The US is increasingly belligerent in its efforts to stifle China’s rise and pressure its allies to do the same. But none of the tactics – trade wars, “freedom of navigation” operations (FONOPs), pushing allies to ditch Huawei equipment or the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), etc – have worked.
Indeed, one could even argue that the more the US tries to put China down, the taller and stronger the Asian country stands up. Accusing China of setting “debt traps,” for example, has seen more nations joining its BRI.
The latest to join the BRI were Argentina and Nicaragua. The Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) also signed a comprehensive agreement with China on cooperation in a host of fields, including investment, security, and more.
At home, China is also doing relatively well. Its economy grew at an astonishing rate of 8.1% in 2021, the highest annualized growth in a decade. According to the International Olympic Committee (IOC), China did a magnificent job in holding the Winter Games amid a pandemic and other challenges.
The Beijing Winter Olympics were watched by more than 2 billion worldwide, including more than 100 million Americans, according to the IOC. The majority of those who attended the Games praised China’s efforts to contain the spread of Covid-19 pandemic and for putting on a good show.
In spite of the US diplomatically boycotting the Winter Olympics, more than 30 foreign leaders and senior officials attended the Games. But the only US response was making a mountain out of mole hill regarding every little problem, such as the weather in Beijing being too cold or the food not hot enough.
Simply put, the US “China containment” policies have failed miserably, raising the question: Why is the US unable to stifle China’s rise? It is not for lack of trying. Successive US administrations have expended vast amounts of resources on pushing down or isolating China and sending senior officials to all corners of the globe to persuade countries not to embrace the Asian giant.
Former president Barack Obama’s “pivot to Asia” policy and signing the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) were meant to erode China’s influence in the Asia-Pacific region. His successor Donald Trump imposed trade and technology wars on China to topple it from its economic mantle. Current President Joe Biden retained or even extended many of Trump’s anti-China policies for the same reason.
So what happened? Well, three reasons for these failures come to mind.
First, history is not on the United States’ side. Allegations of “evil doings” based on questionable information will bring disappointment and despair, as the Vietnam and Iraq wars attested.
Second, few if any countries will sacrifice their national interests and security just to please America.
And finally, China is even more determined to continue going forward with its “social market economy” architecture amid the increasingly toxic US-China relationship.
Unsubstantiated anti-Chinese allegations
Economic or military conflicts against China will not produce the intended outcomes. As Vietnam was in the run-up to war in Indochina, China will be highly incentivized to resist the US onslaught. For instance, the US government blocking the sale of advanced chips to China prompted Beijing to invest billions of dollars to become self-sufficient in that field.
China’s success in combating US politically motivated policies is, in part, because they were based on questionable information. Case in point is the US accusing China of committing genocide against the Uighurs in Xinjiang.
Whether China has committed genocide and other “evil” deeds depends on whom one talks to. But the US allegations were simply speculations without proof. They also defied conventional definitions of the term “genocide.”
Redefining genocide as “structural social change” in wiping out the Uighurs to fit the narrative is a poor argument. How can anyone, except God, know what the future holds? The Uighur population could become larger and wealthier because of the language and vocational training that the would-be terrorists have received.
The Chinese government instituted the “de-radicalization” policy of putting would-be terrorists into language and vocational training schools (which the US called concentration camps or prisons). The Chinese policy, in fact, gained support not only from the Uighur community in Xinjiang, but from the Muslim world as well.
Since its inception, there have been no terrorist acts in Xinjiang. And according to the government, many Uighur trainees have found gainful employment and now are enjoying a better lifestyle.
As for whether China’s BRI investment loans are a “debt trap,” again it depends on whom one talks to. But debt statistics in the recipient or participating countries suggest the contrary.
Sri Lanka’s debts owed to China account for less than 20% of its total foreign debt, according to Sri Lankan government statistics. The majority of its foreign debts are owed to Western or US-controlled financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, which require Sri Lanka to repay loans before spending on economic development or recovery.
The fact of the matter is the BRI is a “win-win” for both China and the recipient countries. For example, the Sri Lankan port of Hambantota (which the US cited as an example of a “debt trap”) was leased to a Chinese company for financial reasons. Indeed, the port became financially viable after handling it over to the Chinese company.
Besides, how can an economy develop without infrastructure investments? The roads, ports and power-generation facilities that the BRI framework made possible is largely responsible for accelerating economic development in Africa, Latin America and other parts in the world. Roads and ports are required to facilitate trade and commerce, after all.
Similar counter-arguments can be made against US allegations of China bullying small nations, taking away human rights and democracy from Hong Kong, and other “evil” deeds.
No country in Southeast Asia was worrying about instability in the South China Sea until Obama instituted the “pivot to Asia” policy. But Obama’s posture provoked China into a defensive position, asserting its claims within the “nine dash line” (which by the way was drafted by China’s previous Nationalist government in 1947 with US blessings).
In spite of all these US anti-China policies, China’s global economic, technological and geopolitical standings continue to grow. Indeed, US policies have not only strengthened China’s determination to become stronger, but also turned many US allies off.
US unable to recruit many to its cause
Biden’s China policies differ from his predecessor Trump’s in one major way: trying to recruit allies to counter China with the slogan “democracy versus authoritarianism,” or simply “good vs evil.” But unfortunately for Biden, the world, including America’s allies, probably knows who is “good” and who is “evil.”
Just ask the countries that the US bombed for no reason other than not toeing its line. Or ask the native, black, Asian and non-white Hispanic Americans how well they were treated by some US politicians.
Perhaps the more important reason that the US was unable to recruit allies to its anti-China crusade is national interest. Joining the fight against “evil” communist China means sacrificing their national interests. Most of the allied countries are neighbors of China and rely heavily on it for their economic well-being.
For example, China is the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue members’ biggest or second-largest trade partner. According to Chinese customs statistics, around a third of Australian exports are sold to China, for instance.
Against this backdrop, it is no surprise that none of the Quad members want to have a showdown with China, particularly over questionable allegations of “evil” deeds. Doing so would wreak havoc on their economies.
Because of geographical proximity with China, allying with the US against it militarily would risk the Quad members’ national security. A US-China military war would be fought on the allies’ soils as well as those of the US and China.
But the US will not take that risk, explaining why it is pushing for the establishment of a mechanism to ensure confrontation does not veer into wars. The vast majority of the US population will oppose a war with China, particularly one fought over “fake news.”
China is not Vietnam or Iraq, it can inflict huge damages, destroying many US cities and killing large number of Americans. Of course, many Chinese cities would also be destroyed and people killed. Indeed, a US-China war could lead to mutual destruction.
China has every right to follow its development path
Under the United Nations Charter, a country has the right to adopt a development and governance architecture that reflects its history, culture and other institutions unique to it. Well, the “social market economy” has proved extremely successful, propelling China to become the second-largest economy, eradicate extreme poverty, become a major military and technology power.
So there is no reason for China to cave in to US demands to disband that architecture.
Following the US-inspired world order would mean that China and other developing countries would be forever beholden or subservient to the West, particularly America. That is something that China will not do.
Simply put, China is determined to grow stronger and richer whether the US likes it or not. China has the economic, technological and military prowess to do so.
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.