The trade war initiated by the United States has caused panic to the Trump Administration in the run-up to the midterm election. When President Donald Trump reneged on the agreement reached by Vice Premier Liu He from China and Steven Mnuchin, the Secretary of the Treasury, in May, he was dead sure China would succumb to the pressure asserted by the US. 5 months on, Trump is desperate, but his mouth and his twitter account just wouldn’t let his ego settle. He’s down to the last $267B that he could impose a tariff on, but China is not budging. The midterm election is a month away, so Trump has to make a decision fast.
After the near collision of the US and Chinese military vessels in the South China Sea, Vice President Mike Pence, taking the cue from Trump, blasted China over a list of Chinese meddling and the aggressive maneuver of the Chinese vessel during a speech at the Hudson Institute, a conservative think tank in Washington D.C. Amongst other things, Pence accused China of the following:
- Acting aggressively in the South China Sea, including sailing some of its ships within yards of US vessels;
- Stealing the intellectual property of American businesses;
- Persuading countries, lately in Latin America, to no longer, recognize Taiwan as a sovereign country;
- Persecuting religious groups in China like Christians, Buddhists, and Muslims;
- Creating a “social credit score” to reward Chinese citizens loyal to the government — and punish those who are not.
While Pence’s speech is largely seen as a propaganda speech for the midterm election, hoping that his powerful speech could garner votes from voters hurt by the tariffs imposed so far, it could also be a show of allegiance to Trump in the wake of a New York Times (NYT) op-ed claiming an internal “resistance” within the administration. Although NYT refused to name the anonymous official, the use of a particular word – “lodestar” – in the controversial article pointed to Pence. Pence had forcefully denied writing it.
Whether the powerful propaganda would bring out the American nationalists to support Republicans’ midterm election is still anyone’s guess, but the speech certainly brought out Chinese nationalists from mainland China to Taiwan, Hong Kong and to Singapore. One of the most fervent Chinese denouncing Pence’s battle-cry was a lady from Taiwan. Joyce Huang, a writer and TV anchorwoman of a popular political talk show, wrote an op-ed in China Times, addressed to Mike Pence and categorically rebutted Pence’s claims. A translated version appeared in the CGTN.com.
Huang took issues with Pence’s false narratives, an excerpt of which is reproduced here: “When our young nation went searching in the wake of the Revolutionary War for new markets for our exports, the Chinese people welcomed American traders laden with ginseng and fur.
When China suffered through indignities and exploitations during her so-called “Century of Humiliation,” America refused to join in, and advocated the “Open Door” policy, so that we could have freer trade with China, and preserve their sovereignty.
When American missionaries brought the good news to China’s shores, they were moved by the rich culture of an ancient and vibrant people. And not only did they spread their faith, but those same missionaries founded some of China’s first and finest universities.
When the Second World War arose, we stood together as allies in the fight against imperialism. And in that war’s aftermath, America ensured that China became a charter member of the United Nations, and a great shaper of the post-war world.”
Whether or not the Chinese people welcomed the American traders back then, Huang rightly stated that the American soldiers were part of the Eight-Power Allied Forces that looted the Chinese capital, received a handsome reward from the reparation of 450 million taels of silver, which amounted to five years of China’s fiscal revenue.
Further exploitations include the Chinese coolie trade. From the archives of the The Times, an article “The American Coolie-Trade.” published April 21, 1860, wrote “Men are kidnapped by the agents of American mercantile houses, huddled into the unventilated holds of American clipper-ships, restrained of their liberty by force of arms, transported thousands of miles to foreign lands, there disposed of under instruments which they cannot comprehend to masters whose language they do not speak, and condemned to labors which in nine cases out of ten can have no end but death, and to a life from which death is a welcome and desirable release.”
Another NYT article “The Opium War’s Secret History” published June 28, 1997, documented how Warren Delano, grandfather of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, found wealth pushing opium to the Chinese. Not to forget the Forbes, family of the former US Secretary of State John Forbes Kerry that grew rich also by selling opium to the Chinese. Saying that America refused to join the exploitations was truly fake news.
Pence claimed that during the WWII, both the American and Chinese forces stood together as allies in the fight against imperialism. However, Huang was quick to remind that before the Japanese attacked the Pearl Harbor, the Americans were busy providing strategic supplies, ammunition, oil and loans to Imperial Japan for the invasion of mainland China.
Moreover, the Chinese suffered more than 20 years of sanctions and trade embargo after the Korean War that inevitably resulted in the Great Famine caused by a failed agricultural and industrial reform called the “Great Leap Forward”. It was Henry Kissinger’s advice to then-President Richard Nixon that a friendly China would be in the interest of America that led to the ice-breaking of the Sino-US relationship.
Huang ended her article by reiterating the importance of mutual benefits and that “China’s performance shall not be measured and defined by the yardstick of the United States.”
Huang is not alone. Op-ed and letters writing in to condemn Pence’s speech and US unilateral decision to start a trade war flooded in, and the social media was full of nationalistic declarations and cursing it made the impossibility of a hot war seem possible. According to CNN, the U.S. Pacific Fleet is drafting plans for a global show of force to warn China and demonstrate resolve to deter Beijing’s military actions. The report was meant to coincide with Mike Pence’s speech, making the hostility more apparent. The Navy plan suggests sailing ships and flying aircraft near China’s territorial waters in the South China Sea and Taiwan Strait in freedom of navigation operations to demonstrate the right of free passage in international waters, the report said. While it is doubtful that the Trump Administration would authorize the military exercise in Chinese waters, calling for one so near to China would be detrimental to the Sino-US relationship going forward. Propaganda might help with the election, especially with the Democrats having a 70% chance of winning the House, but unbeknownst to Trump and Pence, they are fanning Chinese nationalism not just within mainland China, but also among the Chinese diaspora. Trying to pick a fight with all the Chinese would not be wise for the Trump Administration.
Header Image: REUTERS
Joseph graduated with a degree in Business Administration from the National University of Singapore and is a CFA and CAIA charterholder. He enjoys geopolitics and study international politics extensively. Joseph currently lives in Hong Kong.