The Advent of the “Lose-Lose” World

It’s time to abandon the notion that every battle has a winner. It’s possible for both sides to lose, and we are seeing evidence of that in the deteriorating US-China relationship. As the world order continues to shift, we will likely see an intensification of this “lose-lose” dynamic. Take the newly proposed Hong Kong national security law and its global reaction as an example.

This new national security law will very likely dissolve judicial independence and press freedoms in the Hong Kong SAR. The legislation will likely erode long-term business confidence in Hong Kong as well. China’s senior leaders are surely aware that eliminating these freedoms could deter foreign investment. However, the fear of irreversible political instability in its offshore financial center outweighs considerations for maintaining the “one country, two systems” policy. The long-term economic fallout of Beijing’s actions will play out over time, but the immediate strike against liberal values is immediately apparent.

Conversely, it seems natural to paint Hong Kong as the victim, but it’s not clear that’s the case. Beijing would not have been forced to take such drastic action if not for the erratic and violent reaction of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy youth protestors. The small minority of violent protestors alienated moderate Hong Kong citizens, and likely accelerated and intensified the central government response to all dissent. The protest leaders failed to prove that they are capable of restoring business confidence in Hong Kong and stabilizing its floundering economy.

The end result is a world that is stuck in a cycle where no side is willing to compromise. Under these conditions, no one really gets what they want. Hong Kong wants autonomy, but the more it pushes back against China’s central government, the less freedom it will have. China still wants Hong Kong as an offshore financial center, but the more control it exercises over Hong Kong, the more it damages business confidence. There are no heroes or villains. All that remains is a result no one is thrilled with.

Fading Memories: My Country, My Culture of Blame

As an American, I decided to write this essay out of love for my country. It feels like the ground is moving under my feet, and my home is becoming unrecognizable.

I have a distant memory of a time when Americans took responsibility for their own lives. Maybe that time never really existed. However, it’s clear in 2020 that we’ve become paralyzed by the childish need to place blame on someone or something for the cause of this pandemic. Our desire for retribution for China’s perceived wrong-doings overshadows our desire to resolve the real problems the United States faces.

The truth is this: America has been broken for a long time, and we’re not just seeking to blame someone for the pandemic, we are feebly grasping for a scapegoat for all the reasons we feel so lost. It pains me to say this, but we did all of this to ourselves, and we are the only ones responsible for picking up the pieces.

We built a political system where our election cycles reward the most polarizing candidates, so now we have a reality television personality for a president. Instead of owning up to this fact, we blame outside forces like Russia and China for manipulating our elections.

We broke our economy in 2008. Now, our financial system can only function with the support of trillions of dollars printed from thin air by the Federal Reserve. We claim to be a capitalist society, but for the last twelve years, we’ve refused to allow corporations to fail, thereby fueling a moral hazard that encourages reckless corporate behavior.

Our corporations are so deeply indebted that even an economic pause of a few weeks or months is enough to wipe out entire industries. But we seem to believe that there can’t be a problem with our companies. We blame China by pointing out how many fraudulent companies China lists on our public markets. I guess fraud and corruption don’t exist in America.

We’ve allowed cocaine/Adderall fueled sociopaths and computer algorithms to control our financial markets. We shredded and burned our social fabric and replaced it with social media platforms built by emotionally-stunted narcissists in Silicon Valley. But wait, isn’t Tik-Tok from China? Let’s blame that!

Globalism and the 2008 recession gutted our domestic labor market, leaving millions of young men and women without purpose or hope for the future. We’ve replaced dreams, hope, and ambition with prescription drugs and dopamine-fueled dissociation. The result is a “healthcare” system that incentivizes doctors to prescribe highly addictive and lethal narcotics. But that’s not our fault, right? I mean, China stole our jobs and is flooding our country with imported Fentanyl!

Even if China is part of the problem, what do we expect to happen if the west somehow “proves” that China is solely responsible for this global pandemic? Even if we manage to agree on the ludicrous notion that China is the sole cause of all our Earthly woes, will that really solve everything?

Will crucifying China pay off our credit card bills, medical bills, and student loans? Will crucifying China give us our job back and end homelessness and poverty? When China “gets what it deserves,” will that motivate you to get out of your bubble and start contributing to your community?

Will punishing China cure your friend/brother/sister’s opioid addiction? Will it cure your functional drug dependency? Will crucifying China bring back all the fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, and grandparents killed by COVID-19? Will punishing China absolve the United States of its criminally inept response to this pandemic?

Do I need to answer? The answer is obviously “no, China is not your root problem, bud.”

Many of us believe falsely, that once China finally admits to all of its “wrongdoings,” we can finally and immediately move forward and not feel worthless anymore, both as a value system and as a society.

The reality is the only way we can get out of this mess is to follow the example of the world’s heroes in the medical profession: assess the situation and take action accordingly. That’s it. That is the only way we can begin to find any self-respect. We broke our country, but that doesn’t mean we can’t fix it. Besides, we don’t have a choice.

Permanent Outsider: Can A Foreigner Truly Know China?

Dr. Sam Crane of Williams college has written extensively on US-China cultural, political, and philosophical relations. This blog post focuses on a question posed by Dr. Crane in his book Blogging China in the 21st Century. The question is: can foreigners know China?

I’ve pondered the “can foreigners know China?” question frequently since I first started centering my life around China in 2008. I’m not Chinese, but I believe I understand China reasonably well for a foreigner. I’m fluent in Mandarin, I lived in China for several years, and my wife is Chinese. I even have a master’s degree from one of China’s top universities. Yet, I’ve been told on several occasions that I will never truly understand China.

I acknowledge that China’s society, culture, and history are deeply complex. Modern China is rooted in philosophies and traditions that are literally thousands of years old. However, I disagree entirely with the notion that China is incomprehensible to outsiders.

Why is it “impossible” for foreigners to understand China? The core reasoning behind this line of thinking is that foreigners will always view China through the lens of where they come from. For example, Americans are compelled to see China through a lens embedded in western values such as freedom of speech, standards of human rights, etc. In other words, an observation of China untainted by the cultural values of the outside observer does not exist.

So, if a foreigner’s outlook on China is tainted by some sort of Orientalist lens, then it must be true that outsiders can’t really know China, right? Not necessarily. Obviously, folks who weren’t born and raised in China won’t have the same view of China as someone born and raised there. The same could be said for someone born outside the United States, or Europe, or Mars.

Professor Crane’s core position is that insider knowledge is valuable, yet there is also a great deal of value in outsider interpretations of China. The important thing is to maintain an open dialogue and expression of ideas. Professor Crane puts it best by stating, “the point is that no one perspective, inside or outside of a culture, will yield uniformly valid and reliable knowledge.”

We must collectively and wholeheartedly reject the notion that foreigners cannot understand China. This is not an insider/outsider question. It’s an issue of openness to interpretations and abandoning preconceived ideas of what China is for both insiders and outsiders. However, until US-China relations reach this level of transparency, I will reluctantly accept my place as a permanent (albeit well-informed) outsider.

Photo by Andreas Dress on Unsplash

Featured Photo by Sam Beasley on Unsplash