America and the West’s policy of “constructive engagement” with Communist China make up the most egregious case of wishful thinking in history. For almost fifty years, the West pumped trillions of dollars into the Chinese experiment and now has little to show for it except a much stronger China. Fortunately, many Americans are now waking up to the dangers of dealing with the Chinese dragon. It is not a moment too early.
Ever since President Nixon’s infamous 1972 trip to China, the West has deceived itself into believing that being nice to Red China is a win-win proposition. The policy’s underlying reasoning was that opening China up would expose the communist nation to freedom, which would induce its dictators to change and do what is best for the Chinese people. Alas, how wrong the West has been.
The wishful thinking revolved around several myths about China.
The first myth is that by introducing a free market system into the country, the leadership would gradually adopt a capitalist-like scheme that would be communist in name only. The West has long insisted that the Chinese have abandoned Marxist ideology and embraced world markets.
However, the Chinese have never stopped insisting that they are genuinely communist. The more the West claims China is not communist, the more the Chinese openly say they are. The recent hardline developments of the Xi dictatorship have dashed the hopes of Western optimists. Hong Kong and the persecution of the Catholic Church now offer bitter testimony that nothing has changed.
Globalization and Control
Another myth is that China is so integrated into the global economy that it cannot be a threat. The reality is that the West has built up China and turned it into a power. By offshoring so many things there, it is now the West that is dependent upon China. The West has created a Frankenstein that now threatens the world.
A final myth is that China is a shining example of the free market that shows what can be done when countries work together. China has indeed gone from being a hopeless economic basket case to a vibrant power. However, this progress is not because of the free market.
China is an artificial creature of the West. It uses Western know-how and credit yet operates outside market systems. China routinely breaks trade agreements and shamelessly steals intellectual property from the West. It uses slave labor to produce cheap goods. Its economy is riddled with state planning and debt. Its famous shadow banking system is notoriously corrupt. The government manages to control the economy in every detail through Community Party members in every major industry. The nation is an environmental disaster. China is an example of everything the free market is not supposed to be.
The West’s wrongheaded policy treats China as a trade partner. China treats the West as an enemy. It now challenges American leadership, military might and technological development. China wants to dominate the world and is developing a network of trade relationships to draw countries into its fatal embrace. China seeks to take the lead in developing artificial intelligence and quantum computing, two industries that will dominate the next generation of technological development.
Now a Competitor
The case against China is so compelling that Americans are starting to see the light. Public attitudes toward Beijing are hardening.
A recent Pew Research Center poll says that 67% of Americans have a negative or very negative attitude toward China, up from 46% three years ago. China is seen nearly 90% as either a competitor (55%) or an enemy (34%). Some 84% regard China’s growing technological power as a serious or very serious problem for the U.S. Nearly half of all Americans believe the U.S. should give priority to limiting China’s influence and power.
This more realistic vision of China transcends partisan lines. Both political parties advocate measures to contain China’s ambitions. The Biden Administration recently released a document titled the “Interim National Security Strategic Guidance,” which supports some realistic approaches to the problem.
The present administration will keep at least some of the Trump administration’s aggressive policy changes that overturned decades of cooperation with the Communist regime.
A Need for a Consistent Policy
Alas, America is waking up to the danger only now. For decades, the nation has slept, hoping China would change its way. China has changed for the worst by becoming a mighty dragon that menaces the West.
Administration officials are reacting to China’s advance by calling for more spending on tech research and development. While such funding is welcome to match the Chinese efforts, it is not enough. America educates countless Chinese students at its universities. The nation funds Chinese development by its massive imports and offshoring. America’s silence facilitates the violation of human rights and religious persecution of the Catholic Church.
Unless there is a consistent policy that limits the American contact, education and trade with China, nothing will be done. Foreign policy must be built on facts, not fancy. The government needs to listen to what Americans think about Communist China. It is still Communist, and no amount of thinking to the contrary can change this reality.
Indeed, the West’s wishful thinking is becoming more wistful. Energetic action is urgently needed before it is too late.