China’s hold on American elites
China’s hold on American elites

China’s hold on American elites

America second
How America’s elites make China stronger
by Isaac Stone Fish
Knopf, 276 pp., $ 29

Hhelping the other team is never good in sports. It is even worse in geopolitics, where the stakes are as high as they get. Yet that is exactly what America’s ruling class has done, argues Isaac Stone Fish in his new book, America second.

The “elites” he mentions are of different kinds. They are the diplomatic advisers, cadre of former government officials who have raised money thanks to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). They are the Hollywood leaders who bend over backwards to calm Beijing. They are businessmen who sing nothing but praises of China. It is the academics who self-censor. All this paints a very unflattering picture. The point with America second is to tell the story of how this situation arose and how it works.

According to Stone Fish, these Americans are all complicit in Beijing’s agenda to make the United States “a reliable and flexible next to China’s first.” The CCP uses them to promote its major designs. The result is that these elites strengthen China while weakening the United States.

America second reminiscent of Michael Pillsburys Centenary Marathon, which created waves that discussed China’s desire to displace the United States. In about half a century of relations between the United States and China, the CCP has conducted sphere of influence so extensive that it is difficult to find an undeveloped corner of American society. Anyone who hesitates to see Beijing as our country’s biggest opponent should read this book.


The real value of America second is not in its overall argumentation. Stone Fish’s observation that the “accommodation” of American elites – or ‘friendship’, as the party and its allies call it – is widespread throughout America “is not very new or remarkable. On the contrary, the book’s main contribution is in substantiating a known pathology. Stone Fish rattles off example after example of bigshots that have knowingly or unknowingly made the CCP’s bid, from Bob Iger to Bob Zoellick.

Stone Fish does not dwell much on the question of Why our elites have thrown their lot with the CCP in the first place because the answer seems too obvious: money, of course. The opportunity for profit is too lucrative to give up, so no one will be surprised when NBA executives and filmmakers dare not insult Xi Jinping so that he and his thin-skinned comrades should not cut off their massive revenue streams.

But does profit alone explain why Americans put their country second? According to Stone Fish, some people, such as Jimmy Carter, may even believe that they promote constructive Sino-American relations in cooperation with the CCP. However, this is not convincing. Only the most naive could look at an increasingly authoritarian and aggressive CCP and think so much.

An option that is not covered America second is what we might call (to borrow an expression from the late Roger Scruton) oikophobia-a kind of American self-loathing. A U.S. corporate officer can look at China’s apparent stability under the communist regime and favor it over America’s cluttered, chaotic, constantly unresolved democratic policies. (Think of New York Times columnist Thomas Friedmans 2009 assessment: “One-party autocracy has decided its disadvantages. But when it is led by a reasonably enlightened group of people, as China is today, it can also have great benefits, ”while American politics is stuck in stalemate and stupidity.) Out with American exceptionalism, in with moral equivalence or American inferiority.

Whatever the reason, we are left with elites who support a communist state that is willing to undermine American power.

Among Stone Fish’s primary targets is Henry Kissinger. The author does not write a kind word about America’s most famous diplomatic consultant. “By helping normalize corruption among our former diplomats and distorting the American perception of China over the past four decades,” reads a condemnatory passage, “Kissinger has done more harm to American interests than any ethnic Chinese businessman, hacker, spy, whether they hold U.S. or Chinese citizenship. “

It is a slight accusation which is not sufficiently confirmed by the facts of this book. Should we keep Kissinger in greater contempt than the CCP agents who have stolen hundreds of billions of dollars in US intellectual property annual? Does he deserve more guilt than the American business leaders who apologize for the worst Chinese abuses? While Kissinger may have done much to burn the CCP’s image in the United States, Stone Fish is far tougher on him than other Americans.


For all his criticism of our elites, Stone Fish makes it clear that the greatest danger comes from the CCP itself. He calls it “an existential threat to the US-led world order” and even advocates a regime change strategy. This transient proposal feels misplaced in a book on the CCP’s influence in America.

What certainly belongs is his political recommendations to accept the CCP at home. The thought-provoking last section of the book addresses the issue of combating the CCP’s malignant influence in a non-McCarthyite, non-racist way.

Here, Stone Fish speaks mostly to the American left. Biden The Department of Justice has already put some of his advice into practice by ending the China Initiative, a Trump administration program to protect U.S. intellectual property. While it may seem like this is exactly the kind of program Stone Fish would support, the China initiative has been accused of racial profiling, and Stone Fish argues reasonably that we can not allow the campaign against CCP influence to be “stained or distracted by accusations of racism.”

He also argues that we should continue to allow Chinese nationals to study, travel and immigrate here. Fair enough.

But he goes further and suggests that we continue to allow the Confucius Institutes – the CCP satellites that have triggered justified outrage – at our colleges and universities. Why? We need to get to know our enemy, Stone Fish explains. “An imperfect and politically charged understanding of Chinese is better than no understanding at all.” By his logic, we should not do much, if anything, about the CCP’s influence operations on campus. But it is clear that something needs to change. Beijing has exploited the openness of American higher education while denying us reciprocity. Would it not be wise to ban Confucius institutes, limit the number of Chinese students (many of whom are children of CCP officials), and exclude more of our sensitive high-tech areas from Chinese researchers? To accept business as usual is to surrender to the America Second agenda.

There are some bright spots in an otherwise discouraging image. The Women’s Tennis Federation’s decision in December last year to suspend tournaments in China following Peng Shuai’s silence shows that it is not the only option to reconcile the CCP. And, as Stone Fish notes, the TV industry has not yet fallen to China in the way that the film industry has done.

Yet these examples are the few sunny exceptions in an otherwise dark story. It may be too much to hope for America second will contribute in every noticeable way to accustom us to Chinese influence. But by documenting in detail how coordinated the CCP’s campaign of influence has been, and how compromised our elite has become, Stone Fish’s book at least makes the case for this weaning much clearer.


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