Foreign policy pragmatism 'still a force'

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 19 January, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 19 January, 2012, 12:00am


Late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping's legacy of pragmatism in foreign policy is still influential despite hawkish calls for China to flex its military muscle on the world stage, a China expert who recently published a biography of Deng said yesterday.

'He very strongly felt that the important thing for China to develop economically is that you must have good relations with other countries,' Professor Ezra Vogel (pictured), emeritus professor of social sciences at Harvard University, said at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. 'One of the lessons is that China has succeeded because of that policy.'

The university will publish the Chinese-language version of Vogel's book Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China in May.

Facing international isolation in the early 1990s, China was struggling to emerge from the shadows of the Tiananmen crackdown.

Deng then touted the idea of his taoguang yanghui (lie low) policy, which advised building economic rather than military strength - and that remains the guiding principle in China's foreign and security affairs.

Countering many Western scholars' criticism that his book takes an apologist view of the Tiananmen crackdown in 1989, Vogel said Deng's order to suppress the pro-democracy movement and the subsequent stalling of political reform should be viewed from the perspective of Deng's experience of political turmoil and instability in his early life.

Deng lived through the civil war between the Communists and Kuomintang in his youth.

'He was afraid the place would fall apart,' Vogel said, adding that Deng at first supported liberalisation efforts by his subordinates Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang in the mid 1980s, until he considered the situation 'too tough'.

'[I became] somewhat more sympathetic with him in his efforts to keep order, although I was very upset at the shooting in Beijing in 1989,' Vogel said. 'I think it's easier to understand his position and why he felt he had to do that. As an author I had to explain what he did and why he did it.'