It’s hard to take issue with Chas Freeman, the former American diplomat who, in the past, has asked intelligent questions about his country’s often questionable foreign policy.

He is a longtime critic of America’s relentless pro-Israel policy. He’s opposed the Israel lobby and the violent expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza.

He opposed the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a pet project of President Barrack Obama, for excluding China. A regional trade agreement that excludes the region’s largest and most vigorous economy is more about geopolitics than trade. China is the most influential nation in Asia; its economy is arguably the world’s largest.

However, Freeman’s smart views, clearly set forth in his opinion piece “Reimagining China and Asia” in The Japan Times on Nov. 9 require an adjusted focus.

He reminds us of China’s “economic growth dynamics.” More important than military might, the “key” to understanding Asia, he believes, is that “in a region of 4.4 billion people, most supply chains converge in China.”

“That, of course,” he continues, “is the coinage political leaders of any country are concerned about the most, if for no other reason than securing their own legitimacy and/or popular support.”

Coins have two sides. If economic dynamism is one side, then surely the obverse side is President Xi Jinping.

Freeman refers to a “distinctive Chinese style of coercive diplomacy,” a notion that few people who are not members of the Chinese Communist Party would disagree with. It’s no secret that the Chinese government has suppressed free speech in Hong Kong and seeks to impose control over the South China Sea.

Its “soft power” punches land hard. China Quarterly, an academic journal published by Cambridge University Press, was badly bruised by Chinese attempts at censorship.

Freeman’s own government, however, is no angel. Okinawans have been burdened for decades by the U.S. military’s bullying demands and barbaric behavior.

If military strength represents one side of the American coin, then its obverse is President Donald Trump, the irascible and impulsive showman who’s been wowing his way through Asia.

Freeman points out that “face” is the “key norm of Chinese society.” Looking at both leaders and the debased coinage they represent, Asian nations have a dreary choice: a determined, impassive Xi or a devious and clownish Trump.


The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.

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