An expert’s view of a current event.
June 9, 2021, 4:10 pm
US policymakers regard the rise of China as the greatest test yet posed by a rival nation-state to US security and prosperity. White House Interim National Security Strategic Direction He concludes that Beijing “is the only competitor likely to be able to combine its economic, diplomatic, military, and technological might to constitute a sustainable challenge to a stable and open international order.”
All of these four dimensions of strength have grown in the past year. China is more central to the global economy than it was at the start of the coronavirus pandemic in late 2019, and the International Monetary Fund projects It will grow 8.4 percent this year and 5.6 percent in 2022, compared to 6.4 percent and 3.5 percent, respectively, for the United States. By deepening its influence within core postwar institutions, such as the United Nations, and pursuing efforts outside the system, such as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), it is increasingly shaping the structure and standards of global governance.
Military frictions are increasing in the Asia-Pacific region, and US officials are increasingly focused on addressing US vulnerabilities in potential emergencies in the South China Sea and Taiwan Strait. Finally, as China works toward greater technological self-sufficiency, supporting its vision of billions of dollars in state-directed capital, the United States is grappling with the implications of a potentially fractured, if not more fragmented, tech ecosystem.
However, the growing gap between Beijing’s economic weight and its diplomatic confidence will limit its potential influence. It is possible to imagine a scenario in which China, by a large margin, has the largest economy in the world and yet finds itself further removed from the advanced industrial democracies that will remain collectively responsible for the predominance of economic power and military capability.
China had a promising window through which to consolidate medium and possibly long-term strategic advantages during the administration of former US President Donald Trump. behind undermining Views on the United States Abroad, the administration’s “America First” foreign policy has often been in the crosshairs. Beijing had a particularly compelling opportunity to strengthen ties with major powers in neighboring countries and beyond last year, when a pandemic, recession and protests against racial injustice were simultaneously roiling the United States.
China, of course, made some progress in expanding its influence during the Trump years. It concluded the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, a trade agreement that would deepen intra-Asian trade flows, and finalized the Comprehensive Investment Agreement (CAI) with the European Union. It also continued to add countries to its list of Belt and Road Initiative partners, and expanded its technological footprint across the developing world; a recent study It found that Huawei has signed 70 agreements with governments or state-owned enterprises in 41 countries over the past 15 years, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and Latin America.
These developments coincided with the emergence of China’s more assertive nationalist diplomatic tone, often referred to as “theWolf Warrior DiplomacyAfter the Rambo-like films of the same name, which depict Chinese fighters defending their country’s honor. After initial international criticism of Beijing’s early response to the COVID-19 outbreak, many Chinese diplomats began to forcefully back away from criticism of China’s actions by highlighting aspects of shortcomings in other countries and the promotion of Beijing’s achievements.Chinese diplomats abroad have increasingly adopted this approach, including interacting with journalists and on social media.
The Trump administration’s headline-grabbing diplomacy has often given cover to China’s abrasive approach. In contrast, the Joe Biden administration’s consistent and undramatic approach to reforming American alliances and partnerships has shifted the diplomatic spotlight toward Beijing’s behavior. It’s not just the US’s tendency toward China that is hardening. The European Union is also taking a more skeptical view, having recently voted to freeze its review of the CAI until Beijing lifts sanctions against European parliamentarians and think tanks. tensions with CanadaAnd the Australia, and the United kingdom High. relationships with India It deteriorated sharply after bloody border clashes that began last May. Japan And the South Korea It reinvests in strong alliances with the United States and is taking initial steps to make it happen improve their bilateral relations. Finally, Taiwan international standing He grew as he became wary of the mainland.
With many of China’s major bilateral relations facing headwinds, democratic alliances are mobilizing even greater vigour. The Quartet Security Dialogue is arguably enjoying more momentum than any other point since its inception. NATO has become more focused in its criticism of Beijing, with Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg Connection It’s a “force that doesn’t share our values” in late March. The G7 foreign ministers issued a statement In early May he expressed concern about Chinese repression in Xinjiang and Tibet, the erosion of democracy in Hong Kong, and its coercive economic practices. In an unprecedented move, Canada, the European Union, the United Kingdom and the United States announce Coordinated sanctions in March in response to China’s mass detention of Uyghur Muslims.
