the consequences of donald trump's presidency will be discussed for decades, but for the chinese government, everything is already clear. china's leaders believe the united states has fallen rapidly over the past four years. they believe that it was this fall that triggered washington's panic attempts to contain china's growth. trump's trade war, technology bans, and a willingness to blame china for its own inability to cope with the covid-19 pandemic have confirmed speculation by the chinese political elite that the us is trying to "contain" their country.
in truth, the assumption that the united states is trying to slow down china's development by putting it in a "containment" spread among chinese officials long before trump came to power. what many americans attribute to the solely negative impact of the trump presidency is seen by current chinese leaders as a serious confirmation of their darkest assessments of us policy in general.
however, trump was able to turn what beijing saw as long-term risks into a real crisis, requiring the speedy mobilization of all chinese systems. the trump administration has tried to weaken the state power that the chinese communist party (cpc) embodies in chinese society. the united states has tried to force china to liberalize its state-controlled economic system. the united states also had another desire: to stop china's advance towards technological superiority over america and other countries. however, over four years, trump's strategy appears to have backfired.
washington needs a strategy towards china that not only evaluates the country's capabilities and goals, but also takes into account how the chinese government understands the united states and how it has responded to the trump presidency. this strategy should abandon the popular but misconception that china is an impenetrable power that is on a steady course and unresponsive to external pressures and incentives. the united states can develop a strategy to better contain china's most problematic behaviors. but for that to happen, washington needs to try to refute the chinese leaders' notion that the united states is inexorably moving downward and in decline.
“the wolf is near”
chinese leaders and politicians have believed for decades that the power of the united states is weakening, and therefore american politicians are trying to prevent the rise of china. mao zedong loved predicting the fall of the capitalist world, led by the united states. he compared him to "a dying man who fades quickly." he regularly denounced western attempts to undermine the chinese communist revolution, claiming that "the reactionaries are trying to stop the wheel of history." these ideas survived mao, although at some point they seemed clearly irrelevant. it was the moment when the chinese communist party (cpc) moved on to market reforms and the united states remained the sole superpower after the collapse of the soviet union. but the 1990s have passed, and the financial crisis of 2008, which caused great losses to the united states, suddenly did not affect china. he made the country's leaders ponder whether the destructive fall of capitalism predicted by mao would come. their vision of history is still influenced by marxist theory, so they saw the fall of the united states as old-fashioned. they saw it as a convulsion of hopeless "reactionaries" - american leaders who were desperately trying to contain china.
i think these ideas have shaped the idea of the united states and the world as a whole of the current leader of china, xi jinping. since coming to power in 2012, he spoke about historical patterns of conflict between rising countries like china and fading hegemonic powers like the united states. xi jinping reminded of the role of the united states in accelerating the collapse of the soviet union and advised compatriots not to repeat the soviet mistakes that led to this collapse. xi jingoping encouraged people like wang huning. van huning is a former law professor and longtime adviser to the chinese government. his most famous book, america against america, explores how the united states falls short of its own ideals. initially, xi and his aides were more focused on the political and ideological vulnerability of the system they inherited. they assumed that the decline of the united states would be gradual.
for china, trump is the stage of american disintegration
many members of the chinese elite now believe that the trump presidency has pushed this slow process into a new phase of precipitous and irreversible decline. they noticed the us president's rejection of international agreements and institutions, and his disdain for traditional alliances. they saw how us domestic politics exacerbated inequality and polarization, with some americans hating others if they didn't adhere to their political views. the chinese saw trump denying entry to immigrants and cutting federal spending on science and development. dean of the institute for international studies, fudan university, wu xinbo, said in 2018 that the trump administration's "unreasonable policies" "accelerate and exacerbate the decline of the united states" and "significantly weaken the country's international standing and influence." this year, beijing-backed newspaper ta kung pao wrote, "america has gone from 'decline' to 'rapid decline'." this vision has become central to china's emerging u.s. strategy.
