Thursday, January 28, 2021

Biden needs China to help improve Americans’ lives - Donald Trump did next to nothing for the bottom 90%, and his anti-China policy was a major reason for his failure

First posted on Asia Times. In a recent interview on National Public Radio, Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser-designate for the incoming Biden administration, said US foreign policy must serve domestic policy. In other words, “the work that we do abroad fundamentally has to connect to making the lives of working people better, safer, fairer.” So far, so good. The preceding regime under Donald Trump did next to zero for the bottom 90% of the American people. Indeed, improving the lives of the huge middle class has to be the highest priority for the Biden presidency. In fact, Sullivan said, “What Joe Biden is proposing, and what I am reinforcing as the national security adviser, is that every element of what we do in our foreign policy and national security ultimately has to be measured by the impact it has on working families, middle-class people, ordinary Americans here in the United States.” He pretty much repeated his talking points in his subsequent interview with Fareed Zakaria of CNN. Unfortunately, he then talked about changing the foreign policy with respect to China, in which he envisaged an approach that differed only slightly from Trump’s zero-sum confrontation. It’s almost as if Sullivan is slowing down the train heading toward the precipice from 100 miles per hour to 50 but is not getting off the track that’s leading to disaster. Fresh approach needed Rather than looking backward and relying on past grievances, legitimate or otherwise, as the starting point to rebuilding a relation with China, Sullivan should advise President Joe Biden to face the real world that exists today and find a fresh approach that will look to the future and give boost to his domestic agenda. Thanks to four years of Trump’s “America first and nobody else matters,” the US he represented has earned the disdain and disrespect of world opinion. This is not to say that China has taken over, but we can say that the world has moved away from a unipolar world dominated by the US and is moving increasingly to a multipolar world. The China-EU Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI) just concluded before year-end 2020 is a strong confirmation of such a multipolar world. This agreement had been under discussion for seven years, and Biden asking the European Union to delay concluding the pact would seem reasonable and consistent with the pre-Trump relations between the US and Europe. However, in a world altered by Trump, China and the EU rushed to conclude the deal and presented Biden a fait accompli before he takes office. This is a clear message that the EU is now more interested in protecting its own self-interest than merely following America’s lead. In November, the ASEAN + 5 (China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand) bloc concluded the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement, representing the biggest free-trade pact in the world. The US could have been a member of RCEP, but Trump withdrew from the negotiations before the agreement was concluded. When it comes to understanding the significance of free trade, Trump is a woeful country bumpkin. The community of nations has moved on while, thanks to Trump, the US has been left at the station. It’s unrealistic to expect that the US under the new Biden administration can simply pick up from where the US was before the Trump debacle. Sullivan has no middle way As the new national security adviser, Sullivan faces a choice of which direction to take. He can continue to engage China in an ideological confrontation along the lines of condemning alleged human-rights abuses, intellectual-property theft, unfair trade practices, etc, etc, or he can find ways to collaborate with China that would boost the recovery of the US economy and inject much-needed help for the 90% he talked about. He can’t do both. To bring the Covid-19 pandemic under control, the US will have to work with China. Using older, conventional technology, China has developed several vaccines that do not require deep refrigeration and are more affordable for developing countries. Worldwide herd immunity will be possible only if most of the world is inoculated. Just protecting the wealthy nations won’t do. Similarly, China understood the damaging implications of climate change to its economy long before a clueless Donald Trump walked away from the Paris Accord. China has declared its national goal to be carbon-neutral by 2060 – and this is one country that has a habit of meeting its national objectives on or before its stated goal. The US has some catching up to do, and Biden will have his hands full convincing the American people that continuing emission of greenhouse gases is bad for their personal net worth (due to fire, hurricanes and tornadoes) and not just for their health. As the world’s top two emitters, the US and China have to collaborate to set the example for the rest to follow. Trying to collaborate as a pair of frenemies just won’t be as effective or convincing than if the US