Beinstein column: A new vision for U.S.-China relations
In the long, tumultuous relationship between the United States and China, no side has ever really felt at peace. A desire to spread Christianity and western civilization has defined America’s position — the John Birch Society, after all, is named for a Baptist missionary who was shot and killed by Chinese communist forces.
Meanwhile, a desire to avenge western imperialism and destruction has defined China’s position. From the opium wars in which British and American merchants killed countless Chinese by selling them poisonous drugs to the Chinese Exclusion Act, which exiled many Chinese railroad workers from the United States in the late 19th century, China has never trusted or had confidence in the white man.
But dig deeper, and hope for a genuine and long lasting peace is not only possible but also very doable.
The evangelical gene will always be part of America’s DNA. And it is within that framework that common ground can be found. First and foremost, China, during its golden age of the Tang and Song dynasties, had religious freedom, especially for both Christians and Jews.
In fact, some historians would say Chinese Christians had more freedom during its golden age than their European counterparts did during the same time period. And if you read leading works about China today, like Edward Tse’s wonderful book about Chinese business, called China’s Disruptors, you’ll see, among the leading intellectuals of China, a desire for the “rebirth of the Tang Dynasty.”
Well, a rebirth would mean many things: the freedom to practice Christianity, limits on State power, and a hunger for Chinese innovation and growth.
Secondly, America is more forgiving and redemptive than its critics might sometimes believe. Slavery was its original sin, and yet it was eventually abolished. Jim Crow laws did hold blacks down, and yet the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday is now permanently etched in our country’s fabric, always reminding us of our past sins and how much work is still to be done.
And, America’s relationship to the Holocaust is darker than we might like to admit. Many of its leading corporations did business with Hitler, and it did prevent many Jews from seeking asylum here, and yet its steadfast support of Israel is unquestioning and unceasing.
Something similar could play out with respect to Chinese-Americans. Although largely absent from leading roles in our corporations and justice system and Congress, that will probably soon change. No minority group works harder in our schools than the Chinese do — America’s belief in hard work and perseverance should, one day, pay dividends for the Chinese. And with their success will come public works of cinema and art displaying all the hardships the Chinese have had to endure here in America.
Thirdly, the better angels of America’s foreign policy should play itself out. From the beginning, Thomas Jefferson declared we are not an empire like England. At our core, we reject colonialism and foreign control. And the humiliation China feels about Taiwan, first with Japan’s control of the area and then our de facto support of the country, should, when China commits to liberty and freedom, go away.
West and East Berlin finally became one and the same will be true of China and Taiwan. They are the same people with the same history. If Nantucket, for whatever reason, decided to secede from the Union, we wouldn’t accept other countries recognizing Nantucket as an independent Republic. Such thinking, I expect, will eventually define our foreign policy in East Asia.
According to his biographer Jonathan Spence, Chairman Mao Zedong, ironically enough, found great solace in the strength of George Washington. He found our first president to be victorious in his revolution and a man that later became committed to building up his own country.
And many historians have found parallels between Abraham Lincoln and China’s first democratic leader Sun Yat-sen. Both were born into poverty on the farm, both were committed to unifying their respective countries, and both imagined a brotherhood of nations.
In short, if America stays true to its heritage of hard work, opportunity, and compassion, it will remain a wonderful country. And as Leo Tolstoy wrote, “If only the Chinese were to continue to live as they formerly lived, a peaceful, industrious … life … those calamities from which they now suffer would disappear, and no powers could overcome them.”
Let’s hope, then, of a world one day peacefully shared by both China and United States. Free at last, free at least, thank God almighty we are free at last.
Alex Beinstein writes from Carbondale. He was a Republican primary congressional candidate in 2016. His column appears monthly in the Post Independent.