GOOD MORNING FROM LONDON
I start with the US and come on to China and War.
On the surface things look good in the US; unemployment is low; their economy is growing at 2.4% and inflation is falling. And yet consumer confidence, according to Irwin Stelzer in the Sunday Times, is at its lowest in four months. And Prof Percy Allen – in Pearls and Irritations – concludes that American society is more divided than it has been since its Civil War of the 1860s. “According to a Pew Research poll about six in ten Republicans and more than half of Democrats have a very unfavourable view of the other party. Thirty years ago, fewer than a quarter in both parties rated the other party badly.”
A recent CNN poll showed almost 70% of Republicans do not accept the electoral legitimacy of the Biden administration. And almost 60% of voters lack confidence that elections in the US today reflect the will of the people.
Other polls by States United Action and Chicago University’s CPOST Research Centre found that over half US voters think elections won’t solve America’s most fundamental political and social problems, and almost half consider political elites, both Democrats and Republicans, are the most immoral and corrupt people in America. The US is fast becoming a dysfunctional nation – and that was before yesterday’s sacking of Speaker McCarthy.
But when it comes to China, Americans unite and rally around the flag. Hatred of China is the one single issue that brings America together. President Biden’s #1 worry is that China will become the wealthiest and most powerful country in the world. Biden has promised to stop that. He has referred to China as “bad people” who when they have problems do “bad things” The demonisation of China has clearly worked. The 2023 survey by the Pew Research Center found that 83% of Americans hold negative views of China. The share who says China is an “enemy” is now 38%. An IPSOS poll found one-third of Americans view China as an imminent threat and two in five Americans think that war with China is likely in the next five years.
The US under Bush and Obama held to the view that China’s economic growth and increased prosperity would bring a relaxation of political rhetoric as the number of Chinese middle class citizens increased. Expanding economic rights would lead inevitably to increased political rights and the downgrading of the role of China’s Communist Party. China would become “compliant reasonable and accommodating”. It has not happened. Billionaires may flourish in China (800+ in number) but the Party remains at the apex of power. China has not changed.
Trump heralded a new and antagonistic approach to China when he started a trade war by unilaterally imposing high tariffs on Chinese goods coming into the US. And when that did not work, he resorted to allegations of genocide against the Uighurs in Xinjiang province to try to demonise China in the eyes of the world. But it, too, has not worked. China remains China and continues to be welcomed by the rest of the world in part because of its Belt and Road Initiative – as historian Professor Francis Fukiyama has said “China has lent more than $1 trillion to more than 100 countries through the Initiative, dwarfing Western spending in the developing world and stoking US anxieties about the spread of Beijing’s power and influence”.
Trump’s successor, President Biden increased economic sanctions on China and announced that “he would not allow China’s economy to overtake America’s” even though, as Prof Allen notes, most economists think that this is inevitable given China’s huge population and income gap.
The flashpoint is Taiwan for two reasons. First, China’s long-standing policy to reunify China with Taiwan and, second, as explained in yesterday’s Post #473, the US is worried sick that a confrontation with China could seriously jeopardise the US economy by impeding, even stopping, the export from Taiwan to the US of essential semi-conductors. Within the US hierarchy – the White House, Capitol Hill, the Pentagon and the Joint Chiefs of Staff – there are those who want to give China “a bloody nose” and fundamentally derail China’s economic growth by military action – the Hawks – before China is way ahead and out of sight. “Act Today Because Tomorrow Is Too Late” is their cry.
There are also Doves who fear hostilities and prefer an uneasy but non-confrontational approach to China. For the Doves, second place to China is preferrable to war with China It is not clear who will win but certainly if the Hawks prevail over the Doves the world will be set on a most dangerous path.
Tomorrow I will view matters from the Chinese perspective. Do they want War? It is 74 years since the Peoples Republic of China came into existence and China’s approach to world affairs is always to see the long perspective and the completion of the task of building a Socialist Society with Chinese Characteristics whilst wrestling with present day challenges and issues along the way. In my next Post I will focus on China’s priorities and its attitude to the possibility of war with the US.