It’s coming – the US conservative backlash against China

It was only a matter of time. While I don’t think the backlash has really started, this relatively restrained piece by an American Enterprise Institute fellow strikes me as a possible prelude. The author suddenly reveals his cards in the final graf:

If the Bush administration is serious about preserving American hegemony, it needs to devote greater attention in its second term to balancing against China’s rise in Asia, rather than simply appeasing it. Witness the weak response by the State Department to Beijing’s recent passage of an “anti-secession” law that provides the legal “justification” to attack Taiwan. Trading Taipei for Baghdad isn’t much of a deal.

Expect to hear a lot more in coming months from indignant conservatives, outraged that we are “giving Taiwan to Red China” and incapable of dealing with China’s amazing economic successes. (We’re the ones who are supposed to achieve economic miracles, not Communist tyrranies!)

The Discussion: 22 Comments

I’ll agree that the whole article has a pretty clear anti-China tone – but I actually have a very different take on the final paragraph.

The ‘anti-secession law’ that he’s talking about seems to have just one purpose: legitimizing/legalizing a war with Taiwan. If the US is serious about keeping the ‘status quo’ across the Taiwan Strait, then this is something it should push back at pretty strongly. The US has not been backward in slapping down Taiwan whenever it does something the US thinks upsets the situation (and those slapdowns were usually justified), so why the silence when China gets agressive?

There seems to be a tendency to extremism when it comes to US policy to China: either you’re a China-lover (the US must do everything it can to encourage the economic growth of China), or you’re a China-hater (China is a competitor who is stealing US jobs). I’d be much happier with a balanced policy which encourages the Chinese economy (and bilateral trade), but doesn’t brush aggressive moves/human rights etc. under the table.

January 4, 2005 @ 7:34 pm | Comment

before i make my point, i’d like to clearify a few things:
1) china is not red
2) taiwan is not a part of the US
3) china’s economic growth doesn’t necessarily mean economic success

the only purpose of “anti-secession law” is to keep the status quo, which is obviously to the benefits of mainland, majority of taiwanese and the US, for the part of US, i think you should agree with me that the status quo is the best situation US hopes

January 4, 2005 @ 7:55 pm | Comment

bingfeng : Yet, a lot of chinese are saying that China *will* attack Taiwan, in the next ten years or so. Hey, I even remember you or JR saying something like that (“You’ll see in ten years where Taiwan is”).

How do you want us to buy that China “only” wants to keep the Status Quo ?

January 4, 2005 @ 9:03 pm | Comment

“bingfeng : Yet, a lot of chinese are saying that China *will* attack Taiwan, in the next ten years or so. Hey, I even remember you or JR saying something like that (“You’ll see in ten years where Taiwan is”).”


what i said to bellevue is this:

let’s see which one is fantacy in 10 years, a united china or an independent taiwan.


did i say anything like what you mention above – “attacking taiwan”?

what i hope is a peaceful and gradual re-integration between mainland and taiwan, not a sudden independence or a sudden “reunification war”.

pls don’t misintepret me.

January 4, 2005 @ 9:21 pm | Comment

This relationship between the United States, China and Taiwan is certainly a very interesting one, and one that is difficult to understand – not least of all, because it is a relationship that is in a constant state of flux. Nevertheless, I shall throw my two cents worth into the discussion!

The Bush administration, from what I have been able to tell, has, to date, pursued quite an erratic course in navigating between these neoconservative voices like the ones mentioned above, as expressed by the fellow of the American Enterprise Institute, and those who seek to adhere to the traditional framework. The president of the United States, George W. Bush, has for example, supported by the State Department, properly warned Chen not to pursue changes in the status quo. This, I think, represents one of the few sensible policies of the Bush regime.

At the same time, the administration-appointed director of the American Institute in Taiwan – the Washington office responsible for relations with Taiwan – who has enjoyed the patronage of the offices of the vice president and the secretary of defense, publicly characterised Bush as Chen’s “guardian angel” and has thus undercut attempts by others in the administration to rein Chen in. The administration also authorised a transit visit by Chen through the United States back in September 2003 that burnished his credentials at home and allowed him to close the gap in the polls with the opposition.

