What could the USS Kitty Hawk and Citigroup possibly have in common?
I'll start with the aircraft carrier because I'm still stewing over what happened when the People's Republic of China abruptly denied the USS Kitty Hawk and its accompanying ships and submarines their routine, scheduled Thanksgiving berth in Hong Kong, where hundreds of crew members' families had gathered (at considerable expense) to celebrate the holiday with their loved ones.
First, there was the nasty act itself. News accounts speculated about the "reason" -- was it President Bush's recent meeting with the Dalai Lama? Our latest arms agreement with Taiwan? -- but there's no rationale worth gleaning beyond the fact the Chinese wished to snub us very publicly on a quintessential American holiday. And so they did.
Then there was our reaction, best described as muted. Indeed, "perplexed" was one of the stronger words used to describe the U.S. attitude, which was also quick to assert that future military exchanges and whatnot with the Communist Chinese wouldn't suffer.
Well, couldn't they suffer just a little bit? There's got to be a better U.S. response -- somewhere between imitating a doormat and lobbing a nuclear warhead -- to abusive Chinese gamesmanship. The Pentagon has now issued a formal protest of the incident, which includes a second even more egregious instance in which China denied access to two U.S. minesweepers seeking shelter in Hong Kong from a storm. But overall, as a nation, we slap a relentlessly happy face on things.
And that goes for all of us, certainly as consumers. The day after the Hong Kong Affront, millions of us set out on pilgrimages all across America to malls where we scooped up all manner of goods "made in China" without a second thought for the Kitty Hawk sailors chugging back to home port in Japan without seeing their families in Hong Kong. We weren't thinking of much besides that giant plasma TV at 40 percent off. We certainly weren't wondering whether it was (dare I say it?) patriotic to buy Chinese. And not simply because of this recent cat-and-mousing around. China is using the dollars we pay for heaps of stuff we don't need to bulk up as our military and political rival.
As consumers in a global economy where brand loyalty usually trumps national consciousness, we don't think of it that way. Partly that's because our leaders don't think of it that way, either. They certainly don't talk about it that way. "Money makes the world go around" sums up the conventional wisdom. Which is probably as good a point as any to bring in the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority's recent infusion of $7.5 billion into Citigroup.