China's military rise has complicated the region's strategic calculus. Image: Facebook

There is not a day goes by without the US media, think-tanks and politicians calling for the government to be “tough” China. But the problem is, China can hit back.

US “freedom of navigation and overflight operations” in the South China Sea are met with increasing Chinese military pushbacks, forcing US warships to turn back from China’s 12-mile exclusive economic zone. The FONOPs, in fact, have turned out to be nothing but a waste of US taxpayers’ money, because they sure did not scare the Chinese military.

The latest Chinese pushback is the sanctioning of three weapons producers for selling arms to Taiwan. While Lockheed Martin and Raytheon might not have any business ties with China, Boeing Defense’s parent company does. If push comes to shove, Boeing might end up losing 25% of its commercial-aircraft business.

The same was true for America’s other “tough” stances, such as pushing China to pay damages for “spreading” the coronavirus that causes Covid-19.

In the last presidential debate, when the candidates were asked by the moderator how they would make China pay, Republican incumbent Donald Trump said he already had by imposing tariffs on Chinese imports. But the world knows who really paid the excise taxes, and it was not China.

Democratic challenger Joe Biden said he would demand that China “plays by the rules” and make it pay a price if it doesn’t. Well, Biden may have to come up with some “tough” policies if he wins next week’s election, because China will not dance to the US tune.

US President Donald Trump and presidential contender Joe Biden are largely on the same page when it comes to China. Photo: Twitter / Axios / Getty / AFP

As a matter of fact, being “tough” on China has proved disastrous for the US and its allies. The trade war against China has increased America’s trade deficits, eroded manufacturing, put farmers at financial risk and undermined economic growth.

Meanwhile, appointing itself as US “deputy sheriff” has landed Australia in a recession. Japan and South Korea are at risk of being targeted by Chinese economic retaliation. Cozying up to the US will make it harder for India to recover from an 11% economic contraction and not gaining an inch in its border dispute with China.

On the technology fight, Huawei has actually thrived amid US sanctions, registering 18% and 10% increases in sales in 2019 and the first nine months of 2020 respectively. Huawei also toppled Samsung as the largest smartphone supplier in the world. The Chinese company still provides more than 40% of the world’s telecom equipment.

Longer-term prospects for Huawei and other Chinese technology companies might be even rosier. With the Chinese government planning to spend US$1.4 trillion on speeding up the country’s innovation ambitions, and with a huge pool of scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians graduating from its own universities and others overseas each year, China could become a technology powerhouse equal to if not surpassing the US.

US technology firms, particularly those relying on the China market, are facing an uncertain financial future. Apple and others could be shut out of the market, while Qualcomm and other chip manufacturers could lose billions of dollars in revenues, because China is their biggest customer.

The point is that there is a limit to what the US can do to stop China’s rise, particularly when the reasons for stifling the country’s progress are based on subjective and questionable information. While accusing China of spying, the US could not or would not provide credible evidence. On China engaging in currency manipulation, even the United States’ own Treasury Department disagreed.

Indeed, the only “sin” China has committed is that its development model is too successful, elevating the economy to No 2 in nominal GDP terms and the biggest in purchasing power parity terms within a generation.

People queue in front of a Shake Shack restaurant outside a shopping mall complex during the country’s national “Golden Week” holiday in Beijing on October 2, 2020. (Photo by NICOLAS ASFOURI / AFP)

China was a “good guy” when it was producing labor-intensive or low-technology products such as garments. It only became the world’s “greatest threat” when it was able to produce high-technology goods that were competitive with those produced in the US.

Against this backdrop, it would be foolish for the US and its allies to think they can coerce China into behaving like them. China is too big and will not be bullied without a fight. More noteworthy is that China has never shown any indication that it plans to dominate the world – that sinister picture was invented by the anti-China crowd in the West. If anything, China has promoted globalization, and thereby a shared future for all countries.

The fact of the matter is China’s unique “socialist market economy” has made the country what it is today, becoming an economic, technology and military power. In this regard, there is no reason for China to change its ideology and development architectures more to America’s liking.

And China has never suggested that it wants to become more like the US. The opposite might be true in light of former Chinese president Hu Jintao’s comment about liberal democracy being a “dead end” in China. Hu had a point; the US ideology would not only be dysfunctional but could destroy the country.

First, getting a consensus on any policy would be time-consuming, a luxury that China cannot afford. For example, poverty eradication requires timely and effective policies that only a strong or authoritarian government can implement. While the US may be “horrified” by this stance, it brought huge benefits to China and around the world.

Chinese President Xi Jinping in a file photo. Image: Xinhua

For the first time in China’s history, starvation became a thing of the past. China’s remarkable economic achievement has contributed to 30% of global growth since 2009.

Second, democracy would bring chaos, potentially tearing China apart, as its history has shown. Unlike people in the West and Japan, the Chinese had no experience with democratic values in which people with opposing views can debate their differences. Instead, they might settle their differences with devastating violence, as has happened in the past.

This can be seen in Hong Kong, where so-called “pro-democracy” activists resorted to violence and attacked people who disagreed with them, plunging the city into a “no man’s land” until the central Chinese government passed the national security law to prevent “anarchists” and their foreign backers from destroying it.

China should and must continue to “do it my way,” no matter what the West wants. Unless it is willing to risk a full-blown military war against China, being “tough” on the Communist regime will not change it.

Ken Moak taught economic theory, public policy and globalization at university level for 33 years. He co-authored a book titled China’s Economic Rise and Its Global Impact in 2015. His second book, Developed Nations and the Economic Impact of Globalization, was published by Palgrave McMillan Springer.