Pic. “The Economist”
The atmosphere in Beijing just now reveals that the world’s most important relationship has become more embittered and hostile than ever, notes “The Economist”.
In the halls of government Communist Party officials denounce what they see as America’s bullying. They say it is intent on beating China to death. In the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse, multinational executives attending the China Development Forum worried what a deeper decoupling would mean for their businesses. The only thing both sides agree on is that the best case is decades of estrangement — and that the worst, of a war, is growing ever more likely.
Each side is following its own inexorable logic.
America has adopted a policy of containment, although it declines to use that term. It sees an authoritarian China that has shifted from one-party to one-man rule. President Xi Jinping is likely to be in power for years and is hostile to the West, which he believes ‘is in decline’. His meeting with Vladimir Putin this month confirmed that his goal is to build an alternative world order that is friendlier to autocrats.
Faced with this, America is understandably accelerating its military containment of China in Asia, rejuvenating old alliances and creating new ones, such as the AUKUS pact with Australia and Britain. In commerce and technology America is enacting a tough and widening embargo on semiconductors and other goods.
To China’s leaders, this amounts to a scheme to cripple it. America, in their eyes, thinks it is exceptional. It will never accept that any country can be as powerful as itself, regardless of whether it is communist or a democracy. America will tolerate China only if it is submissive, a “fat cat, not a tiger”.
America’s Asian military alliances mean that China feels it is being encircled within its own natural sphere of influence. Red lines agreed on in the 1970s, when the two countries re-established relations, such as those on Taiwan, are being trampled by ignorant and reckless American politicians. China’s rulers think it only prudent to raise military spending.
Given two such entrenched and contradictory world-views, it is naive to think that more diplomacy alone can guarantee peace. A meeting in Bali between President Joe Biden and Mr Xi in November eased tensions, but the deeper logic of confrontation soon reasserted itself. The spy-balloon crisis (Chinese officials mock America for downing what they call a stray “naughty balloon”) showed how both leaders must appear tough at home. America wants China to adopt guardrails to control the rivalry, including hotlines and protocols on nuclear weapons. America’s election in 2024 will show that China-bashing is a bipartisan sport.
Both sides are locked in a “security dilemma” in which it is rational to shore up your position, even as that makes the other side feel threatened.
The West is right to seek military deterrence to meet a growing Chinese threat — the alternative is a collapse of the American-led order in Asia. But seeking military dominance around flashpoints, notably Taiwan, could spark accidents or clashes that spiral out of control.
America and its allies must resist the temptation to resort to tactics that make them more like their ‘autocratic’ opponent.
If America sticks to its values of openness, equal treatment of all and the rule of law, it will find it easier to maintain the loyalty of its allies. The 21st century’s defining contest is not just about weapons and chips — it is a struggle over values, too.
…The whole world knows the so-called American "values" – to bomb everyone who does not agree with the imposition of "Anglo-Saxon democracy" by the Americans.
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