal development and its international policies.
His book takes its title from graffiti which appeared in Beijing after the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, where it was used by student activists to mean “explosive anger within a repressed society”.
However, Mr Monk also sees the “silent zone” as referring to the widespread silence in the Western world to examine the dark underside of China’s economic miracle: the continued repression of human rights and China’s threatening foreign policy towards Japan and Taiwan.
Since about 1990, China has become a driver of global economic growth which has been fuelled by itsinsatiable demand for coal, oil and a variety of other raw materials to fuel its frenetic economic growth, which has averaged around 10 per cent a year.
In turn, Chinese manufactured goods flood world markets in textiles, clothing, electronic goods and a range of other manufactures.
The issue facing Australia is how it responds to the emergence of China in the world.
Paul Monk examines alternative responses: from Samuel Huntington’s view that Australia should lift the drawbridge and become an American-aligned outpost, to Hugh White’s comment that China could displace the US in East Asia, and become Australia’s new great and powerful friend, an alarming prospect given that China remains a one-party dictatorship which has undoubtedly abandoned Marx, but continues to follow Stalin and Lenin.
After carefully considering the evidence, Paul Monk accepts neither view. He calls for a realistic assessment of China’s economic growth, the abandonment of the “linear ascent model” which assumes that China’s future is a projection of its past, and a more realistic assessment of both the limitations on China’s power, and of the role of Japan and the United States.
He argues that Beijing’s response to the issue of Taiwan will be a weather-vane to China’s intentions. For over 50 years, Beijing has regarded Taiwan as a renegade province which must be reunified to the mainland.
However, over this period, Taiwan has been transformed from an agrarian society to a technological powerhouse, and even more importantly, from a military dictatorship to a thriving multi-party democracy.
Currently, both China’s and Western views of Taiwan are centred on a set of what he calls “unexamined assumptions” which are arguably false.
The “one China” policy holds that Taiwan was always an integral part of China, and that China is justified in reunifying Taiwan by force if necessary. Further, it is assumed that any proposal that questions these assumptions is impossible or pointless.
The consequence of this skewed vision, he argues, is to create dangers, rather than resolve them. He rightly observes, “China has a great deal to lose if it resorts to force; but it is afraid to renounce its use, lest this make it seem weak and lead to a straightforward Taiwanese declaration of independence.
“Equally, Taiwan is afraid to declare formal independence, lest China resort to force. Taiwan is actually independent in every respect, except that neither China nor the majority of the nations of the world acknowledge this reality, preferring instead the legal fiction that it is part of China (where ‘China’ is tacitly construed as meaning the People’s Republic of China).
“The US continues to insist that it has a ‘one China’ policy, but also that it will defend Taiwan with whatever it takes if China uses force to try to turn a political fiction into a political reality.”
Monk argues with logic and conviction that to reconcile China’s vision of itself with the rights of the Taiwanese people requires a paradigm shift.
He further contends that as neither the United States nor Japan could develop a dialogue with China over these issues, Australia should take the lead. (Alexander Downer could take note!)
Such a dialogue must, however, be based on an understanding of what China truly is: a rapidly-growing nation which remains a one-party dictatorship, where human rights enshrined in China’s constitution are ignored, and where the rule of law is largely absent.
If China’s economy is to continue to grow, Monk asserts, it must reform its political and legal systems and permit freedom of expression: to entrench the rights on which a stable and prosperous society depend.
This book is eminently readable. The author’s views are controversial and principled, even if they seem at times politically “impossible”.
In Thunder from the Silent Zone, Paul Monk has made a valuable contribution to a necessary dialogue within Australia, and between Australia and China, on future relations between our two countries.