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How to Cooperate with China

With his plan to build a concert of democracies to contain China, US President Joe Biden is making a grave mistake. The US and China should each be doing their part to protect the global commons, not competing for global dominance.

HONG KONG – China is a tough country to comprehend – even for most Chinese. But much of what makes China enigmatic – its long history, vast and varied territory, huge and diverse population, complex politics, and massive, dynamic economy – also makes understanding the country important. For better or worse, what happens in China affects everyone.

Western observers tend to struggle the most in deciphering China. As Dutch sinologist Hans Kuijper put it, “There is something fundamentally amiss in Western Sinology: ‘China experts’ either pretend to be knowledgeable about everything related to China, in which case they cannot be taken seriously, or – eventually – admit not to be scientific all-rounders with respect to the country, in which case they cannot be called ‘China experts.’”

There are obvious reasons why Westerners have such a hard time understanding China. For starters, China has a very long history as a continental agricultural civilization, with a strong central government and unified political, social, and economic systems.