Xi Jinping must love how much he scares US lawmakers

Fearmongering about China already seems to occupy nearly every congressional hearing room in Washington these days, which ultimately plays into the hands of a Communist Party propaganda department that loves to show how much China scares US policymakers.

(Originally published here in the South China Morning Post on May 10, 2023.)

Why do Biden administration officials think Republicans would be moved by the argument that China and Russia would seek to exploit a US government debt default?

Senior White House economics official Shalanda Young said last Thursday that the debt ceiling was “no less than a test of what works in this world. Does democracy still work, or does the Chinese way work?”

At around the same time over on Capitol Hill, US Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines told the Senate Armed Services Committee that it is “almost a certainty” that both China and Russia would use the default for propaganda purposes through “information operations”.

That the Chinese government would exploit a US debt default to further efforts to widen the use of the yuan in bilateral trade settlements – and cast the political antics that caused it into a larger narrative of the fundamental weakness of Western democracy – is as obvious as black hair dye at Beijing’s National People’s Congress.

For Haines to issue the warning makes sense. It’s her job to sound the alarm. But for Biden officials to do so from the White House podium, as Young did, continues the administration’s unfortunate tendency to trot out the Beijing bogeyman to advance its objectives.

We saw this tactic throughout 2021 when officials berated lawmakers against legislation that eventually became the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The argument should have been strictly about American needs and not what China was up to, especially considering that infrastructure projects in the country are not always about what makes sense from market or environmental perspectives.

Fearmongering about China already seems to occupy nearly every congressional hearing room in Washington these days, which ultimately plays into the hands of a Communist Party propaganda department that loves to show how much China scares US policymakers. If Biden administration officials put the China threat at the top of every talking point, they will negate the impact of this factor when it’s most important.

More importantly, the Biden administration needs to understand that those most hostile to its policies – the MAGA Republicans, who have all but abandoned their party’s laissez-faire, pro-business orthodoxy in favour of a culture war – will not care how effectively Beijing or Moscow uses the looming default to advance their geostrategic goals.

China already floods its tightly controlled media with all manner of American flaws. Mass murder – which could be confused for the new favourite US pastime – is featured regularly in the narratives that Chinese media deliver to audiences domestic and worldwide.

As American carnage in the past few days alone has shown, deadly shootings have become so rampant that the stars on the country’s flag should be replaced with blood splatters.

More than 6,000 children and teens were injured or killed in shootings last year, according to the Gun Violence Archive. This has never moved Republicans to reverse their opposition to legislation that would address this problem. They will deflect by insisting that drag queens – who killed precisely zero people last year – are the country’s biggest problem.

As has been pointed out regularly in this column, the Republican right flank and the leader of the entire party – former president Donald Trump – have more in common with the likes of President Xi Jinping, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin Salman than with the party’s forebears Ronald Reagan, Dwight Eisenhower and Abraham Lincoln.

Trump has himself called for a termination of the US Constitution because of the restraints it puts on executive power. His presumed primary competitor, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, has shown himself to be one of the country’s biggest enemies of First Amendment rights.

And don’t be fooled by DeSantis’ signing of three bills that target China this week, one of which restricts the ability of Chinese citizens to own property in his state. It’s doubtful that such a country-specific ban would hold up in court. He’s only trying to give himself cover from those who rightly point out how at odds he is with the likes of Reagan, the man who demanded that Mikhail Gorbachev tear down the Berlin Wall.

They cannot acknowledge any of this publicly. The only way to achieve a full alignment with these autocratic leaders – if not a formal alliance – is to tear down the rules-based, liberal democratic order that has been so instrumental in making the US dollar the world’s most important monetary unit.

A default? Bring it on. The resulting chaos – in the US and globally – would provide the opportunity that the new Republican Party seeks.

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