- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 17, 2001

One of the more popular theories, utterly fallacious, behind U.S. policy towards China is that the more we trade with this communist dictatorship the nearer we will bring the day of a democratic redemption of the hapless Chinese people.
As David Brooks put it in a recent article in the Weekly Standard (April 30): "[T]he theory puts a lot of faith in the power of capitalism to transform tyrannies into democracies. History offers some examples in which the market has sweetened manners, but there are also plenty of instances where the economically minded have overestimated the civilizing power of trade."
The "civilizing power of trade" theory flowered during the Nixon and Carter and administrations vis-a-vis the former Soviet Union. Todays version of the theory goes something like this:
Trade agreements with the Chinese are a good and proper thing, yes, even agreements where China gets more benefits than the U.S. does. Why? Because future Chinese governments will want heavy investment from American capitalism to continue and expand and not lose the benefits they have already acquired.
The metaphoric version of this approach is that if you feed the shark, his teeth will eventually wear out and hell lose them. Unfortunately, the sharks teeth regenerate a row at a time, according to research findings at the Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Fla. The shark is never without three functional rows of teeth, according to Perry Gilbert, former director of the lab. So much for metaphors.
The founder of that delusional "linkage" policy was British Prime Minister Lloyd George who formulated the principles of a policy that was to become standard for the West toward the Soviet Union: "to smother Bolshevism with generosity," as the authors of "Utopia in Power" have written. In 1992, Lloyd George said, "I believe we can save her by trade. Commerce has a sobering influence… . Trade, in my opinion, will bring an end to the ferocity, the rapine and the crudity of Bolshevism more surely than any other method."
The ghost of Lloyd George still wanders around the corridors of the U.S. government. During the Carter administration, Marshall Shulman, the State Department adviser on Soviet affairs, wrote that "the measured development of economic relations can reasonably be made conditional upon Soviet restraint in crisis situations and in military competition." So the Soviet Union marched into Afghanistan. Jean-Francois Revel has pointed out that this linkage, the idea of economic detente, "has been turned upside down." He said:
"At the beginning of the 70s, we initiated economic, financial and technological trade help in various forms to the Soviet Union and to other communist European countries because, we reasoned, 'They will become dependent on us and this means that they will become more peace-minded and nice and less aggressive.
"But in fact, 10 years later, what do we see? That we are dependent upon them, upon Eastern markets even as we subsidize them, you see? So that you have the Germans, the French, the British telling the Americans, 'We cannot stop the gas pipelines because it means so many jobs for us. So the whole philosophy of detente, accelerated by economic pressures, is completely turned around… . We have given the Soviet Union a tool to use against us."
Have we given China a tool to use against us? The Chinese economy is growing at an amazing rate, almost 8 percent this year and no doubt will continue to grow, thanks to American investors and consumers. So did the "civilizing power of trade" stop Beijing from behaving badly toward its best customer, the American consumer? When our spy plane landed on Hainan, having been brought down by a Chinese fighter pilot, did the Chinese government treat the crew representing its best customer with kindness and courtesy? Did the Chinese government offer an apology for the irresponsible behavior of its fighter pilot? Did the Chinese government offer technical help so the plane could be flown off Hainan?
None of the above. China treated us in the spirit of the December 1999 statement of General Chi Haotian, vice-chairman of the Communist Partys Central Military Commission: "Viewed from the changes in the world situation and the hegemonic strategy of the United States to create monopolarity…war is inevitable." So much for the Clintonian theory of "constructive engagement" which envisioned a U.S.-PRC partnership in Asia.
I have a little lesson in American presidential history for President Bush. Shortly after he became president in May 1977, President Carter said:
"Being confident of our own future, we are now free of that inordinate fear of communism which once led us to embrace any dictator who joined us in our fear."
By the end of his term, President Carter appeared to have learned that where the Soviets are concerned things are seldom what they seem. Confronted by the invasion of Afghanistan, President Carter told a TV interviewer on New Years Eve 1979:
"This action of the Soviets has made a more dramatic change in my own opinion of what the Soviets ultimate goals are than anything theyve done in the previous time Ive been in office."
Four years of illusion about the communist will to power, and overnight pouf disillusion. I hope this cycle of illusion-disillusion, in this case about Chinese communism, will not be the sad heritage of the new Bush administration.

Arnold Beichman, a Hoover Institution research fellow, is a columnist for The Washington Times.


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