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China Needs a New Grand Strategy

CLAREMONT, CALIFORNIA – The Cold War ended in December 1991, when the Soviet Union disintegrated. The post-Cold War era ended in November 2016, when Donald Trump won the United States presidency.

It is impossible to predict all of what the Trump era will bring, not least because of Trump’s own capriciousness. But some consequences are already apparent. In just a couple of weeks, Trump’s presidency has upended the key assumptions underpinning China’s post-Cold War grand strategy.

The first assumption is ideological. The ostensible triumph of Western liberal democracy in 1989 imbued that system with a kind of dominance. It was therefore assumed to pose an existential threat to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

In the economic realm, China expected continued Western leadership on economic globalization. So China’s government developed close commercial relationships with the West – relationships that supported China’s economic growth and development, strengthening support for the CCP at home and bolstering the country’s influence abroad.