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The Road to War with China

American foreign-policy elites increasingly demonize China as a totalitarian state that threatens to overturn the US-led world order. This approach risks damaging the global economy by curtailing trade and fueling intense military competition.

NEW YORK – Over the past two years, American foreign-policy elites have increasingly cast China not only as a competitor to the United States, but as an enemy on a par with the Soviet Union. Although anti-Chinese rhetoric in the US is not new, President Donald Trump’s administration has greatly sharpened and amplified it. This is despite the deep economic ties between the two countries, a multitude of scientific and educational collaborations, and China’s consistent policy of non-intervention in US affairs.

Prominent anti-China figures in Washington include FBI Director Christopher Wray, Peter Navarro, the director of the White House’s Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy, Senator Marco Rubio, and Derek Scissors of the American Enterprise Institute. Echoing Cold-War language, they demonize China as a totalitarian state that threatens to overturn the US-led world order. Furthermore, the Trump administration is trying to contain China’s economic and geopolitical rise by using high-pressure tactics, such as urging allies not to buy Chinese tech products or sell advanced technology to China.

These critics remain hostile to China regardless of what China does, which recalls the 1980s and 1990s, when the US treated an economically powerful Japan as a major national-security threat – even though Japan was a democracy that had not been accused of widespread human-rights violations. Similarly, as long as the US labels China a “peer competitor,” it will treat the country as a threat, even if China’s leaders accommodate America.

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