But whoever occupies the White House, China will preoccupy their attention in international affairs.
A fair amount of rhetoric presently inhibits clear manifestation upon the optimal way forward for America. On portions of the correct, we hear calls for an”instant” decoupling of the American and Chinese economies. Yet few are embracing precisely how which may occur or acknowledging the following costs that would be incurred from both American consumers and companies. From sections of the left we hear that a parroting of President Xi Jinping’s lines about China’s deep devotion to international regulation. This goes with a reticence to admit exactly how abominably the Chinese Communist Party regime treats sizable segments of its population.
The catastrophe in Sino-US affairs has, but created a chance for fundamentally rethinking that relationship. Any serious reset, I’d suggest, entails three recognitions.
One concerns jettisoning the dire rhetoric adopted by Republican and Democratic administrations in the early-1990s onwards which China’s economic introduction into the world would put in train processes which would finally, if not inevitably, result in political liberalization. Plainly it has not. The logic and language of economic determinism has to be dispersed with.
The second is acknowledging that Beijing has left the late Deng Xiaoping’s policy of”hiding strengths, biding time, never taking the lead” to make sure that China’s rise as a global power failed to alert the entire world. Rather Xi is striking that a more moderate and assertive tone foreign policy, backed up with increased military spending and activity. Apparently, China has gained a reasonable higher appetite for danger as it attempts to realize regional, national and Global ambitions
Last, we ought to realize that China is substantially poorer than many realize. That is not a reason for US policymakers to be complacent. But insufficient attention to this massive difficulties facing Beijing could readily lead to Washington making choices which undermine America’s capacity to deal with its own China challenge.
Getting inside Beijing’s Head
All 3 recognitions are present in a book suggesting a new way forward for Sino-US relations.
The most refreshing element of Hass’s book is its precision. By this, I don’t mean”pragmatism,” let alone Bismarckian realpolitik, but its seriousness in assessing conditions on the planet. Hass concentrates his reader’s attention on the most outstanding parts of economical, societal, political and, notably, historical data that Americans should consider as China competitions, in Hass’s words,”American leadership in numerous areas of the world simultaneously.”
One such data-point is that China’s plan is partly driven by a desire to revive what most Chinese scholars regard “the natural state of international relations, together with the country resuming its standing as the world’s largest economy and major international celebrity.” That is viewed as the best way to finally exorcise from China’s collective consciousness that the”century of humiliation” in which it proved to be a plaything of Western powers in the mid-19th century onwards. Underestimating the point to which agenda motivates China’s current leadership would be an error.
A second factor emphasized by Hass is that Xi’s aggressiveness in attempting to achieve this aim is also about trying to mask China’s deep vulnerabilities. In our present”What to do about China” moment, we hear comparatively little about Beijing’s significant internal difficulties. This is strange because they go a long way towards explaining”Why China does exactly what it does.” Hass outlines these flaws as:
Economic Problems: China’s state-driven growth model was losing steam for a while. Growth is slowing, growth is declining, and China risks falling to the”middle-income trap.” This takes place when a growing country loses its comparative advantage in exporting manufactured products due to rising wages, and then struggles to shift out of resource-driven development that depends on cheap labor and capital towards expansion based on innovation and ever-increasing productivity.Demography: China is paying a heavy price for its one-child policy. China is, Hass writes,”at risk of growing old before it grows rich.” Its working-age inhabitants is on track to psychologist by 170 million people over the subsequent 30 decades. As the amount of retirees grows, China will need to devote ever-increasing amounts on aged-care as people demand more social security and healthcare benefits. This may weaken consumption demand and audience out expenses for research and development, infrastructure, and defense. Then there’s the gender imbalance caused by Chinese families deciding to abort females in favor of men. Many young Chinese guys won’t find a wife in the not too distant future and they won’t be happy about it. That is a recipe for serious societal cohesion problems.Political Sclerosis: Reforms instituted by Deng to make sure internal political flexibility and regular personnel changeover have been jeopardized by Xi’s re-centralization of power from the Chinese Communist Party’s higher positions, backed up by intensified ideological indoctrination of the population. That is corroding something needed by some program: a willingness to divert fresh thinking and the type of inner critique which promotes policy alterations. Additionally, it promotes sycophancy one of regime officials along with a reluctance to tell the unvarnished reality. Lying as a method of life is growing politically institutionalized.Nationalist Authoritarianism: To encourage greater cohesion and top-down control, the program is stoking nationalist sentiment. It has gone together with tightened censorship, mass incarcerations of suspect border inhabitants such as Uighur Muslims, radical curtailments of Hong Kong and Macao’s independence, the crushing of some spiritual activity that implicitly challenges that the CCP’s authority, also increasingly bellicose language about Taiwan. The hidden price is that the degradation of feedback mechanisms which would permit the regime to know what people are actually thinking. This breeds further insecurity inside the party’s upper-echelons, and consequently eases further crackdowns on dissent, actual and imagined.Food and Power Insecurity: China cannot feed itself, and is determined by international markets to satisfy agricultural shortfalls. Additionally, it imports 50 percent of its oil in the Middle East. Despite launching naval access facilities on the road between China and the Middle East, Beijing knows that these would be readily severed in the event of conflict.Geographic stresses: China is bordered by no less than two nations. Some of those nations cannot be easily dismissed. Japan is aging, but remains wealthy and owns an advanced army. India is growing economically and militarily more powerful annually. When coupled together with the North Korea wildcard along with also a Vietnam which has demonstrated it won’t be pushed up, China’s prompt strategic environment is hardly optimal.Taken collectively, these flaws undermine what Hass denotes since the CCP’s”proposed bargain with its inhabitants of rapid financial growth in return for one-party rule.” Australian policy adventurism is one method of distracting people’s attention from acute domestic issues. China is proving no exception in this regard.
