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Foreign Policy

Avoid Tonya Harding Syndrome

Jul 27 , 2020

Tonya Harding was a promising American figure skater in 1994, eager to earn fame and fortune at the world championships and the Olympics. Her skating career was undone when she was implicated in the the kneecap whacking of Nancy Kerrigan, a top rival from Massachusetts, by an associate of Harding’s husband, Jeff Gillooly, who was supposed to break her leg with a heavy baton. When the dust settled, Harding was barred from competition for life. Kerrigan went on to win an Olympic medal, while Harding fell into disgrace and public contempt.

Tonya Harding syndrome is the agony of worrying and panicking about losing out in a competition, and then resorting to the low crime of whacking the kneecaps of one’s competitor. In essence, kneecapping is intended to destroy fair and decent competition. 

In recent years, there have been many attempts to explain why China-U.S. relations have fallen into an abyss, including the so-called Thucydides trap. There has been all manner of China-bashing, a call to make America great and a call to keep America first.

The deteriorating relationship, mainly caused by Washington, has reached crisis levels in an egregious case of Tonya Harding syndrome. Hawkish political forces want to make sure Washington can keep Beijing out of competition and make America the perpetual winner.

However, the complexities of the China-U.S. relationship now make that difficult.

First, in many ways, China is already ahead of the United States by many metrics — population, market size, economy by PPP, exports, manufacturing, annual college graduates production of more than 200 important products in the world and playing a leading role in the development of 5G.

Second, in other ways, China may never surpass the United States — arable land, maritime resources, geographical advantages, oil and gas resources, dominant global alliances and military superiority.

Further, for these two nuclear powers, which are armed to the teeth, war is not and should not be an option. The Chinese people and the American people should advocate peace and spare no effort to prevent such a catastrophe.  

On a philosophical level, the more China is whacked in the knees by Washington, the more the American people are harmed — for example by the astronomical tariffs on exports from China to the United States. It is American importers and consumers, after all, who pay these terrible tariffs.

Whacking the kneecaps of Huawei aims to annihilate the global leader in 5G technology.  Washington has mobilized a no-holds-barred effort to knock out Huawei, even declaring a national emergency.  While Washington has been framing the company as a national security threat, the real essence of the assault can be visualized as a whacking of the kneecaps, with the aim of killing fair and open competition.  

It is in this overall context that Meng Wanzhou, Huawei’s CFO, was arrested in December 2018 at the Vancouver airport by Canadian authorities responding to a request by the U.S. government. She has been under house arrest in Vancouver ever since.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s statement that if he believed it would help the U.S. in its trade negotiations with China he could simply let her go should dispel any lingering doubt about the political nature of the persecution of Meng as a person and Huawei as a company.

The Canadian authorities spent 19 months in a legal morass thrashing out the different aspects of the U.S. extradition request and Meng’s defense against it. Far from existing only in a legal framework, Meng’s plight is part and parcel of a double-whacking of kneecaps by Washington. And it’s predominantly political in nature. Meng is today’s Nancy Kerrigan.  

The harsh reality is that Canada has been unwittingly thrown under the bus by a baton-wielding Washington.  What happened since Dec. 1, 2018 has turned both China and Canada into victims.  We are all suffering the dire consequences.  

At a technical level, the brazen political persecution of Meng and Huawei may force China to accelerate its move toward independence and self-reliance in the manufacture of semiconductors, which may in turn ring the knell of the American semiconductor industry in 10 to 15 years. Ironically, whacking the kneecaps of Huawei, the largest customer for semiconductors and holding the most 5G IPRs, may boomerang in a self-inflicted suicidal whack of the semiconductor industry in the United States.    

Canada and China have no fundamental reason not to be friends with each other. They are highly complementary, to such an extent that it is fair to say that, going forward, Canada can hardly become a real energy superpower without lining up the vast energy market of China. I was inspired to coin the term Chinada several years ago and have been consistently promoting cooperation and mutual benefit. I have been traumatized to see relations being torn to pieces, for no other reason than the political persecution of Meng and Huawei. It’s a kneecapping, plain and simple.

I have been pained to see the families of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, who were charged with espionage in China, move up and down in appealing to the Canadian government to do whatever it can to bring them home. I am disappointed to hear the Canadian prime minister claim that Canada, as a country of rule of law, cannot set Meng free in exchange for the two Michaels. The reality is that Canada’s rule of law actually grants complete discretion, to be exercised solely by the Canadian justice minister, to terminate the extradition process and set Meng free. Rather than being against the rule of law, this is allowed by the rule of law of Canada.  More important, Canada’s rule of law should not be used as a cover to hide the kneecap whacking of Meng and Huawei.  

The Chinese government has insisted that the two Michaels have nothing to do with the case of Meng in Canada. That being the case, as a private citizen in China dedicated to Chinada friendship and goodwill, I undertake to move mountains an appeal for the two Michaels to be sent home if Meng is allowed to rejoin her family in China.  

In the bigger picture, the most important question facing China and the United States — and mankind, including Canada — is less when or whether China will eventually outgrow the United States but more how the two will get along when Washington one day wakes up to the reality that China is more influential. 

My confidence in the China-U.S. relations in the medium-  and long-term is based on a firm belief that fundamentally the American and Chinese people have no legitimate reason to be enemies. While China has become the largest exporter in the world, it does not export religion, ideology, political system or a world order. The great transformation of China over the past four decades has been achieved by thriving within the current world order, rather than by attempting to destroy it. In essence, China is not an enemy of the United States, and the Chinese people are not enemies of the American people.  

In this sense, the worst that can happen to Canada is to be trampled by the current hassle between Beijing and Washington, unleashed virtually without exception by the latter, not the former. The best that can happen to Canada is playing mediator between Beijing and Washington, helping promote AmeriChina friendship and cooperation, and helping forge AmeriChinada links. 

There are indeed demagogues in Washington who have poisoned China-U.S. relations, eager to hijack the great American and Chinese people and put them on a path of antagonism, hate and mutual destruction. These protagonists will stop at nothing to fool and agitate the American people. They may deliver their poison across the 49th meridian.

But the American and Canadian people, with their dignity and decency, will not be fooled all the time and will eventually see through the folly and destructiveness of Tonya Harding syndrome. They will come to abhor those in high positions who advocate kneecapping. The two peoples will need to find a way to get along in peace and development, whether one is bigger or smaller than the other at any given moment, by any measurement, in any particular category.

Neither China nor the United States can benefit from the folly of Tonya Harding syndrome. Cooperation and healthy competition between the two will make them both strong and enrich the two peoples and mankind as a whole.

As for Canada, it can win the approval of the world by helping defuse the bomb that lies between Beijing and Washington, and by declining to pour more fuel on the conflagration caused by the paroxysm of Tonya Harding syndrome in Washington.

I have a dream that one day Beijing and Washington will overcome their senseless tensions and promote AmeriChina cooperation for their mutual benefit. I am convinced that China and Canada will surely benefit from Chinada cooperation and goodwill. I have a vision that one day, America, China and Canada will create great benefits for all our great peoples by forging AmeriChinada cooperation.

Meanwhile, let us move mountains and send Meng Wanzhou home, and send the two Michaels home. This is the right thing to do. And it is allowed by the rule of law.

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