yesterday's (Nov. 25) Financial Times,
my friend Claremont College professor Minxin Pei commented
that "China may choose to do nothing (with regard to trying to rein in North
Korea) just to prove that the west cannot bash it and beg at the same time."
the question of China possibly cutting off its nose to spite its face that
caught my attention. After all, China may really not consider North Korea to be
or any danger to it at all. Rather it was the use of the term "bash" and its
ascription of bashing to the "West." Let me hasten to say that my comments here
are not at all meant as a criticism of Minxin who I am sure used the term
simply as a repetition of current usage and without giving it much thought. But
that in itself is significant as a manifestation of how extant this powerfully
loaded term has become.
what bash means or what people would be trying to say if they called you a
basher. The word suggests a vicious, even irrational and probably gratuitous or
perhaps racist, attack on someone or some group or some country. And let me say
up front that I know this and am sensitive to it, because in the 1980s and 1990s
when I was first a U.S. trade negotiator with Japan and then an analyst of
globalization at the Economic Strategy Institute, I was routinely referred to
in the press as a "Japan basher."
In the case
of yesterday's article, the comment was in relation to the fact that China has
been criticized over the past few years on a wide range of issues including its
claims of sovereignty over disputed isles in the South China Sea, the ramming
of a Japanese ship by a Chinese fishing vessel, refusal to relax its
intervention in global currency markets and to allow its currency to revalue
significantly, reluctance to accept some degree of responsibility for
rebalancing the current, massive global trade imbalances, as well as its
refusal or inability to do anything about its North Korean allies' nuclear
doubt, there are two sides to all these stories and China has a right to voice
its claims and to act or not to act as it sees fit. But surely other countries
may have grounds for their criticisms. China no more than any other country
should be immune from legitimate criticism. But this is, in effect, what
happens when we use start using the terms bash, bashing, and basher. Because
they suggest irrationality, hatred, and racism, they inhibit and obviate
serious and necessary discussion of important differences and issues. Are there
no legitimate grounds for concern about China's territorial claims in the
Pacific or about its currency and trade policies? Certainly the Federal
Reserve's monetary policies and U.S. currency policies were subjected to
withering criticism at the last G-20 meeting.
only underlines another interesting element of phenomenon. "Bashing" is
something that apparently can only be done by the West, and really only by the
United States. No one calls China a U.S. basher when it criticizes Ben Bernanke
or the U.S. banking system. No one calls Germany a U.S. basher when it levels
criticism at U.S. economic policies.
basher was first popularized by Washington
Post columnist Hobart Rowen in the 1980s when, in his passionate advocacy
of free trade, he used it to undermine the legitimacy of any U.S. response to
or even criticism of Japan's mercantilist, export led growth strategy of the
time. His tactic proved so effective that it was quickly adopted by the
officialdom and media of Japan and other countries wishing to deflect and halt
U.S. pressure on them for change.
time to stop using this term in reference to debate with or about our
international partners. We should be speaking of "criticizing" rather than of
Clyde Prestowitz is president of the Economic Strategy Institute and author of The Betrayal of American Prosperity.
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