Donald Trump was the most vocal anti-China candidate in the 2016 US presidential election. Photo: Reuters/Shannon Stapleton

As I indicated in my last article, it’s time for the US to rethink its policy on China, in that none of its efforts to tame the Asian giant’s economic, technological and military prowess have succeeded. President Donald Trump’s tariffs on Chinese “imports” did slow China’s GDP growth from 6.6% to 6.1% in 2019, but US growth fell faster, from more than 3% to around 2% in the same period.

US officials such as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo traveling around the world warning anyone who cared to listen that China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is a “debt trap” went nowhere, because the number of countries joining it rose from around 60 to more than 80 between 2013 to 2019, culminating in two-way trade of over US$6.5 trillion in 2019, according to Chinese government statistics.

In spite of strong US pressure on its allies to keep Huawei out of their markets, the company’s sales increased by 18% in 2019 year on year. Instead of being frightened by “freedom of navigation” operations (FONOPs), China became more aggressive in chasing American warships away and adding more weapons in the South China Sea.

These are just a few of a long list of US policy failures on China.

The irony is that US policies are not only making China stronger in practically all fields, they are also putting global economic growth and geopolitical stability at risk.

Its trade war against China has disrupted the world supply chain (which was established by the US in the first place), prompting the World Bank to reduce its estimates of US and world economic growth to around 2% and 3% respectively in 2019. Increasing FONOPs in the South China Sea inflame both sides’ emotions, heightening tensions and causing miscalculations. The 2018 near-collision between a Chinese and a US ship, for example, was the result of heightened tensions – the Chinese navy appeared determined to block the US FONOP and prepared to ram the American warship if it persisted in sailing near a Chinese-built island.

In light of these effects, it could be argued that the huge amount of resources allocated to “contain” China were not only wasted, but worsened America’s domestic economic and social problems. Although the US has increased defense spending, this has done nothing to improve the safety of Americans at home and abroad but raised the national debt to more than 105% of gross domestic product in 2019, according to World Bank statistics. The crippling national debt in turn reduced spending on education and health-care services while leaving dilapidated infrastructure in a state of disrepair, all of which undermined economic growth and social welfare.

Deficient funding for these socio-economic enhancement programs erodes the quality and health of the labor force, making it less innovative and productive. Delaying infrastructure repair could adversely affect transportation and logistics efficiency. However, most Americans seem to support such policies because they really believe the “China threat” posture. In short, by focusing on containing China instead of caring for its people, the US government might be responsible for the nation’s rising poverty, the number of homeless and falling life expectancy.

Besides, whether China is a real or perceived threat is debatable, because the assumptions and “facts” used by scholars, pundits and politicians like White House adviser Peter Navarro, the Hudson Institute’s Michael Pillsbury and US Senator Marco Rubio can be challenged.

Navarro used an imaginary scholar and questionable information to accuse China of hollowing out US manufacturing and stealing American jobs in his now-discredited book Death by China. The truth is that closing factories and losing manufacturing jobs were deliberate decisions by the US to relocate production abroad and instigate automation at home. Besides, how can any country, including China, “steal” another nation’s jobs?

Pillsbury applied the outrageous assumption that the Chinese game Go used devious means to defeat an opponent as the centerpiece of his thesis that China was trying to supplant US dominance. In his book The Hundred-Year Marathon, Pillsbury insisted that China would apply “Fu Manchu” tactics to topple US hegemony by 2049, the 100th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. But Go is a chess-like game, so why did Pillsbury not suggest that chess players are devious?

Rubio might have emerged as the ultimate China hawk in the US Congress, because he has sponsored a number of anti-China legislations, including those prohibiting or restricting Chinese investment in the US and calling for the government to stop the Asian giant’s industrial policy, “Made in China 2025,” charging that it is a threat to American supremacy. But by his logic, it is the US that is the biggest threat in the world because it has dominated almost everything under the sun.

In examining US anti-China rhetoric such as the examples listed above, one could argue that it is all about sustaining US global hegemony. Indeed, Trump and his senior officials have admitted as much, saying the US cannot allow China (or any country) to be in a position of challenging US supremacy.

Furthermore, maintaining global supremacy unites the Republicans and Democrats, America’s two major political parties. Former Democratic president Barack Obama negotiated the Trans-Pacific Partnership in an effort to prevent China from writing global trade rules. His 2012 “pivot” to Asia was aimed at containing China’s rise. Unfortunately, having overwhelming bipartisan support would further inflame tensions between the world’s two largest economies because neither party wants to be seen as “soft” on “evil communist” China.

Indeed, it could be argued that relations between the two giants are at their worst since they established diplomatic relations. Today’s “third red scare” (the first and second were respectively the Bolshevik Revolution and the McCarthyist witch-hunt) amounts to a China-US Cold War. Each side is ratcheting up defense spending, each trying to outproduce the other in advanced weaponry, and the US restricting Chinese scholars and students coming to its shores and banning technology firms from selling products to China.

In light of huge increases in defense spending, the anti-China policies might also be driven by interest groups such as the military-industrial complex that the late president Dwight D Eisenhower warned the country of in his farewell speech. The complex is made up of weapons-production organizations, lobbyists and the Pentagon with the single-minded goal of keeping America on the apex with arms.

The military-industrial complex has become very influential in shaping foreign and defense policies. Weapons producers such as Lockheed Martin have been contributing hugely to politicians, particularly to those sitting on congressional armed forces and appropriations committees, and paying retired senior government and military officials handsomely to lobby former subordinates in the Pentagon and other relevant departments. Their “investment” has paid off, given the size of the US defense budget.

As indicated at the outset, the consequences of trying to stifle China for no reason other than sustaining hegemony and promoting the interests of a few at the expense of the nation are clear. Such postures not only put global economic and geopolitical security at risk, but harm the image and interests of America and its people. Isn’t it time for the US public to demand that their government rethink its policies on China?

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