Most favored nation

Photo by Christopher Cozier (Flickr)

July 3, 1844

Buddhas watched from afar as China signed away the remainder of his dignity. The thing about the West was that it took and it took and it took until there was nothing left to take. America was no Britain, but fervent greed ran in the family.

“I feel good about this treaty,” America said as he looked over the parchment. “‘Cause, see, I’m all about fairness. If Britain gets special trade privileges, I feel like I should too. Equality. You agree, right?”

America’s abrasive presence disturbed the tranquility of the sacred temple’s garden. But China saw no point in arguing, especially not with the United States. “Right.”

“You’re not a bad guy, China.” America brought a hand to the other’s shoulder, all chummy-like. China tensed, but America must not have seen or cared. “Russia told me that you’re kind of an ass, but I just don’t see it.” Then came the hardy pat that startled China forward.

“I hope you never have to,” he said wearily. America smiled.

The Westerner headed off, but then stopped some way ahead and turned back. “Hey, sorry to hear about your loss against Britain, by the way. Better luck next time!”



“Forgive my debt!”

China jumped and the newspaper in his hands crinkled under his clenched fists. He stared, bewildered, at the American who had snuck up on him.

“Don’t shout,” he chided, defending the honor of the United Nation’s Dag Hammarskjöld Library. “And what was that about your debt?”

America brought both hands firmly down upon the table and leaned in. “Forgive my national debt.”

“I hope you did not rush all the way here just to beg.”

“What do I have to do, China?”

The other inhaled with a hiss then turned back to his reading.

“Oh, I get it,” America said. “I know what you want.”

After a moment, China’s lips formed the slightest frown. “Please do not take your clothes off, America.”

“Fine,” America said, buttoning his shirt back up. He slipped into the seat next to China’s. “I won’t. This time.”

“Thank you.”

“So, guess what. I read The Art of War last week.”

“Did you?” China asked, tone rather flat.

“It was pretty deep, but not very practical.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Well, now’a’days, you don’t need to waste all this time thinking up elaborate ways to outsmart the enemy. You just gotta have bigger bombs and more money. S’all you need.”

China shot him a sidelong glance. “Don’t you think you’re oversimplifying things?”

“A little. So, about my debt–”

China brought the newspaper down to America could see the amount of annoyance on his face. “It’s not happening.”

“C’mon. I’m your favorite.”

“In title only.”

America’s face wrinkled. “Okay, well, do you even have a real favorite? Name one person you actually like.”

“I… I like…” China stared ahead as his mind went through everyone he knew. No, no, no, no, definitely no.  

My God.

He disliked most everyone.

He turned to America, eyes betraying a drop of embarrassment. “I like Pakistan. And Macau.”

“Wow. You get sadder and sadder each time I talk to you.”

“Connections matter. Friends don’t.”

“You’re a jaded old man, dude.”

“And you are a child who likes to play god.”

“Is it really just playing, though?”

“He who stands on a pedestal has nowhere to step but off.”

America lifted his eyebrows and smiled. “Oh, yeah? That’s good. I got a proverb too.’He who talks shit is bound to get hit.'”

“Profound, America. Truly.”

They got quiet for a minute before America asked, “Hey, you remember when we first met?”

“I’ve tried to repress it.”

“I thought, ‘You know, me and this China guy… We could be friends.’ Back then I never would have predicted that we’d become major competitors or that you’d sell your soul to communism, but… we’re friends, right? Kind of?”

“Well,” China said, “I don’t think we’re enemies.”

“Not friends but not enemies,” said America quietly. “That’s not a terrible place to be.”

“Could be worse.”

“I guess before we move into the ‘friends’ territory, we’d have a few more political kinks to work out. Hey, we could always bond over the fact that we both have trouble with women who, for whatever reason, seem to like bright red lipstick.”

“I believe our situations with these women are quite different.”

America threw up his hands and started backing away from the table. “Alright, well, if anyone asks, you’re the one who immediately shot down my attempts at diplomatic cooperation.”

“Diplomatic cooperation, hm?”

“Enjoy your newspaper, dude. I gotta run to a meeting with Japan and South Korea.”

China immediately straightened in his seat. “On what?”

America brought his arm to his forehead as he walked backward and away. “Uhhhh, somethin’ about beefing up military drills and, uhhh, nuclear weapons…” His face lit up and he snapped his fingers. “Oh, right! I was gonna deploy another THAAD–this time, in Japan.”

The color drained from China’s face.


I can’t believe I haven’t written anything specifically about China-US relations until now. Shameful.

The Treaty of Wanghia (1844) granted trading privileges to the United States. They were similar to the ones granted to the British after it defeated China in the First Opium War (1839-1842). This is called “most favored nation” status. If X gets this and that, America gets this and that too.

“Better luck next time?” Actually, China lost the second Opium War too.

The Dag Hammarskjöld Library is located in NYC as part of the UN Headquarters complex. You can see some pictures of the interior on this Hunters College page.

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