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Foreign Policy

A New Orientation

Oct 27, 2020
  • Nie Wenjuan

    Deputy Director of Institute of International Relations, China Foreign Affairs University

As the November general elections draw closer in the United States, developments have come at a fast pace. They’ve even been a little theatrical — Trump and Biden trading verbal barbs, Trump’s swift announcement of “full recovery” from COVID-19, an alleged sex scandal involving Biden, the drama surrounding Trump’s tax records and the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg all made headlines one after another, constantly altering the focus of public attention.

As we delve into the minor details and comb for clues about who will win the race, we find ourselves in the face of a cruel reality: As the campaign show gets increasingly dramatic, it is at the same time drifting further from its original purpose. What is the essence of elections? What are we focusing on? What should we focus on? 

Trump and Biden from time to time engage in tit for tat on the campaign trail, yet their positions regrettably seem to become increasingly similar, either bogged down in meaningless quarrels over pseudo propositions, or flipping back and forth over a single proposition.

For instance, on the issue of domestic taxation, the two have returned to old rhetoric — the Democratic Party favoring high taxes and high welfare, the Republican Party favoring low taxes and low welfare. Each has his own logic, yet which one is better is obviously a pseudo proposition. Different positions will determine different attitudes. On domestic racial issues, Trump emphasizes the significance of law and order and condemns violence. Biden accentuates equality and unity and condemns racism.

Yet their positions don’t seem to be mutually contradictory, but are fully compatible. The candidates are just highlighting different aspects of the same proposition.

On China policy, the two are getting closer, though they apparently proceeded from different directions. With similar anti-China goals, they differ mostly in means and approaches, and either party’s allegations regarding the other’s China policies are not all meaningless. Yet, such contests over technical differences are like those between Coke and Pepsi.

That Trump and Biden’s stances becoming increasingly similar prompts us to ask, is Trump the same Trump he was four years ago? Is he still the Trump who, holding the banner of populism, strived to challenge the 1 percent, or Wall Street elites, on behalf of the 99 percent of Americans?

Evidently Trump has reconciled and even cooperated with Wall Street elites over the past four years. He renounced most of the regulatory rules for the financial sector enacted during the Obama administration, tilted tax reductions and economic stimulus measures overwhelmingly in favor of big businesses and invited multiple Wall Street veterans into his cabinet. The spear of Trump’s populist propensities has almost entirely targeted the issues of immigration and China, and the most prominent anti-elites, anti-establishment labels have been significantly weakened.

Trump is no longer who he was four years ago. Therefore, whether Trump or Biden wins, Wall Street elites will win one more time, and the 99 percent of people at the intermediate and low levels of society will lose again. Wall Street’s financial conglomerates will continue to dominate American politics from behind the scenes, and the U.S. will continue in an era dominated by capital.

In an era dominated by financial conglomerates, the interests of financial groups will evolve into major U.S. national interests. Financial groups will become in-depth, dominant forces influencing China-U.S. relations. Hence, no matter who assumes center stage, the orientation of the China-U.S. relationship will bring the following trends:

First, considering the flow of financial capital, the fundamental pattern of engagement in China-U.S. relations won’t change in the short term. There will only be “one world, one system” in an era of capital dominance, and capital will cross all boundaries to pursue maximum profit in a global context.

As long as the Chinese market remains sufficiently profitable, “decoupling” will be out of the question for China-U.S. relations. American capital will oppose the building of a wall of separation between the two sides, whether it’s built by the Chinese or the U.S. government. The capitalists will make further requests for China to open its financial market to facilitate short-term, swift and targeted speculative moves. 

Second, fierce competition will arise between the holders of Chinese and U.S. financial capital, which will also lead strategic relations between the two countries into a stage of substantial competition. Since the end of the 1970s, and despite the political and ideological differences between the two countries and the disappearance of the strategic pattern of theU.S.-China-Soviet Union triangle — not to mention the two parties’ frequent spats over democracy and human rights — the U.S. has maintained mutually complementary cooperation with Chinese industrial capital since it entered the financial capital era. The model of “China produces, the U.S. consumes” has sustained the foundation of bilateral strategic cooperation. 

With Chinese economic strength growing constantly, especially with the growth of Chinese financial capitald since 2008 beginning to shake the existing interest pattern of American financial capital, the basis for their strategic cooperation no longer exists. The two kinds of financial capital have embarked on a track of competition.

Though it has taken on the disguise of various values and ideologies, the nature of such competition is an ultimate war between the U.S. dollar and the Chinese yuan. As it concerns the fate of the two countries, bilateral relations will inevitably follow a course of competition and confrontation.

Third, competition between the two kinds of financial capital means that China-U.S. contradictions will normalize conflict. Different from geopolitical competition, such competition won’t necessarily be in the form of competition for certain resources, but rather intends to create various forms of crises, including domestic political crises, economic crises, social crises and even ecological crises. It also creates crises in neighboring countries and regions.

Crises here are both the purpose and the means for reducing the other’s credibility and market confidence to obtain financial hegemony.

China-U.S. relations have now entered this phase of normalized crises. 

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