January 27, 2021

The China syndrome

The China Syndrome
by Michael Spencer

On my way out of Kentucky Wesleyan College, I took a course in the history of Asia. The capable Dr. Wayne Metz managed to get me through the torture of names I couldn’t pronounce and a formidable level of ignorance to an “A” and, more importantly, some appreciation of how Asia fits into this complex world of ours. While I’ve forgotten the majority of that class, I have never forgotten one point: The Chinese fervently believe in their own superiority, and pursue their ends with that premise in mind.

Every nation carries its own stereotypical view of the rest of humanity, but you would have to look hard to find a nation more convinced that the rest of us are inferior than the Chinese. For millennia, China ignored the rest of the planet. Its interaction with other nations has consistently been conducted from the viewpoint of its own interests, which were premised on the polite idea that the rest of us are barbarians. Such notions seem amusing to many Westerners, who point out that China is not a true world power apart from its massive population. Chinese notions of cultural superiority are simply absurd, from our view.

Recent world history should cause thoughtful people to consider the outworking of this notion. China’s communist revolution yielded a violent government, with little interest in the good will of the rest of the world. Americans watched Nixon court the Chinese for strategic and economic reasons, but Tibet and Tiennamen Square remind us of China’s real character. We talk about the opening up of China, and even the “moderating” of the Chinese government, all the while dissidents and religious groups are outlawed and imprisoned. Many Americans, like Bill Clinton, seem to think that if they make our Nikes, they must like us and want to be like us. On such rocks, fools sink. China is China. They are building nuclear missiles that can reach our shores. Hello.

The current situation presents the real China to all who care to notice. The plane was in International air space. To the Chinese, that hardly matters. We were collecting intelligence on them and so they were wronged. Their planes scrambled and aggressively intimidated our plane, causing a needless death of a Chinese pilot. They have stripped the plane of its intelligence equipment in violation of treaties and are holding the crew (as of this writing) for who knows what purpose. They are demanding an apology for all this, and making it clear that they do not care if this becomes and international incident. The people who made off with most of our nuclear secrets are on their high horse about intelligence gathering. Puhleese.

Without a doubt, this situation will be resolved, but with maximum embarrassment to the United States, and in a manner totally adverse to the economics interests of China. The Chinese government doesn’t care because they believe we are weak and stupid. They believe that while they hold a trial of American soldiers, American business interests will go right ahead as usual. After the generosity of Bill Clinton, I don’t really know why the Chinese need any more American intelligence, but they will pursue this crisis with complete disregard for political consequences, because they believe we are spineless and will be knocking on their door the day after its over. Given American behavior toward China the last four decades, they are probably right.

I see this crisis as the first real defining moment of the Bush Presidency. The Chinese knew what they had in Bill Clinton- an ally and a customer. In George W., the Chinese probably think they have a president with no little mandate, too little experience, too little support and too much economic turmoil to mount a strong response to their behavior. The question is, what do they really have in George W. Bush? An adversary who will play hard and fair, even if it means economic shock waves? Or another American leader who listens to polls and market numbers rather than principles.

The President is right to work through diplomatic channels and is right to give the Chinese the opportunity to look civilized. But, since they won’t take the opportunity, he should set a deadline and begin shutting down American economic interests in China. And while he may not want to give an “evil empire” speech, he should take to the Bully Pulpit and remove the layer of civilized respectability protecting the Chinese. Call them what they are: a communist dictatorship operating in disregard for human rights and international law. Cancel state visits and shut some doors.

Economic policy often appeals to American selfishness. Foreign policy appeals to American ideals. We cannot view China through the lens of the latest poll of Nasdaq numbers. We must do what’s right, in the short term and in the long term. The Chinese are already playing to win. They are determined to one day be our economic and military equals, or masters. If we treat them as anything less than a hostile adversary, we are naive.