Reciprocity Can Cure Our Ills with China

From letting COVID-positive travelers from Wuhan board international flights when they were prohibited from boarding domestic trains to cyber-warfare against the United States to unlawful pugnacity in the South China Sea, ethnic cleansing of Muslim minorities, breach of Basic Law provisions protecting Hong Kong freedoms, dissing the U.S. and spreading propaganda via the NBA, Twitter, and Hollywood (Mulan?), and, recently, mysterious seed packets sent to U.S. farmers, the planting of which could very well grow a beanstalk to hell, China seems drunk on power, yet the West keeps pouring the baijiu.

If meaningful change must come from within, the Chinese people must demand it from their leaders.  As they haven't done so yet, a U.S. policy of reciprocity will provide some incentive.

Each nation has its own customs and values; however, the rule of reciprocity, the idea that we take in proportion to what we give, transcends region, ideology, and even history.  It is an irreproachable natural law, understood and respected by all societies.

America was created as a result of this principle: American colonies were giving more to the English throne than they were getting in return.  So we told George III to bugger off.

America has been enduring Chinese overreach for quite some time, and so the time has arrived for a Boston Tea Party of sorts for unrequited aspects of the relationship.  

While our foreign policy record has not always screamed virtue, no one can fault a country for demanding reciprocity. And with the threat to the U.S. shared by the free world, the U.S. has a chance once again to be an international paragon of liberal democratic values.

While there is a national security argument, evidence of data-harvesting and espionage is difficult to prove, and indeed, if people don't care about Alexa reporting to Bezos, perhaps they are willfully naïve on China, too.

However, good leaders do what's best for their people even if it's a bitter pill to swallow.  A caring parent stocks the fridge with walnuts and grapefruit juice, not Ho Hos and Mountain Dew.

China loyalists (Apple, Nike, the NBA, Hollywood, investment banks, the German auto industry) won't get out of bed with China unless they're dragged out because they benefit greatly and ordinary Americans pay dearly.  (Although tarring and feathering may be a tad aggressive, whoever claims that our countrymen care more about cheap socks at Walmart than human dignity should be pilloried in the town square for a weekend.)  Ordinary Americans are the many, but their voices are drowned by the interests of the few.  We must referendum all leaders who place China's interest before ours.

A reimagining of the relationship with China will require that a condition for doing business with or otherwise benefiting from this country is reciprocity in the marketplace of ideas (humanitarian values) and commerce.

Unless we adopt and enforce a policy of reciprocity, what incentive does China have to cooperate in widening the road for two-way traffic? 

When the rich can freely buy a house and emigrate to the clean air of the U.S. or Canada, why would they sacrifice profit for the environment?

If they can stand by while Uyghur culture is being extirpated and still make billions in sanctimonious Silicon Valley, why would they lobby for human rights and piss off the apparatchiks?

If you are the billionaires who own TikTok, WeChat (a messaging app and highly censored news feed), or Wanda (a Chinese film company), if you have free rein to profit off our young people while censoring their speech, why would you jeopardize your monopoly in China to competition from Western companies?

If you're a Chinese student in America, why would you lobby for liberal immigration, education, work visa, and diversity and inclusion policies in your own country, if the belt and road goes one way from China to the U.S.?

If you are a member of the CCP, why would you call out systemic racism if the cost of a more pluralistic society is relinquishing the Han Chinese monopoly on political power under which you thrive?

Is the West the architect of its own demise if the liberal values we created render us helpless to resist a foreign dictatorship deploying our free markets to buy us out and influence us from within (even Reddit, the platform of the people, is controlled by China now)?

The real danger is that unless China liberalizes, the U.S. may be compelled to become more totalitarian for self-defense.  A race to the bottom. 

However, reciprocity offers an alternative to avoid compromising our own freedoms while preserving our core values and integrity.

The best way to get leaders anywhere to adopt positive change is to vote with the pocketbook.  This is especially true in dictatorships where money is the only ballot.

