Jeffrey Sachs: a Xi propagandist?
It is always a special moment in the lives of public intellectuals when mighty men on the world stage start parroting the edifice of thoughts which that intellectual help shape over recent decades. Such is the case right now with Jeffrey Sachs, the director of Columbia University's Center for Sustainable Development.
In his books and articles, Jeff Sachs has done much to frame and popularize the language and thinking to push a sustainable development agenda on the world stage. That is an achievement in which he can rightfully take considerable pride. But that should not mean turning oneself effectively into a China -- or rather: Xi Jinping -- propagandist.
Sadly, based on a very explicit recent opinion article, titled "Why the US Should Pursue Cooperation with China", one cannot arrive at any other conclusion. After all, time and again Mr Sachs takes Mr Xi's pronouncements at face value.
For evidence of his PR campaign for China's President for life, consider this statement: "China's goal is neither to prove that autocracy outperforms democracy…". An eyeroll conducted in utter disbelief is the most benign of reactions this conjures up. But Mr Sachs is just getting started. Soon after, he quotes Mr Xi directly with his call on the global community "to abandon ideological prejudice and jointly follow a path of peaceful coexistence, mutual benefit and win-win cooperation".
Viewed in purely rhetorical terms, that is a certainly a statement to be welcomed. But any public intellectual worth his salt would also explore the veracity of such a noble pronouncement by the speaker.
Given that Mr Sachs has longstanding competence and experience in international debt issues, the dubious nature of Mr Xi's pronouncement must have been obvious to him. After all, few countries in Africa, and ever fewer on the New Silk Road, still fall for this kind of lofty, utterly self-serving rhetoric from the Chinese side.
Mr Sachs goes on quoting President Xi right thereafter, this time with Mr Xi's call to "close the divide between developed and developing countries and jointly bring about growth and prosperity for all". Once again, as such that would obviously be a good thing. However, the extremely one-handed way in which China applies this presidential pie-in-the-sky rhetoric in the real world cannot possibly have escaped Mr Sachs. And yet, he stays completely mum on testing the veracity of this Xi pronouncement on this point as well.
Moreover, this is a gap that definitely warrants further explanations from the Chinese side. But on the issue of holding the Beijing government accountable for actually delivering on its words, Mr Sachs remains mum yet again. Now, in the broader framework of global politics, no reasonable person can dispute Mr Sachs's statement that we "need shared global stewardship by all parts of the world".
But to present all those Xi Jinping pronouncements as an argument to question the wisdom of Joe Biden taking a tough line on China misses the mark of an even remotely balanced analysis.
What's worse, for all his devotion to "Xi Speak", Mr Sachs does not even attempt to explore the motives of the Biden administration's reasoning. He essentially dismisses it with the same strictness the world expects out of the mouths of the spokespeople at China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Instead, Mr Sachs offers this true blooper and we quote: "Xi stated that the path to global cooperation requires remaining 'committed to openness and inclusiveness,' as well as 'to international law and international rules' and 'to consultation and cooperation". Inserting that claim into an oped without any mention of Hong Kong, Xinjiang or Taiwan, to name but a few, is stunning.
Taking Mr Xi at face value brings to mind the earlier, enthusiastic support of Boris Yeltsin in the 1990s by a young American economics professor who served at the time as an economic adviser in Moscow. That man was none other than Jeff Sachs. Enthusiasm, whether then or now, should never result in abandoning one's critical faculties. That remains true even if Xi Jinping himself is paying lip service to Mr Sachs's storylines.
The ultimate conceit, however, comes at the very end of Mr Sachs's Xi hagiography when he writes these words: "With reduced global tensions, Biden could direct the administration's efforts toward overcoming the inequality, racism and distrust that put Trump in power in 2016 and still dangerously divide American society."
At first flush, that reads like a plausible suggestion -- until one understands that Mr Sachs is not only falling for, but actively agitating for a classic Communist propaganda ploy.
His "argument" sets up a false equivalency. The suggestion Mr Sachs makes at least implicitly is that overcoming inequality and racism in the US -- both urgent priorities for any Democratic president -- should be regarded as to be undertaken only upon reducing global tensions, and thus as a time-sequenced policy activity.
That is ludicrous. In fact, it smacks of alluring Soviet suggestions in the 1960s to leave them a free hand in Cuba, so that the United States could fully focus on dealing with its domestic racial tensions at the time.
Stephan-Götz Richter, Director, Global Ideas Center and Editor-in-Chief of The Globalist, and JD Bindenagel, former US Ambassador and Fellow at the Global Ideas Center, Berlin, Germany.