These mixed signals not only provided the opening that Chen used to claim U.S. support in his reelection campaign, but have led him to calculate that the United States will stand by him as he pushes the envelope in seeking more formal independence from China. Chen brushed off Bush’s urgings not to hold a referendum coincident with Taiwan’s presidential elections, signaling that U.S. warnings were not taken seriously. Unless the Bush administration speaks with one voice in the future, he will continue to do so, I suspect.

As a result, I think we may face the risk of a dangerous sequence of steps by the three actors in the Taiwan Strait:

Taiwan, bolstered by ill-considered, inconsistent U.S. rhetoric and action and a misreading of Chinese intentions, could move toward formal independent status through constitutional revision. And China, in response, could judge that it needs to threaten or take military action to prevent Taiwan from achieving formal independence.

While not supporting Taiwan independence, the United States could find itself dragged into a position where it considers its strategic interests in Asia imperiled by the threat of Chinese use of force and respond by mobilizing to meet the Chinese threat.

Ironically, China, the large power whose goal is to reclaim control over the smaller one, seems prepared to tolerate the status quo arrangement for quite some time, while Taiwan, the small highly vulnerable player – though not under attack or imminent threat of attack – seems ready to destroy the framework that has guaranteed the peace.

Taiwan has made clear to the United States that it doesn’t want to buy sufficient arms necessary for its defense. Just defend us, they say, while we chart our own future. This behaviour only makes sense if Taiwan assumes that the United States will defend it no matter what the circumstances. The U.S government should make it clear that this assumption is not correct.

There are three things which I believe the United States should do under these current circumstances:

Stay the course with the framework that has maintained the peace: the Taiwan Relations Act, three U.S.-China Joint Communiques, and the one China policy.

Make absolutely clear to Taiwan that actions that threaten the stability of the Strait, including any move towards independence or a permanent separation, are unacceptable and will have consequences for its relationship with the U.S.

U.S. defense assistance to Taiwan should only be contemplated in the context of the one China policy, not movement by Taiwan towards independence.

Make clear to Beijing that it would pay a costly price for military action against Taiwan. U.S. steps could include an embargo on trade and investment; a break in relations; increased support for Taiwan’s defense; and, given America’s past record, the possibility of direct U.S. military involvement.

The first two of these steps are relatively easy. The third is not. The potential economic and human consequences of military conflict between the United States and China, the world’s most populous country, are enormous and could surpass the horrors of the 20th century’s wars. Even those who told us that the Iraq invasion and occupation would be a “cakewalk” – incidentally often the same ones who resist constraints on Taiwan’s conduct – probably understand that a U.S.-China conflict would be devastating.

Time could turn out to be an ally, if the hotheads among the three sides are not allowed to dictate the pace of events. China and Taiwan are drawing closer together economically. Let us not overlook the fact that Taiwanese investors would be unwilling to lose their US$50-100 billion worth of investments on the mainland. China has a very real interest in sustaining these investments too.

China is also transforming socially, with greater freedom and better rule of law enjoyed by hundreds of millions in the developing eastern provinces, and further evolution toward pluralism can be expected – as I have already argued elsewhere on this website!

Moreover, notions of absolute sovereignty, so dear to both the United States and China, are beginning to erode in much of the world, as Europe’s union demonstrates.

Formulas to bridge the gap between Beijing and Taipei could well be found – ones that satisfy Taiwan’s need for freedom, democracy, and identity and China’s need for unity – if people and leaders on the three sides do not try to force events.

Best regards,
Mark Anthony Jones

January 4, 2005 @ 10:03 pm | Comment

Bingfeng, you said “China is not red”.
It seems this is a misleading statement. So I ask, what do you mean by that?

I would like an answer.
but I will go ahead and try to poke some holes in that statment.

Why is it still called a communist country in Chinese media? Why does the government make heros out of Marx, Lenin and Mao? Why is it that the recent Chinese leaders of China would and still will not reform out of its current party/government symbiotic relationship?

