US Foreign Policy

I left off last time saying that I formed a view in 1976 that I wouldn’t enjoy living in the United States and that I still don’t. Nevertheless, I have since grown to like and enjoy visiting many cities and places where I have met interesting people and made good friends over the years, but I still don’t think I would enjoy living in the Country for good. I could be prejudiced. On the one hand, I don’t mind being pampered by the fine food and wine, or enjoying the service and decor at some of their better restaurants, but I hate to pick up the bills afterwards. America is not for people without means. And the more I learn how they elect their leaders, including their president, the more I am convinced that the political and economic liberalism and the form of democracy they champion could be at loggerheads with Chinese traditional values and practices.

Let me first go back to what I understand about United States’ foreign policy. Foreign policies by definition are guidelines developed by a nation to plan its activities and organize its relationship with other nations, which of necessity would be influenced by domestic considerations and geopolitical factors relevant to other nations which would be different and specific for each nation. Diplomacy is employed in execution of a nation’s foreign policies, expressed as trade, war and formation of alliances with other nations. America is a new nation, certainly when compared with China; and when I first left HKU and started working for my personal independence, America was still working towards her bicentenary.  

I recall taking classes in London at Royal Institute of Public Administration or RIPA International where we discussed American foreign policies. Then, our lecturers would routinely describe their policies as immature and inexperienced, quoting for example John Kennedy who had relied on brinksmanship rather than diplomacy in his execution of foreign policy, as exemplified by the invasion of the Bay of Pigs in Cuba in 1961, his tough talk with the then Soviet Union in Berlin which had resulted in the erection of the Berlin Wall, and most disturbingly, his decision to draw a line in Laos against communism which left South Vietnam to fight communism in Asia, first alone, but which precipitated the infamous and historic Vietnam War which lasted 20 years, only recently overtaken by the Afghanistan War in terms of length of time. 

Still on US foreign policy, mention must be made of the famous Monroe Doctrine named after James Monroe (1758 – 1831), a diplomat and founding father who also served as the 5th President of the United States (1817 – 1825).  The Doctrine is still hailed as a foundation stone of US foreign policy, which comprises four strands; that the nation would not interfere in the internal affairs or any conflicts between European powers; that the nation recognizes and would not interfere with existing colonies and dependent territories in the Western Hemisphere; that the Western Hemisphere would be closed to future colonization; and that any attempt by a European power to oppress or control any nation in the Western Hemisphere would be looked upon as war against the United States. Monroe promulgated the doctrine in Congress in December 1823 which was accepted by Congress at a time when the nation had yet to have the military supremacy to sustain the policy, and which was nevertheless accepted as a nominal declaration outside the United States for at least the next 30 years.

Turning to the Declaration of Independence which sought to articulate the whys and wherefore the first 13 states, then colonies, had decided to break away from Great Britain, it was the brainchild of Thomas Jefferson (1743 – 1826) who had drafted it in the Spring of 1776 together with John Adams and Benjamin Franklin. Jefferson had always thought of himself as an Englishmen and apparently was very much influenced by John Locke (1632 – 1704) who wrote his Second Treatise on Civil Government which discussed three great ideas and their relationship, namely property, government and revolution, with emphases on property in the sense that government had become relevant because of property and its owners. Specifically, Locke had named three things as the duty of a government to make secure or protect for an individual as his rights, namely life, liberty and property, with emphases on property.  Notice I said “his” and not “his or her” rights. This is because women, children and slaves did not come into the equation. Not yet.  In the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson had stressed that all men were not only created equal, but were endowed with certain inalienable rights, amongst the foremost of which were life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. He was following Locke closely, but had replaced “property” with “pursuit of happiness”. He had expected the King of Great Britain at the time George III to accept, except that Jefferson went on to argue that the British monarch had abdicated his duties by waging war against the people in certain states (actually colonies) where the British had plundered their seas, ravaged their coasts, burnt their towns and destroyed the lives of the people. So Great Britain went to war, hiring soldiers mainly from Europe, and lost. The war or revolution ended with the signing of the Treaty of Paris, negotiated by John Jay, John Adams and Benjamin Franklin, in 1783 between representatives of Great Britain and the Americans – it was not United States yet – by which Great Britain formally recognized the United States of America as an independent nation, but George Washington did not become President of the United States until April 1789, by which time the former 13 previous British colonies had become 13 states of the new nation, which grew to 50 in today’s USA.

