What Have the Romans Ever Done for China?

Too late for Bo Xilai, Geremie Barmé suggests that Cicero’s advice for securing election to the Roman Senate might also be of use to China’s political elite as they gather this week for the 18th Party Congress. From his selections at The China Story:

Your must diligently cultivate relationships with these men of privilege. Both you and your friends should work to convince them that you have always been a traditionalist. Never let them think you are a populist.

[…] Do not overlook your family and those closely connected with you. Make sure they all are behind you and want you to succeed. This includes your tribe, your neighbours, your clients, your former slaves, and even your servants. For almost every destructive rumor that makes its way to the public begins among family and friends.

[…] Finally, as regards the Roman masses, be sure to put on a good show. Dignified yes, but full of color and spectacle that appeals so much to crowds. It also wouldn’t hurt to remind them of what scoundrels your opponents are and to smear these men at every opportunity with the crimes, sexual scandals, and corruption they have brought on themselves.

Though denunciations of scoundrelly rivals and colourful if only occasionally dignified spectacles were pillars of the U.S. election campaign that concluded this week, Barmé argues that Cicero’s instructions are still more applicable to Chinese politics than to Western democracies.

At The Diplomat, meanwhile, defence analyst James R. Holmes writes that Roman history might offer China valuable lessons for its handling of the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands dispute with Japan:

Enter Quintus Fabius. During Rome’s second war against the North African city-state of Carthage, general and dictator Fabius mastered the art of stalling for time against the vaunted Carthaginian army commanded by Hannibal. Time was on Rome’s side; the balance of forces was not. Fabius, writes historian Polybius, grasped his army’s “manifest inferiority.” He thus “made up his mind to incur no danger and not to risk a battle” against battle-hardened foemen. He simply lurked nearby, posing a threat while refusing combat. […]

Such an approach made sense for Fabius, the commander of an inferior force. It muted risk while promising eventual victory. But Fabian strategies are available to the strong as well as the weak. The stronger yet patient contender can cling to the weaker one. Such an approach compels the weaker contender to either back down or expend resources it can ill spare. Delay suits Beijing’s purposes, letting it present Tokyo a no-win choice. Time is on its side. It holds the advantage of numbers—an advantage that will only grow. Ultimately it can avail itself of the military option without undue risk, should it see the need for a definite end to the controversy. Simply having that option will transform the dynamics across the East China Sea.

[…] Gathering storm clouds followed by a sudden cloudburst—that’s a metaphor for the Fabian way of war. But again, a guileful strategy of delay depends on Fabian virtues that are in short supply in China these days. Beijing appears as anxious to humiliate Tokyo as it is to wrest away the contested real estate. If so, impatience may prod it toward rash, decidedly non-Fabian actions.


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