US – PRC relations are contentious and likely to remain so. Earlier this month, retired US Ambassador, Chas Freeman delivered a speech
entitled 'On the Souring of Sino-American Relations' to the Committee of 100 – an organization of prominent Chinese-Americans devoted to improving bilateral US-PRC relations. The speech is well worth reading for its insights into China-US relations, and also into the thinking of US foreign policy elites.
Ambassador Freeman has vast Asia and senior-level foreign policy experience and is an accomplished Chinese linguist – having served as principal interpreter during President Nixon's 1972 visit to China.
The speech is clearly stated in forceful, 'no holds barred' language. Yet, curiously, it might also have been delivered to a German-American Bund gathering in Madison Square Garden in 1939. Just transpose the words: "Germany for China", "Hitler for Xi", "FDR for Trump", "Czechoslovakia for Taiwan", "Sudetenland for South China Sea", and "International Jewry for Tibetan nationalism".
(The German-American Bund and the Committee of 100 are not the same thing. But each promote or promoted an accomodationist approach towards oppressive, expansionist, fascist regimes.)
Ambassador Freeman depicts China as a great, powerful nation reclaiming its rightful place in the world. It has legitimate grievances and 'anxieties' that need to be accommodated. And worries about its aggressive intentions based on a rapid, massive military build-up are unfounded. Indeed, strengthening US military capabilities in response is provocative – and the work of militarists looking to pick a fight – rather than recognize the mutual benefits of close, calm bilateral ties.
Moreover, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has brought stability and economic recovery to China after years of chaos. And 'the Chinese' are happy to have order – even if the government is sometimes a little rough with people. Nobody really minds since the alternative is unpalatable.
Similar things were said about Germans and Germany's National Socialist regime in the 1930's.
And the 'unpleasant' parts of the regime are mostly glossed over. Ambassador Freeman makes no mention of black jails, concentration camps for Uighurs, organ-harvesting, dynamiting Christian churches, a surveillance state the Gestapo couldn't have imagined, persecution of human rights activists, seizure of the South China Sea, and the like.
Those Americans who take exception to this are "nativists", "xenophobes", "military", and "chicken hawks".
But rather than refreshingly brash, this comes across as embarrassing – like the old uncle who comes to Thanksgiving dinner and on cue, after a few drinks, launches into a tirade about the Trilateral Commission, Wall Street, and the Jews secretly running America – if not the world.
One would think from the Ambassador's speech that all problems with China started the day Mr. Trump took office – rather than being the accumulated result of American policies lovingly crafted by foreign policy elites over the previous 45 years.
Indeed, all this picking on China is said to owe to 'white nationalist' racism. But could it have something to do with PRC behavior? After all, America gets on well with Taiwan and Singapore. Both are full of Chinese people.
In the less engaging part of the speech, Ambassador Freeman explains economics and trade to the audience. This brings to mind a famous Marine Corps General some years back who got 'climate change' religion after retirement – and presented himself as something of a climatologist. It's sometimes best not to stray too far from one's primary experience and expertise.
Notably, the economics lesson doesn't mention the harmful effects of China being allowed into the World Trade Organization – and not following WTO rules. There's only a passing reference to China just maybe having stolen some intellectual property, and not a word about foreign companies strong-armed into handing over technology. Even the American Chamber of Commerce in China and other American companies that have bit their tongues for decades are now complaining. And the PRC itself admits it must strengthen IP protection, and open its market.
The speech also gives the impression the Trump administration has anti-Chinese pogroms and concentration camps – presumably of the Xinjiang variety – in the works for Chinese-Americans. If so, the Committee of 100 perhaps hasn't got the word – unless they are quietly turning in passports and calling up the movers to relocate themselves and their money to the PRC. And more broadly, that old bell weather – 'green card' demand – remains strong worldwide.
One hopes Ambassador Freeman will soon try out a similar speech in Xinjiang to a Uighur audience – perhaps in a CCP 're-education' camp. And maybe spend a night or two as a 'regular' guest.
Afterwards, perhaps book a union hall in Youngstown, Ohio – to explain to the audience from the lower orders why they are to blame for their straitened circumstances – having over-consumed and not saved enough. And note how the MIT labor economist (http://freakonomics.com/podcast/china-eat-americas-jobs/) who described as 'traumatic' the effects of allowing China into WTO prematurely was mistaken, and 1 million to 3.5 million lost manufacturing jobs are no big deal.
The Ambassador might also visit Liu Xia, the widow of Liu Xiaobo, the human rights campaigner (China's 'Nelson Mandela') who died last year after being denied proper medical treatment by Chinese authorities. Tell her to quit whining as she's never had it so good; after all, the CCP carefully watches over her – though others call it house arrest.
So, there's a callousness in this speech. Sort of a 'good enough for them, but I sure wouldn't want to live in such conditions myself.' As if Chinese people deserve nothing better. Ambassador Freeman advises the audience to 'take names' of US politicians whose anti-Chinese positions they dislike. Fair enough. That's how our system works. But maybe also suggest Chinese living in the PRC should have the same opportunities to pressure their own representatives – as, say, Chinese people in Taiwan already do?
And might the Committee of 100 – few of whom live hand-to-mouth existences or are under police state harassment go on record as favoring individual freedom and consensual government in the PRC?
Study some history of the 1930's, and one wonders what THEY were thinking in the 1930's when appeasing Hitler and handing over Czechoslovakia – leading to events ultimately bringing heartbreak to tens of millions. Well, read Ambassador Freeman's speech and THIS is what THEY were thinking.
Thank goodness the US is trying something else.