and China can act in a true partnership on a common mission. Hypocrisy and China’s human rights A favorite talking point of American politicians and mainstream media alike is to attack China for its alleged human-rights abuses. Amazingly enough, these accusations spew from American mouths without the slightest discomfort or sense of embarrassment. This is despite the fact that the US with just 4.4% of the world’s population has 22% of world’s prison population. Furthermore, American prison labor has been inhumanly exploited, with inmates paid slave wages for the benefit of government officials in cahoots with contractors that profit from their output. A typical wage paid for 12 hours of hard labor is US$2.25, for the day not per hour, according to NPR. After deducting for sundries and overhead, the net take-home is a pathetic pittance. Such extreme cruelty speaks for itself and needs no embellishments. It’s not even a case of the pot calling the kettle black. The pot stands alone in a class of its own. Yet when American critics throw their sucker punch at China, they are unrestrained with their fabrications to drive home their arguments. Most recently, they have argued that millions of Uighurs are kept in labor camps and forced to grow cotton, turned into cotton textiles and made into fashion garments for export to the West. None of this has been corroborated by international visitors who went to Xinjiang to see for themselves. On the other hand, China by trial and experimentation has devised a methodology that lifted hundreds of millions out of poverty. As the saying goes, rather than give the poor man a fish to eat, teach him to catch fish so that he will never go hungry. In other words, the poor were taught new skills to improve their livelihood, and that’s irrespective of their ethnicity. To China’s central government, every life matters, and other countries are beginning to take notice. African countries among many are now studying China’s approach to poverty alleviation and seeking China’s advice on how to apply similar measures in their home country. The total eradication of extreme poverty has been unprecedented and is China’s greatest achievement in protecting the rights of its people. Rather than lambasting China for human-rights violations, Sullivan may want to study China’s poverty alleviation programs for ideas on how to use them in America. China’s national policy treats its people far more fairly than in an America that’s rife with racial inequality and xenophobic tension, to say nothing of inequality in education, in opportunity, in income and in protection under law. Bringing manufacturing back In his NPR interview, Sullivan also said the US needs to bring manufacturing back home. Trump thought he could accomplish that goal by raising tariffs on goods made in China. It didn’t work, because American manufacturers moved offshore to avoid the high cost of domestic labor. Imposing import duty does not change the economics of manufacturing at home. The other reason American companies moved to China was to participate in what is now the world’s largest and most booming consumer economy. For many companies, the revenue they have made there during the pandemic more than made up for the losses in the US. However, there is one way for Sullivan to bring manufacturing back to America, just not American manufacturing. He should devise a strategy to attract and welcome more Chinese companies to invest in the US. As China’s economy grows, Chinese companies need to develop a global presence to serve their worldwide customer base. Haier, China’s leading white-goods and home-appliance company, is one classic example of the positive synergy of a Chinese investment in the US. In 2000, the company started with a modest manufacturing operation in South Carolina making wine coolers and small refrigerators popular with college dormitories. By 2016, Haier was successful and financially strong enough to acquire the appliance division from General Electric for $5.6 billion. GE wanted to get out of the consumer-appliance business and Haier saw the purchase as an opportunity to become a world market leader. At the time no one in Washington objected that Haier was a Chinese state-owned enterprise (SOE). Perhaps saving the payroll for 12,000 employees made it easier for the politicians to swallow their pride. As I have previously reported, other Chinese investments that predated outgoing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s China-bashing hysteria have greatly benefited the US economy. For example, China’s CRRC Corporation has established two plants to assemble subway cars for major US cities. The cars are state-of-the-art, cost 20% less than any competition, have more than 60% local content, and created 150 jobs at each of the two locations. In addition, the US cities saved hundreds of millions while replacing their dilapidated old metro cars. And about 10 years ago, China Construction of America rebuilt the Alexander Hamilton Bridge in northern Manhattan, doubling the four lanes to eight, and completed the project ahead of schedule and on budget. It was the largest single construction project, at $407 million, ever awarded by the State