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Division or Dialogue with China?

Joe Biden’s presidency amounts to a golden opportunity to initiate a direct and honest dialogue with China on issues that require constructive engagement. But time is of the essence. If Biden begins his term by choosing division over dialogue, changing course will soon become difficult, if not impossible.

HONG KONG – Americans don’t agree on much of anything nowadays. Yet they are largely united in their belief that China represents an existential challenge to their country and the international order it has long led. This combination of internal division and external demonization has made the Sino-American rivalry increasingly inescapable – and potentially catastrophic.

America’s internal divisions have been fueled in recent years by social media, which, by populating users’ feeds with tailored content, creates “echo chambers” that reinforce, rather than challenge, their beliefs and values. When alternative ideas do make it into the echo chamber, they are often distorted or smeared. And when someone within the chamber calls into question shared beliefs, they risk being instantly ostracized or, in contemporary parlance, “canceled.”

This ultra-reactive demonization of diverging views not only flattens discourse; it also narrows the space between disagreement and conflict – even violent conflict. Widespread frustration with leaders’ failure to deliver justice, security, and opportunity heightens the risks further.