The Neocons on China

The predictable Weekly Standard weighs in this week on the question of trade with China. It’s not hard to guess where the cheerleaders for the warfare state come down. Writing on the main editorial page, William Kristol and Robert Kagan call for Congress to reject Permanent Normal Trade Relations with China. In Marxian style, they demonize all supporters of the PNTR as whores turning tricks in exchange for corporate contributions.

Might there be any solid reason for the US to have normal trade relations with the world’s most populous country, an ancient, high civilization that has set a record in our time for economic reform and growth? It comes down to two words: peace and prosperity. Trade with China is integral to achieving both. The warmongers must not be permitted to rob us of this opportunity.

So long as we are talking about motives, could it be that the neoconservatives, eternally nostalgic for the days of "national greatness" when the world lived in fear of nuclear holocaust, see China as the last hope for reviving the Cold War? Could be, given that the Weekly Standard has never encountered a war for which it couldn’t compose months of apocalyptic drum cadences. Our national survival is at stake in our dealings with Iraq, Serbia, and now China. We’d better escalate hostilities now, or say goodbye to everything we are as a people and nation.

Evidence that this crew still longs for the Cold War comes in the last chilling paragraph of the editorial. "Republicans with long memories may recall the Contra aid debates of the 1980s." Well, yes, and some may recall the "missile gap" too, but what has this got to do with the price of eggs in China?

The reason Nicaragua supposedly mattered back then was because of the life and death struggle with the sworn enemy, Moscow. The Sandinistas were regarded as a proxy for World Communism. In those days, China was considered to be our ally, a counterweight to Soviet global influence.

In classical Orwellian fashion, however, every new historical epoch requires a reshuffling of friends and enemies, and hence Russia was a friend in the Second World War only to become the mortal enemy after the war ended. China was a friend during World War II, then an enemy, then a friend again. But ten years after the Soviet Union dissolved, we are supposed to regard Beijing as the center of the new global conspiracy-another "communist" conspiracy no less. And this time those commies are so sneaky that they’ve lowered the marginal tax rate below US levels!

China wants to buy and sell more goods. The more we do so, the more we further China’s stunning capitalist economic revolution, and benefit ourselves. Are we really supposed to treat China today as the GOP treated Nicaragua back then? Recall that the goal of the Kristol crowd in those days was a military invasion of Nicaragua. The conflict in that tiny country ended when the Sandinistas held an election, lost, and left office.

The Weekly Standard’s editorial is a good reminder that as much as the neocons have shaped themselves up on some domestic issues — they can be reliable on racial and sexual politics and even on many economic questions — when it comes to international politics, it’s all war, all the time. It’s also a reminder that there are times when the corporate establishment and the "money power" are sounder on issues of war and peace than the neocons.

To be plausible, a campaign for war must have something of an underlying rationale. That simply doesn’t exist in the case of China. As an experiment, consider how many wonderful goods are made in China that would be much more expensive if they were made in the US (a big if). Every kind of consumer good you can imagine, from toys to dishes to violins to books, are made beautifully and cheaply in China. Trade has made us all better off, and more trade can only improve the standards of living in both countries.

Of course there are disgruntled union workers who hope to exploit war fever to boost their wages at the expense of American consumers. These are the folks for whom all the anti-Chinese protectionists are fronting in one way or another. Their target is the desire of American consumers to buy quality products at cheap prices. What they want are tariffs, which is to say taxes, on imports from countries that threaten their monopoly position.

Why doesn’t the anti-China crowd just come out and admit it? Instead, they hold up a dozen and a half other reasons why trade with China ought to be (at best) a yearly contingency instead of a normal part of international affairs. Any excuse flies: human rights (which aren’t consistently respected in the US), nuclear proliferation (can we talk about the Middle East?), communism (wake up, fellas, to the new China), religious freedom (non-existent in allied countries like Saudi Arabia), and much more.

Joe Sobran once said about war with Iraq: if the war party had one good reason for war, it wouldn’t have to offer ten weak ones. The bottom-line reason why there is any controversy about trade with China comes down to the desire to protect domestic special interests against competition.

Wasn’t this the same group that found Buchanan’s protectionism against Mexico to be morally unconscionable? Yet they don’t flinch at calling for permanent trade war against the world’s fastest reforming and most populous country. And speaking of Buchanan, if he wants to be an antiwar candidate, to say nothing of an anti-sanctions candidate, he needs to defect from war party’s party line on China. As it is, he is whooping it up with the worst of them.

The rule that should govern relations with China is simple: In line with the framers, trade relations with all countries ought to be permanently normal.

And there should never be any new taxes on foreign goods. To be against free trade with China, or any other country, is to support an aggressive foreign policy that robs Americans and increases hostility abroad. We’ve had enough of both.

Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr., is president of the Ludwig von Mises Institute in Auburn, Alabama. He also edits a daily news site,