China, currency manipulation, Obama, Our So-Called Foreign Policy, pivot, Strategic and Economic Dialogue, Trade, yuan
The latest U.S.-China Strategic & Economic Dialogue ended today, and both sides are acting as pleased as punch. I can see why Chinese Vice Premier Wang Yang pronounced this session of the biannual high level talks as a “complete success.” Why the U.S. delegation agreed is beyond me, if you believe that Washington’s main purpose is to advance and protect critical American interests.
On the strategic side, the Americans insist that they’ve responded to China’s more aggressive assertion of territorial claims by reminding Beijing that the U.S. defense commitment to allies threatened by this muscle-flexing remains “deep.” But those allies will be forgiven for doubting American will because in his official closing statement to the press, Secretary of State John Kerry barely even glossed over the issue.
Even more important, these Obama administration officials gave no indication of any determination to change 20 years of U.S. trade and investment policies that (a) have given China so much of the financial wherewithal needed to launch a worrisome military buildup and (b) ensured that so much of China’s new weaponry would be so high tech. For good measure, years of reckless American corporate technology transfers unmistakably have helped create the Chinese cyberhacking capabilities that have attacked U.S. business, government, and even military computer systems. Which means that Obama policy will keep enriching and arming the very power against which it’s ostensibly pivoting.
On the economic side as such, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew disgracefully hailed as a “big change” some Chinese statements about scaling back their currency manipulation operations as conditions permit, even though close observers were quick to point out that this phrasing simply repeated current Chinese policy. That is, Beijing can now feel even freer to keep the yuan artificially undervalued as long as it views boosting exports as crucial to maintaining an acceptable pace of growth. With China now showing signs of backtracking from previously announced GDP targets, it’s clear that underselling its American and other competition for reasons having nothing to do with market forces will be necessary in Chinese eyes for many more months at least.
Moreover, even though China’s reputation as the world’s most corrupt major economy looks more richly deserved by the day, the United States renewed its determination to conclude a bilateral investment treaty with Beijing. The result can only be to expand this kleptocratic system’s economic footprint in America. Like the nation doesn’t have enough homegrown crony capitalism?
In fact, the U.S. cave-in was so complete that it’s easy to conclude that, from Washington’s standpoint, the Dialogue’s main purpose is not to advance or protect American interests. It’s to pull the wool over the American public’s eyes. And judging by the continued apathy from – and often outright enabling by – that public’s representatives in Congress, it keeps succeeding.
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Alan Tonelson said:
Greatly appreciate the mention, and I fully agree with your point about claims of a genuine China anti-corruption drive looking more like a purge given the Xi regime’s outraged reaction to foreign press investigations of China’s kleptocracy — which he can’t completely control.
Chris Zappone said:
When I read this, I like to think that the US has essentially given up on the utility of dialogue with China. But if that’s true, it raises the risk that the countries are gearing up for something else. I do think that the White House, to its credit, recognizes the economic threat posed by the China’s theft of US technology over the long-term. I also think that the US recognizes that Beijing is unwilling (or unable) to curb its economic cybertheft. http://coldwardaily.com/2014/07/10/china-hacks-us-office-of-personnel-management-the-search-for-penalties/ Now, what I am waiting for is a reconsideration of the blind faith in so-called free-trade.
Alan Tonelson said:
An interesting perspective, and thanks for sharing! The background briefings by State and Treasury officals struck me as very convincing evidence that the Obama administration is a true believer in the Dialogues. My post emphasized the domestic political purposes I believe are foremost in their minds. But I also detected a quintessentially modern American diplomatic faith in the miraculous powers of process and in the idea that statecraft can usually be reduced to an exercise in clearing up entirely avoidable misunderstandings.
Re cyberhacking, there’s no doubt that the White House is unhappy. But American presidents — including this one — have long turned a blind eye to more conventional Chinese intellectual property theft, and even technology extortion in exchange for market access. The main reason was that multinational companies that manufacture in China never wanted to rock the boat. Since these businesses still call all the shots in U.S. China policymaking, and still hope above all to avoid rocking the boat, I fully expect that even this genuine unhappiness re cyberhacking will quickly turn into a PR campaign of excuse-making.
Sorry to be so cynical, but I do think there’s a heavy burden of proof on those who claim otherwise!