The United States has to be the only country on earth (excepting dictatorships with no respect for facts or the truth) in which individuals who have been massively wrong on major issues can be considered “experts.” Think that’s wrong or overstated? Then how do you explain this recent Reuters report on a draft letter apparently signed by dozens of specialists on China policy?
Over the weekend, the news agency ran an item contending that “Scores of Asia specialists, including former U.S. diplomats and military officers, want President Donald Trump to rethink policies that ‘treat China as an enemy,’ warning the approach could hurt U.S. interests and the global economy, according to a draft” seen by reporters Michael Martina and Jonathan Landay.
The letter, intended for Mr. Trump and members of Congress, states that the roughly 80 signers (more are being sought) are “very deeply troubled by Beijing’s recent behavior….”
More specifically, “The Chinese government’s increase in domestic repression and control over private companies, ‘its failure to live up to its trade commitments, greater efforts to control foreign opinion and more aggressive foreign policy’ are ‘serious challenges for the rest of the world,’” according to the draft and some Reuters paraphrasing.
But as is typical of much China-related commentary lately, the signers “also believe that many U.S. actions are contributing to the downward spiral in relations….”
Reportedly, the letter continues, “U.S. efforts to treat China as an enemy and decouple it from the global economy will damage America’s international role and reputation and undermine the economic interests of all nations. The U.S. fear that Beijing will replace the U.S. as the global leader is exaggerated.”
That last claim underscores what’s most absurd about this whole exercise – and about taking it as a serious commentary about the Trump China approach. It’s perfectly legitimate – and necessary – to debate how the United States should handle the multi-dimensional China challenge. But the idea that the group of signatories described here has anything worthwhile to contribute, much less that its collective experience entitles it to a special hearing, flunks the laugh test by miles.
For although only two signers were named in the Reuters piece, it’s a safe bet that exactly none of them, during their long years and even decades of public service, predicted China’s spectacular rise to date – at least not on a remotely timely basis. Had they detected this possibility and alerted policymakers, does anyone seriously think that American policy would have continued literally showering wealth and advanced (often defense-related) technology on China? Not unless you believe the entire U.S. China-related policy establishment had been completely bought off by Chinese interests. (Ahem!)
Especially nutty is the contention that “The current U.S. response, however, is counterproductive because by treating China as an existential national security threat, it weakens the influence of moderates in Beijing who know that ‘a cooperative approach with the West serves China’s interests.’”
For if anything has been sadly clear about American foreign policymaking in recent decades, it’s that Washington’s ability to identify moderates and other factions inside dictatorships, and to manipulate them to promote or defend U.S. interests, is exactly zilch. (Google “Iran Contra affair” and “Ngo Dinh Nhu” if you’re unfamiliar with those two especially important and pathetic examples.)
But one ray of hope did emerge from this Reuters story: It’s not clear when the final version will be released. That creates the possibility that the signers will recognize how uniquely unqualified they are to offer anyone China policy advice, and have the good sense to keep their incompetent (at best) mouths shut.