Niall Ferguson on US-China relations

Niall Ferguson has an excellent piece in Bloomberg. Here’s an excerpt:

Detente has a lousy reputation, as we have seen. Neoconservatives continue to argue that it was a misconceived strategy that mainly benefited the Soviet Union and that Reagan was right to ditch it in favor of a more confrontational strategy.

But this is misleading. First, Reagan ended up doing his own version of detente with Mikhail Gorbachev — involving more radical disarmament than Kissinger himself thought prudent! Second, detente in the 1970s made a good deal of sense at a time when the US was struggling with inflation, deep domestic division, and a war that grew steadily less popular the longer it lasted.

If that sounds familiar, then consider how detente might be helping Joe Biden today if, instead of talking tough on Taiwan in Tokyo, he had taken a trip to Beijing — fittingly, on the 50th anniversary of Nixon’s trip there in 1972. He could have:

1. Ended the trade war with China.

2. Begun the process of ending the war in Ukraine with a little Chinese pressure on Putin.

3. Applied joint US-China pressure on the Arab oil producers to step up production in a serious way (last week’s announcement was unserious), instead of letting them play Washington and Beijing off against one another.

Would Xi Jinping take detente if Biden offered it? Like Mao in 1972, the Chinese leader is in enough of a mess himself that he might well. Zero Covid has become Xi’s version of the Cultural Revolution, a policy that is ultimately destabilizing China, whatever the original intent was. As for China’s international position, the decision to back Putin has surely weakened it.

Read the whole thing.

PS. This hilarious 15-minute video on how Taiwan sorta claims sovereignty over Mongolia (but not really) is actually pretty educational.



16 Responses to “Niall Ferguson on US-China relations”

  1. Gravatar of Sarah Sarah
    8. June 2022 at 08:08

    1. Trading with the CCP is like trading with Nazi, Germany.

    2. You are living in a fantasy world if you think China will side with the United States over Russia. We can end this war anytime we want: a) stop sending weapons. b) fully implement the MINSK agreement which was brokered by Paris in 2015.

    The real problem is that the mercantilist elite in Kiev, dismayed over the outcome of that agreement, and over the fact that Donbass is sitting on 95% of the nation’s oil reserves, sent rogue battallions to shell them every week for seven years. If you haven’t noticed, the BRIC nations are opposed to the incessent shelling. China, India and Brazil have already told the administration that they disagree, so your so-called “Pressure campaign” is not the right approach. If we actually showed evidence that Russia was involved in a false flag, like Brazil and China requested at the security council meeting, then the response of BRIC nations might have been different. But instead of showing evidence, our diplomats walked out of the room.

    3. Furthermore, only a tyrant goes to the doorstep of an oil company, in this case Aramco, and place “pressure on them”. Since when do you own that oil, Scott? You don’t produce it. You don’t invest in it. On an oil rig, they would hand you a broom because that is all you can do. So don’t you dare tell Aramco, BP, Exxon and others what they should and shouldn’t do. How dare you. Their obligation is to their shareholders and their citizens, not to the democrat party or Americans.

    This is the epitome of the neo-con bully who thinks we should shape and sway the world through “pressure campaigns”. Not to mention, North America also owns enough oil to be self sufficient. Just reopen the pipeline, provide permits to those in this country who want to drill, and the prices will drop.

  2. Gravatar of John Thacker John Thacker
    8. June 2022 at 10:15

    Of course, it’s the independence advocates who want to stop claiming Mongolia – and the PRC and CCP would be *more* upset about a ROC that didn’t claim Mongolia (even though the PRC made peace with Mongolia) because it would be seen as a rejection of unification. That’s why it took a DPP administration to even establish information relations with Mongolia.

    Indeed, it’s bizarre in some ways, but the PRC would prefer that Taiwan claim the mainland, because that is the justification for “reunification.”

    It also points out, of course, that the same logic under which Taiwan should “reunify” with the mainland is the logic under which the PRC should also reclaim Mongolia, which is the same logic that Russia uses to invade Ukraine.

    More pro-nationalism, pro-empire lunacy from Scott in pursuit of an impossible dream. Your economics is great, it’s just such a shame that you reject reality because you hate human rights and liberty so much.

