The U.S. – China Love Affair; Aspen Security Conference Part 2

In Aspen Security Conference; The Rise of China, Part 1, CIA analyst Michael Collins is quoting as saying China wants to replace the U.S. as the world superpower. Without negation, my reply is

I agree, although the tone almost implies that it’s the fault of China. The fault is ours, a major failure of U.S. policy. Historical inevitability contributes to the outcome.

This article will try to explain us to ourselves, and to  China readers who aren’t blocked by the Great Firewall.

(Japan Times) Dissent surfaces as China begins to question its readiness for trade war with U.S. Quoting,

The essays have raised concerns that the ruling Communist Party underestimated the depth of anti-China sentiment in Washington and risked a premature showdown with the world’s sole superpower. Such views push the bounds of acceptable public debate in a nation where dissent can lead to censure or even jail time, and are particularly bold, given Xi has amassed unrivaled control while leading China to a more assertive role on the world stage.


“It seems like Chinese officials were mentally unprepared for the approaching trade friction or trade war,” Gao Shanwen, chief economist for Beijing-based Essence Securities Co., whose biggest shareholders include large state-owned enterprises, wrote in one widely circulated commentary. “Anti-China views are becoming the consensus among the U.S. public and its ruling party.”

Strategists in the U.S. and China, sharing the fault of single-issue thinking, have explained the friction in terms of their areas of responsibility:

  • Compatibility of political systems. China’s political system has unexpectedly evolved towards totalitarianism.
  • Economics. China’s massive, unsustainable trade surplus, which is really our fault. No one can fault China for doing the best they can.
  • Intelligence community. China’s massive economic espionage in the U.S. has resulted in the loss of intellectual capital, the fruits of decades of research and development.
  • World Order. China’s assertion of sovereignty over an entire sea, defined by the Nine Dotted Line, signifies complete breakdown of the quasi-legal system called “international law”, a mainly Western creation that gradually evolved since the Peace of Westphalia.
  • Military Threat. China’s increasing military power admits possible use for coercion. The Nine Dotted Line creates a ready issue; China’s military creates the means.
  • Mercantile Dominance.  U.S. – Asia trade  was direct with the smaller East Asian nations until about the mid 90’s. China has replaced the U.S. and Japan as  mercantile hubs of the region, interposing as the primary mercantile hub.  Smaller nations, once U.S. subcontractors and suppliers of bulk commodities,  have become China subcontractors.  Even in what some might think an early stage of this development, the U.S. has lost opportunity to create added value.
  • Destruction  of the romantic notion of a U.S. role in Asia, dating to  Commodore Perry, elaborated by Theodore Roosevelt, sanctified in the blood of World War II, reprised by Kissinger and Nixon.
  • Loss of the American Empire. The U.S. never had an empire in name, but  the effective result of aggressive multinational corporations was a form of mercantilism. In  many cases, multinationals implemented their own foreign policies.
  • Loss of U.S. manufacturing base, causing widespread distress in U.S. society.

China’s  pundits may be puzzled as to why these elements should combine now, if they have in fact combined, to create a trade war. As with Russia, inward focus and  cultural isolation of national barriers promote single-issue thinking. For China, this is the attempt to identify the single issue that if rectified, will allow the recent state of relations to continue without interruption.

To China pundits, the idea of a single issue could seem obvious, shown  by the tariffs, a new U.S. policy feature introduced by the Trump Administration. Some U.S. pundits, focused on economic matters, might share this view.  It’s hard to juggle multiple issues, and harder still build consensus around them.

When a single issue is identified, compact in explanation, immediate in impact, easily quantifiable, implying a response that already has a name, it is a catalyst for change. The issue is the trade deficit, and the response, tariffs. China cannot be blamed for doing the best it can, yet with some irony, trade has become the principal focus of action.

Writing about international relations sometimes refers to a “chill” between powers.  When water is cooled below the freezing point, does it always turn to ice? Not always. With care, water can be supercooled to -48.3C. If the water is pure,  supercooling can be accomplished in an ordinary freezer. But if the smallest ice crystal comes in contact with supercooled water, it will cause the water to instantly turn to ice.

U.S.-China relations have been chilling for a long time. Since the water remained liquid, we did not notice that it had become supercooled. The crystal of ice is a surprise to all of us. The love affair is on the rocks.  It’s not a matter of sentiment anymore.

Next: More explanations, U.S. goals, prognostications.






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