Next Thursday and Friday Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan will meet in Anchorage with their Communist Chinese counterparts, Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Politburo member Jang Jiechi, to lay out an agenda for engagement between the ascendent Chinese and the Biden administration. The meeting was initially requested by the Chinese in December, and follows several preparatory discussions: a two hour February 10, phone call between Premier Xi Jinping and President Biden; meetings of Blinken and Secretary of Defense Austin with counterparts in South Korea and Japan; and a March 12 meeting between Biden and the leaders of Australia, Japan, and India. The Biden administration is emphasizing that the first meeting will be on American soil, that it will be preceeded by dialogue with allies, and that the posture will be resolute. Good positioning.
The two day agenda is extensive: Hong Kong; the Uighurs; Taiwan; the South China Sea; calibration on Trump-administration trade agreements; climate change; China's trade embargo of Australia; cybersecurity; intellectual property theft; perhaps American debt. There will be no significant agreements. Specific commitments on our ongoing $300 billion trade deficit (down 25% from pre-Trump), China's goal of reaching peak CO2 emissions by 2030 (we are decreasing), or cessation of excalating massive hacking are unlikely. Much will be declared "off limits" internal Chinese matters. Our real leverage rests with trade - but that is so Trump.
The China internal media - and much in the West - will position this as a meeting between an America which has lost its footing, and the rising superpower who will soon boast the world's largest economy, enjoys the stragtegic advantage of a strong central government, is consolidating the periphery of former Chinese empires, and is gaining influence internationally through its Belt and Road Initiative, leadership in traditional international organizations, and investment agreements such as that recently signed with the European Union. There is good reason for concern, but this is not a zero sum game, and our recent decades of unchallenged supriority have made the rise of a rival seem more threatening than it need be.
A premise: Despite the constant drumbeat of anti-Trump pessimism over the past four years, the United States remains the overwhelming world leader in terms of the global financial system (the global reserve currency; the primary destination for investment capital), military power (roughly half of the world's military budget; 11 Aircraft carrier groups), and technical innovation (the Chinese targets of Artificial Intelligence, quantum computing, semiconductors, space, and biotech are all American strengths). The institutions which we put in place after World War II continue to serve the interests of the great majority of countries. Most of the world looks to us to maintain freedom of nautical travel, and to deter or mediate conflict on Europe's or Asia's periphery. China's neighbors are looking for a counter-weight, and offer a resuscitated version of the Trans Pacific Partnership. China is becoming a worthwhile rival, but our fate (and the world's) is in our hands.
That said, Three large currents have been running against us, and are getting significantly worse in the early days of the Biden administration:
1. Our belief in ourselves as a united, morally worthy nation. Led by the New York Times, and punctuated by several police killings of Black men, the narrative that we are irredemably flawed has been pounded by Democratic politicians and the media. Schools teach a history which has been re-written to the extent of condemning George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Dissenting voices are cancelled. Childrens books are banned. Social media - the preponderant majority of whose political contributions go to Democrats - control much of the national conversation, and ban Republicans. Liberals are encouraged to shun family and friends who voted for a presidential candidate who received 75 million votes. If a foreign propagandist wanted to undermine the United States, this is what it would look like. Common sense, respect for alternative opinions, and balanced news coverage need to return if we are to remain the leader of the free world.
2. Our debt. We have become numb to the implications of having federal government expenditures more than double federal government income, and represent about a third of the economic activity in the country - from every factory producing railroad cars, to every farmer growing wheat, to every doctor treating cancer, to every government worker processing your tax return. On the heels of a fourth Coronavirus Recovery Bill (7% of which went to vaccines, testing, and tracing), Team Biden will be back for another totally partisan trillion dollar "Infrastructure" bill. This will not end well.
3. More subtly, but most importantly, reliance on government rather than personal responsibility. When Press Secretary Psaki called the $1,9 trillion Coronavirus bill "the most progressive piece of legislation in history", she meant it. When presidential candidate Andrew Yang first introduced the concept of a universal basic income of $1000 per month in 2019, it seemed revolutionary (and to most people crazy) - detaching labor from reward, and elevating the state to the role of benificent patriarch of the people. We now have it, if just for a year or two at this point: $1400 checks for almost everybody (on top of past $1200 and $600 checks); child credits of up to $3600 per kid. The idea that individuals reap the benefits of their work is so bourgeoisie; Equality demands that the government print money for everybody.
This observer has confidence in the wisdom of the American people. We are the most successful large, racially, ethnically and religiously diverse nation in human history. We have been successful because we have been governed by the ideas of the Enlightenment and the Constitution. The First Amendment's guarantees of freedom of religion, speech, press, and assembly will survive the Cancel Culture because the people will demand it. Unlike today's Democratic leaders, Martin Luther King Jr. looked forward to the day when "people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character." We will return to a place where it is not racist to have "race blind" policies. If we don't return to traditional American common sense, in time the immutable laws of economics will prevail over those who would claim that we can indefinitely consume more than we produce. If not, we had best hope that future meetings with our Chinese overlords go well. It is up to us.
bill bowen - 3/11/2021