The China lobby was in full swing this summer, and once again the “If We Can Sell Every Chinaman Just One” crowd carried the day. By a wider than expected margin, the House of Representatives defeated a resolution revoking China’s Most Favored Nation status, letting both the Senate and the President off the hook.
As Alan Tonelson of the U.S. Business and Industrial Council has pointed out, America’s corporate China lobby claims that “revoking MEN would shut U.S. companies out of a huge and vigorously expanding market for goods produced in the United States, hurting hundreds of thousands of American workers, as well as American companies. But China’s meager imports from America”—less than what we sell to Belgium—”indicate that most U.S. companies (as well as their Hong Kong and Taiwanese counterparts) value China for a completely different reason—as a production site for goods they want to sell to America. China as a production site and export platform for American business mainly fattens the profits of U.S. multinational corporations at the expense of American workers whose output has been replaced by Chinese factories. For the up to 40 percent of Chinese exports sent to the United States, this intra-firm trade hits American workers especially hard.”
However, trade (which should have been among the chief reasons to revoke MEN but was actually the trump card assuring its continuation) hardly figured in the public debate. Instead, the discussion primarily centered on human rights, repression of democracy activists, official persecution of Chinese Christians, proliferation of missiles and weapons technology. Hong Kong, and Taiwan—issues which, while not negligible, do not have a direct and immediate impact on Americans’ livelihood. What was striking about the debate was how little it concerned Americans’ interests and how much it rested on the competing claims of how best to bring about democracy in China. In short, it was less a debate about policy than about pedagogy, with America posing as teacher and a five thousand-year-old civilization presumed to be a gaggle of obstreperous children. MEN proponents, ignoring China’s brazen mercantilism, sang the usual hosannas to their god. Free Trade, as the germ of great social and moral transformations, with China’s sweatshops the petri dishes in which Jeffersonianism is being cultured. Conversely, too many MEN opponents also see China largely as a “problem” to be “solved” not by free trade but by a swift kick in the pants, after which the same social transformation will presumably occur.
The United States should withdraw MEN from China not because of what may or may not result in China but as a matter of American self-interest and self-respect. The sheer one-sidedness of our trade relations—the Opium Wars in reverse—should be reason enough, with Christian persecution, forced abortion, and, believe it or not, the human consumption of aborted children sufficient to convince the indecisive. We should not flatter ourselves that we have either the wisdom or the ability to determine when, how, or with what China should replace its odious gerontocratic regime. But at the same time we are under no obligation to be friends with that regime and enrich it at the expense of our own economic interests.
Whether or not MEN is withdrawn, a few other issues deserve serious thought as Chinese communism degenerates into Han national bolshevism. As Beijing has stated, the sequence will be Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan. With regard to the last, independence is no longer an option, if it ever was. For that matter, the salient feature of Kuomintang rule on the island is that the KMT agrees with the mainland on the one point that cannot be compromised: that Taiwan is a part of sovereign China. Assuming that Beijing has indeed abandoned Marxism/Leninism, it is to be expected that some sort of arrangement will be reached that allows continued KMT administration.
Taiwan aside, the aspirations of the American political class to build a U.N.-led global order enforced by the United States will increasingly clash with Beijing’s determination to place its sovereignty above all other considerations. Instead, the United States should seriously consider an apportionment of American, Chinese, and Russian spheres of influence in the Ear East and the Western Pacific. In Central Asia, China (along with India) will continue to be a bulwark against the rising tide of Islamic militancy unleashed by the Iranian revolution and the collapse of the Soviet Union. The Chinese authorities, no matter who ends up holding power in the Forbidden City, will suppress the Uighur-led jihad with whatever force is necessary. Belgrade may let the Serbs be driven from Sarajevo today, Paris may abandon Marseilles to the Algerians tomorrow, but Beijing will not tolerate the eradication of the Han from Xinjiang or the creation of an Islamic superpower in Asia.
Finally, the fundraising scandal involving Chinese agents of influence, the Clinton White House, and the Democratic Party is just a peep into how thoroughly compromised much of Washington is by foreign interests. Beijing’s capitalization on the wealth and vitality of the overseas Chinese community—and the American citizenship of many of its members—may force us to face the taboo question of migratory subversion. The Balkanization of America is not purely a domestic phenomenon but a vulnerability that will be increasingly exploited by foreign governments trying to skew American policies to their own purposes.