By John Kusumi and Ning Ye
Jan. 14, 2011
As Barack Obama prepares to welcome Hu Jintao to a White House state dinner, Zbigniew Brzezinski launched a message offensive to frame U.S.-China relations. Regrettably, the policy prescriptions are flawed, faulty, and wishful rather than realistic. They were of arguable merit in the 1970s (the decade when the policy began); they overlook geopolitical changes in the 30 years since then; and in the twenty-teen decade, they are fully divorced from reality.
During forty recent years, U.S.-China policy can be summarized by five words: getting cozy with Communist China. It is against our better interests; it is economically ruinous; and by building up a nuclear-armed, communist superpower, it directly threatens the U.S.' own national security. It is a risky scheme to have a hasty rush to Maoism.
Where does this policy come from? In large part, it comes from Zbigniew Brzezinski. He was the National Security Advisor to former U.S. President Jimmy Carter. During that term of office, the U.S. threw Taiwan under the bus and normalized relations with Beijing.
Writing in the New York Times on January 2, Brzezinski waxed nostalgic about former dictator Deng Xiaoping's historic trip more than 30 years ago, as Deng visited the Carter administration to begin collecting China's winnings. It is as though China held a winning lottery ticket. Brzezinski notes that it "marked the beginning of China's three-decades-long economic transformation – one facilitated by its new diplomatic ties to the United States."
Brzezinski's policy advice is old wine in an old bottle. It is as though nothing has changed since November 1969, when the Cohen memo reached the desk of former U.S. President Richard Nixon and hatched the idea of getting cozy with Communist China. Because actual policy then moved in the direction suggested by Jerome Cohen's memo, subsequent pronouncements have all been oriented to reinforce and defend the indefensible policy.
The issue now is that China has risen to being the world's number two superpower, from being the poorest one among the Communist ranks 40 years ago, when U.S. policy made its strategic U-turn to enable the "younger nephew" to fight against the "big brother."
It is always fair to note that the Communist Party is not China – and, China is not the Communist Party. U.S. policymakers have chosen to be cozy with China's government, but not with the wider aspirations of its people, best expressed in its pro-democracy, labor, and religious movements such as Falun Gong. Therefore we are really discussing U.S.-CCP relations, because the CCP is the one party, dictatorial government that stands in for China while victimizing its people, suppressing these movements, and enabling diabolical corruption.
Lip service notwithstanding, the appeasement policy of recent decades has bet against popular aspirations and against the emergence of Chinese democracy. Certainly, the U.S. would be better served with a hedging strategy. What if the CCP is on the wrong side of history? Will the U.S. be remembered for aiding and abetting some of history's worst oppressors?
If we look at policy outcomes on the ground, that's what we're doing: The U.S. is aiding and abetting some of history's worst oppressors. If we include its victims under Chairman Mao, the CCP has killed 80 million Chinese people, in addition to approximately 58,000 U.S. soldiers in the battlefields of Korea. Adding to the death toll, the brutal Falun Gong crackdown (still in progress) may be larger than the Tiananmen crackdown, the Uighur crackdown, and the Tibetan crackdown combined. For the CCP, crimes against humanity are business as usual.
In the worst case, U.S. policy is now analogous to that of Neville Chamberlain, the British prime minister of the 1930s who refused to believe the worst of Nazi Germany. Unwilling to treat the Nazi threat as the strategic, lethal adversary that it was, Chamberlain followed policies of appeasement and began to sound like Baghdad Bob, in denial of the actual military situation on the ground. It took a different British prime minister, Winston Churchill, to have a clear eyed view and to exhibit strength against Nazi Germany.
Brzezinski argues for continued, Chamberlain-esque appeasement with complete disregard to a completely changed geopolitical landscape more than 40 years after the Cohen memo. Naturally since the policy is his brainchild, he defends it with this old wine in an old bottle.
In Brzezinski's time as National Security Advisor, this policy weakened the Soviet bloc. But in the decades since then, changes of circumstance now indicate that this policy is weakening the free world.
Absent the Soviet Union, U.S.-China relations have been of, by, and for business, even while the balance of payments has tipped heavily in favor of China and against the U.S. economy. U.S. rhetoric about liberty and rights has been hollow window dressing. The stale policy benefits two groups and hurts two others. The benefit has been for U.S. and CCP elites. The harm has been for U.S. and Chinese laobaixing (a term that means "ordinary citizens").
Brzezinski has failed to justify why the U.S. should be out of step with liberty, itself. He can no longer fall back on the Soviet Union to justify the appeasement of Communist China.
Many Chinese are themselves astonished at the winning lottery ticket that was handed to the CCP in the 1970s. Chinese dissident Wei Jingsheng has celebrated the emergence of the Tea Party in U.S. politics. If there is any hope, however slim, that America will move in a different direction, that is to be welcomed.
It is to be admitted that Zbigniew Brzezinski had his day. But now, it is time for the U.S. to dial back on its provision of aid and comfort to a nuclear armed, communist superpower.
John Kusumi is President of the China Support Network. Ning Ye is a Chinese dissident and attorney.