Despite political rivalries with free nations, business societies regard China as an indispensable partner for growth opportunities. Moreover, some policymakers see China a locomotive for the world economy while developed nations are aging. However, relations with the Beijing regime need to be reconsidered both in terms of politics and the economy. Is it really our interest to “bow down and praise” autocrats as President Barack Obama did in his speech at APEC summit in Singapore?
First, let me talk about political aspects. Ellen Bork, Director of the Foreign Policy Initiative, criticizes that the Obama administration’s engagement policy has not changed repressive nature of the Communist China. Since the Jasmine Revolutions in the Arab world, the Chinese authority has been arresting numerous activists, lawyers, and bloggers for freedom. While American human rights lawyer organizations such as the New York City Bar Association and the American Bar Association demand the Chinese government to release them, human rights issues are not the agenda at the US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue in Washington this May. Bork says that the Obama administration puts too much emphasis on the economy over democracy (“Meanwhile, in Beijing ...”; Weekly Standard; April 11, 2011). In view of Western pressure to release Ai Weiwei (“Amid crackdown, U.S. groups strive to improve China's legal system”; USA Today; April 14, 2011), Chinese police accuses Ai of evading tax, committing bigamy, and spreading pornography (“China police building tax case against detained artist”; Reuters; April 14, 2011). As China is manipulating criminal cases against human rights activists just to crackdown Jasmine movements at home, the Obama administration needs to reconsider business first diplomacy with Beijing.
Geopolitical conflicts like the Senkaku dispute also need attention. I suspect that China has been emboldened to see apologetic global policy of the Obama administration. This is not only in East Asia, but worldwide. Regarding Libya, Lluís Bassets, Vice-Director of a Spanish daily El Pais, argues that President Obama is too modest to take leadership for Western democracies, which disappoints European allies (“EU and NATO in a tail spin”; Presseurop; 15 April, 2011). Quite regretfully, both Japanese and American opinion leaders blame Former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama for allowing China to make use of worsening relations between both countries, but they hardly analyze critically on President Obama’s China policy. Hatoyama advocated the regular triangle relationship among Japan, the United States, and China. Also, he tried to overturn the bilateral deal on Futenma Air Base. The Washington Post is right to call Hatoyama loopy. However, speculation to Hatoyama has obscured faults on the Obama side. Had Obama acted steadfast, China would not have committed dangerous adventure to provoke the US-Japanese alliance, however loopy Japanese leaders were.
Moreover, we need to cast doubt to widely spread opinions among many economists and businessmen that China’s economic growth will contribute to our economy, and market opportunities there should not be missed. The Economist discusses the balance of gains and losses from trade between the United Sates and China on its blog. As Adam Smith and David Ricardo insist, free trade with China brings economic gains to the United States. However, this is offset by unemployment. As this blog argues, American welfare system may have to adjust to global economic competition (“Better safety nets needed”; Economist—Free Exchange; February 22, 2011). However, I would argue that cheap and massive labor of China poses compelling threats to workers in the United States, Europe, and Japan.
Finally, 3-11 earthquake and subsequent Fukushima nuclear accident has brought us home that Japan is in no position of meddling America and China. It has turned out that Hatoyama’s vision of the regular triangle is utterly wrong, and the Operation Tomodachi reminds Japanese people that a strong US-Japanese alliance is the vital and foremost national interest. Furthermore, in the nuclear accident, the United States and France offered technological help to manage the crisis, and Russia proposed new governance for nuclear energy based on the Chernobyl experience. Has China done anything? In the area of knowledge, China is no rival for the West and Russia. Remember this, my fellow Japanese.
We must think again when we evaluate real power of China and its importance to our national interest. Applying the theory of Susan Strange, Chinese power is relational, not structural. China can hard power muscle to impose its will on others, but it unable cannot set international norms and show solutions to global challenges. We should never kowtow to Red China for the sake of short term economic interests. Bear it in mind, businessmen and “pragmatic” politicians. China is not necessarily the savior to boost our economy.