No blog has influenced me so much as that of Brad DeLong. I agree with DeLong with a frequency that is almost disturbing. I have often called myself a Brad DeLong sock puppet, mostly in jest.
However, for as long as I've been reading DeLong, I've believed that he is wrong about one big thing - the U.S.-China relationship. Brad thinks we need to do more to bend over backwards to convince the Chinese populace that we are their friend. I think we could not possibly do more than we have done.
Here's Brad's latest expression of the thesis:
In 1846 British Prime Minister Robert Peel accepted the U.S. proposal to draw the border between British Columbia and the Oregon Territory...As a result, when 1916 came, Americans perceived Britain as their friend. Americans perceived the British Empire as by and large a force for good in the world...
The willingness of the United States to [fight for Britain in the World Wars was] powerfully motivated by America’s affinity with Britain...[Britain had] created a world in which the 20th century’s hyperpower would use its muscle to make the world comfortable for Britain to live in...
Is the United States using its soft power now with the same skill and foresight? Not really...
[A]t least one of India and China–perhaps both–will become late-twenty first century superpowers. And so we have an interest in building ties of affinity now: it is very important...that, fifty years from now, schoolchildren in India and China be taught that America is their friend that did all it could to help them become prosperous and free. It is very important that they not be taught that America wishes that they were still barefoot, powerless, and tyrannized, and has done all it can to keep them so.Now actually, I think most of this is correct. It would be great if India and China thought that America was on their side, and had always been on their side.
And with India, I think there is a great chance that this will happen - in fact, it shows every sign of happening. The first major diplomatic step toward making the India-U.S. relationship similar to the U.S.-Britain relationship was the nuclear cooperation deal forged by the George Bush administration, which de facto legitimized India as a great (i.e. nuclear) power, and reversed decades of damage that the Clinton administration had done by trying to ostracize and punish India for its 1998 nuclear tests, and more decades of damage that previous administrations had done by trying to maintain a ludicrous false parity between India and the neighboring dysfunctional hostile failing state of Pakistan. So I think that, thanks in part to George W. Bush, but thanks more to the natural linguistic and institutional similarities between the two countries, and thanks even more to their shared geopolitical interests, we have a good chance of having a positive, enduring, mutually beneficial special relationship with India.
But then there's China.
Let's review a quick list of the ways that the U.S. has gone to bat for China over the last century or so.
First, through the Open Door policy, we prevented China from being colonized by various European and East Asian imperialist powers. U.S. power was the reason that China appears in light blue ("Partial European control or influence") on this map instead of in green ("Colonized or controlled by Europe"). Had the U.S. not done this, Europe might well have expended its energies carving up and dominating China instead of fighting World War 1.
Then, in the late 1930s and early 1940s, when Japan was conquering large portions of China, the U.S. put an oil embargo on Japan, simply for the purpose of saving China from conquest. This forced Japan to choose between halting their conquests and fighting the United States. It chose the second, and the resulting war cost the United States hundreds of thousands of lives. In other words, we got into the most costly international war in order to save China.
Then, in 1969, after the Sino-Soviet split, the USSR was considering a massive preemptive nuclear strike on China. The United States stopped this attack only by threatening to nuke Russia if they went through with the plan - which would have then resulted in a U.S.-Russia nuclear exchange that would have destroyed both countries. In other words, the U.S. threatened nuclear war, and risked its own total destruction, in order to save China.
Then, in the 1990s and 2000s, the U.S opened its markets to Chinese goods, first with Most Favored Nation trading status, and then by supporting China's accession to the WTO. The resulting competition from cheap Chinese goods contributed to vast inequality in the United States, reversing many of the employment gains of the 1990s and holding down U.S. wages. But this sacrifice on the part of 90% of the American populace enabled China to lift its enormous population out of abject poverty and become a middle-income country.
So again and again, the U.S. has gone to bat for China, harming our own workforce, risking our own death, and sacrificing hundreds of thousands of our young people in brutal combat. It is in part thanks to us that China is a hyperpower today, rather than A) a mishmash of European fiefdoms, B) a mismash of Japanese and Russian fiefdoms, C) a radioactive parking lot, or D) an insular, indigent economic backwater.
And has this caused China's government to teach its children that the U.S. is on its side, and supported its development every step of the way, as Brad would like? No. The government of China continues to teach its people that the West is their enemy. The state-controlled Chinese media continues to spout copious anti-Western rhetoric. The Chinese government continues to commit itself, in public and in private, to resisting Western ideas and culture.
Does this mean that the Chinese people despise the U.S.? No, they do not. They mostly like us. But the Chinese government, which holds the power and decides on geopolitical strategy, is implacably opposed to the United States.
So my question for Brad is: What else would he have us do in order to convince China's government that we are their buddy? What more could we do, in addition to the four aforementioned times that we saved China's bacon? Force Taiwan to join the mainland? Firebomb Yasukuni shrine? Recognize China's claim to the entire South China Sea?
Brad's parallel with the British cession of the Pacific Northwest is not an encouraging parallel. In the light of China's current territorial claims and aggressive actions toward its neighbors (including India), it seems to me to be an ominous parallel.
I counter-suggest that instead of trying to placate China's government by forcing our allies to make territorial concessions to China, that we take our case directly to the Chinese people, by increasing Chinese immigration, by building more cultural and academic links to China, and by continuing to have our leaders praise the Chinese people and culture in high-profile speeches. Will this be enough to make the Chinese government our buddy? No, it won't. But governments don't last forever.