In turn, China attacked itself, setting itself the target of a containment campaign. Such messages play well to the audience at home. But as political scientist Jessica Chen Weiss explainedThey don’t travel well abroad. While exploiting nationalist sentiments, the Chinese leadership simultaneously restricts its freedom in foreign policy maneuvers. The kinds of recalibrations that might enable Beijing to stabilize relations with other major powers can be interpreted, after all, as the kinds of concessions to outside pressure that Chinese President Xi Jinping has declared that a more confident and capable China no longer needs to make. This dilemma contrasts with the relative flexibility that the Chinese leadership enjoyed in the 1980s, when it was able to rescind many previous territorial claims to settle long-standing border disputes with Russia and other countries.
The CCP’s narratives fuel growing Chinese nationalism. something advertiser In January, “time and situation are on our side.” Chen Yixin, powerful general secretary of China’s internal security supervisory body, Introduction A similar ruling in the same month: “The rise of China is a major variable متغير [of the world today] … while the rise of the East and the decline of the West became [a global] direction, and changes in the international landscape are in our interest.”
The Chinese leadership makes two proposals: first, that Beijing moves relentlessly to resume its proper centralization in global affairs, and correct the unfair strategic imbalance. Efforts to change this course would be futile and counterproductive. Second, a fading Washington is anxiously looking to maintain its current supremacy by blocking China’s re-emergence.
Not all Chinese analysts are as optimistic about Beijing’s prospects as one of us is (Ryan Haas) is over After conducting more than 50 hours of Zoom-based dialogues with Chinese interlocutors and completing a comprehensive review of recent speeches by Chinese officials and comments by Chinese scholars. According to a Renmin University professor and government advisor Shi YinhongFor example, the “attractiveness of China’s ‘soft power’ in the world, the resources and expertise available to China are very limited, and the domestic and international obstacles that China will face, including the complications arising from the coronavirus pandemic, are significant.”
There are many reasons why Chinese observers question the assumption that China will be able to maintain its current momentum indefinitely. Beijing’s commitment to nonalignment foreign policy limits its ability to forge alliances and other trust-based relationships that it can leverage to counter pressure from the United States and its friends. China’s productivity still low Compared to developed countries, it must deal with serious demographic issues as well as significant obstacles to achieving self-sufficiency in target areas such as semiconductors.
Beijing is still on track to overtake Washington in overall economic size—adding significant weight to its threats, tacit or otherwise, against countries it opposes, particularly in the developing world. But overall economic heft does not immediately lead to a level diplomatic standing. Although the United States overtook the United Kingdom in total economic size in the late nineteenth century, it did not emerge as a preeminent power in the world until the end of World War II. The combined size of democratic economies will exceed China’s GDP for many decades now, even in Beijing’s most optimistic growth scenario.
There are at least two clear policy implications. First, China’s self-defining diplomacy gives the United States a breather to pursue an informed foreign policy not governed by Beijing’s return. Washington should not allow its response to Beijing’s behavior to override its pursuit of other important foreign policy priorities, nor should it convey the impression that China’s decisions will determine how it renews itself at home and repositions itself abroad.
Second, even as it exploits China’s strategic mistakes to renew its relations with allies and partners, the United States must be careful not to view China too narrowly in terms of “great power competition.” Washington should engage its friends primarily not about which country they aim to fight for but about the results they seek to achieve—primarily a post-pandemic order that can more effectively manage short-term crises, such as COVID-19, and longer-term ones. Range challenges, such as climate change. There are, and will remain, after all, significant differences between threat perceptions of advanced industrial democracies and policy priorities toward China. Although common interests can drive alliances, positive commitments can sustain them more reliably.
One might encounter a United States that defined its foreign policy during the Cold War in opposing terms, portraying itself as the antithesis of the Soviet Union. More importantly, however, Washington has challenged Moscow under the auspices of a broader forward-looking effort: creating a system to thwart the disasters that made one necessary in the first place.
If, in the midst of the triumph over the fall of the Soviet Union, the United States is quick to dismiss China’s competitive potential, it may now be in danger of exaggerating it. Beijing is neither on the verge of disintegration nor on the path to hegemony. It’s a constant but restrictive competitor.
US efforts must proceed from a clear recognition that strategic competition with China will continue in the long term and from an honest assessment of Beijing’s competitive powers and responsibilities. The United States can afford to handle that competition with calm confidence. The more it focused on advancing an open and equitable society, restoring its democratic institutions, and sustaining its initiative on the world stage by mobilizing efforts to address transnational challenges, the better able it was to demonstrate the strength of its system. Prestige ultimately stems from performance. Improving US performance at home and abroad should be the main focus of US policy.