Such is an over simplified account of how the most powerful nation of our world had invented herself and how she had positioned herself not so long ago. The Founding Fathers of the United States – there were traditionally seven or eight including in addition to Adams, Franklin, Jay and Jefferson I had mentioned, Samuel Adams, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and of course George Washington – were a group of American revolutionary leaders who united the 13 colonies in the war with Britain. They were primarily concerned with establishing a governance framework for the budding nation rather than developing foreign relations or policies. And when the Americans were still seeking their feet, their sight was on Europe and the Western Hemisphere – Hence the Monroe Doctrine – and China and the orient were too far away.  John Hay (1838 – 1905), whom I mentioned before as Theodore Roosevelt’s Secretary of State and who negotiated a reduction of the reparation payments from China to enable the founding of Tsing Hua University, was probably the architect and promoter of an Open Door policy by which he proposed to the other nations – which besieged Beijing during the Boxer Rebellion in 1900 – to cooperate in preserving China’s territorial and administrative integrity.  The next monumental initiative would come from Henry Kissinger who led Richard Nixon to meet Mao Zedong in 1972, but it was not until 1979 when we saw real advancement and economic reforms with Deng Xiaoping’s visit to the United States and during which year US President Jimmy Carter granted China full diplomatic recognition, acknowledged the One China Policy and severed normal ties with Taiwan. Nevertheless, relations between China and the US since 1949 had been affected and influenced by war and conflicts in the region, notably the outbreak of Korean War in 1950, First Taiwan Strait Crisis in 1954, Tibetan Uprising in 1959, China joining the nuclear club in October 1964 with her first atomic test, Sino-Soviet border conflict in March 1969 and the Tiananmen incident in June 1989, not forgetting of course our West assisted riots in 2019 and the current conflicts in Ukraine.

The rapid economic and social developments in China since she opened up to the West have caught the world by surprise. The West in particular seems to have woken up from deep slumber finding a totally different China from the days when they could demand anything of her and take whatever they wanted away from China without fear for any consequences. The world now describes China and America as rivals competing in a defining geopolitical contest of the twenty-first century and acknowledges that the contest is unavoidable.

I have outlined before the two opposing views in the mainstream media on who would win the contest at the end of the day, but I am only too aware and must point out that maybe we are asking the wrong question. To start with, it is America seeking to maintain her primacy in the world, not China. America is increasingly running away from what Ronald Ragan once described as a longing for order in society through rediscovering the traditional virtues of hard work, patriotism, personal responsibility, optimism and faith. The people in the country are split with one half fighting against and not speaking to the other half. The Country’s Congress is split in the middle. The people do not trust the media or the government; and the Country appears to have abandoned multilateralism. On the other side, China values freedom as much as America, but would not promote war and chaos. China values peace, patience, economic development, meritocracy, multilateralism, patriotism and personal responsibility. Almost everyone in China loves the Country and the people are ready, willing and able to volunteer themselves to the causes and policies of the Country and even to risk their personal safety to come to help Hong Kong out of the pandemic crisis. And most importantly, China never seeks to be Number One and has never invaded any other nations in recent history. China has no intention to go into a hot or cold war with America or the West.  I don’t think I need to go further. Anyone who wants to look at the views on either side have plenty to go by, but must be mindful of the built-in bias from all reports and most reporters.

Back to my personal view on US – China relations.  My views on the US were pretty much solidified by the Nineties following my regular and annual visits to Rosita’s parents and siblings on the West Coast in the Eighties. I have had regular discourses on the subject with some of my most trusted friends and I have read up what the United States had been doing with the Japanese during and after WW II and how the Country had been handling foreign relations through wars and the CIA rather than the diplomats. Before my children left Hong Kong for their academic pursuits, I shared with them my views: I was convinced that during my life time, America would go to war with China, and when that happened, any Chinese living in America might be subject to sanctions or restrictions in the freedom they were accustomed to, and it won’t matter whether one had the citizenship or residence. I would be rather old at the time, I hoped; and it would therefore be up to them to decide for their future, for I wouldn’t be of much help then; and I had long decided not to live in the United States. My children have since decided not to return to Hong Kong, but as of now, I don’t think they have sought US citizenship. Well, the war has actually started earlier than I had expected, in 2018, when Trump decided to impose tariffs on Chinese imports, followed by the various sanctions on individuals in China and Hong Kong. Economic sanctions are nothing but wars.

I would sign off here; and wish everyone a good start for the second quarter of 2022.

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