Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Cold War II, Not So Fast

This is probably not going to make your day, but, alas, it is still worth reading. We already know that the Communist regime in Beijing is the root of all world evil, and that it needs to be crushed ignominiously. We also know that China has never really built anything over the past four decades, that it is a Potemkin backwater filled with ignorant people. 

As it happens, and as a commenter on this blog reminded us the other day, Communist built military equipment has tended to malfunction, more often than not. And thus, when Pentagon war games make China appear to be a formidable opponent they are not to be trusted. Of course, the iPhones that China builds seem to work well. And the telecommunication infrastructure that China has built around the world also seems to work well.

Anyway, the last time Americans were beating the war drums over China was in 1989. As you recall, the Chinese authorities, facing crippling strikes and a mutiny in the army, broke up student pro-democracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square-- by running down the students with tanks. It was not their finest hour. At the time American foreign policy was being conducted by George H. W. Bush, Brent Scowcroft and James Baker.

As you recall, they managed to defuse the situation, to the chagrin of many and the relief of some. This counts as background as we read today’s Wall Street Journal op-ed by Baker deputy, Robert Zoellick. Of course, Zoellick is merely speaking for himself, but one suspects that he consulted with some former colleagues. 

He wrote his column in order to warn us off an overly belligerent attitude toward China. One understands that much of the belligerence is being played out for political reasons, but still, inflammatory rhetoric is not always that easy to control. And this especially because China tends to counterpunch. It’s one thing to attack China. It’s quite another to bring down the world economy. 

For the record, your humble blogger has also found the rhetoric overly hostile and counterproductive. Starting a new Cold War against China seems like a very bad idea.

Zoellick opens:

The proponents of a “New Cold War” have declared their objections to China, but not what they plan to accomplish. When I worked with Secretary of State James Baker during the closing years of the old Cold War, we focused on what we wanted to get done—results, not mere expressions of dissatisfaction.

Yes, indeed, in many cases those who are beating the drums for Cold War II are following therapy-culture advice-- they are expressing their feelings. And yet, Zoellick explains, we ought to care more about results than about full-throated and impotent expressions of rage.

I said the same when radical feminists were indulging in tantrum of politics.Why not be consistent?

Zoellick asks what Cold War II can really accomplish:

The New Cold Warriors can’t contain China given its ties throughout the world; other countries won’t join us. Nor can the U.S. break the regime, though the Communist Party’s flaws could open cracks within its own society. The U.S. can impose costs on China, but to what end, and at what price to Americans? After three years of bluster and tariffs, President Trump negotiated a narrow trade deal with China. Even before the pandemic the deal was unlikely to be fulfilled, and now it looks fanciful.

But then, Zoellick notes what we have gained from a cooperative relationships with China, a cooperative relationship whose foundation was laid by Richard Nixon in 1972.

The New Cold Warriors expunge the successes of past U.S. cooperation with China. Beijing was once a wartime enemy, a supplier of proxy foes in North Korea and North Vietnam, and the world’s leading proliferator of missiles and nuclear weapons technology. Beginning in the 1990s, China reversed course and worked with the U.S. to control dangerous weapons. It turned from proliferation partnerships with Iran and North Korea to helping the U.S. thwart their development of nuclear arms. From 2000 to 2018, U.S. diplomacy prodded Beijing to support 182 of the 190 United Nations Security Council resolutions that imposed sanctions on states. China also assisted U.N. peacekeeping and helped Washington end the genocide in Darfur, Sudan.

China became the largest contributor to global economic growth. Beijing cut its current-account surplus from about 10% of gross domestic product to near zero, which drove world-wide expansion. For 15 years China was the fastest-growing destination for U.S. exports. It stopped manipulating its exchange rate. During the financial crisis, Beijing pushed the largest and quickest stimulus and helped stave off global depression, while cooperating closely with the U.S., the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

China is also a leading innovator in non-fossil-fuel technology, though it is the largest emitter of greenhouse gases. The U.S. and its allies successfully pressured Beijing to ban sales of elephant ivory, but China still permits illegal trafficking in rare species. This pandemic will likely prompt China to change its treatment of wildlife.

In other words, the advantages gained were not nothing.

And now, needing to recover from the coronavirus shutdowns as quickly as possible, we should understand that we can only do so by cooperating with major powers like China:

The U.S. and its partners face a staggering set of challenges. We need to find medical solutions to Covid-19. We must learn how to protect ourselves against future epidemics more quickly. America also needs a strong recovery, which will require a growing global economy, including China. Washington must anticipate financial weaknesses from mountains of debt and experimental monetary policies. Environmental and energy risks will require international cooperation and innovation. We have begun a huge digital transformation. Terrorists have not retired, and dangerous would-be regional hegemons still seek weapons of mass destruction. And we need to deal with China.

So, one suspects that Zoellick will be dismissed as a weak-kneed remnant of a failed past administration. And yet, when it came to China policy past Republican administrations did have a track record that can be defended. One does well to take such thinking seriously.


Bruce Hall said...