A travel ban on members of the CCP will affect a large enough swath of Chinese citizens to jostle Chinese businesses and party leaders into playing by the rules. 

Although it will affect a large number of people, and certain sectors hit hardest in the U.S. will scream murder most foul, that is the point: in China, change will never come from the top.  It must be grassroots.  But ordinary Chinese will not fix their problems at home if they can pass the buck to future generations.

Americans, however, cannot in good faith ask or expect Chinese citizens to demand change from their government when our own corporations actively enable such gross human rights and civil liberty violations.

America needs to throw cold water on the narrative that we had better do what China says because America needs China.  Maybe Tim Cook needs China, but we the American people do not.  Whoever spins that yarn should ask Chairman Xi how come his daughter chose Harvard over Peking University.

Shareholders must choose dignity over dividends.  For film stars — yes, you, Matt Damon — America made you rich and famous, so show gratitude and stop selling us out: more The Departed, less The Great Wall.

Otherwise, China will continue to grease the palms of its American collaborators to impose its rules on the world system until we become Vichy-like vassal nations, and then it will be too late.

While Trump's record on Chinese transgressions has been much bark and little bite, not to mention the participation of his son-in-law's family companies in the EB-5 visa scheme for Chinese investors, thanks to Mike Pompeo's stately presence and forceful and prescient advocacy, the message on China is not distracted by the messenger.

America is finally on the right track with regard to the one of the most, if not the most, important policy points for the coming decades.

So let's stay on it and build momentum while there's still time, because an invertebrate Beijing Biden will throw America to the wolves.  The leverage China might have over him in connection with his son should be a grave concern to all Americans.  Our only hope is to enforce reciprocity now so that even when Biden tries to walk it back, it'll still be more reciprocal than it was in 2016.

Kenneth Mak is an attorney who thinks complacency has made us sheepish, to the delight of MNCs, and so it's time for a correction in the marketplace of ideas.

From letting COVID-positive travelers from Wuhan board international flights when they were prohibited from boarding domestic trains to cyber-warfare against the United States to unlawful pugnacity in the South China Sea, ethnic cleansing of Muslim minorities, breach of Basic Law provisions protecting Hong Kong freedoms, dissing the U.S. and spreading propaganda via the NBA, Twitter, and Hollywood (Mulan?), and, recently, mysterious seed packets sent to U.S. farmers, the planting of which could very well grow a beanstalk to hell, China seems drunk on power, yet the West keeps pouring the baijiu.

If meaningful change must come from within, the Chinese people must demand it from their leaders.  As they haven't done so yet, a U.S. policy of reciprocity will provide some incentive.

Each nation has its own customs and values; however, the rule of reciprocity, the idea that we take in proportion to what we give, transcends region, ideology, and even history.  It is an irreproachable natural law, understood and respected by all societies.

America was created as a result of this principle: American colonies were giving more to the English throne than they were getting in return.  So we told George III to bugger off.

America has been enduring Chinese overreach for quite some time, and so the time has arrived for a Boston Tea Party of sorts for unrequited aspects of the relationship.  

While our foreign policy record has not always screamed virtue, no one can fault a country for demanding reciprocity. And with the threat to the U.S. shared by the free world, the U.S. has a chance once again to be an international paragon of liberal democratic values.

While there is a national security argument, evidence of data-harvesting and espionage is difficult to prove, and indeed, if people don't care about Alexa reporting to Bezos, perhaps they are willfully naïve on China, too.

However, good leaders do what's best for their people even if it's a bitter pill to swallow.  A caring parent stocks the fridge with walnuts and grapefruit juice, not Ho Hos and Mountain Dew.

