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Reconciling Chinese National Security and Economic Growth

The increasingly hardline “America First” approach taken by the US risks strengthening China’s own hardliners, who will push to emphasize national security over continued "reform and opening up." So far, however, President Xi Jinping remains committed to maintaining the pragmatic approach that has guided China for 40 years.

HONG KONG – Earlier this month, at a conference to commemorate the 40th anniversary of China’s “reform and opening up,” President Xi Jinping underscored the tension between the continuation of that process and the imperative of protecting national security. Xi recognized that “China cannot develop itself in isolation from the world, and the world needs China for global prosperity.” Yet he also emphasized that “no one is in a position to dictate to the Chinese people what should or should not be done.”

There is no doubt that the world – and especially the United States – has lately been trying hard to pressure China to make changes. US President Donald Trump’s trade war – which he justifies in national-security terms – is the most potent example. But earlier this month – on the same night Xi and Trump struck a 90-day trade truce – Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of the Chinese tech giant Huawei, was arrested in Canada at the behest of the US.

While the reason for Meng’s arrest has not been clarified by the US Justice Department, it appears to relate to US suspicions that Huawei has violated American sanctions against Iran. But it also likely reflects the technological dimension of the escalating economic and geopolitical competition between the US and China.

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