There is a hypocrisy at the heart of the West’s attitude to China: although we’re constantly warned about the threat from Beijing, our political and corporate elites seem intent on making this century a Chinese one. Unlike in the Thirties, this appeasement isn’t driven by fear and ignorance; it is motivated largely by greed.
And that greed could prove fatal. China’s “civilisation state”, deeply rooted in thousands of years of history, represents the most profound philosophical challenge to liberal values since the end of the Cold War. But our oligarchs choose to ignore this, preferring instead to genuflect to Beijing for financial gain.
The cost of such avarice is slowly coming into focus: China’s economy may surpass the US by as early as 2028, and by some measurements already has. Of course, China deserves credit for its remarkable performance, which is mostly thanks to the efforts of its citizens, in particular its rural migrants, the key fodder for the country’s dominant manufacturing base.
But the Middle Kingdom’s ascendency would not seem as inexorable if not for the efforts of the West’s ‘kowtow crowd’, a group of self-interested cheerleaders and enablers of China’s autocratic state. At the height of the Cold War, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev threatened that the USSR would “bury” the West. China’s President Xi can count on the West burying itself.
Some of this can be traced to naivety and an underestimation of Chinese capabilities. Rather than recognising a potential threat, our political and financial elites saw a potential economic partner and huge market. China was still a poor, developing country; when welcomed into the World Trade Organisation 20 years ago, it dutifully supplied cheap products to a welcoming market. In the meantime, it was hoped that exposure to the West would create an increasingly liberal China.
Yet for at least a decade, particularly since Xi Jinping assumed control of the Communist Party, these assumptions have been proven fatally wrong. Xi and the Party have clearly made clear that their ambition is not any old seat at the table, but the one at its head.
Given what seems a clear and present danger to the West and its East Asian allies, one would expect our ruling class to seek ways to fight back. Donald Trump may have been a blustering fool but at least he saw, and identified, the threat. President Biden, to his credit, has also proposed some steps to reinforce US competitiveness, and there is rare bipartisan consensus, including on the Left, to resist China’s hegemony.
Yet prospects for standing up to China from the White House are limited. As recently as 2019 Biden, a stalwart cog in the Washington consensus, minimised the Chinese threat to our economy, recently claiming, incredibly, that: “you know, they’re not bad folks, folks. But guess what? They’re not competition for us.” More worrisome still has been the Biden family’s close business ties with Beijing. The somewhat dissolute Hunter, in particular, has profited hugely and gained expensive gifts working for the Chinese. Most recently, he helped a Chinese firm to corner the cobalt market, a key component in the administration’s green energy strategy.
But kowtowing is hardly a partisan phenomenon. Prominent figures from both parties, including former GOP Speaker John Boehner, and many connected Washington think tanks receive funding from Beijing. Even members of the Bush family have cosied up to CCP apparatchiks, including one with strong ties to that country’s rising military.
Read the rest of this piece at UnHerd.
Joel Kotkin is the author of The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class. He is the Roger Hobbs Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and Executive Director for Urban Reform Institute. Learn more at joelkotkin.com and follow him on Twitter @joelkotkin.