Thursday, November 21, 2019

Did Congress Just Declare War on China?

I would like to blame it on the weather, but too many countries in too many different climate zones are currently ablaze with protests. From Hong Kong to Iran to Iraq to Bolivia to Chile and perhaps even to Colombia… nations around the world are seeing something that looks like an international rebellion against what our elite intellectuals tell us is: free enterprise capitalism and the inequalities it has produced.

Obviously, this cannot be the case. People are not rebelling in Iraq and Iran over capitalism… because they do not have capitalism. As for Hong Kong, few places in the world enjoy as much economic freedom as the nation state. The inciting cause for the months long rebellion was a law that would have remanded Hong Kong criminals to mainland Chinese courts.

OK, let’s revise our view. Perhaps the people of the world are rising up to have democracy. They see America and Western Europe and want to have the right to elect their own bunch of incompetent fools to run their countries. And they want the basic human right to urinate and defecate on the sidewalks of their greatest cities.

Recall that the Bush administration pushed a democracy agenda. It was a signature foreign policy. We saw elections in Afghanistan and Iraq and Egypt and Gaza and even Tunisia. How did that work out? Do you really think that the world is craving more free elections?

As it happens, our American Congress thinks that the Hong Kong protesters are crying out for political freedom and liberal democracy. With one dissenting vote it just passed a bill in support of the Hong Kong protesters. The government of China seems to think that the Congress is interfering in its internal affairs. It has told President Trump to veto the bill. Obviously, the veto would quickly be overridden, but still.

As it happened, if we recall 1989, at a time when the central square of China’s capital city was occupied by pro-democracy demonstrators for weeks on end, we all sympathized with the children who were protesting. In truth, we thought we were seeing Woodstock redux. 

Unfortunately, the authorities in the Chinese Politburo saw a resurgence of the Red Guards. They were unsympathetic and sent in the military to crush the student rebellion. In truth, Mao Zedong himself had done the same when the Red Guards were running wild during the Cultural Revolution. Running wild means that they effectively destroyed the nation. Keep in mind, when student protesters are given power, they do not know what to do with it. So they engage in destruction... because when you do not know how to build anything you deconstruct.

At the time of Tiananmen the Bush administration did not call for the overthrow of the Chinese dictatorship. It sent National Security adviser Brent Scowcroft to Beijing to talk things over with Deng and his cohorts. It was sane and sensible. It contained the crisis. One should note that Deng Xiaoping was in charge, but that he was neither the president nor the premier. He was chairman of the military commission. Still, everyone deferred to him.

As for the current turmoil in Hong Kong, allow me a fanciful hypothetical. Have you noticed that the United States itself is currently facing something like its very own insurrection? It’s not merely that the House of Representatives is embroiled in an impeachment inquiry that is destined to be dismissed by the Senate, but that anti-fascist fascist thugs are roaming the landscape shutting down free speech on college campuses, threatening Trump supporters at their homes and in restaurants, beating them up on the streets, trying to shut down their businesses, trying to ensure that they can never again hold a job. As noted on this blog, they are using Nazi Storm Trooper tactics in their fight for… you guessed it… democracy.

You might want to forgive them their zeal, but in the name of democracy they are using fascistic tactics. Thanks to our enfeebled educational system young people are simply not smart enough to know the difference. 

I mention this because I suspect that the American insurrection against democracy is effectively the inciting cause for many of the uprisings around the world. I would note that those who call themselves antifascists are trying to overthrow the executive in the name of democracy, but still they have no real agenda… beyond declaring war on the climate. 

I would note that the protesters in Hong Kong have no real agenda either. They are out to cause mayhem and they are succeeding. Only a duly elected American Congressperson can be dumb enough not to understand that the Hong Kong student demonstrators are not going to succeed… unless you believe that destroying the economy of their city counts as a success. It would be a pyrrhic victory. Clearly, the authorities in Beijing are willing to let it all exhaust itself. Whereas in 1989 the protests resonated through China and did threaten the regime, today’s Hong Kong demonstrations have not and do not.

We will see how China reacts to the new Congressional actions. In particular, we will see how much the bill impacts the current negotiations about free trade.

About this issue, different experts have expressed different points of view. The Wall Street Journal reports this morning that China is not very happy about the new bill. It believes that America is interfering in internal Chinese affairs:

China summons foreign diplomats only for serious issues, and the last time it publicly summoned a U.S. diplomat in Beijing was during the summer, also over U.S. support of Hong Kong protesters.

