ChiMerica 2 12 July 2019.

For decades, the United States built its Far Eastern policy on a deepening engagement with China.  Richard Nixon “played the China card” to shift the terms of the Cold War with Russia.  Jimmy Carter sponsored a full normalization of relations with China.  Aside from the old-fashioned balance-of-power rationale that had driven Nixon, a further rationale for engagement developed.  Ever-deeper economic relationships would build a strong bond between the two Pacific giants.  In time, economic development might nudge China’s leadership toward political liberalization.  This engagement intensified after Deng Xiaoping could use the collapse of the Soviet Union as evidence for important policy changes.

More recently, China seems to have drawn far more benefit from the economic relationship than has the United States.  At the same time, since Xi Jinping came to power in 2012, China has turned back toward authoritarian government.[1]  Doubts have been growing for some time about the wisdom of the long-standing American policy.

Now President Donald Trump has used tariffs and sanctions on companies like Huawei to bring the Chinese government to negotiate a new economic relationship and continued the pressure during the on-and-off negotiations.  His confrontational stance has alarmed many people.  A group of 150 China experts, both scholars and former officials, recently denounced the approach as “fundamentally counterproductive.”[2]  However, others—including Democrats like Senator Chuck Schumer—have begun to see real merits in the new course.

The lingering fear is that President Trump will not sustain the pressure for long enough to force the Chinese into a long-term deal that fundamentally restructures the relationship to better the position of the United States.  With an election barely a year away, some fear that he will settle for less in order to have a bragging point.  However, even if he settles for half a loaf, he appears to be shifting the broad consensus of opinion toward the need to confront China.

[1] Edward Wong,” America’s Gamble: Shatter enduring Strategies on China and North Korea,” NYT, 12 July 2019.

[2] Like the old policy was “productive”?

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