I blame Thanksgiving – for my neglect to date of the latest annual report of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission. What kind of date is November 20 for the release?
Seriously, these reports on the latest major developments and trends in U.S.-China relations are always worth covering, and I will be turning to the main findings and recommendations sometime next week. But in many ways, the most striking feature of this year’s edition is the the page-and-a-half’s worth of “additional views” by Commission Vice-Chairman William A. Reinsch (which start on page 556) .
It’s hard to imagine a better example of how Washington, D.C.’s offshoring lobby has been tying itself up in knots recently as the China trade and economic, and inevitably related technology and security policies, they’ve pushed so long and so effectively keep backfiring ever more strikingly for its own corporate fortunes and the U.S. economy. And as a result, the Reinsch remarks raise the question of how much influence on China issues should continue to be wielded by special interests and their spokespeople that for so long have been so completely wrong on this matter.
Reinsch, a Commissioner since the panel’s birth in 2001, is a former longtime Congressional staff member who served in senior Commerce Department positions during the Clinton years. The year he was appointed to the China Commission, he was also named President of the National Foreign Trade Council, whose membership is dominated by job-exporting, panda-hugging multinational manufacturers and lots of their enablers on Wall Street. (Yes, WalMart belongs, too.)
As he states in his remarks, Reinsch has had a consistent record over the last decade-and-a-half of “lamenting” the Commission’s “consistent tendency to focus unrelentingly on the bad news at the expense of promising developments in the relationship.” He describes himself as having spent much of his professional life “studying China, and arguing for greater efforts at mutual understanding that focus on the benefits of cooperation” and as “an optimist about the relationship.” Therefore, Reinsch writes, he has long believed that “the fundamental policy goal for each country should be to keep…out of power” figures who “believe the other is an existential threat.”
Now Reinsch finds himself lamenting something else: “This year, however, there is precious little good news to report” on the China front, he writes, and goes on to provide an indictment of Beijing’s recent behavior ending with the claim that China’s leadership does increasingly seem to view the United States as an existential threat. In fact, more specifically, he contends, “It appears the Chinese have embarked on a path intended to push the U.S. To choose between confronting them militarily or abandoning our friends and allies in the region, gambling that we will choose the latter.”
Reinsch strongly implies that China’s current leadership – which came into power in late 2012 – is the main problem. But since the original Nixon-era opening, Beijing had been challenging major U.S. national security interests for years before, especially by transferring weapons-of-mass-destruction technology to rogue states. Since its admission at the end of 2001, China also has been routinely violating trade agreements with the United States and its World Trade Organization (WTO) commitments, which literally steals growth and jobs from Americans. Nothing could be more obvious than the failure of approaches favored by Reinsch and the rest of the offshoring lobby to deal adequately with these threats. If anything, their main effect appears to have been emboldening the Chinese.
But Reinsch appears confident that America’s China policy status quo should continue. His recipe for dealing with Chinese muscle-flexing in East Asia? “Adroit diplomacy.” He continues to insist that U.S. responses to Beijing’s predatory trade policies conform to America’s WTO and other multilateral obligations, even though no evidence shows that this approach has worked adequately. And positively ludicrous is his belief that such rule-of-law approaches – which are exactly the ones that have been followed – will help “move [China] in that direction. His own account of China’s backsliding on this front makes that clear.
In fairness to Reinsch, however, his position as a lobbyist for offshoring multinationals and others that have profited handsomely (so far) from the China policy status quo prevents him from supporting more promising U.S. strategies. As for the Obama administration and Members of Congress: What’s their excuse?