The China Watchers
Keeping Americans Informed
Americans have been “watching” China for a very long time. In 1784, when the dust and debris of the American Revolution were barely settled, the United States sent its first flagged ship to China. It was the merchant ship Empress of China, bound from New York to the city of Canton. What prompted American interests was, of course, trade — the search for new markets, driven in part by the fact that the British had little interest in trading with their former colonies. China welcomed the Empress because the Americans were interested in buying things from China, while the Europeans only wanted to sell items to China.
In keeping with our traditions, trade also meant an opportunity for American ministers to save the barbarians from damnation. The first American missionaries went to China in the 1830s — and did so even when it was illegal to do so. We all know what rebels the Americans were back then, but it was the missionaries who first took an interest in Chinese culture, language, and history. These were the men (and some women) who helped shape America’s perceptions of Imperial China. As with the people of other lands, the Chinese saw the United States as a land of opportunity. Thousands of Chinese migrated to the United States; there may have never been a transcontinental railway without them.
Some Chinese leaders were so impressed by the United States’ political achievements that they became inspired — Sun Yat-sen, who borrowed the “Three Principles of the People” from President Lincoln’s belief in a government of, by, and for the people. Sun Yat-sen helped to overthrow the Qing Dynasty in 1911 and founded the Republic of China.
Thus, for most of the United States’ history, relations between Americans and Chinese were quite positive. When Japan and the European powers began to break up China into their spheres of influence, the United States argued that the whole was greater than the sum of its parts and, therefore, supported a united and independent China.
This belief was the genesis of America’s “Open Door” policy. In this condition, China would continue to welcome foreign trade but retain its unique form of government and cultural identity. The United States maintained adherence to this policy through the end of World War II — and it may have saved China from being gobbled up by competing European powers.
When Japan attempted to exploit China and expand its empire throughout East Asia in the 1930s, the United States stood in the way. Japan’s behavior prompted the United States to establish a credible naval fleet in the Pacific. American volunteer pilots served China against the Imperial Japanese Army as part of the famed “Flying Tigers” operations; it led President Roosevelt to provide war materials to China to defend themselves against the Japanese hordes.
Of course, by that time, Chinese communists and Chinese Nationalists were engaged in a great civil war, making Japan’s timing particularly keen. As a ploy to help unify Chinese efforts against the Japanese, Roosevelt provided war materials to both communists and nationalists in more-or-less equal measure. The communists accepted these gifts, of course, but rather than using them against the Japanese, stored them away in caves until they could be used against the Nationalists — which they did between 1945-49.
Of course, there were glitches along the way that caused some challenges to American diplomats, not the least of which was the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882 and then the unhappy episode with the Boxers in 1899. Nor could the United States have made a worse choice in its decision to back an absolute crook and tyrant in the form of Chiang Kai-shek.
The Chinese, or so it would appear, have long memories. When the communists defeated the Nationalists in 1949 (with US arms and ammunition — some of which was used against US troops during the Korean War), China and the United States stopped talking to one another for over twenty years.
In fact, following the Korean War, which poised the US/UN against China as much as North Korea and the Soviet Union, paranoia led the Chinese to manipulate the United States into the Viet Nam War. If the Americans were kept busy in Southeast Asia, there would be no cause for alarm in Northeast Asia. The United States (then controlled by Democrats) naturally fell into that trap without much cajoling.
President Nixon re-opened Sino-American relations n 1972; China was receptive because, at that time, the Soviet Union posed a real threat to Chinese sovereignty along their shared border. Following Mao, Deng Xiaoping wanted closer economic ties to the United States but was determined to retain a communist state.
In its post-Imperial state, a communist state was the best method of controlling a billion people. When the Chinese government killed protestors at Tiananmen Square in 1989, the United States feigned shock and dismay — Americans have been destroying their protestors since around the 1850s. The Chinese no doubt looked at this as “goose/gander.”
Today, China and the United States have a robust trade relationship — but neither side trusts the other, and has not since 1949. Now enters stage left the China Watchers, who tells us all we need to know about China.
During the Cold War, China Watchers assembled in Hong Kong, where they had a bird’s eye view. Some of these watchers worked for Western intelligence agencies, universities, and news agencies. If journalists, British government censors previewed reports to prepare for potential diplomatic fallout from publication.
