During an online address at a prominent American think-tank earlier this month, Chas Freeman, a veteran US diplomat and writer on international diplomacy, urged a serious rethinking of Washington’s approach toward China.
Freeman’s career includes postings as US ambassador to Saudi Arabia during the Persian Gulf war and, immediately relevant to his February 11 talk, the principal interpreter for US President Richard Nixon on his 1972 trip to China that paved the way for normalization of relations between Beijing and Washington. He is also the lifetime director of the Atlantic Council, one of the preeminent Washington foreign policy think-tanks.
Under former-US President Donald Trump, the US opened an ideological and economic broadside against China, accusing it of everything from manipulating the value of its currency to stealing Western trade secrets, putting secret “backdoors” in its tech products, illegally expanding its hold on islands in the South China Sea, and abusing human rights in Hong Kong and Xinjiang. Under US President Biden, those efforts are likely to continue and worsen, with Biden’s would-be trade representative promising a “tough on China” approach that includes tariffs and his picks to head the CIA and State Department promising to ready the US for a long-haul struggle.
Calling the four years of Trump’s leadership “the most bizarre presidency in our history,” Freeman noted that the US and China began 2021 in very different ways. China, having defeated the COVID-19 pandemic early-on and standing amid titanic changes such as lifting 850 million people out of extreme poverty in just a few decades, is enjoying high morale and confidence in its market-socialist system. “China is focused on the future,” he said.
Just six days into 2021, the sitting president attempted to usurp the power of Congress and void an election he had lost, while lawmakers struggle through perpetual deadlock to address even the most basic issues. Meanwhile, more than 100 times the number of Americans have died of COVID-19 than have Chinese people, and the contradictory “K-shaped recovery” of a booming stock market and dramatically expanding poverty make a mockery of the term “recovery.”
On Thursday, Chinese President Xi Jinping declared “complete victory” in eradicating extreme poverty in the country, calling the lifting of 850 million people out of destitution an “unprecedented accomplishment” among nations.
The announcement comes ahead of an anticipated announcement of another achievement: the building of China into a “moderately prosperous society,” which Xi set as a goal by 2021. The achievement is just a marker in a much larger effort to bring China up to speed with the developed world by 2049, the centennial of its socialist revolution.