By Jonathan Power*
In Munich at the Security Conference from February 14-16 the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, nailed her anti-Chinese colours to the mast. Despite being a liberal on many issues and the leader of the fight to impeach President Donald Trump, she has joined forces with Trump in preaching that the West must not allow itself to be penetrated by Huawei’s 5G phone technology (which is cheaper than any Western counterpart).
But she appeared to have no response to a former Chinese ambassador to the UK who asked what was wrong with Huawei seeking Western markets when Microsoft, Google and Facebook were such big players in China. The Chinese government didn’t feel its security was threatened by them. He could also have added that if they do anything that the Chinese government doesn’t like China is always able to deal with it – it has blocked out on Facebook texts critical of the government and the voices of Chinese dissidents. Likewise the U.S. could take counter measures with a Huawei system if necessary.
Why this obsession with China’s supposed malevolence in trade matters – which Trump’s two Democratic Party predecessors also had and Democrat Nancy Pelosi has today? Credit Suisse report that the tally of quotas and other non-tariff barriers against foreign goods shows that China has one third of America’s.
The leadership from the top over the last three American presidencies has steadily pushed U.S. public opinion from being friendly towards China in the direction of hostility. Intellectual property theft is a widely used reason for giving China a hard time. Yet in a recent survey made by the U.S.-China Business Council intellectual property protection ranked sixth on a list of pressing concerns among American companies which trade with China. In 2014 China created its first specialized court to handle intellectual property cases. In 2015 plaintiffs brought before the court 63 cases. The court ruled for the foreign firms in all 63. China itself is clearly against theft of business secrets.
How many people outside China are aware of the responsible way China acts internationally? Take the UN for example. According to the respected journalist Fareed Zakaria, writing in this month’s Foreign Affairs, “Beijing is now the second-largest funder of the UN and UN peacekeepers. It has deployed 2,500 peacekeepers, more than all the other permanent members of the Security Council combined. Between 2000 and 2008 it supported 182 of 190 Security Council resolutions imposing sanctions on nations deemed to have violated international rules or norms”.
This is a very different China than the one projected by many Western politicians and journalists. Usually China is reported as being an impediment at the Security Council, using its veto fast and furiously.
China has not gone to war since 1979. It has not used lethal military force abroad since 1988. Nor has it funded proxies or armed insurgents anywhere in the world since the early 1980s. Believe it or not but it’s true that with this record of non-intervention China is unique among the world’s great powers.
China has had no permanent military presence outside China until recently when it finished building its first overseas base in Djibouti on the Horn of Africa to protect the shipping of its oil through the unstable political waters of the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean. (It’s China that takes the largest portion of Gulf oil.) The US has 84 bases and military presences around the world. China is angry when there is yet another incident of US spy planes flying through Chinese airspace or very close to it. China does not fly through US airspace. Its flights are on the other side of the world.
When it comes to the issue of its military expansion into the islands and atolls of the South and East China Seas China makes the point that this was historically in its area of influence and that even today the U.S. falls back on the Monroe Doctrine, which deems Latin America to be off-limits to the great powers of Europe.
All this is rather different from the days of Mao Zedong. He was reported as saying, apropos of nuclear war “If the worst came to the worse and half of mankind died the other half would remain while imperialism would be razed to the ground and the whole world would become socialist”. Mao said that although the West had “nuclear teeth” it was in fact “a paper tiger”. This kind of rhetoric has long gone. Indeed, on most issues China is a paid up member of those who want to settle disputes calmly and sanely.
We should have learnt from the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the West the consequences of painting a big power black. There were the evils of the McCarthy witch-hunt of American dissidents, which ruined many professional lives. There was the bloody and counterproductive Vietnam War and countless other military interventions that nearly all ended in failure, at the cost of the deaths of hundreds of thousands, mostly innocent, people.
Between 1947 and the end of the Cold War the U.S. attempted regime change around the world 72 times. There was the frightening development of large arsenals of nuclear weapons on hair-trigger alert, which were nearly launched on more than a handful of occasions.
The U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has asserted that the U.S. and its allies must keep China in “its proper place”. This wasn’t the kind of rhetoric of Richard Nixon with his opening to China half a century ago. Nor was it that of Jimmy Carter who gave full recognition to China. The clock needs to be wound back.
The U.S. needs to negotiate with China in better faith than it has in recent years. And stop the slagging off.
Note: Jonathan Power was for 17 years a foreign affairs columnist and commentator for the International Herald Tribune. Copyright: Jonathan Power. Website www.jonathanpowerjournalist.com.