kpc leaders associate such a rapid decline of america, in addition to the crisis of a new "politically correct" ideology that has departed from traditional american values, with the ever-increasing attempts by the united states to contain china. during trump's presidency, the united states has evolved from a latent long-term threat into a source of targeted efforts to "completely suppress" china, to use the words of the chinese authorities' favorite phrase. in 2018, trump imposed tens of billions of dollars in tax duties on chinese products, and also imposed a ban on chinese telecommunications companies huawei and zte. (even though trump subsequently reversed his zte ruling in favor of chinese leader xi, the threat to the company, which relied on the united states to produce about a quarter of its hardware components, was significant. analysts described recent measures against huawei in a similar way - a "death sentence" for a chinese company determined to compete with the united states.) the rhetoric of former and current trump advisers such as peter navarro and steve bannon confirms the darkest and most conspiracy theories of chinese leaders. peter navarro published the coming chinese wars and death to china, and steve bannon called for “regime change in beijing”.
chinese suspicions confirmed
trump's actions and rhetoric have reinforced beijing's most pessimistic suspicions about america's impending long-term effort to quickly suppress china. chinese leaders attribute these efforts to both parties, as congress voted almost unanimously on a bill to impose sanctions on china. behind these fears are facts: prominent democrats are as critical of china as republicans. for example, house speaker nancy pelosi. in july, an editorial in the state-owned chinese newspaper global times argued, "china needs to embrace reality - america's attitude towards china has fundamentally changed." the change in the minds of the chinese elite is obvious. according to wei jianguo, a former top chinese trade official, the prevailing perception in beijing is that "the essence of the trade war is the us desire to destroy china." in june, senior diplomat fu ying said the current us challenge with china is "to slow its development through suppression." the battle is a battle a decadent superpower named the united states "cannot afford to lose." in august, department of defense spokesman zhao lijian argued that the united states is "far from being the superpower it once was," and that american leaders "are working to suppress china because they fear its growth." such ideas are extremely common in statements by chinese officials and experts, on the pages of newspapers and magazines of the communist party, and on chinese social media.
chinese leaders have long believed that such a confrontation could happen one day, but everything happened earlier than they expected. “people in the united states and china have been saying for years, 'the wolf is near, the wolf is near,' and the wolf hasn't come. this time, the wolf is really close," leading international relations scholar shi yinhong told the new york times.
the eye of the beholder
these beliefs are ingrained, so it shouldn't come as a surprise that china's response is leading to further conflict between the already distinct chinese and american systems. to greater authoritarianism and domination, this made governments around the world nervous.in 2018, xi lifted restrictions on elections: he will go to the polls and can be elected as many times as you like.under his leadership, the chinese communist party (cpc) began to more openly demonstrate its illiberal essence, combining internal repression and loud criticism of democracies abroad, namely criticism of the free countries of the united states and the european union.the internal repression in xinjiang is especially terrible, where at the end more than a million uyghurs and other ethnic minorities who are allegedly islamist-influenced are held in the center camps. under these conditions, secretary of state mike pompeo called for "using the chinese population and expanding its capabilities" in the fight against the chinese communist party (this call for "regime change" in china was perceived as illegal interference in internal affairs). despite this call, the party's grip on the throat of chinese society remains strong. this summer, the party launched new political and ideological campaigns. and the tough measures that have helped china respond to the threat of the covid-19 pandemic have been effective and have strengthened beijing's surveillance and social control systems.
