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The US Needs to Talk About China

In a democracy, a government cannot pursue a long-term struggle with a powerful geopolitical adversary without sustained political support from an informed public. That is why the US urgently needs to launch a credible public debate on US President Donald Trump's confrontational China policy.

WASHINGTON, DC – Of all the changes in US foreign policy President Donald Trump’s administration has made, the most consequential is the adoption of a confrontational stance toward China. Replacing a decades-old policy of engagement, Trump’s approach has not only resulted in an economic cold war between the world’s two largest economies; it has also raised the specter of armed conflict in the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait.

Within the first year of his presidency, Trump labeled China a strategic “competitor” and “rival power.” But it is not just Trump: for the US national security establishment and leading Republican members of Congress – as well as some Democrats – China represents the most serious long-term threat to America’s global preeminence and vital interests.

Geopolitics has been the primary cause of the rapidly deterioration of US-China relations over the last two years, and Trump’s trade war must be viewed in this context. US tariffs may be focused on undermining China’s long-term economic potential, but the underlying motivation is to weaken China as a strategic rival.