Prof. ST Hsieh
Director, US-China Energy Industry Forum
June 29, 2023
US and China are competing for global supremacy, the risk of an all-out war with no winner is real. A fundamental issue is the cultural and historical differences between the US and China. Only time can reduce these misunderstandings, our generations are responsible for bridging the cultural gap without war.
But both the US and China are facing critical bilateral challenges rooted at domestic politics. A 12 billion people China simply cannot afford any major divisions or open disruptions in the society, so China practices the top-down central government mandated management structure. It is not perfect, but it is the reality. Further, any foreign intervention with the intent of regime change will not be successful. On the other hand, it is also obvious that the so called “China model” will not be emulated successfully anywhere outside China.
Similarly, the US model has been very successful till recently. Of course, the US model is not perfect either and it will not be emulated successfully outside the US. Thus, it makes no sense to only focus on criticizing the other’s political structure or model of development. Rather, it would be wise to focus on finding solutions for the domestic challenges and formulating a foreign policy theme consistently supported by the majority of the people.
Per the attached “ARGUMENT,” the US must resolve her obstacles first, not on foreign policy but domestic challenges, as soon as possible:
- Washington’s own contradictory approach toward China.
- No bipartisan clarity on what the United States sees as the desired end state.
- There is an internal tension in Biden’s own policies.
Washington’s Supposed Consensus on China Is an Illusion
Extremists are threatening the delicate attempt to find a new normal.
By Robert A. Manning, a distinguished fellow at the Stimson Center and its Reimagining Grand Strategy Program.
JUNE 27, 2023, 4:04 PM
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s just-completed trip to Beijing highlights a renewed diplomatic effort to pull the U.S.-China ties out of the death cycle of tit-for-tat confrontation. The February “balloongate” incident disrupted planned diplomacy, and China implemented a total freeze of diplomatic contact. White House senior Asia coordinator Kurt Campbell framed the issue: “I think you will see in the coming months whether it’s going to be possible to reestablish effective, predictable, constructive diplomacy between the United States and China.” But the ultimate obstacle to that may lie in Washington’s own contradictory approach toward China.
The conventional wisdom that there is a bipartisan consensus on China is half-wrong. There is a real consensus that the old assumptions about China were proved incorrect. Engagement did not bring liberalization, nor political reform; in contrast, a far richer China is more autocratic, under President Xi Jinping, than at any time since perhaps the 1970s. But the sniping around Blinken’s China trip, with leading congressional Republicans accusing him of being “weak” and serving to “legitimize” the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), shows that there is no bipartisan clarity on what the United States sees as the desired end state.
This is reflected in a frenzied Washington, D.C., climate, where politicians are sometimes recklessly vying to bash the China piñata harder. It reflects a view that accommodation is not possible. At times, it seems as if the common wisdom in both Washington and Beijing is a tacit assumption that war between the United States and China, most likely over Taiwan, is inevitable—and the policy debate is mainly about how to best punish China and prepare for it.
For example, the U.S. House select committee on the Chinese Communist Party recently issued policy recommendations—calling for still more sanctions on China for its repression in the Xinjiang province, and for all but integrating the U.S. and Taiwanese militaries in aspects from stockpiling weapons to joint planning. There are dozens of bills in Congress aiming to remove China’s permanent normal trade relations status, to curb China’s financial power, to impose more sanctions for China’s behavior in Xinjiang and Hong Kong and for its spy balloon, and to ban Chinese purchases of U.S. land.
The White House is keenly aware that as the United States enters the 2024 election season, there is a narrow window of opportunity to recapture the narrative and show that diplomacy can advance U.S. interests. Despite the political climate, U.S. President Joe Biden seems to grasp his the country will have to reckon with a CCP-led China for the foreseeable future. That means reckoning with an $18 trillion Chinese economy, an important market in which the United States is intertwined, and with an assertive power that is also a mature nuclear weapons state. Biden seeks a stable framework to define and manage competition, and as Blinken said in Beijing, “to explore areas where we might work together when our interests align.”
The recent parade of top U.S. business leaders—including Elon Musk, J.P Morgan’s Jamie Dimon, CEO Mary Barra of General Motors, and Bill Gates—suggests a fear that U.S. anti-China actions may put economic interests at risk appear something of a counteroffensive to limit “de-risking.” Jensen Huang, the CEO of Nvidia, one of the world’s largest semiconductor firms, recently summed up U.S. corporate fear, suggesting that losing the China market would cause “enormous damage” to the U.S. tech industry, jeopardizing the construction of new chip factories that was envisioned in the 2022 CHIPS and Science Act.
Trying to find a balance between the potentially destructive risks of the Capitol Hill agenda on the one hand, and the overeagerness of U.S. business in China on the other, would help explain why Biden remains determined to put a floor under the relationship and fashion a framework to manage competition, protect national security, and find areas of mutual interest for cooperation.
It also explains the new buzzword “de-risking,” which has replaced “decoupling” in recent speeches by U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, and was adopted by the G-7 in a an unusually stinging communique criticizing China. Yellen emphasized that “we do not seek to ‘decouple’ our economy from China’s. A full separation of our economies would be disastrous for both countries.”
But there is an internal tension in Biden’s own policies. The White House has choked off access to top-end artificial intelligence, supercomputer chips, and chip-making equipment to China, and is limiting U.S. outward tech investment, That may be the right policy, but to tell China, as Yellen did in an April speech, that it doesn’t intend to constrain China’s growth is a rhetoric-reality gap that leads Beijing to doubt U.S. sincerity about limiting the terms of confrontation. Beijing’s recent partial ban on Chinese firms buying chips from Micron, a U.S. company that has been there for years, was likely a proportionate response to signal its displeasure.
There’s plenty of hawkishness and nationalism to go around on the Chinese side, too. Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang admonished Blinken to “stop interfering in China’s internal affairs,” and top foreign policy advisor Wang Yi scolded Blinken for hyping the “China threat,” saying the United States should “reflect” on its “erroneous views,” which he implied are the cause of U.S.-China tension.
But it’s possible that recent events may have at least imposed some realism on Chinese ambitions. A growing skepticism—if not antipathy—toward China in Europe and much of Asia, as recent polls indicate, as well as a deeply troubled Chinese economy, may help Beijing recognize the difference between what it would like to have and what it can accept, at least for now.