Can America Tame the Dragon?

Putin’s intrigues, the machinations of ayatollahs in Tehran, Europe’s fading relevance in global politics, and the dysfunctionality that plagues Latin America will continue to shape Washington’s calculus about how to market America’s interests overseas. But whoever occupies the White House, China will preoccupy their attention in global affairs.
A fair amount of rhetoric presently inhibits clear reflection upon the perfect way forward for America. On portions of the right, we hear calls for an”instant” decoupling of the Chinese and American economies. Yet few are outlining exactly how that may happen or acknowledging the following costs that would be incurred with American consumers and businesses. From segments of the abandoned we hear a parroting of President Xi Jinping’s lines concerning China’s deep commitment to international law. This moves hand-in-hand with a reticence to acknowledge just how abominably the Chinese Communist Party regime treats big sections of its population.
The crisis in Sino-US affairs has, but created an opportunity for fundamentally rethinking the relationship. Any severe reset, I would suggest, involves three recognitions.
One worries jettisoning the extravagant rhetoric embraced by Democratic and Republican administrations from the early-1990s onwards which China’s economic opening into the planet would set in train procedures that would finally, if not inevitably, result in political liberalization. Plainly it’s 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 timerather than taking the direct” to ensure that China’s rise as a global power failed to alert the entire planet. Instead Xi is striking a more moderate and assertive tone foreign exchange, backed up with improved military spending and activity. Evidently, China has gained a reasonable greater appetite for danger as it seeks to realize regional, national and Worldwide ambitions
Lastly, we should recognize that China is much poorer than many realize. That’s not a motive for US policymakers to be complacent. But insufficient attention to this colossal problems confronting Beijing could readily result in Washington making choices which undermine America’s ability to deal with its own China challenge.
Obtaining inside Beijing’s Head
All 3 recognitions are present in a book proposing a new way forward for Sino-US connections.
The most refreshing element of Hass’s book is its truth. By this, I don’t imply”pragmatism,” let alone Bismarckian realpolitik, but its seriousness in assessing conditions on earth. Hass concentrates his reader’s attention on the most prominent pieces of economical, social, political andmore importantly, historic data that Americans should think about as China contests, in Hass’s words,”American leadership in multiple regions of the planet simultaneously.”
1 such data-point is that China’s approach is partially driven by a desire to restore what many Chinese scholars regard “the natural state of global relations, together with the country resuming its position as the world’s largest market and major international actor.” That’s seen as the way to finally exorcise from China’s collective understanding the”century of humiliation” in which it turned into a plaything of Western powers from the mid-19th century onwards. Underestimating the level to which that agenda motivates China’s current leadership would be an error.
Another factor highlighted by Hass is that Xi’s aggressiveness in trying to achieve this aim is about trying to conceal China’s profound vulnerabilities. In our current”What to consider China” second we hear relatively little about Beijing’s significant internal issues. This is odd because they go a very long way towards describing”Why China does what it will.” Hass summarizes these flaws as:
Economic Problems: China’s state-driven growth model was losing steam for a while. Growth is slowing, productivity is declining, and China risks falling into the”middle-income trap” This occurs when a growing country loses its comparative advantage in exporting manufactured products because of rising salaries, then struggles to shift from resource-driven development which relies on cheap labour and funds towards development based on innovation and ever-increasing productivity.Demography: China is paying a heavy price for its one-child coverage. China is, Hass writes,”in danger of developing old before it grows rich.” Its working-age populace is on track to psychologist by 170 million people over the next 30 decades. Since the amount of individuals grows, China will have to spend ever-increasing quantities on aged-care as people demand more social security and health care benefits. This may weaken consumption demand and crowd out expenses for research and developmentand infrastructure, as well as protection. Then there is the sex imbalance resulting from Chinese families deciding to abort females in favor of men. Many young Chinese men won’t find a spouse in the near future and they won’t be happy with this. That’s a recipe for serious social cohesion problems.Political Sclerosis: Reforms instituted by Deng to guarantee internal political flexibility and regular employees changeover have been undermined by Xi’s re-centralization of electricity from the Chinese Communist Party’s larger ranks, backed up by intensified ideological indoctrination of the populace. That’s corroding something needed by some plan: a willingness to divert fresh thinking and the kind of inner critique which encourages policy alterations. Additionally, it encourages sycophancy among regime officials and a reluctance to tell the unvarnished truth. Lying as a method of life is growing politically institutionalized.Nationalist Authoritarianism: To encourage increased cohesion and top notch control, the program is stoking nationalist opinion. It has gone together with tightened censorship, mass incarcerations of guess border populations like Uighur Muslims, revolutionary curtailments of both Hong Kong and Macao’s independence, the crushing of some religious activity that implicitly challenges the CCP’s ability, and also increasingly bellicose speech about Taiwan. The hidden cost is the degradation of feedback mechanisms which would permit the regime to know what people are actually thinking. This strains additional insecurity inside the party’s upper-echelons, and consequently facilitates additional crackdowns on dissent, actual and imagined.Food and Power Insecurity: China cannot feed itself, and relies on international markets to fulfill agricultural shortfalls. Additionally, it imports 50 percent of its oil from the Middle East. A few of those nations cannot be easily dismissed. Japan is aging, but remains wealthy and possesses an advanced army. When combined together with the North Korea wildcard along with also a Vietnam which has shown that it won’t be pushed around, China’s instantaneous strategic environment is barely optimal.Taken together, these flaws sabotage what Hass denotes since the CCP’s”proposed bargain with its population of accelerated economic growth in yield for one-party rule” Foreign policy adventurism is 1 method of diverting people’s attention from severe domestic issues. China is proving no exception in this regard.
