The Origins of Washington’s Anti-China Narrative

I know that it's "so 2016" but do you remember poor old John Podesta?  His unsecured email was the target of hackers who managed to download thousands of documents that provided American voters with a private view of Hillary Clinton and her 2016 run for the Oval Office.  Among those documents was a key report which outlined "Speech Flags" from various speeches that Ms. Clinton gave as shown here:

It was the content of some of these speeches that was worrisome to Clinton's campaign team because the content of the speeches showed her unvarnished opinions on key issues, particularly her views on China.

While we are all prone to forgetting history, it was during the Obama Administration that the "Pivot to Asia" began.  Here are some key quotes from a speech given by President Obama to the Australian Parliament on November 17, 2011:

"For the United States, this reflects a broader shift.  After a decade in which we fought two wars that cost us dearly, in blood and treasure, the United States is turning our attention to the vast potential of the Asia Pacific region….

Our new focus on this region reflects a fundamental truth — the United States has been, and always will be, a Pacific nation. Asian immigrants helped build America, and millions of American families, including my own, cherish our ties to this region.  From the bombing of Darwin to the liberation of Pacific islands, from the rice paddies of Southeast Asia to a cold Korean Peninsula, generations of Americans have served here, and died here — so democracies could take root; so economic miracles could lift hundreds of millions to prosperity.  Americans have bled with you for this progress, and we will not allow it — we will never allow it to be reversed.

Here, we see the future.  As the world’s fastest-growing region — and home to more than half the global economy — the Asia Pacific is critical to achieving my highest priority, and that's creating jobs and opportunity for the American people.  With most of the world’s nuclear power and some half of humanity, Asia will largely define whether the century ahead will be marked by conflict or cooperation, needless suffering or human progress. 

As President, I have, therefore, made a deliberate and strategic decision — as a Pacific nation, the United States will play a larger and long-term role in shaping this region and its future, by upholding core principles and in close partnership with our allies and friends.

Let me tell you what this means.  First, we seek security, which is the foundation of peace and prosperity.  We stand for an international order in which the rights and responsibilities of all nations and all people are upheld.  Where international law and norms are enforced.  Where commerce and freedom of navigation are not impeded.  Where emerging powers contribute to regional security, and where disagreements are resolved peacefully.  That's the future that we seek." (my bolds)

It is also important to keep in mind that it was the Obama Administration that spearheaded the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), a trade and investment agreement that China was deliberately excluded from.  The entire point of the TPP was to bring the signatories of the agreement into the American trade empire and reduce their dependence on trade with China.

Now, let's look at one of the earliest quotes regarding Washington's "pivot to Asia" from a speech given by Hillary Clinton at the ASEAN Summit on July 23, 2010:

"The United States, like every nation, has a national interest in freedom of navigation, open access to Asia’s maritime commons, and respect for international law in the South China Sea. We share these interests not only with ASEAN members or ASEAN Regional Forum participants, but with other maritime nations and the broader international community.

The United States supports a collaborative diplomatic process by all claimants for resolving the various territorial disputes without coercion. We oppose the use or threat of force by any claimant. While the United States does not take sides on the competing territorial disputes over land features in the South China Sea, we believe claimants should pursue their territorial claims and accompanying rights to maritime space in accordance with the UN convention on the law of the sea. Consistent with customary international law, legitimate claims to maritime space in the South China Sea should be derived solely from legitimate claims to land features. 

The U.S. supports the 2002 ASEAN-China declaration on the conduct of parties in the South China Sea. We encourage the parties to reach agreement on a full code of conduct. The U.S. is prepared to facilitate initiatives and confidence building measures consistent with the declaration. Because it is in the interest of all claimants and the broader international community for unimpeded commerce to proceed under lawful conditions. Respect for the interests of the international community and responsible efforts to address these unresolved claims and help create the conditions for resolution of the disputes and a lowering of regional tensions." (my bolds)

Let's move forward in time.  Here's a key quote from an exchange between Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs, and Hillary Clinton at the Goldman Sachs 2013 IBD CEO Annual Conference in South Carolina on June 4, 2013:

"The biggest supporters of a provocative North Korea has been the PLA (China’s People’s Liberation Army). The deep connections between the military leadership in China and in North Korea has really been the mainstay of the relationship…

You know, we all have told the Chinese if they (North Korea) continue to develop this missile program and they get an ICBM that has the capacity to carry a small nuclear weapon on it, which is what they’re aiming to do, we cannot abide that.  Because they could not only do damage to our treaty allies, namely Japan and South Korea, but they could actually reach Hawaii and the west coast theoretically, and we're going to ring China with missile defense.  We’re going to put more of our fleet in the area.  So China, come on.  You either control them or we’re going to have to defend against them." (my bold)

Now, let's look at quotes from a speech given by Hillary Clinton at the Goldman Sachs Builders and Innovators Summit on October 29, 2013 taken from the aforementioned document:

"48 percent of the world’s trade, obviously that includes energy but includes everything else, goes through the South China Sea.  Some of you may have seen the long article in the New York Times Magazine on the South China Sea this past weekend, an issue that I worked on for the entire time was in the State Department because China basically wants to control it.  You can’t hold that against them.  They have the right to assert themselves.  But if nobody’s there to push back to create a balance, then they’re going to have a chokehold on the sea lanes and also on the countries that border the South China Sea…

I think that—you know, one of the greatest arguments that I had on a continuing basis was with my Chinese counterparts about their claim.  And I made the point at one point in the argument that, you know, you can call it whatever you want to call it.  You don’t have a claim to all of it.  I said, by that argument, you know, the United States should claim all of the Pacific.  We liberated it, we defended it.  We have as much claim to all of the Pacific.  And we could call it the American Sea, and it could go from the West Coast of California all the way to the Philippines.  And, you know, my counterpart sat up very straight and goes, well, you can’t do that.  And I said, well, we have as much right to claim that as you do.  I mean, you claim it based on pottery shards from, you know, some fishing vessel that ran aground in an atoll somewhere.  You know, we had conveys of military strength.  We discovered Japan for Heaven sakes.  I mean, we did all of these things." (my bolds)

Here is an exchange between Clinton and a male attendee of the Summit:

"MALE ATTENDEE:  Madam Secretary, what is the most important competitive advantage that you think the U.S. will keep as compared to a country like China?                

SECRETARY CLINTON:  Freedom.  I think freedom.  Freedom of the mind, freedom of movement, freedom of debate, freedom of innovation.  You know, I just—I don’t think we fully value—we sometimes take it for granted, and we sometimes even dismiss it, how much stronger we are.  Because in addition to that individual freedom that we have in great abundance compared to China, for example, we do have checks and balances.  We have constitutional order.  We have protection of intellectual property, we have a court system that we use for that purpose.  We have a lot of assets that support the free thinking and free acting of individuals.  And in the long run, that’s what I would place my bet on.  I think that is what gives us such a competitive advantage." (my bold)

While on the surface it may appear that the Trump Administration has been the driver of the anti-China rhetoric that has become pervasive in Washington, in fact, Washington's anti-China narrative has been in place for nearly a decade and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was a key player in the Obama Administration's "pivot to a China-free future".  If we think that Washington's relationship with China is in poor shape now, God only knows what would have happened to the relationship between the United States and China had Hillary Clinton been in the Oval Office for the past 4 years.

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