In the Arena

The China Syndrome

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According to the New York Times, the Obama Administration may be coming to the conclusion that China is more a strategic competitor than strategic partner. Certainly, the Chinese have been acting more aggressively toward their Asian neighbors and more disdainfully toward us–although I would imagine it’s still premature to say whether our future relationship will be primarily cooperative or competive or, most likely, an uneasy mixture of both.

This is an extremely complicated relationship that we have no choice but to get right–and, all too often, we’ve gotten it wrong. The Obama Administration’s decision to sell arms to Taiwan, an issue that drives the Chinese crazy, was crashingly wrong, in an anachronistic way. (I mean, aside from the last, lingering and no doubt decrepit members of the Who-Lost-China lobby, what reasonable person would make arming Taiwan¬† a major American priority?) At the same time, though, there has been a tendency–encouraged by the fiduciopathic U.S. financial community–to ignore China’s assorted trade and monetary depredations. [Fiduciopathy is a perverse twisting of normal fiduciary relationships to emphasize the pursuit of short-term profit without any sense of moral or societal consequences.]

On my recent road trip, I was struck by how many Americans were worried and angry about China–and how few had any idea where the President stands on this issue. In fact, I’m not quite sure where the President stands. I realize that a lot of the byplay has to proceed quietly when it comes to economic relationships between great powers–and especially when it involves a great power like China, which places inordinate emphasis on public stoicism and respect.

But I think we’re reaching the point where the President does have to speak to the American people about China, not only about the importance of charting a successful long-term relationship, but also about China’s economic impact on the American middle class and what can be done to mitigate its unfair trade practices.