In Wednesday’s meeting, China Vice Foreign Minister Ma Zhaoxu told Mr. Klein that any effort by the U.S. government to intervene in the Hong Kong issue would only be “lifting up stones to smash your own feet,” according to the Chinese readout. Mr. Klein relayed in the meeting that the U.S. government was watching the situation in Hong Kong with grave concern, a U.S. Embassy spokesman said.

Moreover, China sees the American bill as an effort to hamper Chinese economic growth.

In one of a fusillade of government statements on Wednesday, the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office of the State Council called the bill evidence of the U.S.’s “hegemonic nature” and its intent to contain China’s development.

On Tuesday, China’s government signaled its willingness to insert itself in Hong Kong’s political crisis by declaring its sole authority to determine whether the city’s laws are unconstitutional.

Anyway, since no one really knows what will happen, I will present both sides of the debate. One Michael Snyder considers the Congressional bill to be a calamity. Via Zero Hedge, he says:

Our relationship with China just went from bad to worse, and most Americans don’t even realize that we just witnessed one of the most critical foreign policy decisions of this century.
And, also:

The Chinese take matters of internal security very seriously, and the status of Hong Kong is one of those issues that they are super sensitive about. China will never, ever compromise when it comes to Hong Kong, and if the U.S. keeps pushing this issue it could literally take us to the brink of a military conflict.


And you can forget about a comprehensive trade agreement ever happening. Even if a Democrat is elected in 2020, that Democrat is going to back what the Senate just did. That is why it was such a major deal that this bill passed by unanimous consent. It sent a message to the Chinese that Republicans and Democrats are united on this issue and that the next election is not going to change anything.

Snyder adds this:

I am finding it difficult to find the words to describe what this means to the Chinese.

We have deeply insulted their national honor, and our relationship with them will never be the same again.

Many will debate whether standing up to China on this issue was the right thing to do, but in this article I am trying to get you to understand that there will be severe consequences for what the U.S. Senate just did.

There isn’t going to be a comprehensive trade deal, the global economy is going to suffer greatly, and the Chinese now consider us to be their primary global adversary.

David Goldman presents the other side of the issue. He is optimistic about future trade talks and dismisses the Congressional action as empty rhetoric.

Despite the mutual exchange of acrimony over a US Senate bill requiring the president to monitor human rights abuses in Hong Kong, Washington won’t take substantive action against the territory. Neither will China take extreme measures to suppress violent protests in Hong Kong. 

The US Senate last night unanimously passed legislation to put in place an annual review of Hong Kong’s special trade treatment under US law. Styled “The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act,” the bill also allows (but does not require) the president to impose sanctions on officials deemed guilty of human rights abuses. 

One China expert suggests that China will limit itself to rhetorical bluster. Goldman explains:

Veteran China observer Willy Lam, a longstanding critic of the Chinese regime, told Bloomberg News today that the United States is unlikely to tamper with the Hong Kong trading relationship. That would blow up trade negotiations with China and leave the two countries to fight a prolonged and mutually injurious trade war. That is why Beijing will issue “very high-sounding, rhetorical responses” but won’t take any specific measures against US interests. Lam added, “The Chinese will, of course, cry foul, but the real reaction may not be that severe. They will watch the situation and make a judgment later.” 

Goldman believes that self-interest will prevail:

As a matter of self-interest, though, Washington and Beijing are likely to come to some kind of compromise before the next (and more damaging) round of US tariffs is scheduled to go into effect in mid-December.

There you have it, both sides of the issue. Time will tell whose crystal ball is cloudier.


Anonymous said...

China just has to wait. According to the treaty, Hong Kong will eventually lose its special status and become just another part of the country.

Freddo said...

A fairly obvious attempt by the Democrats to frustrate trade negotiations with China (the April arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou can best be understood as a deep state attempt to do the same). And of course the Republican party didn't earn the moniker "the Stupid Party" for nothing, so they happily go along with it.

I doubt very much that China is willing to give up their long term mercantilist ambitions, but they may be willing to sign a temporary truce in the form of a trade deal. I guess it all depends on how much the Chinese economy is suffering from the trade tensions (and foreign investment being diverted to neighboring countries) and whether China prefers to have American farmers suffer or prosper in the run-up to the US elections.