We must get tough with China


For several years the story of American and Chinese trade negotiations have been a story of great optimism followed by great pessimism.

Matters became more confused this summer when China reneged on a 150-page trade agreement between the two nations that would have benefited both. A widely held opinion is the Chinese reneged on this deal in the hope that a Joseph Biden, Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders, who would perhaps be more amenable to Chinese demands, will be elected.

Now both nations have announced that they will be imposing increased tariffs on a wide range of goods in the coming weeks giving signals that a full-blown trade war is in the offing.

Trade between the United States and China pits a democratic nation with businesses that operate in a free market system without government subsidies and few government controls against an autocratic regime that is the instrument of the Communist Party. The Chinese government has a policy of protecting infant industries to enable them to compete with similar industries in the United States and the west. In addition, Chinese companies are largely subsidized by the government.

The most important question that needs to be asked is what do the trade inequities between China and the United States mean for Western New York and Chautauqua County? But first a little history.

For much of the period after 1750 China was a weak and divided nation exploited by western nations who controlled its trade, its major ports and employed gunboats to control its rivers and assure unlimited access to the wealth of China. The Boxer Rebellion of 1900 was an effort to end western influence and exploitation of China, but its failure only weakened the ruling Chinese dynasty more.

In 1937, China and Japan began a war that would last until 1945. In 1941, following the attack on Pearl Harbor, China and the United States became allies during World War II.

During World War II, the Nationalists Chinese under Chiang Kai-shek fought both the Japanese and also the Chinese Communist in order to gain a post war advantage. After the war ended, the Communists and the Nationalists fought a civil war for control of China. In 1949 the Nationalists were defeated, forcing their retreat to Formosa.

From 1949 to 1979 the United States and China had no formal diplomatic relations and it was only in 1972 that President Richard Nixon visited China. Finally, on Jan. 1, 1979, the United States recognized Communist China diplomatically.

Following recognition Americans made much of the boon that the Chinese market would be for American companies. In that optimistic period many felt that as China became part of the world economy and trading system the Chinese would want to be more like the west and would eventually gravitate towards a democratic form of government. American presidents from Carter to Obama made trade agreements with China they saw as encouraging those goals. Unfortunately in dealing with China we were dealing with a trading partner who had very different goals and had no intention of playing fair.

Unsuspected in the West, China’s goal was to become the number one economic power in the world and the premier super power militarily by 2049, the 100th anniversary of the Communist victory. The Party’s plan was to use any means necessary, including theft of intellectual property, to supplant the United States as the greatest power in the world. In all of this, its leaders saw American leaders as short sighted, gullible and easily duped, as indeed some were.

Since the beginning of this century opinion in the United States has held that it is vital that we confront the growing trade imbalance with China. For 2018, that imbalance was $378.6 billion.

Until Donald Trump became president the Chinese had free rein under previous administration in achieving their goals. During President Clinton’s campaigns stories abounded that it received substantial funding from Chinese donors because Chinese leaders saw him as more friendly to the Chinese than a Republican. During the Obama administration, Chinese investors did several “sweetheart” deals with the son of Vice President Biden.

What does this mean for Chautauqua County? Since 2001, the United States has lost over 3.4 million manufacturing jobs to China. Not only has this had a direct impact on Chautauqua County and upstate New York, but also an indirect impact. As states and regions have lost jobs to China, they look elsewhere to replace those jobs. Because New York state is known as being a bad place to do business we are often the target of those job poachers.

It is vital for Chautauqua County, this state and our nation that Trump’s efforts to force China to abandon its unfair trade practices meets with success. He is the only president who has served notice that we will not tolerate China stealing our jobs, technology and employing unfair trade practices. We may face difficult times ahead, but we must preserver.

Many of the factories in China that have stolen our jobs are owned by the Chinese military that has utilized their profits to expanded its strategic reach into the South China Sea, develop of its own stealth aircraft, and cruise missiles capable of sinking our super carriers. China is no more a democratic nation or our friend than Iran. We ignore that at our peril.

Thomas Kirkpatrick Sr. is a Silver Creek resident. Send comments to editorial@observertoday.com