Living with the Sino nemesis

Nov 27, 2023
Floating China currency

China’s economy today is around 50 times larger, in real terms, than it was 50 years ago. A World Bank report in 2022 confirmed that during this period, China lifted at least 800 million people out of extreme poverty, contributing close to 75% of the total reduction in extreme poverty, globally.

You won’t find these aspects of China’s remarkable growth-story headlined in a new article in Foreign Affairs by Ryan Hass ( a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution) entitled, “What America Wants From China – A Strategy to Keep Beijing Entangled in the World Order”. This globally unprecedented, affirmative growth – which has been marvellous for China and very good for the rest of the world – is recalibrated as “substantial” but it is also “alarming” when viewed from Washington.

According to this narrative, the US is, of course, liberal, which naturally means that China does not have an alternative political system – but is illiberal. There is resonance, here, with another Western shaped dichotomy. During the zenith of the European colonial era, Christian missionaries – and their home governments – typically divided populations in offshore possessions into believers and non-believers.

This is still, however, an important, extended (5,000 word) review by a prominent, skilful observer, which considers how Sino-US relations have evolved and where they should be headed. It adopts a less anxious, more constructive approach compared to another recent, widely discussed Foreign Affairs essay by Robert Gates.

Hass emphasises how the US must think far more seriously and widely – and not just about remaining Number One. America should, he says, consider in real depth how to live with China as it is, adding that: “The absence of a compelling vision of success for the United States’ strategy with China is dangerous.”

Ryan Hass also argues in favour of mutually agreed no-go-areas, for example attacking hospitals. Timely. The World Health Organisation has just confirmed that Israel has launched over 300 direct attacks, since October 7, on health complexes in the occupied Palestinian territories, including over 160 in Gaza.

Hass seems to be inching towards open advocacy of living in a multi-polar world – one where China is still “belligerent and revisionist” etc. But a world where the US, for example, “restores discipline to its approach to Taiwan.” Moreover, Hass argues, America should disavow any notion that Taiwan is “part of the United States’ defence perimeter”.

Notwithstanding the title’s unappealing emphasis on “entangling” China, this is a serious article that prompts serious thinking.


For more on this topic, P&I recommends:


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