Koo’s point that the US has cynically cast China as a rapacious aggressor is well taken. Indeed, President Joe Biden’s harsh anti-China rhetoric differs little from that of his divisive predecessor, a tone Biden has perhaps adopted in a misguided attempt to appear “tough” and to blunt criticism from the right.
Yet stoking fears of global domination by the Chinese seems based more on red-meat politics than legitimate concerns. As recently reported by the International Peace Research Institute in Stockholm, US military expenditures in 2020 (US$778 billion/5.04 trillion yuan) were more than triple those of China ($252 billion/1.63 trillion yuan).
That said, Prestowitz’ apprehensions about Chinese overreach in terms of free speech, territorial integrity, and human rights, while exaggerated, are not entirely without merit.
I would posit that the truth lies somewhere in between. That is: Neither superpower can legitimately lay claim to an unblemished record. Both can be credibly charged with behaving badly across a number of geopolitical areas (while simultaneously accusing the other of the same). And each often seems more beholden to political posturing than serious diplomacy.
My distant relative Anson Burlingame (蒲安臣), the 19th-century diplomat who served as Abraham Lincoln’s ambassador to China and subsequently as China’s envoy to the Western powers, would likely have urged the two nations to calm the rhetoric, dial back the antagonism, and negotiate their differences in the spirit of justice and equality. In Anson’s memory, I shall do the same.