  3. Gravatar of John Thacker John Thacker
    8. June 2022 at 10:19

    It took the Chen Shu-bian DPP administration to stop claiming Mongolia, to issues visa to Mongolians like a foreign country, to announce that, despite the constitution, the ROC viewed Mongolia as independent and to avoid putting it on maps.

    Not claiming Mongolia is viewed as a hostile act by the PRC, because it leads to independence.

    But in reality Taiwan no more wants or claims Mongolia than it does China. There will be no “reunification” except by conquest, and Taiwan, unlike the PRC, is peaceful.

    Scott’s a fan of empires, nationalists, and conquests, though, and no fan of liberty.

  4. Gravatar of John Thacker John Thacker
    8. June 2022 at 10:30

    What a terrible and unrealistic column. There’s absolutely no more chance of pulling Chairman Xi away from Putin as there was of pulling Putin away from China, not when Trump tried it, not when Obama tried it, not when George W Bush tried it, and not before.

    The idea is at best delusional, and at worst, for the same childish reasons (and love of brutality) as Trump and Russia.

  5. Gravatar of Tacticus Tacticus
    8. June 2022 at 12:28

    Ferguson will always confuse me. As a financial historian, I know his work on the Rothschilds is absolute garbage. And that’s supposed to be his specialty! But then he writes very sensical pieces like this, about things supposedly far beyond his purview. I’ve met him several times and have always enjoyed our conversations. Interesting chap.

    I see you’ve attracted some new ‘interesting’ commentators, too. Sumner loves ’empires, nationalists, and conquests,’ not ‘liberty.’ LOL. This isn’t even tilting at windmills.

  6. Gravatar of John S John S
    9. June 2022 at 06:57


    Can you recommend some good books on the Rothschilds? There doesn’t seem to be much besides Fergusons’ volumes.

    Also, could you share a few things examples of what Ferguson gets wrong about the Rothschilds? (I’ve never read those books, but I was certainly very unimpressed with Empire and Financial History of the World.)

  7. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    9. June 2022 at 08:26

    John Thacker, “More pro-nationalism, pro-empire lunacy from Scott in pursuit of an impossible dream.”

    Nationalist? LOL, trolls usually at least try to make their claims at least slightly plausible.

    Tacticus, I have not read the Rothschild book, but I don’t think economics is his strong suit.

  8. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    9. June 2022 at 09:08

    The key to detente was Gorbachev. In what way is Xi a Gorbachev? There is no evidence for that at all and Ferguson gives no arguments that lead into this direction.

    Or take Ferguson’s story from the 1970s: we overtake the USSR technologically, the USSR over-ages completely and then falls apart, and a unique, young reformer named Gorbatchev sneaks to the top. That may be Ferguson’s forecast for China but it’s not Scott’s forecast at all, right? So Scott shouldn’t adopt Ferguson’s arguments here. It’s not the same plan at all.

    Or Ferguson’s other pipe dreams: China should put pressure on Russia to end the war in Ukraine. But China doesn’t want to put pressure on Russia, otherwise they would. And secondly, Russia doesn’t seem to respond to pressure at all. So why would the Russians even care. Putin doesn’t care. What are Ferguson’s arguments? I don’t see any. It’s just wishful thinking.

    And what is this talk about choosing between a war over Taiwan or detente. Is that the choice? Who says it is? Ferguson himself cites sources that China would like to reunify Taiwan by 2027. Who is going to stop them? They are going to do what they want to do. No matter what. If they want to, China does some detente (like Putin did from 2014 to 2022) — and then they just invade Taiwan. Ferguson creates artificial oppositions without backing them up with arguments.

  9. Gravatar of Ricardo Ricardo
    9. June 2022 at 11:29

    Taiwan represents the last remnants of the old right in China. So bottom line: if you value liberty and self determination, you side with Taiwan. If you value big government, coercion and micromanagement, then you side with the CCP. “Sort of” and “kind of” and “almost” isn’t the same thing as fact and truth.

    But forget China, Russia or Taiwan, because that is childs play. I fully believe the cultural degeneracy of the west is even scarier. Western culture has become a dangerous – very radical disease – and it’s not just the right that thinks so. The African and Asian left, mostly moderate, along with the more liberal latin left, like Lopez, want nothing to do with it. This is a good example of the radical left today:

    And Sumner wonders why evangelical christians, mormons and catholics think democrats are pedophiles.

