U.S.-China Relations

It seems to me….

China and the U.S. need each other very badly. Yes, we should argue about some things, but it’s not an ‘us versus them’, it’s an ‘us and them’ type scenario.” ~ Bill Gates[1].

U.S. foreign policy toward China has been remarkably consistent over 40 years and eight Presidents. Washington has sought to integrate China into the world economically and politically. This policy has been good for the U.S., good for the world, and extremely good for China[2].

The Pacific will be the arena that defines the 21st century[3]. According to the World Bank, in just 10 years four of the five largest economies in the world will be in the Asia-Pacific region. The U.S. will be able to shape the 21st century only if it remains a vital Pacific power. To accomplish this, it will be necessary to strengthen Asia’s complex legal, security, and practical arrangements that have underscored four decades of Asian prosperity and security. It will require bolstering freedom of navigation, free trade, multilateral groups and institutions, transparency and accountability, and such diplomatic practices as peaceful resolution of disputes.

The most vital priority of these is trade. The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) was the sine qua non of the U.S.’s pivot to Asia because it would have simultaneously worked at many levels: economic, political, and strategic. The U.S. withdrawal has opened the door and China is stepping forward to replace it. This will only encourage China to also take a more active role in areas of U.S. interests including South America. U.S. participation in the TPP would have boosted growth, shorn up U.S. alliances, sent a powerful signal to China, and most importantly, written the rules of the 21st century in ways that were fundamentally American. Without it, China will draft very different rules in ways more favorable to itself.

The U.S. is the nation with the largest market. It therefore has the most leverage and, as foreign officials have often complained, it has used that strength to demand exemptions and exceptions available to few other countries – results of the TPP would have been similar. The TPP, prior to its cancellation by Trump, was erroneously under assault from every quarter in the U.S. though for workers, the TPP’s gains would have far outweighed any potential losses.

When a rising power challenges an incumbent one, war often follows. That prospect, known as the Thucydides Trap after the Greek historian who first described it, looms over relations between China and the West, particularly the U.S. So, increasingly, does a more insidious confrontation.

If the U.S. wants to avoid an actual war in the South China Sea, its only defense against China’s policy of gradual encroachment is a U.S. system of free trade and democratic alliance-building that buttresses its military posture and counters China’s own imperial system.

Power is not only military and economic, but moral: the constancy of one’s word so that allies can depend upon you. Only with that will littoral states such as Vietnam, the Philippines, South Korea, and Taiwan see it in their own interests to keep a safe distance from China. Geography still matters and because the U.S. is so distant from that part of the world, its only hope is to offer an uplifting regional vision that anchors its military one.

The West needs to respond to China’s behavior, but it cannot simply throw up the barricades. To ensure China’s rise is peaceful, the West needs to make room for China’s ambition. But that does not mean anything goes. Open societies ignore China’s sharp power at their peril.

The U.S. must depend, at least in part, on counterintelligence, the law, and an independent media which is the best protection against subversion. This necessitates Chinese speakers who grasp the connection between politics and commerce in China. The Chinese Communist Party suppresses free expression, open debate, and independent thought to maintain its control. Merely exposing those tactics and shaming sycophants would counter much of its effectiveness.

The Republican Party has now reversed itself entirely on two of its core beliefs, immigration and trade, and has gone from being a party of openness to one advocating walls and tariffs thus further opening the door to China’s growing strength.

Republicans persist in viewing the world from the past trapped in a perspective where the U.S.’s primary adversary remains the Soviet Union failing to recognize that Russia is now only a second-rate power (granted, one with nuclear weapons). In the 2012 Presidential campaign, John Huntsman was the only Republican candidate that acknowledged the new world order; none have since. While there certainly will be areas of friction, our primary foreign policy emphasis should be Southeast Asia, especially the rising influence and affluence of China. Now is the time to recognize that political shift and reach cooperative agreement with nations in that area rather than risk competition and possible future conflict.

