Western nations are scapegoating China for their own mistakes

By: Rachel Marsden

PARIS — When U.S. President Joe Biden met with America’s top allies at the G-7 summit in England last week, the primary objective seemed to be to signal-boost the appearance of unity against America’s geopolitical adversaries. The primary bogeyman propped up for use as a rhetorical punching bag was China, suggesting a pivot away from Russia as the designated global villain.

The G-7 nations — America, Canada, Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Japan — vowed “to coordinate a common strategy to deal with China non-market policies that undermine competition,” Biden said in a press conference. He accused China of “forced labor” and said there needs to be “a democratic alternative to the Belt and Road Initiative.”

Perhaps a mirror would be helpful in determining where it all went wrong.

Maybe China wouldn’t be so powerful today if these same countries hadn’t spent years ignoring — or even tacitly encouraging through inaction and faulty policies — the outsourcing of Western manufacturing and jobs to China. Instead of asking what could be done to improve the business climate in the West in order to repatriate this lost productivity, these same governments seemed content to turn a blind eye to the situation as long as it meant a healthy profit margin for the business leaders at the top of the food chain.

Suddenly, China’s cheap labor is a human rights problem — long after it helped make U.S. companies trillions of dollars in profit. At what point did Western authorities have a crisis of conscience about China’s manufacturing labor cost of $3.28 an hour? Apparently, now that there are countries with even cheaper labor to exploit, it’s time to get tough on China.

Notice that the G-7 countries aren’t taking their ally India to task for a manufacturing labor cost of $1.72 an hour. Nor do they have unkind words for one of their regional allies against China, Vietnam, with its manufacturing labor cost of $1.96 an hour. It seems as if this ultra-low-cost exploitative labor would undermine markets even more than China does, but apparently we’re not going to talk about it because U.S. industry has already pivoted to these countries in a global race to pay people as little as possible for their work. Instead, we’re going to hear a lot of selective outrage against the big economic adversary that Western nations helped to create, and there won’t be any of the deep soul-searching that would lead to an admission of how Western policies contributed to this result.

The same feigned ignorance applies to China’s Belt and Road Initiative, cited by Biden as a threat to Western economic interests. China began this project in 2013, when Biden was Barack Obama’s vice president, so perhaps Donald Trump was on to something with the “Sleepy Joe” riffs if Biden is just waking up to it now.

The Belt and Road Initiative is a plan to establish land and maritime routes that would enable China to ship goods around the world in record time. It’s no secret that one of China’s strategies is to rope certain countries into being indebted to Chinese banks by loaning those countries money to build infrastructure for the project. These nations are seduced by the promise of sustained wealth from the route’s completion and the independence that such riches would bring.

Montenegro is one example of this dream turned nightmare. The cash-strapped country, struggling with a post-communist transition, signed on to the project, took a $944 million loan from the Export-Import Bank of China and blew it on a 25-mile stretch of road leading to nowhere, according to an Agence France-Presse report.

But China was only stepping into a void Western countries had left. Who else was going to invest in needy Montenegro? Certainly not the European Union, which didn’t seem to have an interest in loaning cash to a country marred by corruption. Everything Western leaders have been doing has been based on self-serving, short-term benefits, to the detriment of long-term strategy.

“We’re in a contest … with autocrats, autocratic governments around the world, as to whether or not democracies can compete with them in a rapidly changing 21st century,” Biden said at the G-7 summit.

Yes, but successfully competing with autocratic governments would first require Western nations to stop making choices that undermine their own potential for success. The West’s primary adversary isn’t China or any other country — it’s their own shortsightedness.