08 November 2011

於貔抱者、於龍戡者(下部) – Of panda-huggers and dragon-slayers, part 2

As with ChinaGeeks, Lawyers, Guns and Money is one of those blogs I read not so much because I agree with it all the time (though I certainly agree with LGM’s social-democratic commenters more often than I agree with the neoconservative-tinged cast which frequents ChinaGeeks), but because one can generally count on the opinions expressed therein to be both thoughtful and provocative. Dr Robert Farley manages to hold the line on that front with his insightful piece on the GOP’s attitudes toward China; though he focusses, by his own admission, primarily on Mitt Romney the staff of his campaign. (Also noted by Dr Farley: Hong Bopei Dashu, though experienced in the affairs of the Middle Country, is nevertheless not a front-runner in this race, likely not so much on account of his Mormonness as of his moderation.)

I think Dr Farley’s analysis certainly holds water. There is a very definite split within the Republican Party corresponding to the differing attitudes between the libertarian (read: pro-tobacco, as here, and other harmful drugs) and the neoconservative (read: pro-military-industrial complex) camps. The businesses which primarily leverage the most votes for the Republican Party tend to be against war with China, as (following the example of the East India Company) they see China as a huge export market for American exports. On the other hand, the influence the neoconservatives have had on the Republican mainstream has made it nearly impossible for the Republican leadership (including the current crop of presidential candidates) to express themselves in anything other than an American-exceptionalist and democratic-utopian idiom. (The exceptions, Jon Huntsman and Ron Paul – for whom I don’t otherwise harbour any sympathy whatsoever – have been deliberately sidelined by the party as a result of their dissenting opinions.) But this sort of two-faced approach is very much on full display within the Romney campaign.

I think it would be likewise interesting to analyse the Democratic Party’s positions on China. Though the economic incentives are different (with large union support supplanting that of the tobacco and defence industries), I think we are likely to find that opinions are likewise dissonant and distorted by the (if I may borrow Dr Wang Hui’s usage) anti-political institutionalisation of politics. The Obama Administration has taken what may charitably be called a ‘balanced’ and what may less charitably be called an ‘incoherent’ policy toward China; on the one hand taking a hard line on Chinese currency and a strident neo-liberal line on trade policy, but on the other quietly easing off on human rights issues. Also interesting to me is that even within Democratic ranks, there is a certain level of dissent on trade policy – Mr Robert Casey, Jr (our good Senator from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania) is quite remote from being a panda-hugger on trade policy, on account of his care for local production and manufacturing – although his free-trade scepticism certainly is not exclusive only to China.

Although I am much more sympathetic to Mr Casey’s localist, scale-free position than to Mr Obama’s, Ms Clinton’s or the average Economist reader’s as a matter of principle, I tend to think that China’s leadership also must consider its own position, and the manufacturing and industrial jobs that are fleeing Guangzhou and the SEZs to take advantage of yet-cheaper labour in Vietnam, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Before the likes of Clinton decry a trade barrier as ‘unfair’ in the kneejerk way they are often wont to do, or before another Casey takes aim at China as a job-stealing bogeyman, perhaps they ought first to take a fuller account of the various levels of unfairness at play on a global scale, in which Vietnamese and Bangladeshi wage-slaves are every bit as much victims as the Chinese and American workers whose jobs evaporated overnight. Chinese workers and American workers need not be enemies – just as the states and institutions which govern them are not.


  1. Great post. The "race to the bottom" is definitely a major problem for the cause of labor and part of the reason why labor internationalism can never be completely abandoned.

  2. Agreed. I do believe we need to take care of the needy in our own backyards first, but the sad facts appear to indicate that the plight of the American working class and that of the Chinese working class are institutionally related.