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America’s “New” China Narrative

According to a new narrative that has recently emerged in the United States, China is suffering economic decline, which, no less than the previous narrative about China’s inexorable rise, poses a growing global threat. Yet, in their prognoses and prescriptions, Western leaders and pundits are repeating what they said 30 years ago.

TOWNSHEND, VERMONT – Three recent articles in The New York Times have signaled a “new” narrative about China. Only weeks ago, China was America’s fearsome “peer competitor” on the world stage. But now, we are told, it is a wounded dragon. Once a threat by dint of its inexorable rise, now it poses a threat because it is in decline.

US President Joe Biden set the terms of this new narrative. As The New York Times’s Michael D. Shear reports, the White House now worries that “China’s struggles with high unemployment and an aging workforce make the country ‘a ticking time bomb’ at the heart of the world economy.” Biden warned that, “When bad folks have problems, they do bad things,” but he did not explain how, exactly, unemployment and an aging population turn China into a threat.

For his part, Shear gives another reason for China’s newfound decline: “the president has moved aggressively to contain China’s rise and to restrict its ability to benefit militarily from the use of technologies developed in the United States.” Given the scope of Biden’s new semiconductor restrictions, he might have added “and non-militarily as well.”

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