Conservative Paranoia About China Is Rooted In Slim Historical Knowledge

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The present view from the right is that China is the new evil empire. This applies across the board -- not just to trade, business and economic matters, but also foreign affairs and geostrategic concerns, human rights, intellectual property rights and so forth. The result is that anything and any act with the name China attached to it becomes immediately suspect to the political right. Hence, 5G will allow the Chinese government to spy on all of us, Chinese interests in Asia are an existential threat to the U.S. and must be opposed everywhere and all the time, China is out to destroy our economy and take over the leadership of the world, the Chinese cannot be trusted at all, they cheat, they wish to bury us.  It's like the Cold War redux.

There is no doubt that the Chinese regime is autocratic, unsavory and self-serving, and furthermore that China is seeking to find a greater place in the sun which will surely bring China at times into competition or conflict with the U.S. geostrategically as China seeks to enhance its prestige around the world. But such competition and conflict have always been part and parcel of international rivalries between great powers. Long ago in the age of European imperialism there was plenty of rivalry between Britain and France as to who would be global top dog among the Western powers. Then Germany entered the picture which complicated things further, while in the Near East and Persia the rivalry was between Britain and Czarist Russia as the Turk was losing his grip on his domains in the Near East. Likewise Rome and Carthage, Persia and Babylon, Assyria and Egypt. The idea that international relations can and should exist on a kumbaya footing across the board is an idealistic modern Western notion which, while it sounds nice, is not in accord with the long-standing realities of human behavior. We are an intensely competitive species, and competition can at times give rise to ill-feeling and nationalistic advantage seeking among the competitors. Under such circumstances and in a setting of intense frustration or public posturing, it's easy to go from simple competition to not trusting your competitors and even outright demonization if your mind is prepared to do so, even to the point of paranoia.

The fact is that we cannot contain a vast and talented people like the Chinese, nor is such containment desirable. And while China as a nation may not be our bosom buddy, it does not have to be regarded as our implacable enemy on every front, nor should we flinch from pursuing individual relations like trade with individual Chinese which will promote friendship, trust and prosperity. Even President Nixon realized that openness to China was a better policy than a paranoid desire to hedge Red China in.

To the extent that the Chinese government interferes with capitalism and free markets within China by tying business and industry to government, Chinese growth and prosperity will be limited precisely by the degree of government interference. Such government interference cannot be our concern, as it is an internal Chinese matter. To the extent that free market capitalism is allowed to thrive in China, we can benefit from the prosperity that the free market brings to the Chinese people, the business opportunities and markets in China that that free market provides to American companies, the enhanced standard of living afforded to Americans thanks to cheap imports from China, and any new technology and products that the Chinese are capable of developing and bringing to market. We should not be afraid of Chinese development of new technologies. We Americans are an ingenious people, but we cannot expect to lead and dominate the world in all forms of technology and development. Just as China and the rest of the world benefit from American technical prowess, likewise we and the rest of the world will inevitably benefit from new Chinese technology, which we can then quickly learn to modify, adapt and refine in accordance with our own purposes, standards and tastes. 

Trade brings people together and provides them with common interests, goals, mutual respect and understanding. Left to themselves people will sort these things out on their own to the advantage of all concerned. It's only when politicians, government officials, intellectuals and ideologues get involved that difficulties and bad feelings arise: e.g. the Chinese leadership wants to enrich itself and solidify its power, and it seeks a bigger say in directing world affairs, while the American president wants to put America first and punish certain nations with sanctions.  But while leaders may erect barriers between nations for various reasons, individual trade nearly always finds ways around those barriers, because people as individuals want what they want, and whenever feasible they will find the ways to get what they want via those who are more than happy to provide those things to them no matter what it takes.  

I cannot see how the whole world does not benefit from the increasing prosperity and the creative talents of the Chinese people. Certainly we need to keep a careful eye on the regime, but not to the point of paranoia.

Bill Meisler is a retired physician who spends his time playing the piano and reading history, philosophy and literature.

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