By Mohammad Mazhari

China has significant leverage over U.S.: American scholar

October 10, 2021 - 12:20

TEHRAN – Pointing to Beijing's leverage over Washington, an American anthropologist says that any damage to U.S.-China trade would harm U.S. economic interests. 

"The United States is 'addicted' to the importation of Chinese consumer goods," William O. Beeman tells the Tehran Times.

"China holds trillions of dollars in United States debt in the form of bonds and other borrowing instruments. If China were to 'dump' these bonds, it would create chaos in the United States," professor emeritus of the State University of Minnesota adds.

Many American politicians have expressed their concerns about U.S.-China's unbalanced economic relations, supporting punitive measures against Beijing.

But some factors are deterring the U.S. from continuing pressure policy regarding trade ties with China.

"Chinese companies are widely sold on the American stock exchanges, so investors in the United States have invested billions of dollars in Chinese companies," Beeman notes.

"Any damage to U.S.-China relations results in a drop of the value of these Chinese stocks, making American investors angry. China has very large leverage over the United States."

Following is the text of the interview:

Reuters has said that several U.S. special operations forces have been rotating into Taiwan temporarily to train with Taiwanese forces. Could you explain to an Asian reader that what the U.S. is doing over there?

Taiwan has been threatened with annexation by mainland China ever since World War II. China considers Taiwan to be an integral Chinese territory, and Taiwan's international status is ambiguous as a result of this. The United States is committed to supporting Taiwan's independence from China, and these military operations have been longstanding. Recent military actions by China in the South China Sea and recent political declarations by China regarding Taiwan's independent status have raised concerns both in Taiwan and the United States. The United States' withdrawal from Afghanistan has also emboldened some factions of Chinese leadership to believe that the United States would not defend Taiwan and risk war with China. These military actions are designed to prepare Taiwan from any incursion from China and serve as a warning to China that the United States is not abandoning its commitments to Taiwan.

What are the repercussions of AUKUS for China, the Far East, and U.S. allies in Europe, especially France?

The AUKUS alliance is another response to China. The United States, U.K., and Australia concluded that the deal between Australia and France for submarines would not provide sufficient military power to counter any serious Chinese action in the South China Sea. The nuclear submarines provided by the United States were deemed to be superior for the military defense to the non-nuclear submarines provided by France. The AUKUS alliance is yet another indication of the seriousness of all three nations seeing a possible Chinese threat in the region.

United States actions against Iran have essentially driven Iran into a strengthened economic and trade alliance with China.

Shanghai Cooperation members accepted Iran's full membership in this organization. Do you confirm that U.S. behaviors and provocations against Iran and China enhanced more importance to such regional coalitions in response to U.S. unilateral moves?

Yes, United States actions against Iran and non-progress on reviving the JCPOA have essentially driven Iran into a strengthened economic and trade alliance with China. China essentially defies United States sanctions against Iran and is providing an economic lifeline to Iran in the view of Iran's leaders. This has also raised concerns in some circles in Iran that the alliance between Iran and China is growing too close. Importing Chinese workers for port construction in Southeast Iran is viewed with concern by many, based on the experience of many developing countries in Africa and Latin America who have found that accepting Chinese development help often leads to unfavorable economic entanglements with China that are hard to break.

How do American media outlets represent China for their public? Is China an absolute monster as it is portrayed in the U.S.?

American media outlets do not actually portray China as a "monster." They report on China's actions in the South China Sea and trade relations, but they do not portray China as a serious threat to the United States. China is largely portrayed as a non-hostile partner. Iran is far more demonized in the press than China, which is ridiculous since Iran does not pose a direct threat to the United States. In contrast, Chinese actions can potentially have a huge effect on American life.

However, politicians from both parties complain about the United States' economic relations with China, citing unfavorable balance of trade and, more seriously, theft of intellectual property (patent violations, industrial espionage) undertaken by the Chinese industry. But at this point, the United States is "addicted" to the importation of Chinese consumer goods. Moreover, China holds trillions of dollars in United States debt in the form of bonds and other borrowing instruments. If China were to "dump" these bonds, it would create chaos in the United States. Additionally, Chinese companies are widely sold on the American stock exchanges, so investors in the United States have invested billions of dollars in Chinese companies. Any damage to U.S.-China relations results in a drop in the value of these Chinese stocks, making American investors angry. So China has very large leverage over the United States.

Donald Trump tried to "punish" China in an extremely crude way by imposing trade embargos, but this effort was rather stupid because Trump couldn't articulate what he wanted China to do to improve trade and economic relations, and his sanctions did not change China's economic or military behavior; it only hurt the American economy. These sanctions have largely been abandoned, and the United States is back to business as usual with China.


What are the effects and political fallouts of U.S. policies in the Far East, especially when it tries to picture China as a threat to Japan, South Korea, India, and Australia?

United States foreign and military policy in East Asia has somewhat "gone to sleep." Whereas in the Vietnam Era, the United States was deeply concerned with Asia, in the last 40 years, Chinese actions in the region have been of much less concern in the eyes of the American public. Military officials and some politicians are indeed concerned about the long-term prospects for Chinese ambitions in the region and have been preparing Taiwan, Japan, and Korea to be on alert. You mentioned, and I discussed, the AUKUS agreement above as an example of concern with China at the political and military level. Still, this concern has not extended to the American public beyond occasional grumbling about Chinese trade practices. Chinese military efforts are, incorrectly in my opinion, at this point not perceived as a danger by the American press or the American public.

I should also mention the situation in Xinjiang where the Uyghur people have been demonstrably oppressed by the Chinese government, largely based on their Islamic religious faith and Turkic Uyghur language. This is of great concern for human rights representatives, but it has not sparked concern on the part of the American public. The same is true about the recent repressive actions taken by the Chinese government in Hong Kong.

As a footnote to this commentary, I should mention that I have often traveled to China and studied Chinese, which I now speak at a basic level. My feelings about China are mixed. I have had nothing but excellent experiences in China. I greatly admire Chinese culture and have only positive things to say about the Chinese people, who are highly cultured, hospitable, and immensely talented. But in my comments above, I reflect attitudes and concerns on the part of U.S. officials about the actions of the Chinese government.

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