One definition of the word ‘pessimism’ is “a lack of hope or confidence in the future.” Pessimism is certainly pervasive in western politics in the present epoch. The far-left, no longer drawing from Marxism and historical materialism, but rooted in New Left mysticism, post-modernism and de-construction, presents the future as an unfolding ecological catastrophe and high tech authoritarian nightmare. The right-wing narrative presents a nightmarish future of chaos, crime, and cultural decay, while advocate walls and isolationism to retreat from the global community.
Yet, when one looks at the predictions and rhetoric coming from China and its allies, a different view of the future is presented. The Belt and Road Initiative involves a vision of win-win cooperation to create global peace while raising living standards. Within China, projects like the Xiongan New Area and the funding of research and development point toward an underlying belief that the problems of global warming, mass migration, terrorism, and war can be overcome with human ingenuity and creativity. Furthermore, there seems to be a belief on the part of China’s leaders that stimulating and unleashing such creativity and innovative problem-solving is the duty of those in positions of power.
The Trump administration’s decision to target “Made in China 2025” with tariffs most clearly illustrates this divide in worldviews across the planet. It cannot be ignored that Peter Navarro and Tim Lighthizer, professional anti-China agitators who view the efforts made by the Chinese Communist Party to create new advances in technology with extreme suspicion, have Trump’s ear as members of the White House Trade Council. These fanatical anti-China activists are directly advising Trump on trade issues, and presenting him with a tainted understanding of the global economy.
But beyond the agenda of some in Trump’s cabinet, what is the expected outcome of targeting “Made in China 2025”? Why impose tariffs that work to cripple China’s innovations in nuclear power, aircraft navigation, computer chips, and other cutting edge areas? While critics of Xi’s “Made in China 2025” portray it as a plot to take over the world economy, China’s actions surrounding the project demonstrate opposite intentions. China has called for the USA to join them in making technological innovations. China works closely with many American corporations in the production and development of different tech projects. If China was looking to “go it alone” and establish some kind of monopoly, why would it go out of its way to bring in other countries, especially a superpower like the United States?
Rather than welcoming China’s call for further collaboration and joint technological ventures, the response has been efforts to hinder China’s efforts. Meanwhile, the leaders of the USA are cutting funding for their own Universities, infrastructure, and scientific research programs aimed at making breakthroughs. The administration hopes to hinder the efforts of China at the same time.
The mindset that seeks to punish others, while not really advancing one’s self, is a clear expression of pessimism. One is reminded of Filmmaker Michael Moore’s description of the rustbelt voters who were a key element in the election of Trump. Polls showed that many of them did not really believe Trump would improve their lives, but simply that he would rebuke and punish those they blamed for their conditions. Moore was widely quoted saying: “every beaten-down, nameless, forgotten working stiff who used to be part of what was called the middle class loves Trump. He is the human Molotov Cocktail that they’ve been waiting for; the human hand grenade that they can legally throw into the system that stole their lives from them. …”
While China frequently talks of “win-win” on the global market, the strategy of U.S leaders seems to be aiming for lose-lose: defunding their own efforts, while seeking to punish and hinder those of China. It is a defeated lament of “If we cannot succeed, at least we can hold back someone else.”
However, the New York Times and other critics of the Trump administration have pointed out that beyond the problematic intent, the tariffs are unlikely to halt China’s efforts. Chinese corporations have the entire world to trade with, and are not really dependent on business relations with the United States.
“Made in China 2025” is not going to be shut down. It’s efforts to develop technology and work toward solving humanity’s big problems while advancing civilization are going to continue despite this misguided tariff.
Caleb Maupin is a political analyst and activist based in New York. He studied political science at Baldwin-Wallace College and was inspired and involved in the Occupy Wall Street movement, especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.