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The United States Keeps Getting China All Wrong

Above: Chinese leaders from

For decades, China has been an enigmatic foe and friend to the United States. From trade to immigration, the two international giants have been linked in inextricable ways in recent years. With Donald Trump’s current trade war with China and the Hong Kong protests hitting headlines, Americans are once again thinking about the Chinese in a more nuanced way. Yet there is still a lot of misinformation about the Asian nation circulating at all levels of American society, including within the Trump administration.

In the most recent installment of “Scheer Intelligence,” Clayton Dube, director of the University of Southern California’s U.S.-China Institute, speaks with Truthdig Editor in Chief Robert Scheer about some of the reasons the U.S. keeps getting China wrong and the implications this has had for both countries.

“We got a lot wrong, especially in terms of kind of mass media,” Dube tells Scheer. “China is a large, complex, diverse country. And our understanding of it necessarily needs to be much more nuanced.”

According to Scheer, part of the historical context that the West continually overlooks in its analysis of U.S.-China relations is the Western imperialism that has oppressed China ever since the 19th-century Opium Wars, through to the U.S. invasions of Korea and Vietnam. In terms of trade, an environmental price has been paid on both ends.

“The air in Los Angeles is influenced by the air coming out of northern China,” Dube explains by way of an example. “But of course, that bad air in China is produced by factories often producing for the American market. And so we have not only outsourced production, we’ve outsourced pollution.”

China, however, is now addressing the deadly pollution that has been exported there with heavy investment in renewable energy and increasingly efficient machinery.

As for the U.S. trade war with China and the recent protests in Hong Kong, a special administrative region belonging to China, Scheer notes that the reporting by U.S. media has once again lacked nuance, leading to further confusion about what is going on in China. In Scheer’s view, Trump’s tariffs can be seen as an effort to keep China a low-paid factory floor.

“I find a lot of mixed feelings about what’s happening in Hong Kong, which some of [my USC students from China] see as a privileged place with its own history,” he tells Dube. “And also about the tariff war with the United States, which they tend to think is quite punitive and one-sided. [In regard to the protests] I just wonder—recalling how Hong Kong was this outpost of English imperialism, and its special relation to China—are we not actually sticking our finger in their eye now, in a way?”

“What we have to first of all understand is: Beijing makes claims that the problems in Hong Kong have external origins and that the United States and United Kingdom are stirring that up as a way of weakening China, as a wedge into holding China back,” Dube responds. “And there’s no evidence of that. What’s driving the protests in Hong Kong are Hong Kong-specific issues, and Hong Kong-specific history.”

Listen to the full discussion between Dube and Scheer as they delve into the complicated and at times bloody history between China and the U.S. and try to come to an understanding about where this relationship is heading. You can also read a transcript of the interview below the media player and find past episodes of “Scheer Intelligence” here.

—Introduction by Natasha Hakimi Zapata

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