What Should America Do?
If America is to advance its own interests within this circumstance, Hass argues that there can be no going back into the paradigm which dominated China coverage from the Bush I-Clinton-Bush II-Obama years. Although critical of Donald Trump’s rhetoric and style, Hass finds the Trump Administration understood that something had changed using Xi’s ascent into power. He states, opened up”area for debate and fresh thinking on assumptions and goals which should guide American plan.” But Hass additionally maintains that President Trump’s strategy to China was ineffective and, in some cases, hurt American interests. Slapping tariffs on China didn’t change Beijing’s behaviour. Instead, it resulted in American customers and businesses paying higher costs and cost a few American workers their jobs.
China does not, he worries, have benign intentions. It cannot be pacified by accommodation. Lots of the program’s intentions –and certainly its worth and governance model–conflict with people of America’s. With an eye on forming the Biden Administration’s China plan, Hass proposes something different to the pre-2016 and post-2016 settings. He calls it”aggressive interdependence.” By this, Hass means two axioms.
The first is the need to recognize that the two nations are in competition. He states is your”defining attribute of this relationship.” China is hard America.
Hass’s second axiom is that it is equally na├»ve to imagine that the 2 countries can somehow be radically disentangled in the present globalized world. “Interdependence,” for Hass, does not imply”Chimerica,” because the historian Niall Ferguson famously described the relationship from the 2000s. Rather, Hass concentrates on the fact that America and China would be the biggest players on the block–notably the Asia-Pacific portion of that block–and lots of their interests can’t help but float into a world much more economically integrated than during the Cold War.
These facts, in accordance with Hass, imply that the two nations are interested in keeping their competition steady. Yet, Hass insists, America has to compete. China does not, he worries, have benign intentions. It cannot be pacified by accommodation. Lots of the program’s intentions –and its own values and governance model–conflict with people of America’s. So while America’s capability to bend China to its own will may be limited, Hass needs America to be seriously interested in competing with Beijing, albeit within the constraints associated with interdependence.
To Hass’s mind, this usually means that the US should build upon its relative benefits. One of the more notable, he lists America’s economic network of strategic and military alliances (which dwarfs China’s); its own apparently ingrained dynamism and capacity of invention; its own prominent fiscal system; its own sheer economic burden (which China’s increase has not dented); its own standing as an energy superpower; and, most importantly its political norms and structures. The last of these, Hass asserts, foster institutions which provide America with the kind of self-corrective mechanics that the CCP program lacks–much more so beneath Xi.
Self-Confidence is Indispensable
So far so good. However, I have two reservations regarding Hass’s proposal. In the first place, Hass maintains that”The United States’ most pressing priority is to right its course. America’s future will be better served by focusing on strengthening itself by seeking to slow down China.”
Much hinges on the words”slow down” If this means we can’t force China to stop chasing its neo-mercantilist manners, this is true. However there are many actions that America may take against China’s use of predatory ways to accelerate its economic and military development by, by way of example, stealing intellectual property by American businesses and entering America’s R&D epicenters. America may also work to limit the economic advantage of businesses like Huawei which are credibly deemed extensions of the Chinese program. Hass acknowledges the need to deal with such difficulties, but I wonder if he underrates the absolute extent and thickness to which Beijing participates in such practices.
Second, Hass asserts that Washington has to highlight the attractiveness of the”principles and values in the center of the American experiment” when America is to outcompete China. The Sino-US competition is as much about principles as economics and security.
But Hass may underestimate just how much of America’s culture-forming associations have long relativized those principles. They’ve been depicted by Biden Administration officials as hopelessly mired in racism. Along with the poisons of identity politics and also cancel civilization seeping into American life, one wonders whether those principles still maintain a hold on large segments of the political group and parts of the broader population. Given the degree to which many progressives have earned ideologically-charged notions like race theory and the 1619 Project fundamental to their oratory around America, no-one should be surprised when Chinese diplomats fling such rhetoric back into the face of a surprised American Secretary of State.
Obtaining America’s own house in order is certainly the sine qua non of any effort to deal with a resurgent and belligerent China. Hass is dead to keep beating this drum. This means facing up to issues ranging from growing rule of law difficulties to out-of-control federal spending, but also prohibits false solutions like economic nationalism.
Yet all this will be for naught without a renewal of religion from Americans in America at each level of society. A country at war with itself or riddled with self-loathing cannot adequately respond to outside challenges. In the end, it’s national self-confidence which allows nations to behave with self-assurance over the global stage. Unless America accepts this, its capacity to tame this dragon is limited.