The Ties That Bind: China and the US Have Never Been Closer
Reuters reports this morning that Chinese foreign minister Yang Jiechi has declared that US/China relations have been “severely disrupted” in the past year.
Yang is simply forwarding the fallacious notion that the Chinese government is a perfect representation of the Chinese people, and that the American government is a synonym for “America.” For it is preposterous to assert that ties between “China” writ large, and the “US,” writ large have been “severely disrupted.” (Yang’s assertion is “ridiculous,” writ large.) In truth, ties between the US and China have never been stronger.
Disregard for a moment the tensions between the tiny clique of people that govern the two countries, and consider the unprecedented interaction now occurring between hundreds of millions of Chinese people and hundreds of millions of their American counterparts. In 2008, the United States imported $337.8 billion worth of goods from China. This means that Chinese people are now interacting with American people in a most concrete of ways: they are manufacturing the things that Americans touch, play with, wear, and, if you happen to shop at Trader Joe’s, eat. At the same time, this has amounted to a huge transfer of money from the coffers of Americans to Chinese people: hundreds of millions of them have been lifted out of extreme poverty in the past few decades, thanks in no small part to the American habit of buying things made that were made China. While the decline in American manufacturing has undoubtedly had some serious negative consequences for millions of Americans, it is worth noting that commercial relations between Chinese people and American people have also been a boon to the people of both countries: Americans have been showered with affordable goods, and Chinese people are now rushing headlong into modernity.
Chinese people and American people are also now interacting on a personal level far more than they used to, as well. In the past few years, restrictions on flights between the two countries have been eased, meaning that on each day, thousands of people are flying across the Pacific to the US or China. More and more young Americans are skipping more expensive destinations like Japan or Western Europe, and electing to visit China instead. And, according to an (admittedly, rather anecdote-heavy and evidence-free) New York Times article from last year, Americans are going to China to find work in unprecedented numbers. I’ve noticed this myself: when I first visited in China in 2002, Beijing locals expressed astonishment at my caucasian features – going so far as to harass me on the street about them. When I worked as a journalist in Shanghai in 2009, nobody seemed to give a damn about my blue eyes.
Ultimately, even if relations between the Chinese government and the American government really been “severely disrupted,” as Beijing’s foreign minister claimed yesterday, then that’s a credit to the Obama Administration. So long as the commercial relations that have been so beneficial to the two nations remain open (and there’s nothing to suggest that that they won’t), it is indeed heartening to see the American government exert some moral pressure onto a regime that imprisons journalists, tortures its citizens, suppresses minority groups, props up Kim Jong Il’s holocaust state in North Korea, and refuses to hold elections. Only a cold-hearted proponent of amoral realpolitik (which is to say, a contemporary American liberal) would hope that our relations with a government like that would not be disrupted.
Don’t fret about relations between the US and China. The Great Wall that used to separate the two countries has all but collapsed.