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Foreign Policy

US Should Avoid Broad Confrontation with China

Oct 10, 2019
  • Su Jingxiang

    Fellow, China Institutes for Contemporary International Relations

It’s been more than a year since the United States launched a trade war with China. Judging from the present situation, the U.S. side seems to believe it has yet to get what it wants and therefore has no intention of stopping the trade offensive. Consequently, there is a high probability that the trade war could escalate further.

What drove conservative political elites in the U.S. to wage a trade war against China was absolutely not, as they have openly said, the balance of trade issue, nor intellectual property rights, forced technology transfers or market access. Those are obviously pretexts. The claim by U.S. academia that the goal is to suppress China in the long term via a trade war, so that China can never challenge U.S. global hegemony, too, is a pseudo proposition. The purpose of U.S. conservative elites’ anti-China position is to seek new legitimacy for traditional military-industrial interest groups to obtain exorbitant military spending from government coffers.

Hawkish U.S. strategists certainly are also aware that their country won’t be able to emerge from a trade war with China without getting hurt. They proclaim their tactic is one of “lose-lose” — meaning that even if the U.S. loses dearly, so long as China loses more it will still be a victory for the U.S. That the Trump administration has incrementally added tariffs on Chinese goods clearly indicates this.

The U.S. is the sole superpower in the world, with military bases in more than 120 countries. Politically, economically, militarily and in various other aspects, no other country on the world stage can rival the U.S. The U.S. is capable of interfering in virtually any other country’s affairs, while no other country can really influence the former’s international strategies or policies. At the same time, this means that all U.S. domestic political and economic problems, such as the societal divide, widening income gap and the regional development imbalance, are created entirely by its own political system and economic model. The U.S. is short of money for repairing bridges, embankments and upgrading railways, but it can spend lavishly on research and development for advanced weapons, as well as invading other countries and overthrowing regimes.

It is a habitual political ploy of political elites in the U.S. to distract public attention by blaming these problems on other countries, including China.

President Trump often says he will make U.S. manufacturing come home by engaging in a trade war with China to increase jobs for Americans, but this is entirely unrealistic. Manufacturing accounts for only 11 percent of overall U.S. economic output, and in many fields of manufacturing, no production base exists in the U.S. The average hourly wage in Chinese factories is $3.60, while in American factories it’s $15. It’s impossible to force enterprises to build new factories in the U.S. by raising tariffs on Chinese commodities. The fanatical clamor about a Chinese threat made by high-ranking White House officials, congressional and Senate leaders and U.S. mainstream media is mostly “fake news”, which they have purposefully fabricated and exaggerated. In fact, in the foreseeable future, Chinese military strength will not approach that of the U.S. China cannot threaten U.S. security, nor does it intend to confront the U.S.

Of course China has noticed that current U.S. policies constitute a serious threat to its own development and existence. That the two countries maintain relatively stable and friendly relations relies on the tremendous “ballast” of economic and trade interdependence, as well as cultural exchanges. If the economic and trade ties are restrained, personnel exchanges will naturally drop, meaning the ballast will disappear. The idea of “decoupling” touted by hawkish U.S. strategists is an embodiment of that intention: Let the two countries’ mutually enhancing interests return to zero, then joint management and control of various pursuits, conflicts and contradictions that used to be suppressed for fear of sinking the “big ship” of China-U.S. relations will become unnecessary, and the U.S. may find greater latitude in choosing potential points of confrontation and provoke conflicts at any time.

China is a sovereign country that can stand on its own. It can independently take its own path of development. Facing the U.S.-launched trade war, the Chinese side has always kept a cool head and maintained room to maneuver, fully demonstrating its sincerity about preserving friendship between the Chinese and American peoples. The Chinese side always insisted on resolving differences via diplomatic negotiations. It has stated the two parties’ common interests, such as preserving world peace, coping with international crime, cybersecurity, the refugee crisis and climate change. So long as it has no opportunity to migrate to another planet, China will be willing to work with the U.S. and other nations and jointly build a more beautiful world.

U.S. political elites should realize that U.S. capabilities have limits: It cannot singlehandedly control the entire world. China has a population of 1.4 billion, the world’s largest import market and stable ties with neighboring countries. It’s hard to be isolated. Though some Americans don’t want a bright future for China, it will have one anyway. If the U.S. drives toward all-around confrontation, the result will be an unprecedented global political and economic crisis, the outcome of which will not be what the U.S. wanted. If American political elites proceed from the perspective of their own national interests, they will work to prevent such an outcome.

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