It’s been a few months since I have written, which has been due to helping my family back in the States with some things, but in that time I have been back and forth between Asia and the U.S. and filled with many thoughts I had hoped to explore here.

It was not until I read Heather Long’s piece in today’s Washington Post about how China is winning the economic war and the U.S. is not doing enough about it that I felt compelled to write. Perhaps it’s also the steady stream of news out of the current administration that seems to day-by-day undermine all the great things about being American and this country that drew me back in. Regardless, while I think Long provides some good analysis and insights from some of our country’s foremost experts on China, the general tone is defensively combative. The case she builds is one in alignment with Bannon’s views on the U.S. – China relationship, which is that we are engaged in a economic war with China in which we must do more to ensure we win. However, the way to “winning” seems to be by launching fusillades against China in the form of punitive trade actions. Gordon Chang, who Long cites in her piece, explicitly calls for the U.S. to “defend” itself against China.

Fundamentally, what is wrong with this viewpoint is that it automatically assumes a zero-sum game of war where one side wins and the other loses. What this viewpoint leaves out, but what Long touches on when she mentions Bannon’s detrimental thoughts on immigration and quotes James Andrew Lewis is all of the things the U.S. can be doing to outperform China. A rational and fair immigration system, increased innovation through investments in R&D and education, meaningful worker retraining programs, a 21st century infrastructure including universal broadband access, universal health care, and pro-growth tax reform would be a few of the things that could help get the U.S. on the right track to come out ahead of China.

Now to be fair, trade rules exist to ensure a level playing field between nations and if China is engaging in unfair trade practices whether by subsidizing SOEs or stealing IP and other trade secrets, then they should be held to task for such anti-competitive behaviors. However, I would argue that such actions represent a defensive posture on the part of the U.S. To truly “win” or ensure that we stay ahead, we must also remember that it’s important to play offense and put in place the policies and conditions necessary for America’s long-term economic well-being that will be able to see off China or any other country with whom it may be competing.

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Big Brother

September 3, 2008

In my last post, I wrote about the seeming normalcy of life here in Guangzhou.  It is certainly not the China that many people in the West think about, but then things happen that jolt you into the reality that China is a country where the government likes to watch its citizens and is very upfront about its voyeuristic tendencies. 

This morning I had to go into the campus information technology office to set up my internet connection in my apartment.  As part of the process, the office required a copy of my passport in order to assign me an IP address.  By taking a copy of my passport, it makes the whole process feel far more official than it needs to be and it makes me wonder if I were to look at a questionable website, whether the government would reprimand me for my actions.  In the States, internet providers have the ability to monitor what we look at online, but to my knowledge, they have not used this power to intrude on people’s privacy.  Whereas, here the message seems to be that they can and will intrude your privacy if the need arises. 

I think what makes it more disturbing to me is that the university is effectively a government body, closely tied to other parts of the government.  These ties are somewhat different than Time Warner, a private company, being able to access my internet history.  While I probably will not have any problems, it definitely gave me pause this morning and made me more cognizant that I can be and probably am being watched by someone somewhere.  Will it cause me to change my internet habits?  Probably not, but it reminded me that when everything seems normal, these small actions remind me that I am not in a completely free country.

  But for most people, that lack of freedom is not a problem as long as one can shop in Ikea, buy imported pasta and pirated DVDs, and download hit ringtones.  And since I have been here, I find myself most of the time lulled into thinking it’s no different than home by these same things.