The University of Iowa

Bashing China will not benefit America

February 21st, 2012

Guest opinion by Wenfang Tang

From The Daily Iowan

In this election year, China-bashing once again has become a favorite activity of the presidential hopefuls. Although Chinese policy does not, in of itself, determine the outcome of the election, it nevertheless influences the American public’s assessment and perception of the economic conditions that will likely be central to the outcome.

The Republicans have been accusing the Democrats of being too compromising to the Chinese, implying that that is the reason for the economic troubles in the United States. In return, the Obama administration, in its re-election bid, has launched a series of tactics aimed at denouncing China, such as the accusatory tone against Beijing in the president’s most recent State of the Union address, and a long list of criticisms made by President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden during Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping’s recent visit to Washington.

These criticisms included China’s unfair trade-practices such as alleged intellectual property theft, the mandatory technology transfer that goes along with American exports to China, currency manipulation, human-rights violations, and China’s recent veto of the U.N. Security Council’s resolution condemning Syria.

Unlike some domestic political issues that tend to divide voters, China-bashing is a perfectly safe way to unite voters. The bigger the China monster one can create, the more votes one gets. As a result, China is portrayed as an ideological threat to American liberal democracy, a security threat to American military supremacy, and an economic threat to American jobs. Whoever is more successful in convincing the American public of the existence of such threat will get people to rally around them and hand in their votes.

While such tactics will benefit candidates in the short term, in the long term, it will serve to intensify the distrust and conflict between these two superpowers. It is like a nuclear-arms race in which each country strives to develop nuclear weapons to make itself safe, while the world meanwhile becomes more dangerous. China bashing will make the American public more hostile and suspicious of an increasingly powerful China.

It will also encourage the growth of Chinese popular nationalism, which will serve to rally public support for the Chinese Communist Party. So long as the party can then effectively use such nationalism to legitimize its rule, democratic change will not come anytime soon in China. The tension between the two countries will rise, and the world will not be peaceful.

The American public should recognize this long-term danger of China bashing. Working together will benefit the two countries, and even the world — more than pointing fingers at each other. The $4.3 billion contract signed by China to purchase Iowan soybeans during the Chinese vice president’s recent visit is just one example of the complementary nature of the two economies. China and the United States can work together on many other issues, such as environmental protection, arms control, fighting against terrorism, world-poverty alleviation, and promoting global economic growth and financial stability.

As a naturalized Chinese American, I see more in common between my native country and my country of residence than differences. Both governments are under public pressure to provide services, and both make mistakes and do bad things, even though they operate in different political systems. But just because China has a different political system does not mean the two countries can’t see eye to eye. After all, democracy means tolerance, including tolerating different political systems.

Americans should have as much distaste for bashing China as they do for the endless tirades between the two American political parties during the campaign season.

Wenfang Tang is a professor of political science and international studies at the University of Iowa.