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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, May 13, 2001

U.S.-China conflict being manipulated

 •  U.S.-China relationship teetering

By Christopher Lord
Editor of Perspectives, the Central European Review of International Affairs, published in the Czech Republic

Both the United States and China are manipulating public opinion to get their way. The escalating conflict between the countries is being used as an excuse for an arms buildup. The power elites of the two countries are cashing in on the most worthless mass emotions for commercial and political purposes.

The stakes are high. Both the United States and China are issuing blank checks for military spending, all in the name of national security.

On the American side, the national missile-defense scheme was touted as a means of protecting the supposedly defenseless U.S. public from the evil North Koreans. This idea is not quite dead, but the widely publicized rapprochement with South Korea has made it difficult to sell.

That's where China steps in. The Chinese have arisen as an even more bankable version of the same threat. The North Koreans didn't want to play but the Chinese government, especially its military, all but leaped at the chance during the standoff over the U.S. spy plane.

Anti-American nationalism has become the norm in China. And it is a byproduct of Chinese liberalization. What China wants is money, and its government is gradually allowing private businesses to function as a way of generating it. This includes a press that, although not free of censorship, is at least allowed to develop in a competitive market environment. What sells, unfortunately, is extreme nationalism.

The Communist Party is delighted to have this drum to beat. It presents itself as the heroic defender of China, and the Chinese media's propaganda stories help. The newspapers are full of articles about high-tech U.S. spies sent to steal China's secrets, and about America's desire to steal Taiwan from China.

Taiwan has become a mixed blessing for China. While issues of sovereignty present reliable opportunities for whipping up nationalistic emotions, the mainland government has actually been making steady progress toward opening business links with the island in recent years.

The expansion of China's capitalist communism requires finance, above all. And ethnic Chinese doing business in Taiwan are also permitted to do business with the mainland as long as they find ways to circumvent official restrictions. This has the effect of importing another wave of so-called Western (that is, pro-business) values into China.

It is an intensely hypocritical game. On the one hand, Chinese big business, much of it operated by the old generals of the People's Liberation Army, will continue to profit from cheap goods sold to the United States. On the other hand, the American and Chinese leadership will pretend to be bitter enemies, secure in the knowledge that a large segment of their populations will be convinced by this us-versus-them charade. The more hysteria, the better, as far as defense procurements are concerned.

Chinese communism is on the brink of collapse. The cynical U.S. policy of hyping the threat from Beijing while trading with it is dishonest, counterproductive and morally bankrupt.