China expert and Former Presidential Advisor talks East Asian, American politics

A small while ago, I had the privilege to talk with Bruce Herschensohn, currently a professor at Pepperdine who has advised both Presidents Nixon and Reagan on issues concerning Taiwan and China, and put up a great fight against Barbara Boxer when she first ran for the Senate in 1992. Recently, Mr. Herschensohn has written a book on the subject of his expertise entitled Taiwan: The Threatened Democracy ($25.95, World Ahead). Our delightful conversation covered several topics pertinent to East Asia, and the conservative movement today.

As I talked to Mr. Herschensohn, he immediately began to prove himself worthy of his great reputation by offering compelling logic on the Chinese situation. When I quizzed him about the claim that capitalism would eventually lead to political freedom in China, he answered with a penetrating question of his own, “If economic ruin brought about the end of the evil empire and the Soviet Union itself, why would anyone think that the dictatorship of China would fall from economic health?” After all, he said, “many dictatorships allow capitalism, but capitalism is only the economic dimension of liberty. It’s not the whole thing.” He would state in conversation his belief that the Chinese government “was more fascist than communist” and increasingly expanding its global reach.

But the rise of China is no greater a threat to anyone than our key democratic ally just under 100 miles off its coast, Taiwan. Herschensohn declares steadfastly that being against Taiwanese independence “doesn’t seem to be in line with real conservative foreign policy” and feels that the current American reinforcement of the status quo to be a product of the State Department. And what’s wrong with that? “The State Department believes in stability; they don’t believe in liberty” he would tell me. “They believe in the status quo everywhere, and they believe in negotiations with tyrannies… and a tyranny will sign anything because it doesn’t mean anything. So they go against their agreement. So what?”

I inquired after whether Taiwan was really the ultimate aim of Chinese military aggression, or whether it was merely a red herring for their build up. He would say that Taiwan was “certainly not a red herring” but instead “number one on their list of obsessions”. He rattled off statistics from the top of his head, indicating that they had “988 missiles pointed at Taiwan” and have had “11 rehearsals to invade it”. When I asked whether the Chinese naval build up was a direct shot across the bow of the United States, he said, “Absolutely. They want to be the number one superpower.”

And this is truly the subject of his book, Taiwan: The Threatened Democracy. I asked him why our readers should buy a copy, and he replied without hesitation “Because it’s going to affect the future. Certainly your generation’s your future. I don’t think there’s any question about that. It also affects the war on terror – China has been dealing with all of our enemies.” The challenge of dealing with China will be a marker for our generation, and it’s an uphill battle as well.

Japan and Australia are our closest allies in the region. But Japan has an article within its constitution prohibiting an offensive military; Herschensohn told me that remilitarization would do much to help the United States, citing Prime Minister Koizumi’s support for our position in Iraq, and even indicated that Taiwan was willing to join the coalition but whose help we declined. Unfortunately, Herschensohn said that we could “not necessarily” count on the Australians if the time came for us to defend Taiwan, but no matter what they wanted to do, they would look to us for leadership in the region. When I asked about the last nation in Europe to still recognize Taiwan, Vatican City, Herschensohn assured me that they would not switch recognition to Beijing soon, citing the strange irony “that any country that is atheist [would] claim jurisdiction over appointing bishops,” as China does.

We finished up our conversation talking both about speculation that Governor Schwarzenegger may run against his old rival Barbara Boxer in 2010. And although he’s been “disappointed in Schwarzenegger as Governor,” Arnold “would certainly be better than Barbara Boxer!” Herschensohn went on to say that he “realize[s] that California is a terrible liberal state,” and that “maybe [Governor Schwarzenegger] is the only one who can do it” but that he would be “incredibly disappointed if” the Governor “were to follow more liberal policies than he did Republican policies,” essentially saying that he just did not know how Schwarzenegger would vote on key foreign policy issues that he would not have to deal with as Governor.

My final question involved his advice for aspiring public servants: “Get behind those candidates that believe as you do, and serve those candidates, and become those candidates yourself. There is a great danger as a careerist in Washington. DC is a Democrat town. The bureaucracies are filled with Democrats. A very small minority are Republicans or conservatives. The reason is obvious: Democrats believe that government is the solution to problems. Republicans, at least conservatives, believe as I do that government is the problem.” He would conclude that while Republicans “take off” toward the private sector, Democrats “stick around” in the bureaucracy. And thus concluded my enlightening interview with Bruce Herschensohn.

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