Beijing’s export of authoritarian regimes, human rights abuses and the undermining of international rules have today become a bipartisan consensus in the United States. In a recent article entitled “Washington’s Dangerous Consensus on China: Don’t Start a New Cold War” published in Foreign Affairs, Bernie Sanders, a self-proclaimed democratic socialist and left-wing leader of the Democratic Party, ostensibly warns against this consensus and even sings against it.
If we look at the article, we will find that the judgment on China in the article is actually similar to the Democratic-Republican consensus. There are contradictions in the article, and there are no concrete action ideas. This is a reflection of the strength of Washington’s consensus on China. It is now difficult for even political figures who want to sing the opposite tune to build a complete and actionable narrative.
Sanders’ article begins by emphasizing that in the 1990s, when both the Democratic and Republican parties advocated for comprehensive economic and trade relations with China, he strongly opposed it, arguing that allowing a huge economy that oppresses labor rights to enter the global free trade system would only fatten big corporations that want to go to China to exploit labor, leaving American workers unemployed and suffering, so he opposed allowing Chinese goods to enter the U.S. market with low tariffs from the beginning. That’s why he opposed allowing Chinese goods to enter the U.S. market with low tariffs from the beginning.
Today, Sand said he still holds the same opinion. Some commentators have questioned how difficult it would be for Sang to argue that “China is taking away the jobs of American workers” if he really cared that a confrontational attitude toward China would lead to anti-China and anti-Asian hatred in the United States. In any case, Sang’s attitude toward China’s economy and trade is in fact no different from the mainstream of the Democratic and Republican parties today.
Sand then listed a variety of Chinese crimes that the U.S. should treat and deal with seriously. He said, “The Chinese government is certainly guilty of a variety of policies and actions that I and the United States should oppose: the theft of technology, suppression of workers’ rights and the media, oppression in Tibet and Hong Kong, threatening behavior toward Taiwan, and a murderous policy toward the Uighurs. The United States should also be concerned about China’s increasingly aggressive global ambitions.” This kind of rhetoric could actually come out of the mouth of any mainstream Democratic or Republican legislator today.
Given that the judgment on China is no different from the mainstream consensus, what does Sand advocate for a policy toward China that is different from the “new Cold War”? The article does not suggest anything specific at all. He only says that the U.S. should not be too confrontational in its posture, and should seek cooperation with China on issues such as climate and counterterrorism. But how? What if China is not interested in cooperating? The article avoids these obvious questions.
Based on the past voting and stance records of Sang and his fellow democratic socialists, we can see that they are, in many cases, no different from the mainstream in their actual actions. On the issue of forced labor for Uighurs, for example, Sand was one of the sponsors of the bill in question. His House ally, Ilhan Omar (D-CA), wrote to major U.S. corporations last year warning them not to use forced labor in Xinjiang because it violates U.S. law. Another left-wing Democrat, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC), has issued a statement celebrating the Dalai Lama’s birthday every year. Speaking before Congress on the anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan uprising in March, she reiterated her support for Tibetans “fighting for freedom,” stating that Tibetans have the right to “use their own language, practice their own religion and culture, and live freely in the country where they belong. The Tibetans have the right to “use their own language, practice their own religion and culture, and live freely in their own country.
Are Sang and his democratic socialist allies merely opposing the new Cold War on vague slogans, while not differing at all from the mainstream consensus on actual policies? Again, this is not necessarily the case. In his article, Sand keeps mentioning how the bipartisan anti-terrorist consensus brought about years of war, and we need to avoid repeating the same mistake. We can foresee that if the U.S. ever goes to war with the CCP over the Taiwan Strait or the South China Sea, they will definitely take the lead in opposing it, and will even encourage anti-war public opinion. By then, their marginal public opinion against the new Cold War may evolve into the mainstream public opinion against the war.
Mainstream political figures and national security officials in Washington understand this situation, so they are actively developing a network of allies in the Indo-Pacific region to establish a layout that allows the United States to respond to aggression by assisting countries in the region without getting too deeply involved in the event of war. This reality is also a factor that the Indo-Pacific countries must consider when establishing their own defense strategies against China.