Editor’s Note: There has been much talk about China since President Trump took office. But here at Liberty Nation, we believe there has been much more in the way of heat than light. Thus, we proudly present this multi-part series by Managing Editor Mark Angelides, examining political life inside the Middle Kingdom and how its long cultural history and recent political upheaval will impact the United States. Mr. Angelides lived and worked in China for over a decade, speaks Mandarin, and offers unique insight into how Eastern global developments will impact political decisions in the United States.
In part one we examined what regular Chinese people think of Donald Trump. In this second part, we will examine the history and political relations between the two nations.
Arguably the two most powerful nations on earth, the U.S. and China have a wider reach in terms of diplomacy, economy, and brute strength than any other country. This power has been exercised, and at times abused, by leaders who have not always wielded it gracefully. But what lies in the future for Sino-American relations, what is the present state of affairs, and perhaps most importantly, how did they arrive at this point?
A Strained History
The initial case for offering China trade arrangements under a Most Favored Nation Status was argued as an encouragement to improve human rights conditions in exchange for better deals. President George H.W. Bush was widely criticized by the left for this, especially by one William J. Clinton in 1993. Less than one year later, after successfully winning the presidency, Clinton backtracked and extended the Status. It was a capitulation that China has not forgotten.
Almost every significant economic and diplomatic exchange since has been tinged with “an expectation” that the U.S. should be demanding that Beijing overhauls its methods of dealing with criminals, “dissidents,” and general approach to human rights. Yet at every stage, strong words have turned to wind. This has given the ruling Communist Party confidence that such expectations are little more than window-dressing for the American domestic audience. Behind the slow-growing relationship was always a war of cultures. Each side convinced that their way was better; with China distributing a huge amount of propaganda to discourage defectors.
Growth within China was effectively stagnant in terms of improving the lives of individuals until Deng Xiaoping made the bold decision to “open the doors” to the West in 1978. Since then, the Chinese economy has rocketed, with GDP per Capita rising from a little over $200 to almost $9,000 last year. This is widely agreed to have been due to adopting a more business-minded approach to capitalism and allowing entrepreneurs free range in domestic endeavors. Yet behind the welcome growth, there was always the idea that the U.S. was an economic and political rival.
The Obama Years
When Hillary Clinton, serving under President Obama announced that the U.S. would be making a “strategic pivot” towards Asia; coupled with the president’s insistence that the U.S. is a “Pacific nation,” red flags flew up all over China… but not of celebration. These moves were regarded as America looking to encroach upon China’s Asian dealings and seen as little more than a “containment policy.”
Things went from bad to worse during Obama’s first term. The People’s Daily, after seeing the American president refused to meet with the Dalai Lama before meeting Premier Hu Jintao, took this as a sign of obsequious behavior, in turn demanding that America make more concessions in the form of cutting off ties and trade with Taiwan.
During Obama’s visit, he was treated poorly with slights and snubs that he may not have noticed, but which the home audience certainly did.
Despite the best of intentions from Barack Obama, he never quite managed to bring together the two nations in a “Global 2” partnership as proposed by Zbigniew Brzezinski. This lead to a coldness between the superpowers that was only exacerbated by the U.S. stance on cybersecurity and Chinese land reclamation projects.
During Obama’s second term, the “pivot” swung away from China as tensions and troubles in the Middle East became more of a priority for the administration. China met this change in direction with a mix of both relief and loss.
A Chinese Perspective
For all of his flaws, it would be unkind to blame Barack Obama for the state of relations between the two countries during his period as president. China itself was in the process of many internal changes that, coinciding with the success of the 2008 Beijing Olympics meant that its “growing pains” were on display to the whole world.
The Chinese leadership was in a process of becoming an outward-looking nation that had recently moved from what they call the “First Industry” (agriculture) and into the “Second Industry” (manufacturing) and was in the process of aiming for the “Third” (service). They also were overseeing the largest movement of people from rural life to an urban dwelling that the world has ever known. It was a trying time.
Since China began re-engaging with the world, they have had to deal with requests and demands to sculpt their culture and practices. For a nation that values their self-image so highly, this has always been a bitter pill to swallow. Until now…
In the next part of this series, we will look at how China and America do business today, the migration issues both sides face, and what areas of cooperation are taking place that may surprise you.