Why does the CCommunistP have the exclusive role in leading the government and military? Why does the government and CCP attempt to strangle all internal criticism of their roles and actions and tries to censor much if not all foreign criticism? Why does the government and party deny human rights to Chinese citizens who want a better and more open country by arresting and jailing and mistreating democratic and labor organizers?

I think you need to ask yourself these questions before you continue an apparent rose colored and false view of China at this time.

January 4, 2005 @ 10:11 pm | Comment

I’m not so sure there will be any big backlash. I think the Bush Administration recognizes how important the relationship with China is and, in a very important sense, sees the CCP as its own corrupt partner.

I think anything negative Bush conservatives have to say in the US about China is just fluff designed to promote patriotism and not at all serious.

I’m also not trying to come down on the Bush administration’s side–quite the opposite actually.

I think their real policy aim is to ensure that China remains stable and because their foreign policy lacks tact or serious moral considerations, they buddy up with the CCP and reinforce its hold on power. In my view, the policy aim is spot on and shouldn’t be questioned across party lines, but the substance of how they go about it is unimaginative, insensitive, deplorable and seriously lacking in “hope for mankind.”

Like you, Richard, I don’t agree that a “backlash” would be a responsible course of action, but if it WAS followed through, I think support would come from both sides of the Senate–not just the conservatives–and desperate blue-state senators might actually lead the charge.

January 4, 2005 @ 10:18 pm | Comment

a brief reply

china is no longer red for the following reasons:

1) the idology changed

2) market-oriented economy

3) no export of “idology” or “revolution” to others

4) the 1-ruling-party-multi-participating-party system more like the authoritarian governments in singapore or japan

5) human rights is first written into the constitution last year, and obvious progress made

6) rule by law (not by government) becomes the common understanding and are under implementation

this list can go on and on and on…

in my view, china is a capitalism country, while japan is socialism and the US, communism (through the mutual fund) and red (imperialist wars in iraq …)

January 4, 2005 @ 10:34 pm | Comment

china is white, japan is pink and the US – red

January 4, 2005 @ 10:37 pm | Comment

This conservative “backlash” that is supposed to be coming will, I’m sure, prove to be little more than a bit of a puff. The backlash, if it does come at all, will focus on human rights issues as well as trade issues and the issue of Taiwan. But these so-called “moral” crusaders of a Republican bent who are turning to the present regime in Washington to tighten the screws on China over issues of human rights stand very little chance of success.

Walk into just about any classroom here in China, be it from senior middle school to tertiary level, and, provided you are a skillful enough teacher, you will be able to engage most students in a class discussion about this very topic area: the issue of human rights. Such dialogues can become quite enthusiastic and passionate at times, especially with adult students in English language training centres like New Oriental and the likes.

Yes, they will say, China does indeed need to improve it human rights record. But what right does America have to lecture us, they will ask, when they are in fact the world’s biggest offender? How dare Americans lecture us on our use of the death penalty when they themselves use it? How can they claim the moral highground when they even execute juvenile offenders – a practice which China abandoned back in 1997. In fact, as many young Chinese students will tell you, the United States sits rather uncomfortably alongside only a few countries which continue the practice of executing juvenile offenders: Iran, Pakistan, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Nigeria.

How can those Americans who claim to choose “life” and who criticise China for allowing the widespread practice of abortions be taken seriously when they simultaneously endorse a regime that is responsible for the murder of an estimated 100,000 Iraqi citizens? A regime that employs the use of depleted uranium and other horrific weapons, and who callously dismisses the civilian dead as “collatural damage”. Where is all of this respect for the sanctity of human life that these “right to life” preachers from America claim to have and to represent?

Most Chinese students will tell you that they consider the United States to be the world’s biggest terrorist – and I’m afraid I would have to agree with them on this. The United States is definitely the world’s most aggressive nation of the 20th and, so far, 21st centuries. Since the end of World War Two, it has bombed 21 countries. The first of these was China, which it started bombing almost as soon as the Second World War ended, in 1945. It bombed China again in 1946, 1950, 51, 52 and 53.

