Friday, June 15, 2018

Some members of the American press lament US inability to change China as if we could have done that ... while lamenting loss of American leadership here and there

 
 
In 2000, Congress made the fateful decision to extend “permanent normal trade relations,” or PNTR, to China. As the economists Justin Pierce and Peter Schott have argued, the permanence of PNTR status made an enormous difference: Without PNTR, there was always a danger that China’s favorable access to the U.S. market would be revoked, which in turn deterred U.S. firms from increasing their reliance on Chinese suppliers. With PNTR in hand, the floodgates of investment were opened, and U.S. multinationals worked hand in glove with Beijing to create new China-centric supply chains. The age of “Chimerica” had begun.
 
PNTR was a euphemism designed to get around the fact that the traditional term for “normal trade relations” was “most-favored-nation” (MFN) tariff status, which basically meant a plain-vanilla relationship. A country could enter into a preferential trade agreement such as NAFTA, the accord between the United States, Mexico, and Canada—say, plain vanilla with chocolate sprinkles on top. But short of that, MFN status meant imports would be treated as favorably as those arriving from “the most favored nation.” Absurd as it might sound, this linguistic convention had meaningful political consequences. To argue that we ought to have normal trade relations with China was one thing. Sure, why not? To make the case that China ought to be treated as our most favored nation was a more vexing PR challenge, not least in the wake of the brutal crackdown that followed the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989.
 
 
 
Under the Trade Act of 1974, China was designated, alongside the Soviet Union and other socialist states, a non-market economy. As such, it could only be granted MFN status under certain preconditions. In 1980, as relations between the two countries thawed, the U.S. conditionally granted China MFN status. That status, however, had to be renewed annually, which gave China’s critics in Congress an annual opportunity to question the wisdom of doing so. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, an alliance of economic nationalists, human-rights activists, and anti-communists sought to deny China MFN status every year. And every year that alliance was defeated by those who insisted that by opening the American economy to Chinese imports, the United States would gently nudge Beijing towards economic liberalism, multiparty democracy, and a rejection of hegemonic designs—predictions that haven’t exactly been borne out.
 
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What might the world have looked like had the U.S. never granted PNTR to China? One possibility is that China would have pursued an economic strategy built around fostering indigenous entrepreneurship and bettering the lives of its own workers, as it did in the 1980s. Instead, Beijing chose to transfer wealth from ordinary Chinese citizens to its politically powerful export sector, a path made possible by PNTR. China might very well have become just as rich by embracing a more balanced and humane approach to development. Doing so, however, would have required that its central government surrender a measure of control to its citizens. Rather than foster liberalism and openness in China, I suspect PNTR did exactly the opposite—creating the conditions for China’s central government to exert tighter control over the Chinese populace.
 
The United States, meanwhile, would have entered the age of globalization under markedly different terms: Instead of offshoring much of its industrial base to an often-hostile authoritarian power, perhaps it would have deepened its economic ties to democratizing states in Latin America, Asia, and the wider world. [emphasis added] Trade with China would have proceeded apace, to be sure, but U.S. multinationals wouldn’t have felt quite as secure in locating production facilities in one of the world’s last remaining communist dictatorships, which sees economic development as a weapon in its struggle for power and influence.
 
There is no going back. We can’t rewrite history. A bipartisan coalition promised Americans that granting China PNTR would help ensure our prosperity and that China would soon be transformed from foe to friend, and we were foolish enough to believe them. The question is what we should do now. For starters, I propose admitting that we made a grave mistake.
 
 
and from the National Review side of things ...
 
 
and from Foreign Affairs
 
 
The United States has always had an outsize sense of its ability to determine China’s course. Again and again, its ambitions have come up short. After World War II, George Marshall, the U.S. special envoy to China, hoped to broker a peace between the Nationalists and Communists in the Chinese Civil War. During the Korean War, the Truman administration thought it could dissuade Mao Zedong’s troops from crossing the Yalu River. The Johnson administration believed Beijing would ultimately circumscribe its involvement in Vietnam. In each instance, Chinese realities upset American expectations.
 
With U.S. President Richard Nixon’s opening to China, Washington made its biggest and most optimistic bet yet. Both Nixon and Henry Kissinger, his national security adviser, assumed that rapprochement would drive a wedge between Beijing and Moscow and, in time, alter China’s conception of its own interests as it drew closer to the United States. In the fall of 1967, Nixon wrote in this magazine, “The world cannot be safe until China changes. Thus our aim, to the extent that we can influence events, should be to induce change.” Ever since, the assumption that deepening commercial, diplomatic, and cultural ties would transform China’s internal development and external behavior has been a bedrock of U.S. strategy. Even those in U.S. policy circles who were skeptical of China’s intentions still shared the underlying belief that U.S. power and hegemony could readily mold China to the United States’ liking.
 
