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Fear of a Red Planet

Should we be worried about China?

David Harsanyi
January 24, 2011

Have you heard that Hollywood is remaking the '80s classic—yes, classicRed Dawn? Rather than Nicaraguan and Cuban forces invading the heartland with their godless socialism, a Chinese incursion will be the focus of the remake. And once again, a ragtag band of high-school students will do what hundreds of billions in Pentagon spending couldn't do: save Michigan from communism.

Doubtlessly, the remake will be entertaining and offer a far more plausible plotline than the original—seeing that the Chinese, well, they have a proper army. Producers will almost certainly capitalize on a growing alarmism regarding China's growth. Few issues, in fact, can bring right and left together in this polarized world of ours better than a shared knowledge that China is bad news.

Now, the American populace can typically be divided into two categories: 1) Those who don't care one whit about foreign policy. 2) Newspaper editors.    

So before Chinese President Hu Jintao was here meeting with the president, Andrew Kohut of the Pew Research Center took to the pages of The Wall Street Journal and explained what we think about the topic.

Apparently, 47 percent of those he surveyed cited China as the world's top economic power. (Only 31 percent properly identified it as the U.S., which has an economy nearly three times the size.) Another Pew survey from last year found that 47 percent of us consider China's growth a "bad thing" for the United States. A new CNN poll found that 58 percent of us believe that China's "wealth and economic power" are a threat to the U.S.

I'm certain our relationship with China is layered with international complexity and fraught with danger. But why would we fear the aspects of China's ascendancy—its "wealth and economic power"—that pose the least threat to the United States? Unlike ideological clashes, economic competition can be mutually beneficial. A country with real economic wealth is typically free and doesn't look kindly on radical behavior. Suicide bombers rarely drive top-of-the-line BMWs.

I often hear talk radio hosts and politicians condemn China's nefarious role as the largest stakeholder in American debt. How is it China's fault that Washington spends $1 trillion more than it takes in in revenue? Substantial national debt is our concern, but if we're going to find people to borrow from, having China vested in American success seems like a good enough idea. (Unless China's dynamic economy is an elaborate ruse to sink us in the end.)

Buy more of our Treasury bonds ... if you dare!

We can talk about trade imbalance, unfair marketplaces, and currency manipulation. These may be real problems.

We can also give in to isolationists and those who believe in closing markets and ratcheting up tariffs and hurt our own economy. As The New York Times' Nicholas Kristof recently pointed out (in a rather pessimistic piece), "Chinese goods mostly compete with products from Mexico, South Korea and other countries, and it is stealing jobs from those countries more than from America." And if there's any country we can hate more than China, it's Mexico.

We can talk about China's disgusting record on human rights. It can't be ignored. But the best cure for illiberalism is probably "wealth and economic power." How long can communist hard-liners thrive in a nation that sees its economy grow by 10 percent a year?

Let's not forget, either, that China is still a place of deep poverty, stressed infrastructure, and political upheaval; it's struggling with problems that dwarf our own. We may be overrating its influence.

I'm certainly not an expert on foreign policy (using Red Dawn as a reference point probably gave that away), but all this hand-wringing and fear seems a tad bit premature, if not irrational.

David Harsanyi is a columnist at The Denver Post and the author of Nanny State. Visit his website at www.DavidHarsanyi.com. This column previously appeared at Reason.com.

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