Most relationships have many facets. Regardless of which country the U.S. conducts commerce, there will be some aspects of that country causing moral, ethical, religious, or political concerns to some or many in the U.S.

Commerce tends to be amoral; it is focused on efficiency and profit which are achieved by meeting the demands of customers/clients better than others. It is that very lack of moral judgments that opens up the world of commerce; it is that very lack of moral judgment that causes discomfort and concern.

Can China "deliver the goods"? For the most part, the answer is an unequivocal "yes". Is dealing with China like dealing with the devil? For many, the answer is also "yes".

We ask why should we be concerned with China's government or how it governs. Should the "re-education" camps for Muslims be any concern of ours? Even if those camps are providing forced labor for the "inexpensive" goods we so cherish? Should those factories in pollution-filled cities that make our "inexpensive" goods be our concern even though they very often keep workers under conditions and wages that would be considered criminal in the U.S.? Should the revenues the Chinese government receives from commerce with the U.S. be of concern when a significant portion goes toward a military structure that is encroaching on its neighbors and the free movement of ships in international waters?

The amoral answers are: "No, it's no concern of ours as long as the contracts for goods are fulfilled."

Then the larger question becomes: "What does that make us?" And, perhaps, an even larger question arises: "Should be allow ourselves to become dependent on that relationship?"

370H55V said...

Without disputing Zoellick's case, we nevertheless need to move in the direction of autarky. I'm a little apprehensive about relying on an unstable source for upwards of 80% of our pharmaceuticals.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Not to mention defense technology... point well taken.

Sam L. said...

What I've been seeing on various blogs is "CHINA IS ASSHOLE". In other words, "not to be trusted in any way, shape, or form.

Peter B said...

At the end of the 20th century, China was granted permanent MFN trade status with the US and admitted to the WTO despite rampant violations of its trade agreements, massive intellectual property theft, and other bad behavior. The theory was that if China was treated like a normal nation in the Westphalia sense, it would begin to act like one. And despite Zoellick, China, through its North Korean catspaw, has been a major proliferator of nuclear and missile technology to bad actors such as Iran.

In 2003, SARS, whose causative virus is now termed SARS-CoV-1 broke out. China covered up SARS' emergence and internal spread and it got loose in the world even though at that time there was much less travel to and from China. The World Health Organization condemned China's handling of the pandemic. China's response was to take over the WTO and install a puppet to run it.

SARS-CoV-2, coverup, pandemic, and China using the coverup to slurp up world supplies of PPE. Just like a normal, responsible member of the family of nations.

This is over and above China's declaration of war on the US, its ongoing plan to supplant the US militarily, its plan to break the dollar as the world's reserve currency and its human rights record in Hong Kong, with Tibet, the Uyghurs and others.

trigger warning said...

Sam, I think China is very trustworthy. I believe we can trust them to cut corners, defy US regulatory strictures, lie, cheat, and steal at every opportunity.

Allow me to give an example. I'm a technical guy and an amateur radio enthusiast. My primary computer and my ham shack are co-located in my home office. I buy a fair number of new and intriguing electronic gizmos to toy with. Many of those gizmos come from China. Because I happen to have sensitive radio receivers, including a Software Defined Radio (SDR) with bandwidth from 1kHz-2GHz, I can detect a lot of annoying - illegal - noise. Although most people would never know, I have discovered that, almost without fail, Chinese electronics simply flout FCC regulations on emissions. These regulations are important. They will become even more, perhaps critically, important as people adopt the IoT approach to technology like home security systems and residential medical monitoring devices, and interference in the RF bands occupied by WiFi becomes more important. I have a top-brand microwave oven - manufactured in China - in my kitchen. Every time I use it, the WiFi in the kitchen croaks. It's leaking like a sieve. I have returned many defective items to Amazon, who always cheerfully refund my money, but the Chinese know that the FCC cannot possibly police every gizmo arriving in the Port of Long Beach.

And that's ignoring poisoned pet food, contaminated pharmaceuticals, defective medical equippment, etc etc.

Oh yes. The Chinese can be trusted. Caveat emptor.

UbuMaccabee said...

We very foolishly allowed China into the WTO in the current form of government they have.


But thinking clearly, and being honest about our own position, we are not in a condition to challenge China right now and have no meaningful plan to fix that. China has played the US perfectly. They have infiltrated our universities, our corporations, our media, and our elites are well compensated for going along. China saw us coming well before we arrived. We are the sucker, not them.

Our failure is on us, not on China.

The US cannot deal with China because we are so deeply misaligned internally that we cannot see reality the same on every issue, from the largest to the smallest. We are hopelessly deadlocked with no reconciling principle on the horizon. And the friction is building. I see the following options

1. Continue divided and become weaker and weaker internationally
2. The left is defeated nationally and America has possibility to make rational decisions again with long term view
3. The left prevails and America deteriorates rapidly on all fronts
4. Violent Civil War as divisions exacerbate
5. Negotiated divorce
6. Napoleon

4 out of 6 benefits China.