of New York. It was under joint Chinese and American management but with an American workforce. More recently, Huawei could have materially helped the installation of nationwide fifth-generation (5G) telecommunications network, much sooner and at significantly lower cost than the current situation. But techno-ignorance and irrational fear of Washington threw Huawei under the bus. Huawei, unlike Haier, wasn’t even an SOE. Its sin seemed to be that its chief executive was at one time in the People’s Liberation Army. Torrent of FDI awaits Foreign direct investments nearly always benefit the recipient country because such investment creates employment. Is there any doubt that Chinese investments would accomplish the same? The obvious task facing Sullivan is to reverse the knee-jerk, anti-China bias in Washington and greatly reduce the red tape in the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) and turn it into a committee that welcomes rather than rejecting Chinese companies. If Sullivan decides to explore collaboration with China for mutual economic benefit, much of the necessary foundational work has already been done. The China-EU CAI contains provisions of no forced transfer of technology, no hidden subsidies for SOEs, a level playing field for market access to China’s consumer market, and elimination of equity caps or joint-venture obligations. The provisions seem to cover most the complaints and concerns raised by American companies, and therefore China’s deal with the EU should make it easier for the US to hitch a ride and strike a comparable agreement. Certainly, getting along, building trust and benefiting from bilateral investment and trade would be considerably more tolerable than raising tension and hostility.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

America needs qualified voters to protect its democracy

I wrote this piece in late December 2020 but waited to post today, after the appalling exercise of shamocracy led by a sitting president that has gone bonkers. If Donald Trump escapes prosecution for inciting the insurrection and threat to overthrow the U.S. government, then America will not recover from the inexorable downward spiral. History will identify this day as the beginning of the end of thee American empire. ================================================== President Donald Trump recently went to state of Georgia ostensibly to campaign for the two republican candidates in the run-off election for Georgia’s two seats in the Senate. Whether the Republican party will retain the control of the Senate hangs in the balance. Appearing before his hardcore supporters, Trump made a cursory mention about the two candidates for the Senate, and then proceeded to alternatively rave that he was the real winner of the presidential election and not Joe Biden. And whining about the Republican governor of Georgia refusing to invalidate the election results and call the state legislature into session in order to declare Trump the winner. Because of his agitation and cries of voter fraud, Georgia recounted the ballots cast three times and certified Joe Biden as the winner each time. There existed no legal statue that would have allowed the governor to rescind the election in the manner requested by Trump. Trump had sown the seeds of doubt about the legitimacy of the election long before the actual day of election. He implied foreign influence rigging the outcome in favor of his opponent offering not a shred of evidence. He questioned the validity of mail-in ballots and attribute those ballots as illegal ballot box stuffing. Again, offering no proof whatsoever. He is the only American sitting president in history to bad mouth the electoral process he is supposed to be in charge. Well after all the states have certified their election results and confirm that Biden has been duly elected president, Trump still refuses to concede and continues to assert that he won. Trump has demonstrated that he is a person without shame or scruples. Chris Krebs served as Trump’s Director of Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security, the agency in charge of election security. After the election, Krebs declared that the 2020 election was the most secured in American history. Trump promptly fired him the next day. Trump bad mouths his own leadership His endless harangue has accomplished one thing. According to a recent poll, more than 70% of republicans distrusted the electoral process and are persuaded that the election was stolen from Trump. To satisfy his personal ego, he is more than willing to cast doubt on the integrity of the government that he is supposed to be the leader. Most alarming of all, while Trump prances through his shenanigans with Rudy Giuliani, his jester, in tow, over 200 elected Republican members of Congress remained silent, or even agreed with his claim--despite the fact that they are elected to defend the Constitution. When the sitting president considers himself as above the law and acts as if he has the right to re-write the statues of the Constitution to suit his purpose, his action represents an imminent threat to our democracy. By not objecting to Trump’s offense, the Republican members of