It was a close call, but China finally edged out Congress for the Hypocrite of the Year Award. Congress grabbed the lead when Republicans, who bemoaned the wreckage President Obama did to the nation’s credit by adding some $7 trillion to $9 trillion to our national debt, decided that adding to our debt is really a good way of stimulating growth. And simultaneously Democrats, who cheered Obama on as he ladled red ink over the nation’s ledgers, expressed outrage at Republicans’ willingness to add $1.5 trillion—or is it $2.2 trillion, or perhaps only $0.5 trillion, no matter—to the IOUs we are leaving to our children.
Hypocritical, but not good enough for first prize. China was not to be outdone. Earlier this year Xi Jinping, president of the People’s Republic, took the stage at the Davos gathering of the great, the good, and their hangers-ons, to say that unlike America, China is willing to “swim in the vast ocean of the Asian market . . . develop a model of open and win-win competition . . . say no to protectionism. Pursuing protectionism is like locking oneself in a dark room. While wind and rain may be kept outside, that dark room will also block light and air. No one will emerge as a winner in a trade war.” Xi did everything save wave his dog-eared copy of the Mandarin translation of Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations.
And when President Trump reversed long-standing American policy that supported large, multilateral trade deals and the World Trade Organization, Xi rushed to fill the leadership vacuum. At a conference of Asia-Pacific business leaders he urged the audience to “uphold multilateralism,” a clear rebuke to Trump’s support of bilateral trade deals.
But as sportscasters like to say, let’s go to the tape. China will allow foreign firms to compete for its markets only if they turn their technology over to a Chinese partner. The country imposes a 25 percent tariff on imported vehicles, tenfold that imposed by the United States. At the World Trade Organization China runs with the pack of underdeveloped nations, and as such it claims “special and differential treatment”, such as, for example, the right to abandon free trade whenever it pleases.
There’s more. China claims to be America’s replacement as the world leader in the fight to reduce CO2 emissions and prevent global warming. America might abandon the world to its horrible fate if global temperatures rise another 2 degrees centigrade, but not China: “We mankind have only one homeland . . . China will continue to take steps to tackle climate change and fully honor its obligations.” That prompted California Governor Jerry Brown to hop an emissions-spewing jet to seek guidance from, and a tacit alliance with, China’s new Great Leader. Unfortunately, what Xi might have had in mind were not the obligations of the Paris agreement, but the commitment of his Beijing-based Industrial and Commercial Bank of China to underwrite $33 billion of bonds and shares for developers of coal plants. That, according to the Financial Times, makes China “the biggest underwriter” of these greenhouse-gas emitters.
So it is only appropriate that a defender of free trade pause for a moment from developing his nation’s plans to subsidize the industries of the futures, barring imports, stealing intellectual property, and having his banks finance hundreds of coal plants, in order to step forward and receive the Hypocrisy of the Year Award for 2017.