A China Problem?

By: Christopher Linnan With the Olympics starting today, most Americans are excited by the prospect of cheering for our country as we compete against the rest of the world. The Olympics have always been advertised as fostering cooperation and sportsmanship, but underneath this utopian display is a fierce determination by countries to prove their vitality through large medal counts and underlying tensions created by the geopolitical conflicts that shape our modern world. The former phenomenon has been demonstrated by the Chinese habit of sending underage female gymnasts, our own obsession with winning which often trumps ethics, etc. There is nothing inherently wrong with wanting your nation to win the most gold medals at the Olympics. We all want to believe that our country is the best, regardless of whether we live in South Africa, Japan, or in the U.S.

Recently, many of our political leaders and commentators have loudly protested that our American Olympic uniforms are produced in China. I consider myself a patriotic American, and believe that it would probably be more sensible if American uniforms were produced here.  However, this patriotism has turned into angst and anger at another country for producing our Olympians’ clothes, which if less serious would be rather amusing.  It is ironic that in the age of loud and brash tea-partiers, it was the Democratic Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, who called for the Chinese-made uniforms of the U.S. Olympic team to be burned.[i]  The Chinese blogger Wang Yusheng asks the obvious question of whether this means we should burn our Chinese-made iPhones, shoes, and cars as well.[ii]

Sadly, the Olympics haven't even started and we are already engaged in a nasty discussion that has no place in American politics. “China-bashing” is hardly a new phenomenon, as Democrats and Republicans have both embraced it. Both presidential candidates have spent significant time attempting to prove that they will be tougher on China’s perceived economic cheating, human rights, etc. William Pesek points out that “the U.S. long championed the globalization that it now blames for its woes.”[iii]  One of the most common refrains heard in our current presidential candidates is that we need to bring “jobs back to America.”  The explanations for the migration of jobs to places such as Southeast Asia drastically vary depending on one’s political ideology. Americans blame everyone from evil soulless corporations to nefarious unions to spineless politicians. I am not attempting to demonize anybody on the left or right as both sides share culpability. The bottom line is that, despite the political bashing against China, many of our consumer goods are produced in China because it is cheaper to make them overseas than in America. Fifty percent of the clothing in your closet is made in China, and the rest was most likely produced in other foreign countries.[iv]

I am not trying to excuse illegal Chinese business practices or apathetically accept the loss of American jobs. Most reasonably informed people will agree that some of China’s trade practices are illegal and its respect for international property rights[v] (such as musical and film rights) is often lacking.[vi] However, we as Americans need to accept the rise of another superpower and adapt a more pragmatic world outlook. We tend to forget that our enormous government spending is financed by none other than the Chinese who purchase our treasury bonds. “China-bashing” has always existed to a certain extent, but we may be nearing a point of no-return.  If Governor Romney follows through on his promise to label China a currency-manipulator on day one, then we are risking starting a trade-war, which will benefit nobody.[vii] China also has the ability to help advance or hinder our foreign policy objectives, and needlessly antagonizing it is counterproductive. China almost single-handedly keeps the North Korean regime afloat and along with Russia has hindered UN resolutions aimed at the Assad regime in Syria.[viii]  Julian Zelizer, professor of history at Princeton University, argues that Romney’s position is extremely dangerous because the risk of appearing as a flip-flopper so early in his potential presidential term may force him to actually follow through on his promise.[ix]  Conversely if President Obama decides to commit to a hard-line approach to maintain a tough stance we will be heading down an uncertain and potentially unpleasant road. Given China’s power in both the economic and foreign policy arenas, the United States must take a more reasonable approach to China and realize that we are living in an ever-changing state of affairs.

Christopher Linnan is a rising senior majoring in history.  His chief interests are contemporary European and American politics.  He is currently interning with the South Carolina Democratic Party in Columbia, South Carolina.

[i] Minter, Adam. “Chinese Feel Burned by Olympic Uniform Controversy.” Bloomberg 19 July 2012, Accessed 24 July 2012.

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Pesek, William. “’Made in China’ Tag Makes Hypocrites of Us All.” Bloomberg 11 Oct 2011, Accessed 24 July 2012.

[iv] Ikenson, Daniel. “Why not make Olympic Uniforms in China.” CNN15 July 2012, Accessed 24 July 2012.

[v] Pesek, China as U.S. Banker.

[vi] Then again many Americans (especially our younger generation) are not very keen on international property rights if they are inconvenient.  Take illegal downloading for example.  If you aren’t willing to pay 99 cents for a song, don’t download it.  Wait a second; let me get off my high horse before I continue.

[vii] Collison, Stephen. “China the Villain in US Election…again.” IOL News 6 July 2012, Accessed 24 July 2012.

[viii] Coleman, Korva. “China and Russia Veto U.N. Resolution Threatening Sanctions on Syria.” NPR 19 July 2012, Accessed 24 July 2012.

[ix] Ibid.

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