Congress are tacitly going along with his deliberate attack of the U.S. Constitution. The principle reason these elected national officials are willing to suppress their conscience and table their sense of right and wrong is because they are fearful of his core base of supporters, perhaps as many as 50 million voters that voted for him. Some thinking ahead to 2024 may even be scheming on how to become heir to these Trump voters. Obviously, the leaders of the Republican party, Mitch McConnel, Lindsay Graham et al. can offer no competing ideology that could appeal to the Trump core to return and follow the more orthodox party principles instead of bluster, intimidation and robbery. Trump supporters are terribly ignorant The ignorance of Trump’s core supporters is shocking. They do not understand the meaning of due process. They condone perjury. They approve the soliciting of foreign support and participation in our election process. Protecting the Constitution means nothing to them. They might even admire profitable self-dealing by the Trump family as the art of the deal. As recent as about fifty years ago, the literacy test was used in southern states to deny the African Americans the right to vote. The Supreme Court disallowed the use of the test on the grounds that it was unconstitutional and represented an attack on American democracy. Ironically after four years of Donald Trump rule, in order to safeguard our democracy and protect the Constitution, we will need to introduce a national test to make sure each voter is competent to vote. For lack of a better term, I would call it an ignorance test. Namely, anyone sufficiently ignorant of issues impacting on our freedom and democracy should be denied the right to vote. Tennessee Republican Senator Marsha Blackburn recently tweeted that China has 5000 year history of lying and cheating. This is an expression of appalling ignorance and heavily larded with racist hate but would not qualify as grounds to deny her the right to vote or hold office. She has merely confused China with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who has been bragging about his record of lying, cheating and stealing too. It would not be surprising if Senator Blackburn is also a vigorous defender that planet earth is only 6000 years old. But her actions are not unconstitutional, if she wants to blabber nonsense and show the backside of her ignorance, that’s her business. However, the very existence of the Constitution and the idea that no person is above the rule of law is crucial to the future existence of the United States as a democracy. To allow violation of this principle freely without consequences would mark the beginning of the end of America as a free country. This is why a national ignorance test is urgently needed now to weed out those not qualified to judge what’s right and wrong in perpetuating the future of America as a democracy. Admittedly, such a national test may be too unpopular to institute, but America is facing a perilous time. Four GOP officials stood between Trump and Biden Trump actually contacted the Secretary of State of Georgia, a lifelong Republican, and asked him to invalidate enough mailed-in ballots to turn the margin in his favor. He refused, along with Secretaries of State of Michigan, Nevada and Wisconsin, the four most closely contested states. Looking at it this way, one could say the integrity of four Republican state officials actually represented Joe Biden’s narrow margin of victory. Had they caved in to Trump’s intimidation, he could claim to be the winner and skip all the lawsuits. Trump and his followers filed some 50 lawsuits at various state level and federal level to challenge the legitimacy of the presidential election. None got any serious review by the courts. His tweets assured his followers that with three justices appointed by him in the Supreme Court, he would get the overturn he was looking for. So, he thought. As one of the last acts of futility, Texas State Attorney General filed a complaint with the Supreme Court alleging election fraud in the four closely contested states. The Supreme Court unanimously dismissed the brief and treated it like any other frivolous lawsuit. Indeed, there are no legal grounds for any one state to sue another for the way the election was conducted. The State of the Union escaped further damage because the justices ruled on the side of the law and did not bow to the corrupted demands and expectation of Trump. Nonetheless, 19 GOP state attorney generals joined the Texas suit to invalidate the election. More than 125 Republican House representatives also signed the lawsuit including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. History will show that the willingness of this large group of elected officials to side with the overthrow the U.S. Constitution, marks the beginning of America’s slide down the slippery slope to anarchy. Indeed, street protests and clashes between Trump and anti-Trump supporters have already let to injuries and deaths. China would have nothing to do with America’s inexorable decline. The rot initiated by Trump and the absence of righteousness to stop the downward slide would be all it takes. # # #