This past Monday marked the 23rd anniversary of the Chinese government’s massacre of hundreds, perhaps, thousands of protesters in Tiananmen Square. Once, again, as in virtually every year since the massacre, the U.S. government has called upon China to release dissidents and begin to follow international norms on human rights. Once, again, the Chinese government has told the United States and the world to mind its own business and has marked the nonevent (according to the Chinese) by censoring any attempts to memorialize the brutal actions of the government at Tiananmen Square.
It is easy to say that what China does internally is its own business and that the U.S. should stay out of its internal affairs, but that’s an extremely dangerous approach for Americans to take. For years the American government has permitted China to accumulate a massive amount of U.S. debt instruments, so much so that many believe that the U.S. economy is now very much at China’s mercy.
Indeed, it was revealed recently that China, alone of all purchasers of American Treasury bonds, has been given the right to purchase these bonds directly from the U.S. Treasury, a significant financial concession to the Chinese. For years, China has manipulated the value of its own currency, manipulation that has harmed American financial interests and the American trade deficit with China. As American officials declare that the U.S. and China are not military antagonists, China has deliberately modernized and built up its military, particularly its Navy and its space capabilities. Here, again, such a build-up cannot be beneficial to the United States over the long term., particularly given U.S. interests in the Pacific, interests that may well be directly adverse to China’s.
At a time when the United States has intervened in various ways to protect human rights in North Africa and the Middle East, it has quietly accepted China’s internal human rights abuses. It has also been stymied in its efforts to stop the slaughter of innocent civilians in Syria by the opposition of Russia and China to such humanitarian steps. To pretend that the United States and China are not antagonists on the world stage is foolhardy and, ultimately, dangerous. And it’s clear that China will continue to increase its financial leverage over the U.S. as well as continue to build up its military and transform its military from a defensive force into a massive military machine capable of challenging U.S. power in the Pacific and around the world.
Certainly, American policy should be oriented toward finding a way to have a peaceful and long-lasting relationship with China. But the anniversary of the Chinese government’s brutal acts of repression at Tiananmen Square should not be the occasion only for half-hearted exercises in diplomatic rhetoric. This anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre, like every other, should be an occasion on which the U.S. government carefully considers China’s actions and its ultimate goals regarding the United States. The United States has ignored foreign powers’ actions too many times in recent history to forget that potential threats need to be stopped before they become real and present dangers.