Sinophobia or Sinophilia? Neither, Please

November 11, 2010

A nasty bit of Election 2010 is sure to live on in 2011.

Pols and pol-wannabes bashed each other ruthlessly during the campaign. However distasteful to the self-appointed arbiters of electoral etiquette, most attack ads contained a fair amount of truth. (He really did vote for that tax hike, she really did make a confusing statement regarding Afghanistan.)

The same can’t be said for candidates’ claims about China.

In paroxysms of xenophobic nonsense, candidates portrayed their opponents as greedy puppets of Beijing. Ohio Governor Ted Strickland went after his Republican challenger’s connection to a medical-products corporation. In one ad, the wife of a laid-off worker claims: “John Kasich sat on Invacare’s board as a director, and signed off on jobs being outsourced and sent to China and Mexico. … I don’t think John Kasich values hardworking people.” Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) accused ex-CEO Carly Fiorina of sending jobs to “Shanghai instead of San Jose.” Republican office-seekers tried to link pro-stimulus incumbents to tax revenue that made its way to Chinese companies.

As the economy limps along in what can barely be described as a recovery, look for China to be a target of the 112th Congress. One shibboleth is sure to dominate: The “undervaluing” of Chinese currency. AFL-CIO boss Richard Trumka says it is “a serious and ongoing problem for American workers and manufacturing.” Many Republicans agree. South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham predicts -- almost gleefully -- a “period of confrontation” with China over what he calls its currency “cheating.”

As is usually the case, the latest anti-China talking point is hollow. Steve H. Hanke, an economist at The Johns Hopkins University and a Cato Institute fellow, notes, “the yen appreciated against the greenback, from 360 in 1971 to 80 in 1995. But, this didn’t close the U.S. trade deficit with Japan. Indeed, Japan’s contribution to the U.S. trade deficit reached almost 60 percent in 1991.” Closer to today, Hanke’s Cato colleague Daniel Ikenson found that “between July 2005 and July 2008, [China’s currency] appreciated by 21 percent against the dollar.” But those three years saw “U.S. imports from China [rise] by $94.3 billion, or 38.7 percent.”

China paranoiacs -- Big Labor, rancid populists on the left and right, neocon chest-thumpers -- are lazy, and easily refuted. But however odious their propaganda, it might be preferable to voices at the other extreme. They see the Middle Kingdom not as an Evil Empire, but an example to follow.

China’s cheerleaders adore its embrace of all things “green.” According to one swooner, “On carbon capture and storage, China is among the world leaders if not the leader.” High-speed rail, solar panels, electric cars -- what’s not to love?

The head of the sino-sycophant contingent is Thomas L. Friedman, a columnist for The New York Times. He’s an appallingly unthoughtful man, but Friedman’s sinecure at The Times generates neverending talk-show bookings, affording him ample opportunities to peddle his belief that there is “absolutely no reason our democracy should not be able to generate the kind of focus, legitimacy, unity and stick-to-it-iveness to do big things -- democratically -- that China does autocratically.”

Few of the eco-jackasses giddy over China’s “sustainability” totalitarianism live in the People’s Republic. According to the U.S. State Department’s most recent Human Rights Report, in 2009, China’s “record remained poor and worsened in some areas.” The “government continued to monitor, harass, detain, arrest, and imprison journalists, writers, dissidents, activists, petitioners, and defense lawyers and their families.” And “extrajudicial killings, executions without due process, torture and coerced confessions of prisoners, and the use of forced labor, including prison labor” are common.

America’s problems are self-inflicted. The welfare state has destroyed individual initiative and family bonds. Forty-one percent of children are born to unwed mothers, and in many two-parent families, educrats, low-wage daycare workers, television, video games, and the Internet are primarily “responsible” for child-rearing. Voters -- the ones who show up, that is -- permit politicians and bureaucrats to thoroughly bungle fiscal, monetary, and regulatory policy.

China is responsible for none of these things.

Yet aside from its stronger work ethic and deeper dedication to free markets, there isn’t much about China for America to copy. Even the most committed connoisseurs of capitalism would not trade gun rights, trial by jury, freedom of worship, and unrestricted Internet access for annual GDP growth of 10 percent.

The dragon rising in the East is a huge, complicated place, capable of monstrous evil and breathtaking economic expansion. It isn’t our enemy. Nor is it a nation liberty-loving people should emulate.

D. Dowd Muska ( writes about government, economics, and technology. He lives in Broad Brook, Connecticut.

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