Checking the China Scorecard – Friend or Foe?
"There is a bear in the woods. For some people, the bear is easy to see. Others don't see it at all. Some people say the bear is tame. Others say it's vicious and dangerous. Since no one can really be sure who's right, isn't it smart to be as strong as the bear? If there is a bear?"
Sound familiar? The paragraph above accompanied a video ad made famous by President Reagan's reelection bid in 1984. The bear, of course, represented the Soviet Union and its threat to the U.S. and the free world during some pretty chilly days of the Cold War.
President Reagan and the ad were ultimately proven right. For more than any other single reason, the Cold War was won because of the firm foreign relations and aggressive investment in military might that took place on his watch.
These days, the bear is long gone. But that doesn't mean the woods are empty. Indeed, there are some pretty frightful creatures that continue to roam through the thicket. One mythical beast that continues to lurk is the Middle Empire's Red Dragon. And when it comes to our complicated relationship with the Dragon, there's one question that matters most: is China our friend or foe?
At the heart of the issue is how our nation and China are engaged economically. To say that's a complex subject is quite an understatement. There is, however, one undeniable fact that drives the discussion: America's historic and growing trade deficit with China reflects a relationship that's out of whack.
By most accounts, our national trade deficit with China is somewhere north of $270 billion. What's heartbreaking about this astronomical imbalance are the jobs, businesses and entire industries that have completely vanished here at home. What's infuriating about this astronomical imbalance is how China tilts the table to ensure it – and how our country does precious little to stop it.
For years, China has artificially kept its currency, the yuan, below value and propped up the U.S. dollar by gobbling up as many greenbacks as possible. The tactic, called "currency manipulation," yields cheaper prices for Chinese products exported to the U.S. and higher prices for American products exported to China.
Thanks also to Washington's addiction to spending (and China's affinity for buying so many U.S. treasury bonds), we owe China more than $1 trillion. Are the numbers starting to scare you? They should. It's hard to see China as a friend on the economic front. Chalk this one up in the foe column.
When it comes to cyber relations between the two, things are even worse (if that's possible). In a nutshell, China has some pretty nasty hacking, phishing, and spying habits – and the U.S. is one of its favorite targets.
Maybe the most infamous example of China's penchant for cyber attacks in our direction occurred in 2004. That's the year details came to light regarding an aggressive Chinese cyberspying assault nicknamed Titan Rain by U.S. federal investigators. Titan Rain successfully targeted American government and defense contractor computer systems and is believed to have left serious damage in its wake.
Then there was the summer of 2007 when the Chinese military hacked into the Pentagon's computer system and brought the DoD's email system crashing down. And who can forget the fall of 2010 when reports surfaced of an episode months earlier at the hands of Chinese state-controlled Internet provider, China Telecom? That's when email traffic from a number of federal sites (including DoD, NASA and the U.S. Senate among others) was rerouted through Chinese servers.
Last month, Google reported that Chinese hackers had recently broken into hundreds of Google email accounts. And wouldn't you know it, many of those accounts belonged to top U.S. Government and military officials, political activists and journalists.
Are you beginning to detect a pattern? That's another one for the foe column if you're scoring at home.
Then there's the issue of human rights. With 22 years having passed since the Tiananmen Square Massacre, you'd think China's leaders would have come around in this area. Sadly, that's not the case.
According to the Hong Kong-based Chinese Human Rights Defenders, last year alone there were 3,544 incidents of individuals "arbitrarily detained for exercising or defending their own or others' human rights;" 118 cases of torture; and 36 cases of "enforced disappearances." Again, all of that taking place just during 2010.
When it comes to protecting human rights, China is no friend of the U.S. and the free world. That's another one for the foe column and the third strike is in the books.
President Obama and his administration have done a poor job of pressing China on each of these issues over the past two and half years. Rather than taking Beijing to task in a serious and consistent way, Obama instead welcomed Chinese President Hu Jintau to the White House for a formal State dinner earlier this year. That's simply unacceptable.
Recently, presidential hopeful Mitt Romney called out the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for his weak performance in dealing with China. Make no mistake, Romney is right. Whoever takes the oath of office on January 20, 2013 as our next Commander-in-Chief must replace the current administration's incoherent foreign policy in addressing China with a tough tact across the board – and real action if necessary. Hopefully, he or she will recognize the Dragon in the woods for the formidable foe it is.
Van D. Hipp, Jr. is Chairman of American Defense International, Inc., a Washington, D.C.-based consulting firm specializing in government affairs, business development and public relations. He is the former Deputy Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Army. He also currently serves on the Board of Directors of the American Conservative Union.