xi jinping doesn't liberalize
some senior us officials continued to say that the goal of trump's strategy is to liberalize china's state-controlled economic system. however, at the very beginning of the trade war in 2018, the chinese government expressed a different version of trump's intentions. his goals are purely mercantile. he is only concerned with getting a so-called good deal for the united states, and he supposedly doesn't care about principles. in response, the chinese authorities began to strengthen the public sector of their economy. this is how they dealt with the economic instability that could arise from the conflict with the united states. since the early days of xi, state-owned enterprises have benefited from increasingly favorable government policies and concessional bank lending, often at the expense of private enterprises. one economist with strong ties to the kpc elites told me that he and his colleagues initially viewed trump's trade war as a positive development. they thought it would force the state to change policies and revive market reforms. however, the trade war backfired: xi redoubled efforts to build "strong, large, and better" state-owned enterprises and abandoned the deeper economic liberalization of china that other governments had dreamed of.
during trade negotiations that ended with a limited "phase one" agreement in january this year, beijing agreed to a series of commitments to buy us goods, but not any new reforms. china's state media have even reported on raising the state-run economic model to china's “main national interest”. the state media allowed themselves to write that the preservation of chinese territories and the sovereignty of china is also part of the sacred national interest. the failure of the fight against the covid-19 pandemic in the west and the relative success of the prc in this matter for many in china have highlighted the advantages of the chinese model. the xinhua news agency said state-owned enterprises have become the country's "main life force" in the fight against the pandemic.
china: better not to trade with the us than to be dependent
trump's actions have failed to hold back china's advance towards technological superiority. on the contrary, chinese leaders have only accelerated their actions to reduce their country's level of dependence on the united states. for many years, china has been balancing the advantages of trade with the united states, with inevitable interdependence, and ridding itself of the risk of being a weaker party in relations with the most powerful country in the world. after xi came to power, his priority was to eliminate threats to china's independence, including the made in china 2025 initiative. its goal is to make china 70% independent in ten core technologies. xi has proven its ability to sacrifice economic growth for national independence. cosmopolitan officials, oligarchs and government-affiliated experts who had previously supported greater integration with the united states were forced to agree with him. li qingsi, executive director of the center for american studies at chinese people's university, explained why this happened. he wrote that the situation with the us sanctions against the chinese company zte in 2018 "freed from the illusions of those who suggested relying on the united states to develop their own economy." the very attitude of the united states made it clear that "china should follow the tradition of relying only on itself and reduce the level of external dependence." ( the us fcc has declared the chinese company zte a "threat to the national security" of america - ed. )
пекину сложно ускорить темп продвижения к самодостаточности, однако направление очевидно. к сожалению, в мире, где китай станет по-настоящему самодостаточным, у сша будет намного меньше рычагов давления на него, чем сейчас. китай до сих пор зависит от иностранных компаний в области многих основополагающих технологий, включая новейшие полупроводники. а эти полупроводники необходимы для многих производств: от персональных компьютеров и смартфонов до систем искусственного интеллекта. в 2019 году китайские лидеры перестали публично обсуждать инициативу «сделано в китае 2025», чтобы снизить напряжение во время переговоров с сша, однако суть стратегии никуда не делась. некий анонимный высокопоставленный чиновник рассказал американскому журналисту, что коммунистическая партия китая (кпк) «никогда не уступит» в отношении главных целей этой инициативы. в этом году си обещал инвестировать ещё 1,4 триллиона долларов в развитие и внедрение передовой технологической инфраструктуры, такой как беспроводные сети 5g, улучшенные датчики и камеры, а также автоматизацию.
опасения китая по поводу зависимости от сша распространяются на все новые сферы. особенно острым в последнее время стал вопрос о господстве сша в международной финансовой системе, начиная с доллара и заканчивая электронными платежными системами. даже те китайские чиновники, которые выступают с позиций глобализма, например, бывший министр финансов лоу цзивэй (lou jiwei), заговорили о рисках «финансовой войны». по их мнению, сша делает «всё возможное, чтобы использовать запугивание и длинные руки своей юрисдикции» против китая.
