Nearly two years ago, then-candidate Hillary Clinton warned of the dangers of America’s dependence on Chinese investors. On March 1, 2007 she told CNBC that America was undergoing “a slow erosion of our own economic sovereignty.” In a letter the same week to Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke, Clinton also stated that a stock market sell-off at the time underscored “the exposure of our economy to economic developments in countries like China. As we have been running trade and budget deficits, they have been buying our debt and in essence becoming our banker.” Even then, Clinton rued the difficulty in “getting tough on China” to protect American manufacturing jobs, asking rhetorically: “How do you get tough on your banker?”
And now we begin to find out, right? Secretary Clinton’s first foreign trip is not to the Middle East, where we wage two wars. It’s not the traditional European debut tour conducted by all previous Secretaries of State as an homage to our longstanding allies. It’s not to Latin America, where our troubled neighbors face escalating drug-related crime and hemorrhage citizens, sparking our own endless immigration debate. No, Clinton is headed to China, to meet with our banker.
That America has become beholden to China for our economic survival is a manifestation of the fact our nation’s leaders have been asleep at the wheel for decades. It is also a reflection of the ambiguity and confusion we face in determining our direction for the future. Why such strong words? Well, our own chief diplomat said it herself: we are losing our economic sovereignty to another country. That’s bad enough in and of itself. But as if that weren’t enough to cast fear and urgency into our collective heart, we’re losing that economic sovereignty to a nation with an abysmal human rights record, a place where gender rights are a joke, a country where democracy is scorned and brushed aside (look at Taiwan) in favor of single-party totalitarianism, where economic might is leveraged to gloss over all of these shortcomings, and where Communism, not Capitalism, is revered. And we thought we’d won that war, the Cold War, right? Hmm, when you win a war, you’re supposed to keep your sovereignty, right?
So now that our economy is in tatters, do we wonder if then-candidate, now-Madame Secretary Clinton is headed to China to get tough on our banker? Or do we suspect she’s arriving hat in hand? Will she be negotiating human rights and environmental accords or loan extensions? Today they’ll give us more rope. But what will they do when we hang ourselves with it?
In my opinion, the most pressing matter in America’s mind should not be partisan bickering over the details of a stimulus package too small to float our sinking ship; it should be the development of a long-term vision to end our dependence not just on foreign oil, but on foreign investment to shore up our underproducing, overconsuming culture. America needs a swift kick in the pants. Right now it’s coming in the form of a recession. If we don’t change our ways, tomorrow it will come from a crouching tiger, hidden dragon. Hopefully, today’s woes will wake us up and get us thinking and working towards a future where we can stay true to our ideals without worrying about our banker calling our economic notes to the detriment of our political and philosophical agenda.
Reversing our fortunes begins – not with getting tough on our banker, but – with getting tough on ourselves. What do we want more? Our ideals and self-respect, a chance at truly reclaiming some semblance of moral integrity in the global arena, or more cheap products from China purchased at Wal-Mart with borrowed money? What does our nation’s fortune cookie hold? And wouldn’t we rather be the authors of our own fate?