By Sean King
Calls for greater U.S. openness toward mainland Chinese investment draw faulty parallels with once-shunned Japanese investments of the 1980s. We Americans were admittedly self-defeating and short-sighted ― economically, politically and militarily ― in our initial resistance to such inbound Japanese largesse. But the China of 2011 isn’t the Japan of the 1980s. In fact, it’s not even the Japan of the 1950s.
Japan is a free country. China is not. France’s Reporters Without Borders’ 2010 Press Freedom Index ranked Japan the 11th-freest of 178 nations. China came in at 171st. China blocks Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, while 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo remains under house arrest in Beijing.
And when Egypt’s “Jasmine Revolution” broke out in January, Chinese authorities blocked the word Egypt from all major domestic search engines, lest their own people stay current on events there. Heaven forbid!
Japan is a U.S. ally. China is not. U.S. General Douglas MacArthur launched America’s Korean War effort from Japan and there are roughly 47,000 U.S. troops in Japan today. China came to aggressor North Korea’s aid in said 1950-53 conflict, and accounted for 83 percent of North Korea’s international commerce in 2010. Beijing further props up Myanmar (Burma) and Sudan (take it from actors Mia Farrow and George Clooney if you don’t believe me), while also arming Iran.
Tehran’s regional network of insurgents has in turn used some of these Chinese weapons on U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, while Iranian proxy Hezbollah fired Chinese C-701 missiles at Israel in the 2006 Lebanon War.
We shouldn’t reject every potential Chinese investment out of hand, not least those investments that have no national security or public sector component to them and that can aid our currently challenged economy.
But to imply that our naturally more heightened suspicion of inbound Chinese investments (as compared to those from say, Sweden) is somehow due to some inherent knee-jerk xenophobia ― akin to that which we regrettably displayed against ally Japan in the 1980s ― is but an all too convenient oversimplification that almost deliberately wants to miss the point.
In fact, up until when Mao Zedong’s communists seized power in 1949, no great power was as “pro-China” as was the United States. Although we joined the Eight-Nation Alliance that quashed China’s Boxer Rebellion in 1901, America ― unlike France, Germany, Portugal or Britain ― never colonized any part of the Middle Kingdom.
The seeds of modern China’s first attempt at civil government, the Republic of China (ROC), were planted in the mind of ROC founding father Dr. Sun Yat-sen during his formative adolescent years in U.S. President Barack Obama’s home state of Hawaii. As a young man, Dr. Sun returned to China inspired by the uniquely American ideals of Alexander Hamilton and Abraham Lincoln.
When given the chance, Dr. Sun would tell anybody who would listen that the crux of President Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, “government of the people, by the people, for the people,” had shaped his own political philosophy, the Three Principles of the People.
And when the ROC came under Japanese occupation in World War II, China ran its government-in-exile out of Washington, D.C. First Lady Madame Chiang Kai-shek even addressed both Houses of the U.S. Congress in 1943.
And it was U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt who insisted, much to colonialist British Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s chagrin, that Madame and Chinese Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek be present ― and, treated as Allied equals as part of the “Big Three” ― at the 1943 Cairo Conference.
In short, America has no beefs with China’s people. We’ve been on their side more than we haven’t been in our own 230 years of existence.
But we are inevitably going to have beefs with any unelected government whose legacy includes the Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution, and one that still tells its own people what they can and can’t read, arms our enemies, and thinks of the South China Sea as its own private toll road.
I realize there’s potentially trillions of dollars in mainland Chinese money out there looking for a place to park itself, in turn making would-be American recipients very happy. But all that glitters is not gold. China is not just another country.
For all the possibilities of its long overdue reemergence on the world stage, and its duly proud history, today’s China is still the largest dictatorship on earth that year after year jails more journalists than does any other government.
Until China is a country that’s run by its people for its people, America has every right ― in fact, every obligation ― to more closely scrutinize its enterprises’ attempts to invest in our country than we would such attempts from countries whose governments share our values and alliances. That’s not xenophobia, or the makings of a Fortress America. It’s just common sense.
Sean King is vice president of Park Strategies, one of the most sought-after public policy and business development firms in the U.S. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The views expressed in the above article are the author’s own and do not reflect the editorial policy of The Korea Times.