Nearly half a century since Nixon’s first steps toward rapprochement, the record is increasingly clear that Washington once again put too much faith in its power to shape China’s trajectory. All sides of the policy debate erred: free traders and financiers who foresaw inevitable and increasing openness in China, integrationists who argued that Beijing’s ambitions would be tamed by greater interaction with the international community, and hawks who believed that China’s power would be abated by perpetual American primacy. 
 
Neither carrots nor sticks have swayed China as predicted. [emphasis added] Diplomatic and commercial engagement have not brought political and economic openness. Neither U.S. military power nor regional balancing has stopped Beijing from seeking to displace core components of the U.S.-led system. And the liberal international order has failed to lure or bind China as powerfully as expected. China has instead pursued its own course, belying a range of American expectations in the process.
 
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Rather than devolving power to the Chinese people, as many in the West predicted, communications technologies have strengthened the hand of the state, helping China’s authorities control information flows and monitor citizens’ behavior. Censorship, detentions, and a new cybersecurity law that grants broad government control over the Internet in China have stymied political activity inside China’s “Great Firewall.” China’s twenty-first-century authoritarianism now includes plans to launch a “social credit system,” fusing big data and artificial intelligence to reward and punish Chinese citizens on the basis of their political, commercial, social, and online activity. Facial recognition software, combined with the ubiquity of surveillance cameras across China, has even made it possible for the state to physically locate people within minutes. 
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As the assumptions driving U.S. China policy have started to look increasingly tenuous, and the gap between American expectations and Chinese realities has grown, Washington has been largely focused elsewhere. Since 2001, the fight against jihadist terrorism has consumed the U.S. national security apparatus, diverting attention from the changes in Asia at exactly the time China was making enormous military, diplomatic, and commercial strides. [emphasis added] U.S. President George W. Bush initially referred to China as a “strategic competitor”; in the wake of the September 11 attacks, however, his 2002 National Security Strategy declared, “The world’s great powers find ourselves on the same side—united by common dangers of terrorist violence and chaos.” During the Obama administration, there was an effort to “pivot,” or “rebalance,” strategic attention to Asia. But at the end of Obama’s time in office, budgets and personnel remained focused on other regions—there were, for example, three times as many National Security Council staffers working on the Middle East as on all of East and Southeast Asia.

This strategic distraction has given China the opportunity to press its advantages, further motivated by the increasingly prominent view in China that the United States (along with the West more broadly) is in inexorable and rapid decline. Chinese officials see a United States that has been hobbled for years by the global financial crisis, its costly war efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq, and deepening dysfunction in Washington. [emphasis added] Xi has called on China to become “a global leader in terms of comprehensive national strength and international influence” by midcentury. He touts China’s development model as a “new option for other countries.” 
 
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Every empire falls at some point through imperial overreach.  The likelihood that this would happen has been predicted over the last half century.  It's not like Paul Johnson didn't mull over ideas to this effect in The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers.  I know there are those who would say that pointing out that whether Trump or Clinton won would make no different to how the American war machine handles things would sound like false equivalence but the people who would say "false equivalence!" probably don't understand how policy and internationalist interventionism have been implemented in the last century within the United States' history of foreign and domestic policy.  Even the blue state bromide about red-state warmongering is a trope that needs to be continually dismantled.  If you want to look at the times we've officially gone all in to kill people Democrats were in the Executive branch during those biggest moments.  Progressives may now want to believe progressives have no truck with war but Wilson was Wilson.  It's sadly one of the mythologies that doesn't die in the era of the internet, though, that the DNC and the progressive groups in the US were not in favor of military actions.  There was a time when conservatives and reactionaries didn't want the United States to get involved.  Now, of course, the opposite is the case. 

But on the whole the idea that the United States can be construed as the good guys depending on whether the party you want in power has power seems like a myth that needs to crumble.  I don't think we'd be better to the world had Clinton won and, if anything, Trump's election lets the world know more nakedly where the U.S. stands.  Given the cumulative Clinton track record 2016 was a choice between someone who was a perpetrator of sexual assault and someone who enabled it.  Hardly an inspiring set of options.

It makes sense if right wing people and reactionaries want to make America great again but the "America already is great" rejoinder still stunk of what some people might call privilege.  America was already great for ... people who were with her, perhaps, but not for a ot of people. 

If we spent decades off-shoring our industrial and manufacturing base overseas we shouldn't be that surprised if the places we off-loaded our former production infrastructure and labor to might have begu to prosper.  I can't help recalling with some usual gloom that I'd hear over the decades that the future of the job market was in the service economy and the information economy.  Well ... okay ... but that seemed like a recipe for burgeoning income inequality in which college graduates would disproportionately benefit and I am not sure now any more than "then" that that's an equitable way to go.

But it seems the red and blue have more fun blaming each other for American decline than considering the possibility that they both gave the farm awayand that trading on the future so that you can scapegoat the other team each election cycle while the two parties do weirdly similar things has been the norm for a while, it seems. 

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