китайские элиты называют пандемию covid-19 доказательством того, что, если сша начнут обрушаться, они обратят остатки своих сил против китая. из-за неспособности трампа сдержать вирус, к концу августа в сша было около шести миллионов подтвержденных случаев заболевания и почти 200 тысяч случаев летального исхода. эта ситуация подтверждает то, что китайские комментаторы считают ужасным положением страны. они называют пандемию «ватерлоо для американского лидерства» и «концом века америки». они верят в то, что трамп во время предвыборной кампании нападал на китай, чтобы отвлечь внимание от провалов собственной администрации. так, он назвал covid-19 «китайской чумой» и ввел новые санкции и другие меры против китайских предприятий. однако многие представители китайской элиты убеждены: какими бы ни были результаты выборов, направление американо-китайских отношений обусловлено неотвратимым упадком сша и их враждебностью к китаю. юань пэн (yuan peng), влиятельный президент китайского института современных международных отношений при мгб китая, недавно написал: «… америке будет нелегко вернуть себе роль мирового лидера… китайская политика сша будет становиться всё более гиперчувствительной, непреклонной и надменной. в течение какого-то времени они будут только усиливать меры по давлению и сдерживанию».
beijing authorities call for self-sufficiency
xi deploys new strategies based on these expectations. this spring, he unveiled an economic agenda. its goal is to turn china's economic development inward, relying more on the country's huge domestic market and less on the "unstable and incomprehensible outside world." stimulating domestic demand has long been a topic of discussion among chinese leaders. however, xi has pledged to make domestic consumption growth the centerpiece of the upcoming five-year plan for 2021-2025. this turnaround is apparently provoked by the assumption that the united states will continue to work against china. at the end of july, one chinese state media emphatically proclaimed, "no country or person can stop the historic pace of the great revival of the chinese nation."
to buy time, xi wants to ease the trade and technology conflict with the united states. he wants a respite so that china can strengthen its ties with other economies in the world and make them more diverse. the plan is to do so through the belt and road initiative. it is an international network of infrastructure projects aimed at strengthening china's geopolitical influence. china does not renounce the whole world and globalization as much as it renounces america and the american version of globalization associated with it.
china's conviction that the united states is a hostile country, and a power in decline - this conviction has given the country's leaders the courage to pursue old goals with renewed vigor. because of their belief in the decline of the united states, they see fewer risks in confidently defending their position and their country. their sense of american hostility, among other factors, heightens their willingness to incur international disapproval for their country. they are introducing a new national security law in hong kong, committing atrocities against xinjiang, aggressively treating australia, india and the philippines, and threatening taiwan, which has been part of china for many centuries. at the same time, chinese leaders allow themselves to establish new partnerships with russia and iran, and allow their chinese diplomats to spread conspiracy theories about the origin of covid-19 from somewhere other than china. the united states is abandoning multilateral and international institutions, while china is trying to rebuild global institutions, such as the united nations human rights council, in its favor. china's behavior in these areas is often contrary to u.s. interests and legal procedures. beijing tramples rules it does not like and undermines liberal norms and values.
better us strategy towards china
how should us strategy towards china deal with these changes? given the grim experience of the past years, when pressure has proved completely useless, some will want to try to contain the standoff by convincing beijing that the united states has no desire to contain china. however, this strategy is unlikely to work. in many areas, china's ambitions do conflict with those of the united states. in addition, trump confirmed too many of beijing's views on the united states. currently, no amount of diplomatic persuasion can convince chinese leaders to abandon the struggle for the country's security by increasing control over the population, strengthening the state's influence on the economic system, and reducing china's dependence on the united states. trying to convince them otherwise in the current situation will look like idle chatter, contradicting their idea of the "wheel of history", which is increasingly dragging the united states into decline. american strategy must move forward, not backward, in the current predicament.
however, this does not mean at all that we should accept the agenda of the beijing officials. those who think so do not see china as a country that can hardly respond to our pressure, but as an unyielding power, unable to respond to external actions. this is not true. it would be wrong to think that the failed strategies of the past few years have left the united states helpless in the face of china. it is a false view to think that we can only raise the drawbridge, prepare for conflict, and pray that the pda and its power will collapse. a different approach is required, not a nostalgic "reset" and not these frightening fatalistic notions.
