– December 12, 2019

It’s said about Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson that he’s a particularly challenging opponent. With Jackson there’s no preparing for the run or pass; rather there’s preparing for the run, pass, along with the horrifying possibility that Jackson himself will run the ball. With only eleven defenders, opposing coaches seem to be implying that they don’t have enough players in position to respond to the myriad things Jackson might do with the football.

The immense challenge that comes with playing against Jackson came to mind while reading some of the latest news about the Trump Administration’s efforts through the FCC to cripple China-based communications giant Huawei. Up front, these actions meant to neuter Huawei are nakedly protectionist, and speak to how far Republicans have slid as the party of “limited government.” It’s truly sad to witness. 

Republicans excuse their embarrassing behavior by claiming that “China” is “communist,” and Huawei has close ties to the communist regime. It’s a reminder that modern Republicans are either ignorant to history, willfully blind to simple economics, or both. Simply put, to visit China is to see it’s “communist” in name only. Anyone with even the slimmest memory of the 20th century knows that communism is defined by relentless misery, starvation, murder, and other horrid things. The latter doesn’t much describe modern China. It’s an economically vibrant country that’s thick with American businesses.  

After which, state-run companies generally aren’t thriving businesses, and their products generally can’t be found around the world. That’s how we know Huawei is run for profit, as opposed to it being run by China’s “communist” regime. Its wares can be found in 177 different countries, and its technology is very popular with cellular companies in the United States, particularly smaller communications companies in rural parts of the U.S. Since the GOP base is increasingly rural, one would think Republicans in Washington would want to know why Huawei technology is so well-regarded by carriers in red states, and also how cripplingly difficult it would be for rural telecoms to shift to other providers if forced to by “limited government” Republicans.

Of course, all of this would require Republicans to meddle less in the operations of private businesses. Sorry, but that’s your dad’s GOP. The modern and rather paranoid GOP thinks businesses are strengthened by government protection, and as a consequence modern Republicans are using the force that is government to try to neuter Huawei.

The stated reason for federal limits erected to Huawei technology stateside has been “national security.” Try not to laugh, but in an effort to limit Huawei’s prospects so that U.S. communications companies can catch up in the “race” to roll out 5G, federal officials are claiming that broader Huawei market penetration in the U.S. would make it possible for this alleged organ of the state to “spy on Americans.” Where does one begin?

For one, it should be stressed again that if Huawei were a tool of the Chinese state then it wouldn’t have any products and services worth selling to begin with. Republicans used to know this basic truth.

For two, assuming Huawei is a worthy company, which it must be based on its global footprint, its owners wouldn’t risk market stature born of endless hard work by angering a crucial market like the United States. And for those who are willfully ignorant, and who believe Huawei’s “owners” are the Chinese communist party, well, there’s really no hope for you.

Which brings us to basic common sense. Stated rather simply, if you’re spying on everyone you’re spying on no one. As is, overnight China critics in the U.S. want to believe that the communists in China are operating a massive surveillance state there in which they know all and see all, at which point they’ll do the same stateside? If so, fear not because you can’t spy on everyone. Goodness, coaches can’t even figure out Lamar Jackson but pundits want us to believe the Chinese aim to figure out all 330 million of us Americans? And they’d like to learn what? The information would overwhelm them as opposed to making their allegedly devious vision for the future more of a reality. If foreign policy deep thinkers are really looking to trip the Chinese up, they should invite them to bug all of our phones. We’ll know the Chinese aren’t a threat if they actually lunge for the fool’s bait. 

At which point it’s got to be remembered that the Chinese aren’t even very good at policing their own people. Indeed, it’s long been pointed out that Facebook, Google and other sites like it are banned in China, but only to the technologically ignorant. As for journalistic types, yours truly has been to China countless times only to see U.S. journalists access the sites mentioned through the use of a VPN. In short, the information blackout only shields those who want to be shielded from information. Kind of like routine watchers of CNN and MSNBC on the left, or Fox on the right.

What about access to real news? Some like to point out that Chinese history is scrubbed of information relating to the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989. No doubt that’s true on the surface, but as Evan Osnos points out in The Age of Ambition, his spectacular book on modern China, basic computer skills make it simple for readers to find out the much uglier truth online. In China.

Osnos goes on to point out that by the time the censors are made aware of information or statements they don’t like reaching the public, it’s too late. Information, and the technology that spreads the information, is much faster than the government officials who vainly presume to limit its dissemination. In short, technology created in the free market will outrun what government officials might use to limit information flow, or attain it. Repeat yet again, if they’re spying on everyone they’re spying on no one.

Which brings it all back to what’s brought on the federal government’s vicious attack on Huawei. It’s once again protectionism, plain and simple. Federal officials and U.S. businesses fear they can’t win the alleged “race” to 5G supremacy in the marketplace, so they’re resorting to government. It’s the only answer to the Huawei riddle, and it’s sad.

Republicans who used to cheer China’s shedding of its statist past, and who used to venerate free trade, are running from it. The whole world is watching as they embrace the mathematical equivalent of 1+1 equaling a thousand. It seems free markets can really only be free if “America” is winning. Lost on the GOP is that such a strategy is for losers.

This piece originally ran in RealClearMarkets

John Tamny

John-Tamny

John Tamny, research fellow of AIER, is editor of RealClearMarkets. His book on current ideological trends is: They Are Both Wrong (AIER, 2019)

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