Neoconservatives and some Pentagon officers voice alarm over a perceived developing Chinese threat more likely to exert its economic and political skills to achieve its objectives rather than resort to military force. To some extent, much of this reaction is primarily psychological projection. The U.S. needs to reverse its normal policies and respond instead to a Chinese asymmetrical strategy of expanding their economic and political sphere of influence which otherwise could eventually result in gradual U.S. regional impotence.

Many people assumed that given its enormous arsenal of strength, China would begin to assert itself geopolitically. Which it has done, especially in Southeast Asia, but China has also become a status quo power, comfortable with the world in which it has grown rich, wary of overturning the global system into which it is now integrating.

China is shifting its strategy away from manufacturing and their next five-year plan will include an increased focus on innovation. The government is expected to create programs to subsidize innovation by both small and large companies substantially funding the information and communications technology sector and other industries considered “strategic”.

A strong U.S. advantage has been our native innovation. China already recognizes it does not have an innovation culture and thus has more than 300,000 students in the U.S. – not only studying at our universities to get STEM degrees essential for tech jobs – but at increasingly younger ages to develop the ability to problem-solve, probe, and create. China now has more K-12 students in the U.S. than all other foreign nations combined.

China must be recognized as a growing competitor striving to surpass the U.S. in innovation. China’s weakening manufacturing infrastructure is less a threat to us than their increasingly intense focus on innovation. We would be wrong to not take China’s overall innovation strategy seriously. It’s not about manufacturing, as Trump foolishly thinks; it’s about who will lead the world this century in innovation.

That’s what I think, what about you?


[1] William Henry Gates III is an American business magnate, investor, author, philanthropist, and humanitarian best known as the principal founder of Microsoft Corporation.

[2] Zakaria, Fareed. China is not the world’s other superpower, The Washington Post, http://fareedzakaria.com/2013/06/05/china-is-not-the-worlds-other-superpower/, 5 June 2013.

[3] Zakaria, Fareed. Obama Is Now Alone In Washington, Washington Post, https://fareedzakaria.com/2016/09/01/obama-is-now-alone-in-washington/, 1 September 2016.

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About lewbornmann

Lewis J. Bornmann has his doctorate in Computer Science. He became a volunteer for the American Red Cross following his retirement from teaching Computer Science, Mathematics, and Information Systems, at Mesa State College in Grand Junction, CO. He previously was on the staff at the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, Stanford University, and several other universities. Dr. Bornmann has provided emergency assistance in areas devastated by hurricanes, floods, and wildfires. He has responded to emergencies on local Disaster Action Teams (DAT), assisted with Services to Armed Forces (SAF), and taught Disaster Services classes and Health & Safety classes. He and his wife, Barb, are certified operators of the American Red Cross Emergency Communications Response Vehicle (ECRV), a self-contained unit capable of providing satellite-based communications and technology-related assistance at disaster sites. He served on the governing board of a large international professional organization (ACM), was chair of a committee overseeing several hundred worldwide volunteer chapters, helped organize large international conferences, served on numerous technical committees, and presented technical papers at numerous symposiums and conferences. He has numerous Who’s Who citations for his technical and professional contributions and many years of management experience with major corporations including General Electric, Boeing, and as an independent contractor. He was a principal contributor on numerous large technology-related development projects, including having written the Systems Concepts for NASA’s largest supercomputing system at the Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley. With over 40 years of experience in scientific and commercial computer systems management and development, he worked on a wide variety of computer-related systems from small single embedded microprocessor based applications to some of the largest distributed heterogeneous supercomputing systems ever planned.
This entry was posted in AI, AI, Artificial Intelligence, Artificial Intelligence, Asia, China, China, Communications, Economy, Education, Jon Huntsman, Military, Philippines, Russia, South Korea, Soviet Union, STEM, STEM, Taiwan, technology, Thucydides Trap, TPP, Trade, Trans-Pacific Partnership, Trump, War and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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