If America is to advance its own interests within this circumstance, Hass argues that there can be no going back to the paradigm which dominated China policy at the Bush I-Clinton-Bush II-Obama years. Although essential of Donald Trump’s rhetoric and style, Hass finds the Trump Administration understood that something had shifted with Xi’s ascent to power. This, he states, opened “space for discussion and new thinking on assumptions and goals which should guide American plan.” But Hass also asserts that President Trump’s strategy to China was ineffective and, sometimes, hurt American interests. Slapping tariffs on China didn’t alter Beijing’s behaviour. Rather, it led in American customers and companies paying higher prices and price some American workers their jobs.
China doesn’t, he stresses, have benign goals. It cannot be pacified by lodging. A number of the regime’s intentions –and its worth and governance design –conflict with those of America’s. With an eye on forming the Biden Administration’s China plan, Hass suggests something distinct to the pre-2016 and post-2016 configurations. He calls it”competitive interdependence.” By this, Hass means two axioms.
The first is that the need to realize the two nations are in competition. This, he states, is your”defining feature of this connection.” China is hard America.
Hass’s second axiom is it is just as naïve to imagine the two nations can somehow be radically disentangled in the modern globalized world. “Interdependence,” to get Hass, doesn’t mean”Chimerica,” because the historian Niall Ferguson famously explained the connection from the 2000s. Instead, Hass concentrates on the fact that America and China are the largest players on the block–notably the Asia-Pacific section of that block–and many of their interests can’t help but overlap in a world much more economically integrated than through the Cold War.
These details, based on Hass, indicate that the two nations have an interest in maintaining their competition stable. China doesn’t, he stresses, have benign goals. It cannot be pacified by lodging. A number of the regime’s intentions –and its worth and governance design –conflict with those of America’s. So while America’s capacity to bend China to its own will may be restricted, Hass needs America to be serious about competing with Beijing, albeit within the constraints linked with interdependence.
On Hass’s head, this usually means that the US must build upon its relative benefits. One of the more notable, he lists America’s unmatched community of military and strategic alliances (which dwarfs China’s); its own seemingly ingrained dynamism and ability of invention; its own prominent fiscal system; its own sheer economic weight (which China’s increase has not dented); its own status as a power superpower; and, most importantly , its political standards and structures. The last of these, Hass asserts, foster institutions which provide America with the type of self-corrective mechanics the CCP program lacks–even more so under Xi.
Self-Confidence is Indispensable
So far so good. Nonetheless, I have two reservations about Hass’s proposal. In the first location, Hass asserts that”The United States’ most pressing priority is to correct its particular course. America’s future is going to be better served by focusing on strengthening itself than by seeking to slow down China.”
Much hinges on the words”slow down.” If it means we can’t force China to quit chasing its neo-mercantilist ways, this is true. Nevertheless there are many activities that America may take against China’s use of predatory means to accelerate its economic and military growth by, for example, stealing intellectual property by American businesses and penetrating America’s R&D epicenters. America may also function to limit the financial advantage of companies like Huawei which are credibly deemed extensions of the Chinese program. Hass acknowledges the need to deal with such problems, however I wonder if he underrates the sheer extent and depth to which Beijing engages in these practices.
Second, Hass asserts that Washington needs to underscore the beauty of the”principles and values at the core of the American experiment” if America is to outcompete China. The Sino-US competition is as much about values as security and economics.
But Hass may underestimate exactly how much of America’s culture-forming associations have relativized these fundamentals. Combined with the poisons of identity politics and cancel culture seeping in American life, one wonders if these principles still maintain a hold on large segments of the political class and portions of the broader population. Given the level to which most progressives have made ideologically-charged notions like race theory and the 1619 Project central to their own oratory around America, no-one ought to be alarmed when Chinese diplomats fling such rhetoric back into the face of a surprised American Secretary of State.
Getting America’s own house so is certainly the sine qua non of any effort to manage a resurgent and belligerent China. Hass is dead right to keep beating this drum. That means facing up to issues ranging from growing principle of law problems to out-of-control federal spending, but also prohibits false solutions such as economic nationalism.
However all this is for naught without a renewal of religion by Americans at America at every level of society. A country at war with itself riddled with self-loathing cannot satisfactorily respond to outside challenges. In the long run, it is domestic self-confidence which makes it possible for nations to behave with self-assurance over the global stage. Unless America accepts this, its capability to tame this dragon is constrained.