COMMENTARY: B-A-D: Bipartisan Amateurish Diplomacy: Our Policies with the New China

By Joseph J. Honick

It is close to embarrassing to watch the President of the United States, backed up by American Members of Congress and people passing as diplomats as all of them wandered though a ballet of negotiations with the President of China this week.

All of our appointed and elected officials wanted to be sure we “talked tough” to President Hu Jintao  so he really got the message we demand a lot of give from him to make our dealings in his country more evenly done, at least from our standpoint. All this while, in reality, more than a few American firms are doing quite well in that country -- which now holds a substantial amount of our national debt.

As President Obama and President Hu wrestled on television with their comments and translators, the Financial Times produced a top-of-the-page article with the headline: GE TO SIGN SLEW OF CHINA DEALS! The subhead notes GE’s Jeff Immelt's pledge regarding collaboration on rail, energy and aviation and the fact GE would be investing $2 billion by 2012, including $500 million on six innovation centers.

GE is hardly alone in all of this. Companies large and small are learning how to do business there even as our top government officials sound as if they are either going hat in hand or on the other hand, trying to sound tough in dealing with those folks from Beijing.

This flim-flam approach is hardly new and hardly just an expression of Mr. Obama; we looked pretty foolish in the Bush years as well when I wrote a piece calling our policies an expression of “Alice in Wonderland” actions: sounded nice, didn’t work, but we thought we sounded tough.

Comes now the visit of President Hu and a major opportunity for us to look really smart and maturely diplomatic even as we want to show our firm standing, so what happens? The new Speaker of the House, Mr. Boehner, manages to insult President Hu and President Obama by rejecting an invitation to dinner at the White House. Senate leader Harry Reid, whom Variety magazine incorrectly called the Minority Leader, sounds like a rash puppy dog in Nevada by asserting how he’s going to “show them” in Washington about how to deal with China.

As if this were not enough, former US Ambassador to the UN and fellow of the American Enterprise Institute negativist John Bolton resorts to a quote from the late Mao Zedung to the effect that “political power  comes  from the barrel of a gun” and so we should stop being soft in dealings with China.

Boy! Are these guys really talking tough to President Hu and are they gonna show him who’s boss? And, boy, do they look silly as hell?

It is time to stop with the American exceptionalism as George Will recently has been trying to sell again. Other nations have emerged as powers in the world. In fact, some have even emerged with our help. Where GE will be building railroads in China, we are woefully behind if only because the oil industry does not want us to get too used to staying off the roads. We have even found major American companies doing quite well, thank you, selling products and services to that nasty Iran.

While much of this has been going on, Israel has developed a weapon called the “worm” that has given Iran some second thoughts about its nuclear operations. Unfortunately, the last time Israel took out a potential enemy’s nuclear operation in Iraq, they caught unshirted hell from the international community -- including our own President Reagan -- despite the lives that might have been saved.

So here we are again at a major international crossroads in time and opportunity, looking for all the world less than a leader than as a pretender to power, failing to recognize that other powers have emerged and gained support if only because we have tried for too long to pose as the only player in this very crucial game.

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Joseph J. Honick is an international consultant to business and government and writes for many publications, including He has been to China many times on business. Honick can be reached at

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