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Foreign Policy

What’s to Lose by Containing China?

Nov 03, 2021
  • Wu Zurong

    Research Fellow, China Foundation for Int'l Studies

In the past five years or so since the Trump Administration concentrated all possible American resources to contain China, a few instances have gradually emerged to show what the U.S. has lost in the process.

First, the U.S. federal government has to subsidize farmers and businesses for their losses when the budget is very tight due to anti-China trade and investment policies. According to news reports, annual subsidies of more than $10 billion are given to farmers who lost part of their China export market. Tech business operators were to be given $1.9 billion for their losses resulting from not purchasing cheap and high-quality equipment made by Chinese tech giant Huawei alone. According to the U.S. National Bureau of Economic Research, the unusually high tariffs on Chinese export commodities have effectively reduced the income of American families by $16.8 billion annually.

Second, a substantial share of more than $70 billion in overseas military operations has been spent in various operations in the South China Sea, the East China Sea and the Taiwan Strait. Expenditures increased because of additional costs, such as the repair of the USS Connecticut nuclear-powered submarine, which struck an unknown object in the South China Sea in early October. New expenses are required for the establishment and operation of the CIA’s China Mission Center.

Third, the U.S. faces great losses in the effort to defend the international nonproliferation regime because it decided, along with Britain, to provide Australia with nuclear-powered submarines.

Fourth, the U.S. has lost tens of thousands of jobs in the last few years by obstructing Chinese investments in the U.S. Those witnessed an abrupt drop in 2017 after reaching a high in 2016.

Fifth, the U.S. has lost much of its credibility by doing everything possible to harm China and sabotage Sino-U.S. relations while making fine statements about its intention to build stable bilateral relations. As a result, U.S. leadership in the world has suffered a great deal as many countries, even some allies, refuse to follow the U.S. in its effort to contain China.

Sixth, the U.S. has lost opportunities to enjoy support and help from China while working to achieve its domestic and international goals. America’s confrontational approach toward China has already made Sino-U.S. exchanges and cooperation difficult.

These facts illustrate the rule that whenever the U.S. takes actions to harm China, it suffers losses as well. It seems that some officials in the Joe Biden administration have come to see the point, and they have started to conduct dialogues and consultations with their Chinese counterparts aimed at reducing those losses. But their adjustment is only tactical and very limited, and they have no intention of fundamentally changing their strategy of containing China. Hence, the losses will continue.

First, the U.S. will lose its strategic initiative in handling world affairs as the world’s sole superpower. It is an open secret that the U.S. has now designated the separatist forces in Taiwan, China’s territory, as important leverage in its Indo-Pacific security strategy. It has deviated from the One-China Principle as defined in three Sino-U.S. joint communiques. It has taken a lot of unprecedented actions to support the separatist forces in Taiwan, and has now reached a dangerous point. Should the decades-long strategic ambiguity of the U.S. be discarded, it would find itself in a strategic dilemma. A war against China to support separatist forces in Taiwan would be doomed to failure in the absence of obvious dominant advantages. The U.S. should understand that those in Taiwan fighting for separation would collapse at the first blow from the Chinese People’s Liberation Army. The U.S. would also lose credibility on the world stage when it goes back on its word in promising to sustain the One-China Policy. It is easier said than done to defend separatist forces in Taiwan. This is the quagmire the U.S. is creating for itself.

Second, the U.S. will lose valuable opportunities to learn with China. The U.S. has defined the essence of the Sino-U.S. relations as competition, and the technological blockade against China has become the main approach. History proves that the U.S. will never deprive China of its right to development. In a certain sense, the U.S. blockade against China has only taught the Chinese to rely more on themselves in developing key technologies, and to put more emphasis on basic research and technological innovation. China has already made some great achievements, such as in infrastructure construction, 5G technologies and quantum communications and computing. The August success of a spacecraft experiment has caught U.S. attention, and many in the U.S. are worried about China’s possible test of a hypersonic missile. These new developments tell the world that hostile competition against China could never guarantee an absolute U.S. lead in science and technology, now or in the future.

Third, the U.S. will lose politically in such areas as human rights, democracy and political systems. China is very firm in marching forward along the road of development that the Chinese people have chosen. Repeated fabrication of rumors and demonization of China in the ideological arena will never help the U.S. achieve such goals as creating internal divisions between different nationalities in China, discrediting China’s international image or restricting Chinese cultural influence in the world. The world is colorful, and no civilization is superior or inferior.  It would be perhaps the best policy for the U.S. to encourage the peaceful co-existence of different civilizations on the basis of equality and mutual respect, and to facilitate the process of learning from each other

Finally, the continued efforts by the U.S. to contain a rising China will have serious consequences for the whole world. Signs of divisions have come up in recent years. In the realm of global military security, the recent combination of the U.S., Australia and Britain — or AUKUS — creates a new alliance against China. In the science and technological area, the U.S. is working hard to manipulate the core technologies of 5G, 6G, photon chips and semiconductors. Thus, two sets of rules in different groups of countries might become a reality. Without China-U.S. cooperation, the world will suffer.

At this critical moment, it would be helpful for the U.S. policymakers to take a minute to think how long the U.S. could manage to contain China. If the U.S. refuses to change course, history will give a clear answer in the next few decades. Nevertheless, sober-minded people all agree that it would benefit both China and the U.S. — and the whole world — when both countries cooperate in their respective development by giving up zero-sum logic and a Cold War mentality.

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