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August 3, 2005

Free the Diplomats


by Sascha Matuszak

In Monday's meeting between top U.S. and Chinese officials – touted as an unprecedented inaugural – the U.S., as usual when facing China across the negotiating table, is at a distinct disadvantage.

At this very moment, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Chris Hill is pounding his head against a wall after another round of negotiations with the North Koreans in which nothing much happened. The representatives of the other four nations involved in the talks presumably nodded and coughed in sympathy and then headed back home. This recurring theme with the North Koreans will most likely come up with the Chinese, seen by the U.S. as the (potentially) most influential member of the delegation whose mission it is to denuclearize the Korean peninsula.

As with many other issues on today's agenda, the U.S. is in the unfortunate and frankly humiliating position of having to ask China to do things that China doesn't necessarily have to do. In fact, it is this position and its repercussions in U.S. domestic politics that led President Bush and Chinese President Hu Jintao to propose these high-level meetings in the first place.

China's recent evaluation of the RMB and rather silent acquiescence to U.S. politicizing of the UNOCAL affair are signs that China realizes its negotiating advantage on most fronts vis-ΰ-vis the U.S. and can therefore make concessions that may placate without giving away any real advantages. The RMB dropped a "dramatic" 2 percent to 8.11 to the dollar, inviting warnings of hot money from financial experts around the globe; hot money that is obvious as such to the Chinese and therefore can be dealt with accordingly, unlike the funds that brought down the Asian Tigers in 1997. And the UNOCAL issue was and still is a PR coup for China – one of the least transparent economies in the world – as economists and pundits throughout the West rushed to defend free trade and admonish U.S. protectionism.

Basically, U.S. diplomacy is so ludicrously crude and glaringly self-serving that a nation such as China, barely 20 years on the international stage, can run circles around the Bush administration and gather allies throughout the world – Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, Russia, and most importantly Europe while America sees itself increasingly isolated and its currency beleaguered and maligned.

The U.S. government seems to know nothing of the various revolutions taking place in China these days. Intellectual, social, economic, sexual… China is not a Communist nation. Stop treating it as such. The Party is the biggest gangster in town and they happen to pick red as their color and "communist" as their name. The private sector knows this and is making big money off of the knowledge.

U.S. policy in Asia seems to be run from the Pentagon. Asian economies are given access to American markets in exchange for vows against terrorism, military bases, and empty words concerning human rights and democracy. The inevitable trade deficit created by a consumption-based economy and bloated military spending to make good on those agreements to build fortified consulates and airstrips makes steel workers and tobacco growers petition their senators, who in turn holler about Red China stealing our jobs. So what does the Bush administration do? Gather everybody around and convince them to pressure China on the currency issue.

What the U.S. government really needs to do is take the Crusade out of every foreign policy decision it makes. There is no Crusade, fellas, the war is over. A unipolar world is not in the cards. "Containing" China is not in the cards.

Forget about those freaks in North Korea. Let Japan and China deal with their own problems. Let Taiwan and China deal with their own problems. These obligations to our "friends" are killing us.

Turn your attention inward and find solutions in the U.S. for those steelworkers who find themselves on the wrong page of a financial report. Currency manipulation will not work in the long term, and even a fool like me knows it.

Next time a Chinese company wants to buy something in the U.S., do as the Chinese do and squeeze every last dime out of them.

If this relationship is as complex as the Bush administration admits it to be, then a softer, wiser, and more strategic approach is needed: selling arms to what 90 percent of the planet deems a breakaway republic is neither soft nor wise. And what strategic aim does this fulfill? Power in Asia? If this is the case, why is ASEAN asking how high every time China hollers jump?

I suppose it is too much to hope for, America suddenly getting wise to the fact that soap-box rantings about human rights, terrorism, and unfair trade practices aren't getting any love from China or anyone else in the world.

Release our diplomats from the yoke of the misguided dream of a World in America's Image and allow them to do what they do best: negotiate a good deal.

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  • Sascha Matuszak is a freelance writer living in Chengdu.

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