Tonya Harding Syndrome

Tonya Harding Syndrome in China-US relations

Victor Gao

Tonya Harding was a promising American figure skater, eager to strike more fame and fortune at the world championships and the Olympics. What undid Tonya’s skating career was her implication in the whacking of the kneecap of Nancy Kerrigan, a graceful skating competitor from Massachusetts, by Tonya’s husband, Gilloly, and his associates. When the dust settled, Tonya Harding was barred from figure skating competition for life.

The Tonya Harding Syndrome is the agony of worrying and panicking about losing out in a competition and resorting to whacking the kneecap of one’s competitor, driven by the desire to ensure one’s championship in a competition rendered unfair and indecent.

The Tonya Harding Syndrome can plague not only a person but also a company, an institution, a society, or a country. The target of the Tonya Harding Syndrome can be the whacking of a kneecap, a limb, any other body part, or the wholeness and integrity of a person, a company, an institution, a society, a country, or any unit of anything we know of. In essence, the whacking of the kneecap is to destroy fair and decent competition.

Applying to almost all forms of human endeavor, competition has always been a catalyst of human progress, and has made human endeavors more rigorous, disciplined, and forward-moving. Human progress cannot be made without competition.

In recent years, China-US relations have been pushed into a virtual free-fall. While there are many attempts to describe why the China-US relations have dropped into an abyss, including the Thucydides Trap, an all-out blaming and bashing of anything Chinese, a desperate drive to make America great (as if America were not great to start with) and to keep America first (as if the rest of the world should be relegated to last and least), the complexities of the China-US relations crisis can actually be described as a viral attack of the Tonya Harding Syndrome, by some people in high positions in Washington.

There seems to be no lack of zeal and eagerness in Washington to whack Chinese kneecaps, in the hope that, by doing so, Washington can keep Beijing out of the competition and ensure America remains the perpetual champion.

If the goal of whacking the Chinese kneecaps is to prevent China’s steady rise, that is a futile attempt. The complexities of the China-US relations now is that (1) in many ways, China is already ahead of the US (population, market size, economy by PPP, gross export, the number of college graduates every year, etc.); and (2) in many other ways, China may never be ahead of the US (GDP per capita, military superiority, etc.).

Further, for these two nuclear weapons powers armed to the teeth, war is not and should not be an option between China and the US. Anyone advocating and instigating a war between China and the US should be condemned as public enemies of mankind. The Chinese people and the American people should advocate peace and prevent any war between each other.

The harsh reality is that no one should indulge in a fantasy that Washington can hold Beijing down onto the ground with impunity, either short of war or even in a war. No matter how many Chinese kneecaps Washington dares to whack, China will continue to grow. This is the irreversible mega-trend in the world today. Further, on a philosophical level, the more Chinese kneecaps Washington whacks, the more the American people may suffer as a whole.

For example, some top official in Washington seems to take delight in levying astronomical tariffs against Chinese exports to the US and claims to the American people that China pays all these tariffs. Anyone with the decency of the mind knows for sure that China doesn’t pay a single penny of these tariffs.

It is the American importers and consumers who pay these tariffs. In a sense, whacking the Chinese kneecaps in a trade war is the equivalent of whacking the kneecaps of the American people.

Washington has been mobilizing its total national resources to whack the kneecap of Huawei, a world-leading firm of the 5G technology. Such brazen political persecution of an outstanding technology company may inadvertently force China to accelerate its drive for self-sufficiency in semi-conductors, which may, in its turn, ring the knell of the American semi-conductor industry. Whacking the kneecap of your largest customer with the largest number of patents in 5G may boomerang in a self-inflicted, suicidal whack of your own semi-conductor industry.

The most important question facing China and the US and mankind as a whole is less when or whether China will eventually outgrow the size of the US, but more how China and the US will get along with each other in about 10 to 15 years when Washington will need to eventually come to terms with a China that is larger and may be more impactful than the US. While China has become the largest exporter in the world, China does not export ideology, religion, or a political system. The great transformation of China over the past four decades has been achieved by China thriving within the current world order, rather than by its attempt to destroy it.

There are demagogues who have poisoned the China-US relations and are eager to hijack the great people from both sides onto a path of antagonism, hatred, and mutual destruction.

They may stop at nothing to fool and agitate the American people in this frenzy. But the American people, with their dignity and decency, cannot be fooled all the time and will eventually see through the folly and destructiveness of the Tonya Harding Syndrome. Both sides will need to find a way to get along with each other. Neither China nor the US can benefit from the folly of the Tonya Harding Syndrome. Cooperation and healthy competition between China and the US will make them strong and enrich the two peoples and mankind as a whole.

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