CPEC and CPAC

Published: March 9, 2017
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We all know about our own CPEC — China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. As part of the Chinese initiative of One Belt One Road (OBOR), CPEC will promote connectivity, trade, investment and globalisation. There is, however, another CPAC, nurtured in the main adversary of China, the US of A. Christened as the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), its ideologues consider it the birthplace of modern conservatism. In 1985, Ronald Reagan described CPAC as “the opportunity to dance with the one who brung ya.” Brung is a dialect from the olden days of the South. It means “brought” and conveys a deep sense of loyalty. The idea is that one should dance with the person who brought one to the dance. Little wonder, Donald Trump felt most at home in the CPAC 2017 last month. By his own admission, he had made his first major political speech at CPAC six years ago. As President, he made his first major political speech at CPAC 2017 last month. He was speaking to his flock, as the leader of a “historic movement.” Drawing a comparison with Bernie Sanders, he made the snide remark: “There’s been some movements that petered out, like Bernie — petered out.” He roared against the “fake” media. He swore not to trade away American jobs to others and spend trillions of greenbacks to defend “ other nations’ borders while leaving ours wide open.” NAFTA is nothing but “economic undevelopment”. TPP would be a similar disaster. Environmentalists were put on notice. Keystone and Dakota Access pipelines have been authorised. Restrictions on shale, oil and coal will be lifted. Seventy-five per cent of the regulations will be thrown away and taxes will be cut significantly. No more will the United States spend billions abroad while its own infrastructure decays. The days of Obamacare are numbered. A debt of $20 trillion was accumulated and no wars won. “We’re going to start winning again, believe me. We’re going to win.” This will be made possible by “one of the greatest military buildups in American history.”

In fact, most of the elements of Trumpnomics are reactions to China’s economic rise. CPAC is an arm of the American Conservative Union (ACU) established in 1964. The ACU has campaigned for liberty, personal responsibility, traditional values and strong national defence. Capitalism is believed to be the only economic system compatible with political liberty. Collectivism and capitalism cannot go together. This conservative belief has been shattered by the Chinese miracle of sustained double-digit growth for a long period of time. In ACU’s view, weak intellectual property rights have reduced protection for the US inventors. The beneficiary is China, chipping away the American competitive edge.

At the CPAC 2017, the noisiest presence was that of the Tea Party. Earlier, this powerful group of fiscal purists had dismissed Trump as a populist who could not be trusted. With the control of the legislative, executive and judicial branches with the conservatives, this group expects the budget to be balanced, something that even Reagan could not achieve. However, a $54 billion increase in defence budget, the hands-off policy towards major spenders like Social Security and Medicare, the commitment to build the wall on the Southern border and upgrading of infrastructure, and the tax cut plans do not add up to a zero deficit. Reagan saw the end of Soviet Union by increasing fiscal deficit. Similarly, Trumpnomics is anchored in the containment of China, not fiscal deficit. Which makes the juxtaposition of CPAC and CPEC-OBOR ever more relevant. Or, is it a reminder of the Chinese curse: “May you live in interesting times.”

Published in The Express Tribune, March 10th, 2017.

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