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The Chinese Come Calling | The Nation

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The Chinese Come Calling

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Robert Scheer is the editor of Truthdig, where this article originally appeared. His latest book is The Pornography of Power: How Defense Hawks Hijacked 9/11 and Weakened America(Twelve).

About the Author

Robert Scheer
Robert Scheer, a contributing editor to The Nation, is editor of Truthdig.com and author of The Great American Stickup...

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What a hoot. The Chinese Communists invaded Washington on Monday demanding not that we sacrifice our freedoms but rather that we balance our budget. Creditors get to make that kind of call. And the Marxists of Beijing, who have turned out to be the world's most prudent bankers, are worried about their assets invested in our banana republic.

"China has a huge amount of investment in the United States, mainly in the form of Treasury bonds. We are concerned about the security of our financial assets" was the way China's assistant finance minister put it. Briefing reporters at the US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue, he added, "We sincerely hope the US fiscal deficit will be reduced, year after year." Quite sincerely, one suspects, given a US budget shortfall this year that is slated to reach $1.85 trillion.

Suddenly, it was US officials who were promising deep reform to their disgraced economic system rather than demanding it from incompetent foreigners. President Barack Obama's economic team of Clinton-era holdovers, who a decade ago had hectored China on the virtues of fiscal responsibility, now were falling over themselves to reassure the Chinese that their $1.5 trillion stake in US government-issued securities is safe, and that they should buy more at this week's $200 billion Treasury auction. If they don't, we're in big trouble.

US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner promised to behave, saying the US is "committed to taking the necessary measures to bring our fiscal deficits down to a more sustainable level once recovery is firmly established." Now let's hope that the Chinese Communists and their natural allies among congressional deficit hawks will be able to keep him to his word.

And don't blame any of this on peacenik liberals. The new conciliatory--nay, deferential--tone toward China precedes the Obama administration, having begun in bilateral talks during the last years of the Bush administration as the US economy began its ignominious downfall. It was George W. Bush's treasury secretary, Henry Paulson, who set the course when the former Goldman Sachs chairman realized how dependent were his Wall Street buddies on Chinese goodwill.

But from all of this adversity may come something good: recognition that the United States is not the repository of all wisdom. Maybe the Chinese have found a model different from ours that also works? Might there not be an Arab, Latin or Indian one that also qualifies and need not be overthrown?

The tone of this week's talks, ironically held at the Reagan Building and co-chaired by Geithner and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, finally signaled the end of the cold war assumption that regimes with labels like communist and capitalist could not form profitable partnerships. On the contrary, as Secretary Clinton noted, it is time to move from "a multipolar world to a multipartner world." And President Obama in opening the conference made clear that the partnership between China and the US is decisive: "The relationship between the United States and China will shape the 21st century, which makes it as important as any bilateral relationship in the world."

Mark it as a historic Rip van Winkle moment. For those who recall the rhetoric of the cold war, the idea that we would someday be cooperating with Chinese Communists because they had humbled us economically rather than militarily is a startling turnabout. How did they get to be better capitalists than us, and being that they are good capitalists, why are we still spending hundreds of billions a year on high-tech military weapons to counter a potential Chinese military threat when the weapons they are using are all market-driven deployments?

A recognition that our tension with China is not military in nature came at this week's conference in an announcement by Adm. Timothy Keating, commander of the US Pacific Command, that agreement had been reached with his Chinese counterparts on improving relations: "A statement was made by a Chinese delegation official yesterday [Monday] that no country can develop sound policy if they try and do so in isolation. And I think that's a great way of addressing the sense that all of us feel, the desire, to get back together again and discuss exercises, discuss personnel exchanges, discuss responses to humanitarian assistance crises and the provision of disaster relief."

Not bad for a start, and maybe we can help solve our economic problems by selling our latest high-tech weapons to China as we do to the rest of the world. Or better yet, we could do some serious damage to our deficits, and our dependence on the Chinese, by sharply cutting expensive weapons programs now that the cold war is finally over.

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