Skip to main content

chinese military vehicle Li Chun/China News Service/VCG

The End of America’s China Fantasy

Over the last couple of years, the China-policy debate in the US has begun to reflect more realism, with a growing number of voices recognizing China’s ambition to supplant its American benefactor as the leading global superpower. But is it too late to rein in America's main geopolitical rival?

WASHINGTON – A long-overdue shift in America’s China policy is underway. After decades of “constructive engagement” – an approach that has facilitated China’s rise, even as the country has violated international rules and norms – the United States is now seeking active and concrete counter-measures. But is it too late to rein in a country that has emerged, with US help, as America’s main geopolitical rival?

From Richard Nixon to Barack Obama, successive US presidents regarded aiding China’s economic rise as a matter of national interest; indeed, Jimmy Carter once issued a presidential memo declaring as much. Even as China defied world trade rules, forced companies to share their intellectual property, and flexed its military muscles, the US held onto the naive hope that, as China became increasingly prosperous, it would naturally pursue economic and even political liberalization.

America’s “China fantasy,” as James Mann calls it, was exemplified by Bill Clinton’s argument in favor of allowing China’s admission to the World Trade Organization. Citing Woodrow Wilson’s vision of “free markets, free elections, and free peoples,” Clinton declared that China’s WTO entry would herald “a future of greater openness and freedom for the people of China.”

We hope you're enjoying Project Syndicate.

To continue reading, subscribe now.

Subscribe

Get unlimited access to PS premium content, including in-depth commentaries, book reviews, exclusive interviews, On Point, the Big Picture, the PS Archive, and our annual year-ahead magazine.

https://prosyn.org/0r7gZgq;
  1. reinhart39_ Sha HantingChina News ServiceVisual China Group via Getty Images_jerome powell Sha Hanting/China News Service/Visual China Group via Getty Images

    Jerome Powell’s Dilemma

    Carmen M. Reinhart & Vincent Reinhart

    There is a reason that the US Federal Reserve chair often has a haunted look. Probably to his deep and never-to-be-expressed frustration, the Fed is setting monetary policy in a way that increases the likelihood that President Donald Trump will be reelected next year.

    0
  2. mallochbrown10_ANDREW MILLIGANAFPGetty Images_boris johnson cow Andrew Milligan/AFP/Getty Images

    Brexit House of Cards

    Mark Malloch-Brown

    Following British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's suspension of Parliament, and an appeals court ruling declaring that act unlawful, the United Kingdom finds itself in a state of political frenzy. With rational decision-making having become all but impossible, any new political agreement that emerges is likely to be both temporary and deeply flawed.

Cookies and Privacy

We use cookies to improve your experience on our website. To find out more, read our updated Cookie policy, Privacy policy and Terms & Conditions