Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Commerce Minister Zhong Shan at last year's virtual signing of the RCEP. Photo: Xinhua

There is not a day that goes by without the West, India and Japan vowing to be “tough” on China. The “tough” measures include: US President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga issuing a joint communiqué in April reaffirming their “ironclad” alliance; European allies the UK, France and Germany sending warships to Asia; and India warming up to forming an “Asian NATO” with “like-minded” democracies.

The latest is the US and its allies pressuring the World Trade Organization (WTO) to toughen rules governing state subsidies to businesses. The proposal is clearly aimed at China with the hope that it would force the country to abandon its successful “socialist market economy” platform of state-owned enterprises driving economic growth and technological innovation.

Problem with being ‘tough’ on China

However, being “tough” on China is easier said than done, more rhetoric than real. The director general of the WTO, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has warned that the US-led proposal could disrupt the global economic and trade systems, exacerbating the economic woes caused by Covid-19.

Furthermore, some countries in the European Union, including France and Germany – while they did send warships in support of the US-inspired “Indo-Pacific” strategy – might not want to be “tough” on China because that would hurt their national interests. China is Germany’s major destination of exports, for instance.

Japanese, US and EU business enterprises are clearly not on the same page as their governments on being “tough” on China. If anything, they want more engagement with China, perhaps because of the country’s huge, lucrative market. Indeed, Japan and the US would be worse off economically if not for the Chinese market.

China’s answer to West’s tough stance

In any event, China appears prepared to counter US, EU, Indian and Japanese military adventurism. The country recently commissioned a new nuclear submarine, helicopter carrier and large destroyer, each carrying many missiles capable of hitting US bases in the Asia-Pacific region.

And to show that it is not afraid of Western adventurism, China has been enhancing its military exercises in terms of frequency, size and intensity.

On the economic front, China is embarking on a full post-pandemic recovery. Having controlled the pandemic, China has instituted the “dual circulation” strategy of making domestic consumption as the economic driver to be supported by further integrating into the world economy.

For example, the country reached a trade agreement, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, with 14 other Asia-Pacific nations and the Comprehensive Investment Agreement (CAI) with the EU, regardless of US protests, last year.

Additionally, China is expanding investment and trade under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and reaching out to non-Western nations for further economic cooperation in trade and investment.

US, allies tackle domestic issues

All things considered, China’s economic outlook should be relatively rosy compared with the West, Japan and India. Still struggling to control the pandemic’s spread, these countries will unlikely to meet their growth targets.

India, for example, is facing a pandemic crisis with hundreds of thousands of new infections every day. To stifle the pandemic’s spread, India has had implement stringent lockdown measures, thus facing insurmountable difficulties in realizing its projected growth rate 12% in 2o21.

Japan is in no better shape, expecting a fourth wave of the Covid-19 pandemic to threaten its plans to hold the Olympic Games, postponed from last year. And even if the Olympics do take place, the expected economic “shot in the arm” has evaporated because the sports events will have no foreign spectators.

The US and European economies are only marginally better off, keeping above water largely because of huge stimulus packages, governments borrowing huge sums of money to sustain consumer spending or bailing out businesses. Subsidization is only a short-term Band-Aid solution, after all.

Without a long-term economic recovery plan, lack of investment funds and rising national debts, the West’s post-pandemic recovery would be at risk. The chairman of the US Federal Reserve, the country’s central bank, Jerome Powell, in fact admitted that recovery is “still far off.”

What China can offer the world

No wonder the world, apart from some Western, Japanese and Indian politicians, see China as the only economic game in town. China’s V-shaped recovery coupled with its long-term pragmatic recovery policies might just be the answer to the world’s prayers.

Increasing domestic consumption, building more infrastructures and raising funding for research and development could be a boom for the world economy because they would bring huge trade and investment opportunities.

Western, Japanese hypocrisy on full display

While accusing China of “genocide” and “forced labor” in Xinjiang, the West and Japan should check their own sorry history, killing or enslaving countless millions of the native populations n the lands they colonized or stolen. In this sense, accusing China of committing evil deeds, the West and Japan take hypocrisy to a new level.

A case in point is US President Joe Biden accusing Turkey of committing genocide against Armenians in the early 1900s. But he did not utter a single word about the killing of millions of native Americans from the 17th to 19th centuries.

Nor did Biden mention a word about the slave trade, kidnapping and sending millions of Africans to America to work on cotton fields and plantations. China at least provided vocational training and paid Uighurs to work in the cotton fields and related industries.

With regard to Chinese “aggression” in the Asia-Pacific, the West and Japan have cherry-picked information to fit the narrative. The People’s Republic of China did not invent its territorial claims, they were inherited from the previous Nationalist government. The claims were supported by the US under the 1946 Cairo Declaration framework, demanding that Japan return all territories it annexed from their historical owners.

Furthermore, China was exempted from the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), implicitly recognizing the country’s territorial claims within the “nine dash line.”

Taking the debate to its logical conclusion, getting “tough” on China, without being willing to sacrifice large numbers of human lives and destroy the economy, is more rhetoric than substance.

Furthermore, God only knows these “like-minded democracies” have more domestic issues – controlling the pandemic, reviving economic growth, etc – than they can handle. It’s time for the governments of the West, Japan and India to look after the interests of their people instead of getting “tough” on China, a perceived enemy that they may not be able to defeat.

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.