Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Missing the boat

"Fresh off the boat."  A not-so-nice way to describe newly arrived immigrants who just haven't caught on to "being American" yet.
 
Well, the expression of current U.S. policies towards China--as depicted in this Washington Post article--make it sound like Americans are the ones fresh off the boat.
 
After spending the first 2 decades after World War Two creating an interlocking system of international political and financial institutions, and the three decades after that supporting and nurturing them, the past half-decade has seen what looks like a concerted U.S. effort to dismantle the system that has given us our wealth, power, success and prestige.
 
People say it took Nixon to open China.  It might be one of the great ironies of history that the second coming of his advisors is what it has taken to close China off from the U.S. again.
 
For those of you unwilling or too busy to read the Post article, you're probably wondering what I'm talking about.  Here's a quick example:
"China, [the administration says], must let its currency rise in value to reduce the unfair advantage its exporters enjoy against U.S. manufacturers. China must further crack down on the piracy of American films, music and other products. And China must open its market wider to help shrink the U.S.-China trade imbalance, which soared to $202 billion last year -- accounting for more than one-quarter of the U.S. trade deficit."
Not to beat the ghost of a dead horse, but: China is a nation of 1.3 billion people.  It has a 5,000 year history.  They invented paper, gunpowder, fireworks, and public works programs.  They created the modern bureaucracy--about 4,000 years ago.  Basically, what I'm saying is that they are a proud people capable of monumental feats, and engaging in a politics sophisticated enough to endure far longer than the Holy Roman Empire, for example. 
 
For the administration in any country--much less a country with deteriorating ties to an up-and-coming regional and world power--to demand what are in essence, concessions, can have no effect but the automatic rejection of the proposals.  Even though President Hu has already pledged to crack down on intellectual property rights abuses in China.
 
Where I'm from, if you want someone to do something you want, it can't be an order--it has to be a request and it should be done politely.  Maybe other parts of the U.S. work differently.  And maybe parts of China allow that type of behavior.  But I haven't seen them, and I haven't heard about them.
 
Maybe it's really the Americans who are "fresh off the boat" in this case.

1 comment:

tegwarrior said...

I'm not so sure about that. Of course, the language itself is undiplomatic- you must as opposed to the kinder we'd appreciate if you- but not unfair or particularly demanding. Those requests are, by and large, main chunks of the modern trade regime.

In an 'information economy', if you don't respect copyrights effectively you might as well not bother 'respecting' anything. Certainly, the Chinese have done a good job in agreeing to as little as possible (concession wise) and not breaking their backs putting muscle into their concessions. But we simply have to (there I go, being undiplomatic) recognize that not everything ought be negotiable.