The China Desk
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Washington is not America, Beijing is not China
Originally posted at Chinese Community Forum (CCF)
March 26, 1997
Mr. Cornett's thoughtful letter deserves a respectful reply. I hope he will agree that I have made a sincere attempt to provide just that.
To begin with I too am an American. I am Chinese by birth and ethnicity, but 100% American in my political philosophy. I was naturalized under Ronald Reagan, who reminded Americans that the proper role of government was to get the hell out of our way. As Thomas Jefferson put it, "those people are governed best who are governed least."
The American concept of good government is next to no government. A government is not a country. A country is not its government. A nation's life is lived in its private sector, its civil society. The government's role is to be the nighwatchman in the basement, while the real business of the country is conducted in the office suites. America is not Pennsylvania Avenue, it is Main Street and Wall Street. It is 100% American to love one's country while hating one's government. This is what Reagan meant when he spoke to cheering audiences about "getting Big Government off our backs."
Mr. Cornett mentions Lao-tse, to me the greatest Chinese philosopher of all time. Lao-tse originated the concept of minimal government, which he summed up as "wu wei erh zhi" or "administering by doing nothing." If "wu wei erh zhi" sounds astonishingly similar to classical liberal concepts of "laissez faire" and "the Invisible Hand" it merely confirms that Chinese people share this fundamental value with westerners.
I love America. It is no contradiction to say that I hate the oppressive, arrogant Federal government in Washington. It simultaneously abuses American citizens at home while lecturing other governments abroad for doing the same. Consider recent remarks by State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns:
"I don't think . . . we need to listen to lectures from authoritarian countries about our human rights performance because we are the world's champion of human rights,'' [Those around the world who had their human rights taken away] ``look to us to speak up for them''. [The US government] is ``very confident about our policy and emphasis on human rights and we're not going to be deterred, especially by countries that are major violators of human rights.''
As Tonto reminded the Lone Ranger, "What do you mean we Kemo Sabe?" If Mr. Burns thinks that the victims of Ruby Ridge and Waco identify with the US Federal government as "the world's champion of human rights" he should talk to Timothy McVeigh.
My response: "The violation of rights and liberty by other governments can never justify foreign intervention by the United States government. Today, no government is innocent of violating human rights and liberty, and none can approach the issue with clean hands. In keeping with our goal of peaceful international relations, we call upon the United States government to cease its hypocrisy and its sullying of the good name of human rights. Only private individuals and organizations have any place speaking out on this issue."
This was taken from the Libertarian Party's platform on Human Rights, but I couldn't have said it any better myself.
Today we hear a lot of sermonizing from both American leftists and rightists about the "human rights" concerns of the US government and how these concerns must take precedence over the "mere" commercial interests of private American businesses. Whole forests have died in order that they could denounce the "New China Lobby" (comprised incidentally, of highly knowledgeable China hands from the Nixon, Reagan and Bush administrations) which is accused of being unpatriotic and of selling out American values.
The critics have it backwards. According to traditional American values the moral judgements of public servants, elected or otherwise, does not have priority over the commercial interests of American citizens. To hold such a view is UN-American. In America the government is the servant, not the parole officer/moral guardian of the American citizen. "Linkage" may sound high-minded, but "linkage" itself is a human rights violation. It violates the rights of private citizens to engage in free trade simply because government bureaucrats "don't like it."
Sorry, but it's not their place to like or dislike it. If Madeleine Albright, Jesse Helms or Nancy Pelosi can't get along with their counterparts in Beijing, that's just too damned bad. They should go into counseling and let the CEOs of Boeing, Caterpillar, MacDonalds and Motorola get on with the serious work of building the emerging global economy. The emerging global economy in which Honda builds automobile plants in Ohio and Dell builds computer plants in Japan is unlikely to witness either another Pearl Harbor or Hiroshima. Japanese and Americans are not about to bomb their own factories.
Obviously the same holds true of the US and China. If the business communities (not the governments) of both nations build on an already deepening mutual economic interdependence, the dreaded "Coming Conflict with China" will never happen. The global economy may just turn out to be the unappreciated harbinger of a planetwide civil society which finally makes mankind's yearning for enduring peace more than just an idle dream.
It would be an ironic vindication of laissez-faire economists Adam Smith and Friedrich Bastiat if world peace was finally brought about by aggressive, tough-minded businessmen such as "Chainsaw" Al Dunlap and Bill Gates (the CEOs of Sunbeam and Microsoft) rather than bleeding hearts such as the Dalai Lama and Mother Theresa.