Iraq is simply the latest poor nation to be the victim of US aggression. So far, the Bush regime has spent an enormous $200 billion of its tax-payer’s money on this illegal and murderous imperialist adventure. $1.8 billion would have been enough to have fed all of Africa for a year.

The United States spends more money on maintaining a military apparatus than the rest of the world put together, so that it can maintain its grip over all of those developing countries that it regards as theirs. Which brings me to my next point: as most Chinese students will also note, how can America criticise China for its lack of “democracy” when America itself has a record of consistently intervening in the internal affairs of other nations in order to prevent the spread of democracy? It’s not difficult to compile a huge list of client dictators, usually very brutal ones, that the US has help to install over the years as puppet rulers: Pinochet, Marcos, Suharto, Saddam Hussein, the Shah of Iran, just to name a few. And look at the murderer they are presently trying to replace Saddam Hussein with. And look at the way the present regime in Washington is also right now trying to interfere in the internal affairs of the world’s fifth-largest oil exporter – Venezuela. They seek, once again, to oust a genuinely popular democratically elected government so as to replace it with a puppet who they can rely upon to represent not the interests of Vanezuelan workers, but rather the interests of corporate America.

Nobody in China takes the United States seriously when it lectures on human rights, or on trade issues too for that matter.

As Mark Leonard recently wrote in The Guardian, “China is already on its way to becoming America’s chief banker: the $439.8 billion of foreign reserves it has accumulated allows the US to sustain its astronomical budget deficit. If Beijing stopped buying dollars, the US currency would collapse.” The security analyst Francois Heisbourg has even compared the Chinese hold on the dollar to that of a nuclear weapon: “Breaking the dollar would be the functional equivalent of using a nuclear weapon,” he wrote last year. “The possession of such a capability cannot be ignored by the weaker party.”

No nation today is willing to put pressure on China to make trade or financial concessions that could jeopardise its continued growth, because China is now so well integrated into the global capitalist system that its economic health is a matter for global concern.

China, because of the size of its economy, the size of its market, and because of its hold over the US dollar, is in a postion of strength. So much so, that it really no longer takes very much notice of what others want it to do. China has joined India and Malaysia in opposing the kind of far-reaching investment agreements that most developed nations want, and when the US accused China of dumping last year and slapped duties on several of its export products, China immediately retaliated by cancelling a high-level mission to the US to sign orders for agricultural products, thereby costing US farmers many tens of millions in lost business.

China is also now the leading member of the G20, and thanks to China’s huge economic and political clout, was able to successfully challenge the agricultural policies of both the EU and the US at last year’s WTO ministerial meeting in Cancun.

Of course, China, like all other nations, will only continue to stand up for the interests of the developing world so long a those interest coincide with their own. In this respect, China’s approach to trade is no different from the US or the EU, both of which use WTO rules to maximise their own gains and back this with hefty economic weight.

As Nicola Bullard has observed, officially, “China denies any hegemonic or global leadership ambitions; yet economically and politically, it is positioning itself to be the rising power of the 21st century.”

Any “backlash” against China, either on human rights issues or on trade issues or on the Taiwan issue, is very likely to not succeed from here on now, and this, I believe, is something that the Bush regime is already very well aware of, which is why it has to date taken a much softer line with China on human rights issues and on Taiwan than most previous administrations.

Washington’s voice on such issues will more likely than not be delivered as a quiet whimper rather than in the form of a strong sermon, and is very likely to be presented from the negotiating table rather than from the pulpit.

Mark Anthony Jones

January 4, 2005 @ 10:38 pm | Comment


I still believe John Kerry could have, and should have won the election by taking the lead on strategic issue, not dwelling on the 4 months story happened some 30 years ago, or dog-fighting with swift boat whatever. Look at what Dubia has done. This president subjects US policy to Beijing’s and other’s blackmail, because our (I mean US) hands got tied up in Iraq. Huge deficit. Damaged reputation. No vision for the threat on horizon. These are all the issues John Kerry should have been talking about, not leaving to Bill Gertz that only deals with China issue for domestic politics.

