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#AndrewSingerChina Newsletter Vol. 3, Issue 3

China-America: Thinking of Ironies



This issue looks at ironies in the U.S.-China relationship.



The American Congressional effort to ban--no excuse me, order the divestiture of, TikTok, a move supported by the American President, makes for great political hay while also carrying political dangers and the possibility of backfiring economically. Even so, to hear the Chinese government complain about online limitations and manipulation in America is rich (Irony 1).


If America’s internet culture is a lawless, Wild West, China’s internet culture is an attempt at Puritanical properness. China bans Facebook, Instagram, and Google and censors (when it can) what can be viewed on a firewalled web. And yet, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs released an op-ed article entitled, "The Truth About the So-Called Freedom of Speech in the United States,” noting that “the TikTok bill ‘violates the rights granted to the American people by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, suppresses and damages the freedom of more than 150 million American TikTok users, and sets a worrying precedent,….’” Irony.




China is sensitive to foreigners “smearing and attacking” its policies in Hong Kong, Xinjiang, the South China Sea, and elsewhere. China has criticized American Ambassador Nicholas Burns’ statement that “‘[Washington’s concerns about Hong Kong’s new national security law] are about the right of the people to dissent, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly,….’” China opposes America publicly choosing sides in a boundary dispute and declaring that certain contested Himalayan property belongs to India. China warns that America is out to contain its rise. Yet, for all of this bluster, the “lady may not be protesting too much” (see Hamlet Act III, Scene II) (Irony 2).


Why does the U.S. feel entitled to comment on and insert itself into everyone else’s business—economically, politically, and militarily? In a recent Sinica podcast with Kaiser Kuo, Professor Kerry Brown of King’s College in London provided one answer. He noted that the long European and later American intellectual tradition of universalism grounded in Western values and the West’s history of coercion in China have led to a deep narrative of cultural disdain and a belief that the West (America) is better. In the words of Professor Brown, “The idea that China could be No. 1 [not that the country necessarily will so become, he prefaces] has completely freaked a lot of people out.” Irony.



If America wants to control the world, China wants to control China and is reaching out farther to make sure this happens. In seeking to do so, however, China has in several instances only itself to blame for the allergic reactions of America and other countries (Irony 3).


China’s runaway success in becoming the world’s factory, China’s technological and manufacturing advances, China’s BRI [Belt and Road Initiative] investments in Asia, Africa, and South America that often import Chinese workers and export Chinese profits, and China’s often heavy-handed efforts to control her narrative abroad have all come back to haunt the government. The American trade war, European discussions about limiting the flood of Chinese products that are undercutting their markets, Brazil’s announced antidumping investigation into Chinese goods, the blowback to the quiet establishment of dozens of Chinese overseas police service stations, and fraught political relations are some of the results. Irony.



What about the American trade war with China? America adopted the CHIPS [Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors] Act and other laws with a goal of jump starting and reshoring American manufacturing and high-tech development. It has led to significant investments at home with hoped for future positive outcomes. Notwithstanding this and only a week after President Biden announced $8.5 billion CHIPS grant funding for Intel, news reports demonstrate that the road to balancing trade may have significant speed bumps (Irony 4).


China’s hub of Shenzhen (the world’s fourth busiest container port) reports that it has had a banner year thus far. Exports from Shenzhen to just America have skyrocketed 62.4% year over year in the first two months of 2024. And these are recent headlines out of China: “Global CEOs flock to China as tensions mount over export glut” (Financial Times), “Apple boss Tim Cook launches charm offensive in vital market” (digitaltrends.com), and “US Companies Turning More Optimistic on China, Survey Shows” (Bloomberg). Irony.



Words have impacts. History shows that the more alarm bells are rung, the likelier the crisis they ostensibly hope to forestall is to come to fruition (Irony 5).


American government and military officials are publicly decrying China’s ambitions:


  • Congressional Committees have held hearings on “The Chinese Communist Party’s Threat to America” and “The Pressing Threat of the Chinese Communist Party to U.S. National Defense.”

  • FBI Director Christopher Wray has recently testified that he sees the “CCP as a threat to Americans’ safety…. And they don’t just hit our security and economy. They target our freedoms, reaching inside our borders, across America, to silence, coerce, and threaten our citizens and residents.

  • Admiral John Aquilino, Commander of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command has described “the relationship between China, Russia, North Korea and Iran as a nascent ‘axis of evil.’”

  • Brigadier General Anthony Mastalir, Commander of U.S. Space Forces Indo-Pacific, said that “‘From a military perspective, I am curious about, are there attack vectors [from the moon against American space assets] that we haven't considered or that we need to consider,….’”


Though the available statements are generally not nearly as forthright in China, there are many in China’s military, intellectual, government, and online world who are expressing similar warmongering thoughts against U.S. efforts in the same spheres. Ratcheting up fear and terror in the respective populaces runs counter to helping the two countries maintain peaceful relations, unless of course confrontation and war are the aim. Irony.


twitter.com.60Minutes


Several Westerners in China who I follow online (as well as the Chinese themselves) frequently despair the way China is portrayed in Western media. They note that the media misses the energy, drive, and work ethic of the Chinese and overstates the economic difficulties of the country. In some areas, the economy is humming along. In other areas, it is stagnant and threatened. Many Chinese are indeed nervous and have lost the supreme confidence that grew over the first two decades of the twenty-first century, but the economy is not a simplistic monolith destined for collapse (Irony 6).


Lesley Stahl and a team from the American news show, 60 Minutes, were granted rare Western journalist visas recently and allowed into China to interview the American Ambassador. Ambassador Burns’ comments were an attempt to balance what he sees as the essentialness of China as a world partner with America’s distaste for Chinese governance. “The Chinese are leading trade partners of twice as many countries [more than sixty] as the U.S.,” and “One fifth of U.S. agriculture exports go to China.” At the same time, the Chinese “government wants to control data about the Chinese people, about Chinese companies,” and “China and America are in a battle of ideas, of which is better than and will lead the world.”


A final, salient point, irony-wise, is that there are not only competing interests between America and China, but also competing priorities within America itself between American companies and the American people, not to mention political leaders. Professor Brown argues that such contradictions lead to “incoherent policies.”


Irony.

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