China Throws an Economic Spear at the Monroe Doctrine

Article excerpt

A CENTURY AGO, U.S. POLICY PLANNERS looked to a then weak and divided China as the answer to the country's future trade and economic problems. Anxious exporters implored President William McKinley to take action, because "the Chinese market rightfully belongs to us," as a member of the Riverside, New York Republican Club told Secretary of State William Hay. This low-wage labour source and vast potential market to the east would also supposedly solve the periodic depression problem, which, in 1893, shook the country's economic structure and motivated the elite to think about how expansion eastward would resolve that issue.

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Wrote historian Thomas McCormick, "America's leadership made a conscious, purposeful, integrated effort to solve the economic crisis at home by promoting the national interest abroad." It did so "by using America's most potent weapon, economic supremacy, to begin the open door conquest of the China market."

Indeed, in 1898, President William McKinley seized the Philippines, because they made the ideal jumping-off base for future China excursions. The U.S. kept its naval base there for 100 years, when technology no longer required refueling stops. "East Asia is the prize for which all nations are grasping," wrote Brooks Adams, John Quincy Adams' grandson.

In 2005, the weak and vulnerable "prize" that feuding Europeans had carved up for imperial aspirations at the end of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries now blankets all continents with its goods--and its capital. As the "Made in China" label has become ubiquitous in U.S. department stores and on the wings of commercial airplanes, Chinese investors have also bought hundreds of billions in U.S. paper. Perhaps, some far-sighted Chinese planner back then thought that the United States would be China's "prize"!

Indeed, in early March, a U.S. embassy official confided to a visiting businessman that he believed Chinese leaders viewed the United States as a declining superpower whose time had passed. In the future, the U.S. will be forced to share world power with other powerful nations, including China. To demonstrate how China's strategic position has changed in the last two decades, the embassy official explained that China has not only captured the U.S.'s consumer market, but has invaded its traditional Latin American sphere of influence, as well.

Mr. Hu Goes to Buenos Aires

He referred to two high-level visits. In November, 2004, Chinese president Hu Jintao signed 39 commercial agreements with five Latin American nations. Chinese investments in Argentina alone totaled some $20 billion. He then made an investment trip to the Caribbean, as well. In January and February of this year, Chinese vice president Zeng Qinghong followed his boss's visit with his own entourage of officials and top business executives. During these two aggressive trips to pursue investment in strategic areas, China stepped onto potentially contentious turf when it signed an accord with Venezuela's president, Hugo Chavez, for future Venezuelan oil-and-gas exploration. Zeng also offered Venezuela a $700-million credit line for new housing construction to help reduce Venezuelan poverty, ignoring U.S. whining over Chavez's "authoritarianism." Chavez, who has won three free and fair elections in the last six years, gets stuck with the "authoritarian" label, while his pro-U.S. opponents who staged the 2002 military coup, merit the "democratic" badge.

But Beijing's real poke in Washington's mostly blind eye came with the announcement that it would give credits to Cuba. In the globalization era, Cuba remains the exception to all rules. The Bush Administration's Latin America policy targets the "containment" of Chavez and the "punishing" of Fidel Castro, who holds the Guinness World Record for "Most Years of Disobedience." Inside sources in Cuba insist that, despite 46-plus years of castigation, Fidel has yet to miss a meal or a conjugal opportunity. …