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Tuesday’s State of the Union address could easily be summarized as President Obama making one last rhetorical defense of his presidency to an unconvinced American people who possess no tangible signs of his success. We have to be constantly reminded of the things President Obama has “accomplished” because they have simply created little to no immediate value for the American people. The Affordable Care Act, for example, is increasing health insurance premiums and decreasing the quality of coverage. Defenders of the president will quickly point out that many of his signature policies, like the Iranian Nuclear Deal with the major powers including China or the climate agreement with China specifically, likely won’t bear fruit for many years and are simply investments for the future. This may be the case and it would be naive to expect immediate positive results from these major policy changes.
The only thing more naive is to trust that the Chinese government will adhere to the terms of long-term international agreements.
Obama’s signature achievements, to be polite, on foreign policy and climate/energy run through Beijing. First, the Chinese must be willing to punish their not too distant neighbor and soon-to-be major trading partner, including oil supplier, should the Iranians decide to build a nuclear weapon. This would be a tall order regardless of Beijing’s reputation. China is currently bordered by four known nuclear-armed states, including North Korea and Pakistan, and has a major weapons program itself. It’s hard to imagine they care as deeply about nutjobs with nukes as much as we do given the circumstances. China is also supposedly committed to begin reducing its carbon emissions by, according to official White House language, “around 2030.”
It’s somewhat startling that seemingly no one in our $3.7 trillion government bothered to check China’s track record when it comes to these types of agreements. The first red flag should have been obvious. The US military is currently dealing with the predicament of the Chinese building artificial islands in the South China Sea, undoubtedly to serve as military installations. The Chinese also claim ownership over 80 percent of the South China Sea, which extends for thousands of miles south of China’s coast. This is a fairly clear violation of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which states that territorial waters extend only 12 miles from a nation’s coastline. China is a signatory of the agreement.
A less obvious, equally egregious, and far more tragic example of China’s propensity to renege on important international agreements is Beijing’s recent treatment of Hong Kong. In 1997, after over a century of British rule, China and the United Kingdom reached an agreement to transfer sovereignty of the former colony to China. Part of this agreement formed what is known as the Hong Kong Basic Law. Unlike the rest of China, Hong Kong embraced classical liberalism due to the long presence of the British. Thus, its citizens enjoyed high levels of economic and political freedom. This has made Hong Kong a haven for refugees from Mainland China. Outright protests of policies and politicians in Beijing are not uncommon in the Hong Kong streets. Under the agreement with the UK, the Hong Kong Basic Law protected these freedoms for Hong Kong’s citizens for a period of 50 years (through 2047). Yet Beijing has been poking and prodding Hong Kong, testing the limits of the Basic Law.
In July of 2003, a change to the Basic Law was proposed, under pressure from Beijing, which would have imposed speech restrictions to prohibit criticism (“prohibit any act of treason, secession, sedition, subversion against the Central People’s Government”) of the Mainland Chinese government from within Hong Kong. The proposal was quickly met with mass protests numbering in the hundreds of thousands, shutting down much of the territory and causing the proposed change to be indefinitely shelved. Again, in 2014, Beijing sought to increase its control over Hong Kong through the territory’s elections, effectively pre-selecting the candidates for Hong Kongers to choose. This sparked the mass protests in late 2014 also known as the Umbrella Revolution. Now, very recently, five men connected to a bookstore and publishing company known to specialize in books banned by the Communist Chinese government have all gone missing in separate and mysterious circumstances. Unsurprisingly, agents of the Beijing government are the prime suspects in the minds of Hong Kong’s citizens.
It should be obvious what these deeply troubling controversies say about the Chinese government. The 50-year agreement between China and the UK isn’t even 20 years old and wasn’t even a decade old when Beijing first tried to wriggle its way around it.
Now the United States is relying on the word of the same Communist Party ruling in Beijing to uphold the terms of a major nuclear weapons agreement and its promise to reduce CO2 emissions 15 years from now (and not just fudge the numbers)?
Unfortunately it seems that President Obama has borrowed his achievements on the full faith and credit of the Chinese government. If he and his supporters continue to cite the Iran Deal and the climate agreement as major accomplishments, the fate of his legacy is already sealed. It’s perhaps slightly poetic that once China is done sticking its thumb in the eye of the former British Empire, they’ll be doing it to an America diminished by the gullibility of Barack Obama.Published in