Writer: Shyam Rajan, Sociology major
Recent media attention has spotlighted President Donald Trump’s relationship with the North Korean and Russian post-communist nations. However, relations with the similarly oriented People’s Republic of China have been important since at least the presidency of fellow Republican Richard Nixon, who was the first American president to visit the country in 1972. And don’t forestall attention from how often it is that an American consumer good carries a label indicating that it was “Made in China;” in fact, as of 2015, almost 22 percent of US imports were of Chinese origin. Still, Chinese brands are rarely identified by the average American. More often than not, the eye of the American observes brands of Japanese or South Korean origin, like Sony or LG, not limited to but often associated with the technological innovation that has come bundled with the dawn of the information age. Regardless, American fascination with China is peculiar, but never explicit. The media has highlighted the political, economical and militaristic nature of the relationship between the two, placing the People’s Republic of China on a list of allied competitors toward whom foreign policy will direct future relationships. Rather, the Republican platform sustains an ideology that is eerily similar to that of the Chinese, and the nature of this odd imitation reflects nothing more than flattery.
The new $60 billion tariff proposed by President Trump on Chinese imports is the latest manifestation of this mimicry. Of its many purposes is the resurrection of American manufacturing, which has largely been replaced by foreign firms with a competitive advantage. President Trump has promised to bring manufacturing back to the US, even when faced with similar goods more cheaply produced overseas. Instead of focusing on service sector employment, the sector that would theoretically grow considering the effects of globalization, the emphasis on manufacturing is a blow to free trade agreements, of which President Trump has already expressed his disdain.
President Trump’s obsession with manufacturing resonates with the American blue-collar worker but underneath there is something more unusual. Emphasis on American manufacturing is counter to capitalist sentiments that would undoubtedly foster the growth of the service sector. To ensure the growing presence of domestic manufacturing, Trump has attempted to subsidize the sector much like the Chinese have.
The emphasis on domestic manufacturing is counterintuitive to traditional economics. If the United States were to follow a laissez-faire policy, they would not attempt to resurrect manufacturing, a dying industry with an advantage elsewhere. Although manufacturing was the core industry of our nation in the years following the Industrial Revolution, the invisible hand has directed our economy in a different direction, from manufacturing into service as wealth and GDP continue to increase. Over the past few decades, China has cemented manufacturing as its core industry, but today, the industry has begun to show some signs of weakening. The process that had affected the United States is now beginning to affect China. This is being combated by federal policy, and the implementation of policies that foster domestic manufacturing seem to have their roots in an anachronistic time when the factory was the nucleus of the economy.
Another item on the Republican agenda is reminiscent of the Chinese — the wall. For those who do not know, the construction of a wall along the Southern border between the United States and Mexico has been on the Republican agenda since at least the presidency of George W. Bush over a decade ago. China has had a wall since before the birth of Christ. Many know it as the Great Wall of China, an ancient series of fortifications which served to control immigration and trade, a function reminiscent of the call for an American counterpart. The function of the American-Mexican wall is more symbolic than practical. Although it appears to be a manifestation of the illegal immigration crisis, alternative solutions to this growing problem are many. The recurrent thread is a border wall, a wall that can compare with that of China, a traditionally isolationist country. Isolationism isn’t new to the United States either, for it was their main stance toward foreign policy until the middle of World War II. President Trump has attempted to invoke isolationist rhetoric founded on military retreat, subsidized manufacturing, populist trade programs and silence on environmentalism — all features of the People’s Republic of China.
Finally, a perplexing issue has arisen stateside — a national opioid crisis. Remember that in the nineteenth century, China was subject to two Opium Wars initiated by the British regarding trade disputes, which led to the establishment of spheres of influence operated by a number of different nations. China was divided amongst these foreign nations as if they were unwanted immigrants who had invited themselves into the isolationist kingdom. The focus on an opioid crisis may hint to a war in the future, and one of economic importance. This may not be out of the ordinary considering the centrality of war to the Republican platform. As the Trump administration has increasingly focused on immigration issues, concurrent with an opioid crisis, they seek to demolish the drugs and the demographics that led to the Chinese open door policy, the trade agreement resulting from a decade of war. It is both the risk of being dominated by foreign economies and that of drug addiction as a symbol of crime that draw parallels to Chinese history. Although the stereotypical image of the opium-smoking Chinese person has faded, the parallels between Chinese and modern American policy are apparent, and if nothing else, an homage to their persistence since long before the day the United States was born.