the best option is to create a strategy based on a more realistic assessment of the interests of the united states and china. beijing sees the world as a highly competitive arena. he looks through his ideological attitudes. nevertheless, in fact, with a different approach, washington can still develop its interests while respecting china. the most ambitious and yet most important aspect of this strategy is to show china and the rest of the world american strength. prove that the united states remains strong and can no doubt rekindle a source of strength and leadership. it has to be proven that chinese leaders have grossly underestimated the united states in developing their current strategy. by refuting exaggerated reports of its own demise, the united states will be able to change china's calculations and find a way to sustainable coexistence on favorable terms.
for effective competition with china, us domestic policy is also extremely important. it is necessary to restore its economic foundation. convince the chinese of our technological superiority, as well as the democratic nature of our system. all this would be important even in the absence of rivalry with china, but the feud with beijing makes these issues urgent.
what should we do?
us politicians must take control of the covid-19 pandemic; adopt economic policies that are beneficial to all americans; welcome immigrants who are enriching us society; achieve racial justice to show the world that the united states is still a beacon of freedom and equality; make wise investments in the us defense capabilities; and to increase federal funding for science and development. such an ambitious plan for the national renewal of the united states, such our strength and resilience, will decisively shake the foundations of the strategy of the chinese communists from the cpc. american leaders should not be afraid to publicly point out the many weaknesses of authoritarian china, including the country's aging population. the chinese need to open their eyes to the environmental crisis, the many border disputes and china's declining international popularity.
the us must unite with allies and partners in asia and europe to challenge china's problematic behavior. this step should include the use of joint economic leverage to punish companies and groups that steal intellectual property and engage in other unfair and illegal activities. there is also a need to strengthen military capabilities and show growing resolve in the face of chinese aggression. sanctions should be imposed on institutions and individuals helping to carry out the repression in hong kong, tibet and xinjiang. we need to work to revive international institutions and other elements that maintain a legal order that can curb rivalry between countries. while defending against china, the united states and its partners must take steps to maintain their influence in key areas of international trade. at the same time, it is necessary to completely free ourselves from supply chains that create an unacceptable dependence on china (for example, the production of essential medical supplies). let the chinese cooperate with us in those areas where the threat of their influence is less dangerous. not all risks are equally dangerous. but the united states and its democratic allies have been open communities for many years. let in the eyes of the chinese they remain open societies advocating enrichment through economic, scientific and personal exchange between countries around the world, including china. in some areas we will continue to cooperate, even if we have to make more efforts to protect ourselves from coercion and espionage by foreign enemies.
reassuring, convincing of superiority
the united states and china have important common interests and must strive to avoid the worst outcome of their rivalry. both countries must confront serious challenges such as climate change, pandemics and nuclear proliferation. all this cannot be done without cooperation and joint action. us and chinese leaders must work to prevent foreseeable disasters such as looming cyber war and potential conflict in the disputed south china sea. in the most unstable and dangerous areas, it is necessary to agree on boundaries and effective mechanisms for resolving crises and relieving tensions. working with china on these issues, even in a highly competitive context, the united states should sort of calm beijing all the time. the need to give china the impression that the united states is not afraid of it and is not trying to hold back the prosperity of china, which plays an important global role and abides by the rules. over time, all of this will help chinese leaders to come to the conclusion that solving urgent joint issues is more important than believing in their own fear-based views of the united states.
however, all these efforts will only work if the united states can prove that the chinese communist party's view of america's imminent decline is wrong. let us set ourselves such a task, and the clarity of this task, confidence in our strength will become a reason for our optimism. so, chinese leaders' gloomy views on the fate of the united states are false. the united states is not trapped in old ways of solving problems, and is not held back by historical forces that it cannot change. we can do much of what needs to be done to effectively compete with china. america still has time to take action.
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