In the Arena

A Good Fight

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The Chinese, who have been acting pompous and huffy on the global stage in recent years, are upset that Hillary Clinton has challenged them on internet censorship. Too bad. This is a good fight to have–and a very good moment to show the Chinese that we’re not going to be pushed around.

Not all human rights issues are good fights. I spent a month in China in 1993 and had regular arguments with Chinese friends about their notion of freedom versus ours. I remember Chinese academic saying, “You’re lecturing us on how to treat people, but you warehouse your parents in nursing homes.” But I would imagine that there will be an awful lot of support from Chinese academics, and young people, and entrepreneurs for a challenge to their government’s archaic efforts to control the flow of information in a global business environment where transparency and the unfettered flow of information are necessary to compete and thrive.

Furthermore, it is time for the United States to begin pressuring China publicly on its unwillingness to play a positive role in global diplomatic efforts–from climate change to Iran’s nuclear program. The Chinese–who live by a socio-religious code (Confucianism) that is based in a precise and ornate brand of etiquette–showed shocking disrespect for the American President in Copenhagen…and perhaps also in Beijing. Obama, as is his wont, refused to be rude in return. But, if he hopes to be an effective diplomat, he is going to have to show the Chinese that he can be strong…and that there is a price to be paid for disrespect.

In the end, the most important point is this: The Chinese own our debt, but they don’t own us. In fact, we have them over a barrel…and we should use our leverage the same way the big banks did, by forcing them to support us. After all, we’re too big to fail.