Does setting up China as an antagonist make the United States stronger, richer, better respected, more influential than we would be if we treated China as we treat, let’s say, Japan or Australia or Brazil? One could say that China and the United States are in an almost symbiotic economic relationship – just look at the “Made in” stamps on all the stuff in your house. Why does the media, the intelligentsia (if we could be said to have such a thing) Congress, the State Department, the military, treat China as if it were our Number One Enemy among sovereign states? (Pardon me – Number Two now that Russia has been misbehaving so baldly.)
Might our demonization of China simply be a knee-jerk reaction? a force of habit, of historical habit? We are the old superpower, China is the up-and-coming superpower. Should that automatically put us at odds? Should that automatically make us geopolitical adversaries? Why not scoff at the antagonism between an old superpower and an up-and-coming superpower as being just so 20th century (and 19th, and 18th, etc.)? Instead of basing our attitude towards China on primeval fear and machismo, why not step back and take a mature and rational view of China’s new status in the world?
China has become a major world power. That is a fact. The question we should be asking ourselves is: how can the United States best take advantage of that fact? China’s growing stature, its burgeoning middle class, its increasing industrial capacity, is due in large part to its relationship with corporate America. Instead of demonizing China and bucking the inevitable, the United States government should acknowledge its close economic ties with China and encourage, participate in, its advancement.
Enmity between China and the United States can mean only trouble, for both of us. An alliance between China and the United States would be mutually beneficial. What is stopping us? Let’s look clear-headedly at what our leaders and our pundits, on the left and the right, have against China:
China’s unfair criminal justice system.
China’s propensity to jail political dissidents is a reprehensible practice and it is right that we speak out against it, just as we officially have protested to the Egyptian government over its mass indictment of those connected with the government it overthrew in 2014. That has not stopped us from considering Egypt an ally and sending it over one billion dollars annually in military aid. Egypt’s maltreatment of dissidents arguably is broader and crueler than China’s, yet our objections to it are muted, while our objections to China’s are shrill. Why is that? We need Egypt as an ally against ISIS, yes. But in the long run, our relationship with China will be more important to us than our relationship with Egypt.
Furthermore, as long as we remain notorious for imprisoning the largest proportion of our population of any other country (except the Seychelles) – 707 people out of every 100,000, compared with China’s 172 out of 100,000 – we don’t really have the right to complain about other countries’ criminal justice systems. Add to that the Obama administration’s use of the 1917 Espionage Act against government whistleblowers – who are not the spies for foreign powers at whom the controversially broad law was aimed – and China’s treatment of dissidents becomes a case of the pot calling the kettle black.
China’s undemocratic one-party system.
From Ben Franklin’s courting of Louis XVI to our relations today with Saudi Arabia and other monarchies in that part of the world, it’s clear that if it is helpful for us to have friendly relations with a country whose political system is something other than a democratic one, we are willing to overlook that failing.
Let’s look at the specifics of China’s government more closely. The Chinese political system is not a dictatorship. Essentially it is a one-party system, although there are other token parties, subservient to the Communist Party, which allow China to call its system “democratic centralism.” China does have elections, in which voters from local districts choose representatives to the National Congress from slates nominated by the Communist party. Power struggles happen behind closed doors. Every five years the National Congress chooses a Premier. The Premier enjoys vast power, although not enough, and not for long enough, for him to be called a dictator. Since the end of Mao’s dictatorship, no Premier has reigned (if that is the word) for more than ten years, two terms.
Mayors and governors are not elected, but appointed by Beijing; that is the most distasteful aspect of Chinese government, in comparison to our own. When it comes to national government, given the fact that 21st century American democracy is really a plutocracy – and there is general agreement about that – our two-party system, in which the electorate chooses which lackey of which special interests to send to Washington, has little to recommend it over the Chinese system. And, looking at the two systems, one cannot say that one of them is more resistant to the possibility of reform than the other.
Although the United States enthusiastically proselytizes democracy throughout the world, democracy has never become a stultifying ideology inhibiting our strategy on the international stage. We made nice with Stalin when it was necessary, and we cozied up to Mao when it wasn’t exactly necessary, but just clever realpolitik, so why have we gotten on our high horse about the Chinese political system? Clever realpolitik calls for good relations, friendly relations, close relations with China.
The American left is incensed over China’s economic expansion into Africa. The American right is outraged at China’s claim of sovereignty over disputed islets in the China Sea which are economically worthless but which, evidently, China regards as strategically important.
Superficially, China’s gobbling up of large portions of sub-Saharan Africa – for the extraction of oil and minerals and for agricultural purposes – is not unlike Europe’s behavior there in the last two centuries. There are significant differences, however: Europe appropriated pretty much all of Africa by force; China is purchasing the land it wants. Europe carved Africa up into colonies; China respects local sovereignty. Europe extracted what it wanted from Africa without any compensation; China’s exploitation of Africa is contractual, with governments, corporations, and/or landowners being compensated. Is China’s expansion in Africa a good thing or a bad thing for the average African? Surely, the answer is complex – just as the answer to the same question vis-à-vis European colonialism is complex. Considering the corruption and tribal and sectarian violence endemic in much of sub-Saharan Africa, it is unlikely that the Chinese presence there adds substantially to peoples’ troubles there, and it might actually – as an economic engine – go some way towards alleviating them.
When it comes to China’s disputes with Japan, the Philippines, Malaysia and Vietnam over islands in the China Sea, the United States cannot ignore its security commitments. However, the efforts we make on behalf of our Pacific allies should be in supporting their cases at the UN and in international courts, not in sabre rattling. Would we really to go to war with China over islands in the South China Sea? The answer is obvious. In that case, should we be engaging in a game of chicken with China over the South China Sea? The answer is just as obvious. The China Sea islands sovereignty question is one which, eventually, will be settled by international courts – at least, we’d better hope so – and it is in that arena – where, incidentally, compromise is possible that is not possible in military confrontation – that we should be spending our time and prestige.
China’s manipulative monetary policy.
I don’t understand money (which, as far as I can tell, is just numbers drifting around in computers), so I don’t understand monetary policy and have nothing to say about it.