A new report on US policy toward China launched by the Asia Society in New York is another example of how supposedly bipartisan US intellectual elites, instead of offering impartial advice, do little more than parrot Washington’s talking points, failing to admit they know nothing of substance about the existential “threats” posed by Russia and China.
The report ‘Course Correction: Toward an Effective and Sustainable China Policy‘ was written in collaboration with the 21st Century Chinese Center at the University of California, San Diego. Orville Schell, one of the chairs of the Task Force Report, should be seen as one of the least biased among an uneven basket of self-declared US experts on China.
Still, he frames the report as trying to find a way between “confronting China” and “accommodating China.” That does not include “respecting” China – considering all the nation’s achievements 40 years after the reforms launched by Little Helmsman Deng Xiaoping.
Then Schell admits his experts are left “wondering what’s going on in the upper reaches of the leadership in China.” That’s even more serious, implying no intel on the ground.
So we’re left with China-bashing. We learn of devious attacks against the “rules-based global order” – which is always not so subtly equated with the “interests and values of the United States;” China’s “mercantilist zero-sum policies;”and the “lavishly funded state-led effort to build China into a high-tech superpower” – as if no country in the Global South should be allowed to go high-tech.
On foreign policy, the report warns about “expansive claims of sovereignty in the South China Sea,” which is a de facto regurgitation of the Pentagon’s master narrative.
Earlier this week, the head of the US Indo-Pacific Command, Admiral Philip Davidson, testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee that US-China competition represents “two incompatible visions of the future”, and that China is the “greatest long-term strategic threat to a free and open Indo-Pacific and to the United States.”
What about BRI?
The full report is here. The Asia Society is promoting it as the most comprehensive analysis of the state of play between the US and China – the result of two years of work. Yet it walks and talks more like a summary of the frantically repetitive news cycle always focusing on China’s “hegemonic” designs on 5G, the suspicious, technology-stealing Made in China 2025, attacks on “freedom of navigation” and China’s insidious nationalism.
As if the Trump administration was not applying myriad forms of economic pressure – and not only on China – ranging from exercises of sovereignty to unabashed protectionism.
The report recommends applying more pressure and exercising more control to “correct” Chinese behavior. So, it’s easy to imagine how this condescending, exceptionalist-based attitude is totally dismissed by Beijing.
When one looks at the signatories of the report, it’s easy to see why.
Among them, there’s Winston Lord, a former US ambassador to China and former right-hand man to Henry Kissinger; Kurt Campbell, the man who invented the “pivot to Asia,” sold it to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who convinced President Obama about it; former trade negotiator and Clinton acolyte Charlene Barshevsky; and David Shambaugh from George Washington University, who used to be reliable but has recently veered toward a Sinophobic path.
Instead of “confronting” or “accommodating” China, what passes for the upper reaches of the US intellectual elite could do worse than trying to understand China. And that means understanding the scope of an actual policy; the New Silk Roads, or Belt and Road Initiative.
BRI is the de facto foreign policy developed for a geoeconomic superpower all the way to 2049, based on trade, investment and internationalization of what is bound to become a major currency, the yuan.
Up to the end of last year, the China Development Bank, Exim Bank, the Silk Road Fund, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and the New Development Bank (NDB) set up by the major emerging economies had invested at least $460 billion in myriad BRI projects.
BRI is already a global band. For all the 24/7 demonization, the absolute majority of BRI-related investments accrue China’s power projection, soft power included. That’s visible all across the Global South. Fine tunings, as in Malaysia or Sri Lanka, are inevitable. This is a massive work in progress – and it’s just beginning.
Until US elites understand what Belt and Road is all about, economically and geopolitically, expect think tank-concocted containment and accommodation strategies to flounder in irrelevance.