Is This NYT Op-Ed a Joke? Selling Taiwan to the Bankers of Beijing

My first reaction to today's op-ed in the NYT was that it was some kind of put-on. America owes China a lot of money; officials in Beijing are always mad at officials in Washington for selling weapons to Taiwan. Presto! Let's solve both problems at once, writing off the debt in exchange for writing off Taiwan. I kept waiting for the "but seriously now..." transition to a real proposal, or the paragraph saying, "Obviously this would be crazy, yet it underscores..." But apparently the author, Paul V. Kane, identified as a Marine Corps veteran of Iraq and a former fellow at the Kennedy School at Harvard, really means it.

If you would like to have a detailed explanation why this proposal is lunatic, Joe Weisenthal has conveniently laid one out at Business Insider. His conclusion:

So in short, what Kane is advocating is an abdication of our strategic self-direction in exchange for extinguishing a threat (Chinese holdings of U.S. debt) that doesn't exist.

What's scary is not that this will ever happen -- it won't -- but that the size of the debt is causing people to think loonier and loonier things. Eventually we might do something really dumb.

If you'd rather skip the analysis and just laugh at the idea, you can go straight to -- you guessed it -- our old friends at NMA TV in Taiwan. Here is their quickly produced but predictably outraged and amusing response.



Yes, yes, I am fully aware that "cross-Straits relations" and "the Taiwan question" are deadly serious issues in Beijing, Washington, and Taipei. But in this case comedy comes closer to the truth of things than the "responsible" publication does. And NMA is becoming more and more important as a soft-power asset for Taiwan.

Update: If you'd like a combination of mockery and analysis, you can check out Thomas P.M. Barnett's recent talk about America's debt to China, and the insanity of discussions like this one in the NYT. Really, couldn't the editors have put a tiny "Onion" logo somewere on this item to show that they knew better?


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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

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