After what seems like a long hiatus, "That's So Jane's" returns to give your brain a rest from the esoteric topics it just pondered during Midweek Madness. In honor of the anniversary of the Chinese Communist party and Lagerfeld's Great Wall show, we decided to talk about China, thinking maybe Moe's dad would help us out here, but it turns out Moe's mom blocked this site from his computer and he doesn't believe it actually exists and seriously NO ONE ELSE would do it. Luckily for us, Wonkette's Anonymous Lobbyist asked the one person she was completely sure would not agree to an interview, Charles Freeman, a former Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for China and current 'Real World' watcher/ holder of the Freeman Chair in China Studies at the Center for Strategic & International Studies.
Q: So, like, what's the big deal about China? They're still Communist, right? Because everyone knows Communists can't take over the world, you totally have to be a democracy to do that.
A: Well, yes, the Chinese are Communists. But even Chinese President Hu Jintao says their goal is democracy. At the Communist Party Congress last Monday he said the government had to "act in accordance with the overall requirement of democracy and the rule of law, fairness and justice." Like you say, democracy is an inherently preferable system of government to theirs, so I guess when they're a democracy we should really worry. In the meantime, for Communists, they know how to Party!
Q: Um, we should say so, from the looks of this guy! Wait, so, they're trying to be a democracy, too? Does that mean they really are trying to take over the world? Or are people just trying to scare us it because they think we need a frenemy?
A: We're worried about China because they're strangers, because their scale is so big, and because they are a convenient foil for problems that are more like our own. They're easy targets. But that's only part of it. They're also self-interested - and they're interests aren't always aligned with ours. Ultimately, they're doing some things pretty well these days in areas that we used to dominate, and that can be pretty scary.
And I like the Stephen Colbert reference, but remember: Sarcastic Patriotism is the last refuge of the Defeatist Scoundrel. He's played.
Q: Ooh, nice catch. So, is it like Colbert says? Are they really going around to governments we don't like and making friends with them to get stuff we would want once we ousted those governments? That's so back-stabby. Is all of world politics some shitty MTV reality show?
A: No, not at all. Well, except for that episode on Real World Key West, remember? You know, when everybody goes out to dinner with Zach's parents and ditches Jose at the gym? Like that. We're like Jose. China is completely ditching us at the gym.
Seriously, China is engaged in a mild soft power competition with us in Africa and parts of Asia, and is openly consorting with regimes in Sudan and Iran that are flaunting international conventions. There are real challenges here. Whether or not they present a direct military challenge at this point is a separate question entirely.
Q: Well, let's get to that. I hear that they have nukes, too? Does everyone have nukes these days? It's like when Anna Sui makes something, and then Forever 21 copies it, making it immediately no longer cool. Is that why Obama wants to get rid of ours now- because he's just trying to stay ahead of the fashion curve?
A: It's good to have goals. I'm hoping to lose 5 pounds by Thanksgiving- something doable.
Q: That's not a bad goal! You definitely want to avoid body image issues. But, speaking of knock-offs, it seems like a whole bunch of people have a stick up their collective butts about bad stuff coming from China. But, hasn't China been shipping crappy knock-offs to various street corners for decades? Why did everyone start thinking that that stuff was good?
A: This is really serious stuff. Actually, Chinese people have been buying the dregs of the export market for years - the crappy stuff that wasn't even good enough to be a crappy knock-off - and getting sick and dying for years. All of a sudden the nasty stuff bleeds into the export market and foreigners begin to complain and it becomes an issue. It's really important that we get this right, but the roots of this issue have a lot more to do with the way the Chinese economy opened up to the outside world, the pressures it caused on manufacturers, the lack of oversight in China and the fact that China just doesn't have the capacity to manage this stuff than the notion that China is trying to screw the U.S. consumer. If we were smart we'd realize that we have a duty and an opportunity to make food and products safer for not just Americans, but for the poor Chinese schnooks who haven't had a voice for the past 20 years and have had to eat and use all this crap for that whole time.
In any case, we're at a point now where China is a key node in the supply chain. We need to get this right because China is here to stay. Can't turn the clocks back on globalization.
Q: Tell that to Dov Charney! But okay, speaking of turning the clocks back, I read recently that all these washed-up U.S. politicians-cum-lobbyists are treated like gods in China, or at least as well as Posh a in Paris. Is this the Chinese equivalent of getting Tara Reid to host your party?
A: There's an old Chinese custom of getting your enemy drunk and ride him out of town before he has a chance to negotiate for your surrender. A lot of U.S. politicians travel to Beijing these days to weigh in against Chinese trade practices or the value of the Chinese yuan. Paradoxically, one of the few affordable places you can travel these days outside of the U.S. is China, because the Yuan is still pretty cheap. Chinese are good hosts, even if the messaging they get from their guests isn't always welcome. And they get a chance to state their cases as well.
Q: Wait, so, in addition to taking over a lot of U.S. manufacturing jobs, now they want our lobbyists, too? Should I be worried?
A: I hear the Ethics rules don't apply to foreign governments. Maybe.
Q: Ooh, well, that's interesting, at least. I mean in the end, sometimes it seems (unsurpringly) like they don't really respect us. Is there something we can do about that, or do we just have to stop complaining and learn to accept our increasing irrelevance, sort of like how Kid Rock needs to start coping with the ascendancy of Rick Salomon?
A: Oh, they respect us. Kind of in the same way Native Americans respected the buffalo before slaughtering it. No, the interaction of the U.S. and Chinese economies is dynamic and changing and highly positive, in the main. It's easy to focus on the negative, but the overwhelming experience has been good for both sides.