Put economy over politics
The visit by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden to China, meant to introduce Washington to the next Chinese leader Xi Jinping ― who will visit the U.S. in a few months ― went relatively well and shows that both countries want to maintain stable relations at a time when the West is going through an acute financial crisis and China's rise appears to be accelerating.
Self-restraint on both sides is evident. Beijing, while clearly unhappy about President Barack Obama's recent meeting with the Dalaia Lama, did not go beyond rhetoric. And the United States will soon announce a rejection of Taiwan's request for advanced F-16 jet fighters ― a sale that would likely incense China.
The main issue during the Biden visit, which took place after the White House and Congress reached a last-minute agreement to raise the debt ceiling, was the state of the U.S. economy and the implications of the first-time loss by the U.S. of its triple-A credit rating.
During his visit, the American official repeatedly assured the Chinese that the United States "has never defaulted and will never default," in an attempt to reassure China that its American investments are safe.
After the visit, the vice president told the press corps traveling with him that Chinese leaders did not need reassurance about the way Washington was handling the economy and had not expressed concern about the downgrading of its credit rating.
"I didn't get any sense that there was any anxiety on the part of the Chinese government about whether or not we were a rising or declining economic power," he said. "So it wasn't like, `Is my investment OK?’”
But while his Chinese hosts may have treated their guest courteously, their real sentiments, as expressed in the official Chinese media, were evident.
Thus, the day after Standard and Poor's announcement of the historic downgrade, the official Xinhua news agency asserted that “the U.S. must address its chronic debt problems,” adding that “the days when the debt-ridden Uncle Sam could leisurely squander unlimited overseas borrowing appeared to be numbered.”
It added sternly: “China, the largest creditor of the world's sole superpower, has every right now to demand the United States to address its structural debt problems and ensure the safety of China's dollar assets.”
Indeed, the Chinese have gone so far as to call for the printing of U.S. dollars to be supervised internationally.
The Chinese sentiments are understandable. The U.S. has avoided bankruptcy by a hair's breadth but the threat of insolvency remains real.
And American politicians, by their squabbling, are giving democracy a bad name. Politicians, instead of working together to extricate the country from its dire problems, are focused on their own short-term gains.
Thus, the China Daily said: “The debt crisis has exposed the defects rather than the advantages of America's tit for tat democratic system.”
“Such a political system," it said, “has been regarded by some as the most advanced form of governance in human history, but it has been inefficient and powerless in the face of the problems the U.S. is facing now.”
The Chinese have called for common-sense measures, such as substantial cuts to "the U.S. gigantic military expenditure and bloated social welfare costs," warning that otherwise there would be further credit rating cuts that would further roil the global financial markets.
Hopefully, American politicians will come to the same conclusion. It is simply irrational for the U.S. to have launched wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and, at the same time, reduced the government's income by cutting rather than raising taxes.
The Iraq war was especially reprehensible. Saddam Hussein was not involved in the 9/11 attacks on the United States and did not support al-Qaida. However, his toppling by American troops means that now, al-Qaida is active in the country. The fall of Saddam has also strengthened Iran.
Now, after many thousands of war dead and the expenditure of hundreds of billions of dollars, the U.S. must extricate itself from the hole into which it has dug itself. Drastic cuts, especially in the military budget, are unavoidable and can actually be done with little or no effect on national security.
The Chinese have risen so rapidly over the last three decades because as a people they had been imbued with a sense of national revival after an eclipse of a century and a half. It is time for Americans, too, to reanimate their country and to put economic revitalization above political squables.
Frank Ching is a journalist and commentator based in Hong Kong. Email the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @FrankChing1.