The news that President Joe Biden is preparing to meet face-to-face in Asia in November with the head of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), Xi Jinping, broke shortly after I'd finished reading a passage in former President Ronald Reagan's memoir about Reagan's own presidential trip to Asia to meet with the Chinese Communist leader at the time.
Reagan wrote that in April 1984, he stopped in Hawaii on his way over to Asia. "I saw Barry Goldwater, who was stopping over before continuing to Washington after a visit to Taiwan. Barry was upset about my visiting China and made little attempt to hide it," Reagan wrote.
That understates it. A press account from the time has then-Sen. Goldwater (R–Ariz.), an ardent foe of communism who was the Republican Party's 1964 presidential candidate, telling reporters in Taipei that Reagan's visit to China was a mistake.
"I don't think he is going to accomplish anything," Goldwater said. "Nobody can accomplish anything with mainland China. They are beyond hope."
Reagan went ahead with the trip anyway. Goldwater, however, provided a political constraint—and a reality check. He was consistent and principled on the point. In 1982 he was quoted as saying that if the Chinese Communists invited him to visit, he'd reject the invitation: "There is nothing we could talk about. They are communists. They deny human rights and economic freedom, and their word cannot be trusted."
Is anyone today playing a similar constructive hardline role? House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D–Calif.) has visited Taiwan, and this week another congressional delegation made a similar visit. Their goal, though, seems mainly to prevent a Chinese Communist takeover of Taiwan, which is a much more modest ambition than Goldwater's goal of freeing China.
China's lackeys claim that the situation has changed since the 1980s, as China has grown more prosperous with the advent of certain market-like mechanisms. China's apologists are correct that the situation has changed, but they are wrong about the direction. It's gotten worse, not better. Communist China poses an even greater threat now than it did then. Americans are more reliant on Chinese-made goods, and American companies are more reliant on Chinese customers, creating a vested interest in support of the status quo. Hong Kong, which used to be free under British rule, is now subject to Chinese Communist domination. China now is in the midst of perpetrating a genocide, as Secretary of State Antony Blinken declared as recently as June 2022.
One institution that certainly isn't going to be serving the Goldwater function is The New York Times. That newspaper this month issued a rare staff editorial declaring that the United States should abandon "trying to change China." The editorial did not mention the word "genocide." It's quite a thing, amidst an ongoing genocide, to propose formally abandoning the goal of changing the genocidal regime or its behavior. The Times followed up by publishing an opinion article by a member of the CCP, "a former chief opinion editor of The Global Times, an arm of the official Communist Party newspaper, The People's Daily."
Here's a viewpoint you won't read in the People's Daily, or the Times, for that matter: If Xi wants to meet Biden, let the communist make the trip to Washington. And let Biden set some preconditions for such a meeting: a verifiable end to the Xinjiang genocide, full transparency on the first coronavirus patients in Wuhan and any illnesses related to the virology lab there, and release of all political prisoners in Hong Kong including newspaper proprietor Jimmy Lai.
America may not realize it, but it has the upper hand. Even China's own bogus economic data show high unemployment and slowing economic growth there. It turns out that communism doesn't work. Goldwater was correct.
A weaker American position will only fuel suspicions of corruption—"ten percent for the big guy." Why are the Chinese communists so desperate to buy off American elites? Because on some basic level, deep down, they know the truth is Goldwater was right. Communism is beyond hope. The Communist Party in China, like the Soviet one before it, is just buying time until the eventual, ineluctable reckoning with freedom.