China is about tough choices and the long game

This week’s Courier Herald column:

My thoughts keep returning to a meme being posted and reposted on Facebook.  It featured a picture of protesters in Hong Kong, waving American Flags.  The words are simple on the surface but contain a haunting charge:  Be the America Hong Kong thinks you are.

America’s self-image often differs greatly from how those in the rest of the world see us.  As the last remaining “super-power”, there’s often a bit of arrogance projected from the domestic front.  Here at home, however, we seem to be a bit insecure about our system of government.

It’s now an accepted truism that we are “a divided nation”.  A large number of partisans refuse to accept the validity of a duly elected President.  This is a bipartisan exercise, as the statement applied for the eight years prior to our last election, with different shoes on different feet.

Americans, by our electoral and economic systems, are notorious for a focus on the short term.  The side losing an election decides their best strategy is to gum up the works and stop all “progress” until the next election, where too many believe they will then sweep and have unfettered abilities to enact all of their policies without opposition.

Our economic policies are too often dictated by short term metrics.  Managers of publicly traded companies manage for quarterly earnings reports.  Many individual investors look at their investment accounts with similar short term vision.  Too many more are living paycheck to paycheck, with little long term planning for the eventual unplanned emergency or downturn.

China plays the long game.  Americans attitudes toward longer planning time horizons was summed up by the economist John Maynard Keynes with “In the long run we are all dead.”

While we have mostly remained uninvolved in the China-Hong Kong situation, America is having a very public negotiation with China over trade practices.  Some are even likening it to an economic cold war. 

Too many are lining up with support or against America’s strategy based on support of the current occupant of the White House.  They should note that we’re negotiating with a country that worked out the treaty with Great Britain over control of Hong Kong in the eighties, began the transfer of power in 1997, and pledged to maintain most independence of Hong Kong until 2047. 

On the American side, we have too many looking at the standoff as if it were about tariffs, and the short term ramifications of them – most of which are negative.  In an ideal world, we would have “free trade”.  It is tariffs, however, that have brought the Chinese to the table. 

It would be helpful if more people viewed China as a monopoly corporation with respect to trade policies rather than a sovereign nation.  It is virtually impossible to distinguish between China the country and their state-owned enterprises.

The chorus of economists singing tariffs are always bad would never support unfettered monopoly power in a capitalist system.  Yet China continues to use predatory pricing, theft of intellectual property, and a general disregard for environmental and labor regulation.  No capitalist enterprise can compete fairly in these conditions.  In the long run, all of these companies would be dead.

Anyone following US-China trade negotiations needs to think beyond this President, and even the next one.  We need to think in a very un-American way and understand the long game here.  We need to decide if we want to preserve capitalism, or let a totalitarian communist regime usurp an entire generation of technological advancement and economic power for the price of cheap electronics and textiles now.

Which brings us back to the Hong Kong protesters.  They’re aware of the negotiations. They’re also aware of America’s history and our heart strings.  They know our President wants a deal, but American popular opinion is easily swayed with graphic and striking images.  They want us on their side, reminding us of the virtues we hold at our core.

They’re asking us to choose.  We’ll have to support our national interest, or align with those seeking freedom in a remote part of the globe. 

It’s a haunting choice. Whether we want to admit it or not, there is not an easy answer. 

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GregsGrindelwaldNoParty4MeGeorge ChidiDave Bearse Recent comment authors
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Dave Bearse
Dave Bearse

Like the long game we’re playing with respect to global warming? Few will dispute that unfair Chinese trade and other practices should be taken on, or that China’s admittance to the WTO has gone as well as it was anticipated. There however is no trust in a President of low intelligence and character going it alone in taking on China based on his personal transactions and theatrics. Is use of tariffs as a negotiating strategy necessarily bad? Not at all, if there were actually allies (who were dumped on out of the gate), and a coherent policy and strategy in… Read more »


Wow, it’s almost like we spent years negotiating a wide-ranging, multilateral trade deal with nearly everyone in the Pacific Rim that would have re-asserted the United States’ position as the region’s hegemonic economic power; established trade rules and domestic laws largely favorable to the country’s economic interests; and put significant economic pressure on China to adjust its practices with regard to IP protections, working conditions, and environmental stewardship in order to continue to maintain meaningful access to its trading partners, only to abandon it at the doorstep because the Republican nominee was a literal imbecile and the progressive wing of… Read more »

George Chidi
George Chidi

Great column. We are facing terrible choices. We are almost always facing terrible choices, honestly. They’re usually not quite this visible, which is — of course — the point of using American imagery by the Hong Kong democracy protesters. The Chinese argument for their own power has been persuasive to the Chinese people, and frankly to much of the rest of the world: accept the Communist (sic) Party’s totalitarian rule and mild corruption, and we will draw millions of Chinese out of poverty. China, today, is a country of 250 million people with Western consumption and technology access, tacked onto… Read more »


“A large number of partisans refuse to accept the validity of a duly elected President.” Wrong. Stop whining about this absurd notion that it’s all about sore losing. We have a self serving, narcissistic grifter that spends endless hours in Twitter land insulting everyone that he psychotically imagines doesn’t like him. He lies to foreign leaders and brags about it. Anyone that dares question his inane schemes, or violations of ethics, is childishly attacked. Everything this idiot reprimanded of our last president, in foolish tweets, he now hypocritically does. He claims victories from the prior administration actions. He has reduced… Read more »


Stop whining about this absurd notion that it’s all about sore losing. But if you’re a Republican with any semblance of a conscience or common sense, you have to tell yourself the opposition would be just as vociferous and intransigent if Marco Rubio or Jeb Bush occupier the Oval Office. To admit otherwise is to open the door to the thought that maybe stumbling into a trade war with China in the middle of a quaalude bender isn’t the best idea; ripping kids from their parents and locking them in cages is morally wrong; and this rise in white nationalist… Read more »


In order to support a lifestyle dependent upon cheap consumer goods, we need China and we need a permanent supply of cheap manual labor. Our long view must include a look at the lifestyle choices we have made as a nation and a honest conversation about the true costs.


Yes. The long game should include serious thought over whether or not Americans are willing to pay our fellow Americans a decent wage to produce goods and services in America. Are we willing to pay more in order to support our neighbors ability to have basic life needs, pay for healthcare, insurance, save for college, buy a house, save for emergencies, and have enough to invest in our own retirement? If America so hates taking care of our own, in dire circumstances, we should be willing to pay forward so everyone has a chance to live the American dream. cue… Read more »