A troubling agreement among divergent ideological strains in America has emerged over the years: China’s growing wealth is a problem worthy of a political solution.
It is a focus of anger and frustration that unifies much of the left—unionists, opponents of free trade and corporations, agitators for regulatory harmonization, consumer “advocates” demonizing the Yellow Peril for its supposedly “predatory” trade practices.
On the right, too, most factions are home to China-bashing. The neocons are always ready to jump on any theoretical rising threat to American superiority as an excuse to expand the military state. The paleocons are always bashing on China for “stealing” American jobs, using this as an excuse to vilify Wal-Mart and call for more protectionism. And the nationalistic theocons usually join in the finger-pointing. Plenty of issues divide conservatives. Anger toward China fosters a dangerous coalition across normally divided groups.
Sinophobia is a decidedly bipartisan affliction. The New York Times reports:
China’s swift economic rise, and a presidential election dominated by fears of a declining American economy, have produced a rare convergence: Republican contenders talking tough about China, and a president who is already getting tough on it.
As President Obama returned Sunday from a trip to Asia that was filled with signs that the United States plans to be a counterweight to Beijing’s growing influence in that region, Mitt Romney and other Republican candidates have stepped up their denunciation of China’s trade practices, casting the country as predatory and a culprit for lost jobs at home.
Given the bleak economic backdrop, China’s emergence as an election issue is no big surprise. But it is an unusual case in which domestic politics are playing to Mr. Obama’s diplomatic advantage, allowing him to project to China the picture of a country united in its resolve.
It is taken for granted among establishment politicians, left- and right-wing populists, grassroots voters across the spectrum, and many others that China is some sort of threat to the American way of life, deviously manipulating its currency to mess with the American dollar and trade balances, building up economically by taking jobs that properly belong to Americans, waiting to pounce once the country gets rich enough.
In contrast, here are three things I believe about China, which are not very politically correct in nearly any circles today, but which I believe must be said:
China is not really a Communist country, and in fact its story is one of the most inspiring for freedom lovers everywhere. China is far from free, much like most of the world, but its system appears to be some sort of mixed economy/state capitalist regime—also like most of the world. There is plenty of room for freedom to expand there, but let us have some perspective. Under Mao, the Chinese regime was easily one of the most brutal, totalitarian, and life-destroying states in world history. Only Stalin’s Soviet Union is in the same league in terms of duration and extent of tyranny and mass murder.
When communism took over China, landowners were tortured to death by the millions. Each village was brutalized by Mao’s massacres. Hundreds of thousands were killed for dissenting from the state. During the Great Leap Forward, private property in agriculture was abolished, tens of millions starved to death, peasants caught keeping grain for themselves were shot. During the Cultural Revolution, traditional Chinese culture was wiped out, with Chinese citizens forced to destroy their links to the past.
Compared to those days, China is a beacon of liberty. Civil liberties are still violated, but to nowhere the extent of two generations ago. China even has fewer prisoners than the United States, although it has a far larger population. What has happened overall with the legalization of religion, the de facto allowance of private property, the freedom to live where one wishes, constitutional protections of certain basic rights, and the great reversal of the extremist central planning under Mao, has constituted the greatest expansion of freedom and human rights for the greatest number of people in the modern world. While the United States has been descending toward despotism, China has been moving from one of the least free societies in all of human history toward a state of civilization. We should look up to China. We should cheer China. We should see inspiration in this story. And instead of lamenting the fact that their supposed lack of regulations has allegedly meant that cheap plastic products and the odd hazardous toy is being manufactured there, we should never forget the total state that once ruled these people who constituted 1/5 of the world’s population—a total state whose depredations are astronomically worse than anything that can result from insufficient regulation.
China’s not a threat to America—the U.S. government is. This idea that China will become rich and powerful and conquer the world also must be challenged. The fact is, if the Chinese were suicidally determined to attack the United States, they could already launch nuclear weapons at us, and given their population out-numbering the American population more than four times over, the emphasis should not be on trying to deter these people, but rather to befriend them.
One of the reasons China has prospered is its relative neglect of its military establishment. The U.S. government squanders almost as much on militarism as the rest of the world combined. This is obscene and must stop. Another reason China is doing well is not because the Chinese refuse to “play fair,” but because they are not burdened by the ridiculously lavish and economically destructive regulatory apparatuses that plague the United States. The enemy of American prosperity, with its tariffs, its taxes, its regulations, its costly police infrastructure, and its warmongering, is not China—but rather the U.S. government. Anything the politicians offer to do to “take on” China almost certainly will hurt the American economy even more, particularly if it comes in the form of a trade war. On this note, GOP presidential candidate Jon Huntsman was right when warned against a “trade war with China. Who does it hurt? Our small businesses in South Carolina, our exporters, our agriculture producers.”
China doing well economically is a blessing in itself. Finally, this needs to be said. Whenever Americans complain about thousands of jobs going from the United States to China, this ignores something very important. Put aside the fact that outsourcing and other demonized elements of globalization usually mean that the domestic economy will overall benefit too, and that by restricting businesses from moving jobs to China politicians can only reduce overall the number of jobs in other sectors available in the United States. On top of protectionism being a bad deal for Americans, another important fact is: The Chinese are people too, and it’s a great thing for them to get jobs. Wal-Mart, for example, has likely helped hundreds of thousands of Chinese workers escape poverty every year. Again, in doing so, the company has helped the American economy as well. But even if it hadn’t, hiring these many Chinese would be a great thing in itself. The richer China is, the better off humanity is. Trade is not a zero-sum game.
We should applaud China’s economic growth and its move from pure tyranny toward relative freedom, and especially be happy about the trajectory. The great menace to American freedom and prosperity is not China but the U.S. government and American politicians, including the Obama administration and all the Republican candidates promising belligerence against China. Instead of looking to China with fear, we should do so with admiration and hope.