America at the Crossroads: Time for a Roosevelt
When President Roosevelt died just before the end of World War II, he had the satisfaction of leaving the United States as the world's greatest military and economic power. The presidents who followed Roosevelt, Truman and Eisenhower continued the good work and America became the bastion of the free world.
It is when John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson became president the downward slide began. In retrospect, one can see the first seeds of this slide began when Lyndon Johnson was president. For reasons which have never been publicized, Johnson failed to react when China tested atomic bombs and develop nuclear weapons. At that time there was a requirement to look into the future and realize that China would become the biggest threat to America within the next five decades. With the United States having let China off the hook, I cannot appreciate how they are so concerned about a puny nation like North Korea( 1/100th size of China) having nuclear weapons.
From Johnson to Bush there is hardly a president who realized the danger of China. On the contrary successive Presidents always felt that Russia was the danger and treated China with kid gloves thinking that China would be grateful to them and side with the Americans. How fallacious this thinking was is borne out by the fact that China made use of technology given by the United States through trade deals, did a lot of reverse engineering and duplicated everything which America is making. American corporations also thought they could improve their bottom line by getting their products manufactured in China at a much cheaper price than at home.
Manufacturing high tech precision goods in China is like a double-edged sword; you get the items cheap but the Chinese copy the technology and this is precisely what they have done. Within five decades they are close to America and have the second biggest economy in the world and they manufacture almost everything from aircraft carriers to stealth fighters.
Now we have the coronavirus which initially Donald Trump used to refer to as the "China virus". He very soon stopped using this terminology when he realized the extent to which the virus had spread in America and the vulnerability of America which was dependent on small items like a face mask and ventilators on China.
Despite all the talk against Donald Trump one will have to appreciate the fact that he was the first president who realized the gravity of China as a world power as well as an unequal trading nation. He tried to make amends but at the same time, the previous presidents for the last two decades had allowed the cat to escape and made the American economy almost dependent on China. The US had a trade deficit of $345.6 billion dollars with China in 2019. In a recent press conference during the height of the coronavirus crisis, the American president thanked China for buying millions of dollars of American products like or corn and pork.
China was Never a Friend
When Henry Kissinger made a secret visit to China followed later by Richard Nixon to normalize relations, the aim was to try and neutralize the power of the Soviet Union. It is worth noting that the overtures for peace to China came from the United States and it was their leaders who offered the hand of friendship to China and no Chinese made any secret visit to America to normalize relations.
The American think tank failed to imbibe the lessons of history. China was always a great power till the 19th century and it considered itself to be the center of the world as the 'Middle Kingdom.' They also failed to understand what Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru had written in his 'Discovery of India.' Nehru was a philosopher and he wrote, "A strong China is always an expansionist China."
It is not understood how during the time of Bush and Obama, the Americans totally abdicated their responsibility in the South China Sea. The result was disastrous as China not only claimed the entire South China Sea but also created man-made islands with military bases in the entire ocean. This was right under the nose of the Americans and their allies like the Philippines and Vietnam who were greatly alarmed. These littoral states around the South China Sea could not challenge China which became the de facto power in that area. The Chinese also rejected the judgment of the International Court of Justice and the US kept silent. This prompted the Philippine President Robert Duterte to comment as to why the Americans did not send five aircraft carriers into the South China Sea and stop the Chinese expansion.
The fond hope of the American think tank that China will be a partner had no foundation. Many historians have commented on this. A look into the Chinese psyche will reveal their thinking. China feels it has been greatly wronged by the imperial powers for almost 200 years and as such the historical wrongs must be redressed. The opium wars, leasing of Hong Kong, occupation of Shanghai, and special trade concessions to the west and Japanese exploitation of Manchuria, including the terrible rape of Nanking and the American support to General Chiang-Kai -Shek, rankle with the Chinese.
The coronavirus reinforces that China is not a friend of the United States. In November last year American intelligence had discovered the spread of a new type of disease in China. By January the disease has spread in Wuhan, China from the wet markets. China did not publicize this to the world and hundreds of thousands of Chinese continued to travel to western Europe and the USA, Italy, some other countries. Some of the nations had even direct flights to Wuhan.
In 2019, almost 3,500,000 Chinese visited the United States and the Americans were happy it was helping their economy. The Chinese imposed no restrictions and travel continued as usual with the western countries including the US blissfully unaware as to the danger they were courting.
When the virus spread, the western world including the USA was totally unprepared. China had strong-arm tactics to control the spread of the virus. They were more concerned about their own nation than to help the USA or Italy. The result is that almost 50,000 people have died in three countries namely the USA, Italy, and Spain while in China the deaths are less than 4,000. The Chinese figures could be wrong because China is a naked dictatorship but all the same, they are much less then what has been faced by the USA and other powers.
Recently I saw a cartoon in one of the newspapers. It showed President Bush stating' I killed Saddam Hussein,' followed by President Obama stating, Í killed Osama bin Ladin," and finally President Trump stating, 'I killed Soleimani.' The piece de resistance of the cartoon is the final statement by President Xi, ' I killed your economy'
The coronavirus will certainly fade away. But the world will have to take cognization of China and its designs. Throughout history, we have seen great empires being erected and then slowly fading away. But there are empires that lasted hundreds of years like the Ottoman empire( 1000 years) the Mogul Empire( 300 years) and the British Empire(200 years). In contrast, the American Empire has lasted just about 100 years and there is a possibility that if the American think tank does not revise its view of the world, we may well see the emergence of another empire.
I would like to make a parting comment. The US military contingent took part in the military games in Wuhan, China. They occupied 36th position out of a total of 38 nations that participated. The American Armed Forces never take part in military games organized by Russia, so I wonder what prompted them to go and attend the Chinese military games. China claimed that this contingent spread the virus in China, so much for the preference being shown to China.