    I presume you justify this behavior with postmodern, subjective morality, but most people don’t buy into that line of thinking.

    What comes after post-modern anyway, postpostmodern or postmodernmodern?

    I love these illogical definitions. In hundred years, historians will be calling this the era of the radical left God-complex. The era where some academics believed – mostly in the social sciences – that they were so superior to everyone else, including past generations, that they could audaciously and conspicously label their ideas “post-modern”.

    Oh the arrogance…

  10. Gravatar of Tacticus Tacticus
    9. June 2022 at 14:29

    John S,

    Unfortunately, there aren’t really any great ‘broad’ books on the Rothschilds, although there are some very good ones on individual facets of the family. And a good portion of the literature is in French and German…

    Do you have a specific interest in mind? On the start of the family, I’d highly recommend Herbert Kaplan’s Nathan Mayer Rothschild and the Creation of a Dynasty. There was an interesting book out last year by Natalie Livingstone entitled The Women of Rothschild that I would recommend for an interesting alternative look at the family throughout history.

    To be honest, I exaggerated when I said Ferguson’s history was garbage. His book on the Rothschilds is giant and was clearly a lot of work. It’s not completely awful – it’s just wrong about a lot of details that annoy a specialist like me. It’s fine.

    His chapter on the Rothschilds and ‘the First Eurobonds’ in an edited volume, however, is just completely wrong about everything, mostly overemphasising the importance and originality of the Rothschilds. They didn’t invent a single thing he claims they invented when it came to issuing bonds.

    In general, Ferguson doesn’t tend to be great with details…

  11. Gravatar of John S John S
    10. June 2022 at 05:43

    Great recommendations, thank you. I was looking for an overview akin to the many recent histories of the Medicis, but Kaplan looks to be a great start and I’ll be sure to check out Livingstone as well. I also appreciate your warning about Ferguson, since as a newcomer to the topic I have no way of sorting the good parts from the bad.

    I wasn’t aware of your specialty. If you wouldn’t mind, could you give a quick “Five Books” list of your financial/econ history favorites? (Any period or topic is fine.) Would Spufford’s medieval money book make the cut? I’ve had it on my list for a while, but even used copies are pretty steep.

  12. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    10. June 2022 at 10:58

    Ricardo, Wait . . . are you telling me that Hunter Biden watches porn?!?!?!

  13. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    10. June 2022 at 11:49

    Ricardo, you lost me when you said that porn, prostitution amongst adults and drugs are more important than China, Russia, and Taiwan. Do you even know what a pedophile is? It sure doesn’t sound so.

    Sure, the character of Biden seems depraved, but on the other hand, it’s almost a harsh punishment when close to every intimate detail of your sex life is published in the Daily Mail. This seems to be one downside of wealth and fame.

    What does your porn search history look like? Excuse me, this is a rhetorical question, please don’t answer, I don’t want to know at all.

  14. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    10. June 2022 at 13:28

    Ferguson’s so-called analysis completely ignores the inner-Chinese situation: Xi has been committed for years to increasing confrontation with the US, to increasing alignment with Russia, and to a Zero Covid strategy. He has proven over the years that he possesses little to no flexibility in this regard. Especially since pseudo-democratic elections will be held in China this fall. Until then, he can change even less, he cannot change course, he is never wrong, remember? He would lose face. Some kind of mild detente is theoretically possible if Xi loses power significantly in fall. This might be a possibility, but it doesn’t seem particularly likely.

  15. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    11. June 2022 at 09:11

    I’m still emotionally shaken by the news that Hunter watches porn. It make take some time before I regain my composure, and am able to respond to comments.

  16. Gravatar of David S David S
    12. June 2022 at 16:55

    I enjoyed “The Ascent of Money”–which had an excellent description of fractional reserve banking. I know that may not impress the more sophisticated commenters, but I had to learn about it somewhere.

    Scott, if you’re trying to regain your composure you could try watching a few movies by Michael Cimino and Sam Peckinpah. With “Breathless” as a chaser.

    Cimino was a strange one, but perceptive. “Thunderball and Lightfoot” is underrated. The scene where Eastwood and Bridges get picked up by the crazy guy in the muscle car with rabbits in the trunk is a pretty good metaphor for American monetary policy.

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