January 4, 2005 @ 10:59 pm | Comment

No vision for the threat on horizon.

What threat are you talking about??? my “Chinese” friend

January 4, 2005 @ 11:12 pm | Comment

Hundred of posts crowded Chinese BBS in just a few hours, calling for nuclear proliferation to Iran and other pariah states to counter US:

They are responding to US 2-year sanction against Norinco and 7 other China company/individuals for their proliferation involvement effective this year. One post read:

“USA is a rogue state founded by a bunch of European rebels, so bandit habit to the bone.”

Others are asking for suicidal attacks on US soil.

January 5, 2005 @ 4:51 am | Comment

Bingfeng’s reasons are laughable. I agree China is no longer communist. Yet they are quite authoritarian and lacking in many many many ways:

1) No longer Commie….now authoritarian with equally strict control of opposing viewpoints.

2) An economy moving towards market status, but still far where corruption runs rampant.

3) No export of ideology? I guess you forgot Taiwan.

4) Multi-participating party system open to anyone who shares your viewpoints???????LOLOLOLOL

5) You are right….they did write human rights into the constitution. But outside of China, I think you are the only one to notice “obvious progress.” At last you are the only person I have heard of….outside of the Chinese government and media, who seems to truly believe that.

6) When I was living in China not so long ago, most Chinese I knew cut quite a few corners on rule of law.

Getting better….yes…but slowly, and far from your peachy version.

January 5, 2005 @ 5:05 am | Comment

Forgot to sign.

January 5, 2005 @ 5:06 am | Comment


“Hundred of posts crowded Chinese BBS in just a few hours, calling for nuclear proliferation to Iran and other pariah states to counter US:

They are responding to US 2-year sanction against Norinco and 7 other China company/individuals for their proliferation involvement effective this year. One post read:

“USA is a rogue state founded by a bunch of European rebels, so bandit habit to the bone.”

Others are asking for suicidal attacks on US soil.

Posted by bellevue at January 5, 2005 04:51 AM ”

So are you advocating Bush to nuke China??? Mr “I am Chinese”

January 5, 2005 @ 5:17 am | Comment

No export of ideology? I guess you forgot Taiwan.

unlike the US in iraq, mainland china never said that she wants taiwan to have a similar political system

i guess you have no idea what 1C2S means. do you mind answer me this question – is hongkong becoming red?

January 5, 2005 @ 5:39 am | Comment


Just left a few remarks on your Chinese blog.

I have many FQ friends and wouldn’t mind adding one at all 🙂

January 5, 2005 @ 5:48 am | Comment

If the Bush administration is serious about preserving American hegemony, ……

The word ‘hegemony’ brings back some memories of the 60’s/70’s. The USSR and Communist China used to blast the USA with words like ‘hegemony’ and other ‘big’ words in some rather stilted language (of course they meant them in the most adverse political sense) which we used to chuckle over, because we really had to reach for our dictionaries.

Each time the Communist countries uttered their political diatribes, we learnt a few new ‘difficult’ words, that we didn’t hear from the West, nor had any opportunity to use them ourselves in our daily lives – we just resort to straightforward phrases like “you’re a bloody thieving bastard” etc.

In our young minds, such words seemed to be in the exclusive vocabulary of the communist countries.

Now in this new century we have the AEI, no less, the very core of conservative America, using the very same ‘communist-owned’ word.

What has the world turned into?

January 5, 2005 @ 7:10 am | Comment

Perhaps the AEI should rename itself the American Empire Institute…

January 5, 2005 @ 9:53 am | Comment

If China is unambitious as she claims, then why not let go of the Taiwan issue? Sovereignity arguments, are today, moot. Taiwan is as she is.
The pre-pubescent simmering anger China continues to display with regard to Taiwan merely allows the rest of the world to understand her intentions.
There will be backlash.

January 28, 2005 @ 8:27 pm | Comment

Go read some of my more recent posts about Taiwan — if yo think they’re just going to let Taiwan go, think again!!

January 29, 2005 @ 8:21 am | Comment

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