China loyalists (Apple, Nike, the NBA, Hollywood, investment banks, the German auto industry) won't get out of bed with China unless they're dragged out because they benefit greatly and ordinary Americans pay dearly.  (Although tarring and feathering may be a tad aggressive, whoever claims that our countrymen care more about cheap socks at Walmart than human dignity should be pilloried in the town square for a weekend.)  Ordinary Americans are the many, but their voices are drowned by the interests of the few.  We must referendum all leaders who place China's interest before ours.

A reimagining of the relationship with China will require that a condition for doing business with or otherwise benefiting from this country is reciprocity in the marketplace of ideas (humanitarian values) and commerce.

Unless we adopt and enforce a policy of reciprocity, what incentive does China have to cooperate in widening the road for two-way traffic? 

When the rich can freely buy a house and emigrate to the clean air of the U.S. or Canada, why would they sacrifice profit for the environment?

If they can stand by while Uyghur culture is being extirpated and still make billions in sanctimonious Silicon Valley, why would they lobby for human rights and piss off the apparatchiks?

If you are the billionaires who own TikTok, WeChat (a messaging app and highly censored news feed), or Wanda (a Chinese film company), if you have free rein to profit off our young people while censoring their speech, why would you jeopardize your monopoly in China to competition from Western companies?

If you're a Chinese student in America, why would you lobby for liberal immigration, education, work visa, and diversity and inclusion policies in your own country, if the belt and road goes one way from China to the U.S.?

If you are a member of the CCP, why would you call out systemic racism if the cost of a more pluralistic society is relinquishing the Han Chinese monopoly on political power under which you thrive?

Is the West the architect of its own demise if the liberal values we created render us helpless to resist a foreign dictatorship deploying our free markets to buy us out and influence us from within (even Reddit, the platform of the people, is controlled by China now)?

The real danger is that unless China liberalizes, the U.S. may be compelled to become more totalitarian for self-defense.  A race to the bottom. 

However, reciprocity offers an alternative to avoid compromising our own freedoms while preserving our core values and integrity.

The best way to get leaders anywhere to adopt positive change is to vote with the pocketbook.  This is especially true in dictatorships where money is the only ballot.

A travel ban on members of the CCP will affect a large enough swath of Chinese citizens to jostle Chinese businesses and party leaders into playing by the rules. 

Although it will affect a large number of people, and certain sectors hit hardest in the U.S. will scream murder most foul, that is the point: in China, change will never come from the top.  It must be grassroots.  But ordinary Chinese will not fix their problems at home if they can pass the buck to future generations.

Americans, however, cannot in good faith ask or expect Chinese citizens to demand change from their government when our own corporations actively enable such gross human rights and civil liberty violations.

America needs to throw cold water on the narrative that we had better do what China says because America needs China.  Maybe Tim Cook needs China, but we the American people do not.  Whoever spins that yarn should ask Chairman Xi how come his daughter chose Harvard over Peking University.

Shareholders must choose dignity over dividends.  For film stars — yes, you, Matt Damon — America made you rich and famous, so show gratitude and stop selling us out: more The Departed, less The Great Wall.

Otherwise, China will continue to grease the palms of its American collaborators to impose its rules on the world system until we become Vichy-like vassal nations, and then it will be too late.

While Trump's record on Chinese transgressions has been much bark and little bite, not to mention the participation of his son-in-law's family companies in the EB-5 visa scheme for Chinese investors, thanks to Mike Pompeo's stately presence and forceful and prescient advocacy, the message on China is not distracted by the messenger.

America is finally on the right track with regard to the one of the most, if not the most, important policy points for the coming decades.

So let's stay on it and build momentum while there's still time, because an invertebrate Beijing Biden will throw America to the wolves.  The leverage China might have over him in connection with his son should be a grave concern to all Americans.  Our only hope is to enforce reciprocity now so that even when Biden tries to walk it back, it'll still be more reciprocal than it was in 2016.

Kenneth Mak is an attorney who thinks complacency has made us sheepish, to the delight of MNCs, and so it's time for a correction in the marketplace of ideas.