Most China Watchers were Americans — who had limited access to Chinese government officials, press briefings, and interviews. So what these American China Watchers would do is parse government announcements for hidden meanings, keep track of Chinese officials’ movements reported in press agencies, and analyze photographs taken of public appearances. China Watchers would also interview refugees or copy the analyses written by others in Taiwan or the Soviet Union — which some folks would call plagiarism. Well, it wasn’t entirely their fault because none of them could speak Chinese.
Despite all these factors, the China Watchers continue to keep us advised of events in China. Some of them publish exhaustive papers about China, but these are mostly the academicians, who mostly prepare documents because it advances their academic status. Most of them appear live on CNN or some other propaganda arm of the Democratic Party.
They spend a few moments of precious air time to regale us with their in-depth knowledge, their warnings about the strength or fallacy of U. S. policy, and of course — for no extra charge; they offer us their dire predictions.
Does anyone pay attention? I mean, does anyone who matters pay attention? I think not. Our geniuses in the State Department do not require the assistance of China Experts; members of Congress do not, for they are already in the back pocket of Chinese officials (the movers and shakers of Beijing), no one in the economic sector requires the expertise of the China gurus … for they already have the answers (which is that national debt doesn’t matter). Actually —and this is merely an opinion— the morons on the Weather Channel have greater credibility than the China Experts. For example:
- In the 1950’s we were blessed with A. Doak Barnett, who styled himself a Pekingologist, which, insofar as I can tell, is two steps below a garbologist — and a Jesuit Priest named Le Dany, who circulated the China News Analysis to 48 countries around the world. Experts … both.
- Michael Pillsbury, a Rand Corporation analyst, called for closer ties with China during the Cold War. Of course, Michael also encouraged Reagan to arm Afghanistan’s Mujahedeen. A real genius.
- Min-xin Pei, a professor at Claremont McKenna College, was convinced that China’s adherence to communism would stifle the Chinese economy. Prescient.
- Susan Thornton … a former Under-Secretary of State who speaks fluent Russian and Mandarin Chinese, retired in 2018 because Sen. Marco Rubio publicly stated that he could guarantee Thornton would never be confirmed as a permanent appointee. Rubio claimed she was too soft on China. The China experts proclaimed that Thornton was steady and effective in matters relating to China.
- Elizabeth Economy (no, really) was a prominent voice on China policy … because she wrote a book predicting that China’s global economic dominance was much overblown. She was wrong in 2014, and she’s probably wrong now, as well.
- Henry Kissinger created the Institute for China at the Wilson Center. I guess enough has been said about that.
Gordon G. Chang, of the New Jersey Chang’s, is one of our more recent China experts. He’s been kind enough to warn us about Chinese spying at our colleges and universities, China’s interest in American technology, the pending collapse of China, and China’s conspiring with North Korea against Japan’s interests.
Of course, unless we’ve been in the time-out corner for the past 40 years, we know this stuff already. We should probably expect our adversaries to spy on us — Israel does, and we pay them $40 billion a year for their friendship. No, the question should be why the FBI allows them to get away with it. Is it to prove that we’re more tolerant than they are? I think the Chinese are being silly. They could save a lot of Yuan by not spying on the United States — members of Congress and White House staff will tell them what they want to know for next to nothing — a small donation here, a small donation there.
Mr. Chang even went so far as to lay responsibility for Covid-19 at China’s doorstep. That was a hell of an exposé — and gutsy. The American press responded to this revelation with gusto — by attacking anyone who used the words Wu Flu — even as American seniors were dropping like flies in a French pasture.
President Joe, meanwhile, wants us to know that China is our friend. You know, like the neighborhood cop who always begins a conversation by warning us of our Constitutional rights. We know China is our friend, not by their words, but by their actions — such as infiltrating Central and South America, funding massive projects in Africa, garnering influence with Moslem countries who want Americans dead, providing support to North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, and stealing General Motors.
I would have mentioned that the Chinese also obtained our top-secret undersea technology and copied the F-35 from stolen blueprints, but then I’d have to say that they obtained those technologies from Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, and I don’t want to besmirch anyone’s character.
Meanwhile, or so I’m told by my many contacts in Chinese fast-food restaurants, the Chinese government is laughing itself silly on an almost daily basis since early November. And I have to say that were it not for Mr. Chang’s predictions, and I would never have stocked up on Chinese Noodles that only require the addition of hot water to activate the powdered cyanide. So, I owe him for that.
Mustang also blogs at Fix Bayonets and Thoughts From Afar