China’s catastrophic success:
US strategic blunders fuel rivalry
Deepening enmity could amplify Beijing’s assessment that
Washington may pursue the overthrow of the CCP as an end goal.
Lowy Interpreter, Sydney – 25.7.2020
The Trump administration publicly identified China as a great power competitor in its November 2017 National Security Strategy.
From Beijing’s perspective, China and the United States have been moving toward a strategic “systems rivalry” for the past decade. The CCP apparently reached this strategic conclusion after the 2008–2009 Global Financial Crisis and framed some of the more dire implications for its rule in the 2012 CCP “Document No. 9”.
Beijing assumes that this rivalry will last decades. It could involve periods of “cold war” and military conflict – especially in East Asia, where US alliance responsibilities and Chinese sovereignty claims and “red lines” converge. From the CCP’s Marxist-Leninist perspective, the side that best marshals superior domestic stability, economic performance and relevance to international conditions will prevail.
If Beijing comes to see US antagonism to CCP rule as structural and bipartisan – especially in the aftermath of the 2020 US elections – China’s self-imposed restraint to prioritise stable US relations and drive economic reform and growth would be greatly weakened.
Beijing saw China’s “composite” national power as rising relative to that of the United States. But this was only partially due to China’s correct choices.
Beijing assumed that as Washington saw China closing the gap in “comprehensive national power” it would react, seeking to blunt China’s ability to challenge America’s status as global hegemon and dominant power in the Indo-Pacific.
Before the Covid-19 pandemic, China had been both restrained and constrained in its response to what it saw as US economic, trade, financial wars and information aggression. Beijing still recognised a need for a predictable, and if possible, stable, relationship with Washington. To borrow a phrase, China adopted a hedging strategy over the past three years of “fighting without breaking/splitting”. (斗而不破 ).
Beijing saw the trade war as largely motivated by US domestic politics.
But the past may not be prologue. As Wang Jisi, “dean” of the Chinese America-watching community noted in April
The deepening enmity of US-China strategic rivalry is eroding core CCP assumptions that competition would remain bounded – by nuclear deterrence, deep economic integration, shared stewardship of financial stability and cooperation on global challenges such as pandemics – and may be amplifying Beijing’s assessment that the US is on a trajectory to pursue overthrow of the CCP as a strategic goal.
If Beijing comes to see US antagonism to CCP rule as structural and bipartisan – especially in the aftermath of the 2020 US elections – China’s self-imposed restraint to prioritise stable US relations and drive economic reform and growth would be greatly weakened. For the CCP, the relatively peaceful, stable global and regional environment that prevailed in the late bipolar Cold War and post-Cold War would end. Economic growth and rising prosperity would diminish as sources of regime legitimacy. Defence of the CCP system, fuelled by nationalism, and more active cooperation with Russia and other US adversaries, could become more prominent.
All statements of fact, opinion, or analysis expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official position or views of the US government. Nothing in the contents should be construed as asserting or implying US government authentication of information or endorsement of the author’s views.
Broad support helps China withstand US shock wave
Global Times, Pequim – 29.7.2020 – Editorial
The US has launched an overall suppression against China, and is trying to rope in Western countries to form an anti-China alliance. The world has bad expectations for China-US relations. But Chinese society has withstood the US-initiated new shock wave in a relatively stable manner
First, the US hastily started a new cold war against China, and US society is far from forming a consensus on it Part of the new cold war comes from the US elites' true will and motivation, but a large part is because of the Trump administration's attempt to divert domestic attention to achieve reelection. The new cold war cannot be regarded as the US' established strategy toward China. It will be tested by time.
Chinese society has formed a broad consensus of avoiding a new cold war with the US, and breaking Washington's strategic containment by expanding opening-up and doing our own things well. China's strategy is very practical, while the US needs to make every effort to make changes. Every step the US takes may face huge resistance.
Second, Washington has faced a bad beginning.
Third, the China-US trade war prepares Chinese society for bigger challenges from the US. It shows Chinese people that US strength is limited. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the flaws in the US system. All this, coupled with Washington's intensified anti-China political show, has reshaped the Chinese people's understanding of the US. The impression that "the US is outstanding in every aspect" has completely collapsed among Chinese people. More Chinese people now believe China and the US have their own strengths. Chinese society is confident when facing the US.
Fourth, China and the US are competing for the support of other Western countries and most countries worldwide. It is generally believed that the US has a great advantage in persuading Western countries. But this is not the case.
Western countries have similar values with the US. However, the US requires them to follow in opposing China by giving up their own interests. China encourages them to be relatively neutral, which is more in line with their own interests. China's suggestion is a normal choice for these countries, but the US requires them to make painful changes. Which country is more likely to succeed?
Fifth, in the face of the US' frenzied suppression, China has acted calmly. China has only carried out countermeasures. China's countermeasures are reciprocal and do not expand to other areas. On US global suppression, China is its most powerful opponent. The US attacks are exhausting, and China's counterattacks are orderly. China's endurance has shown its advantages.
Sixth, Washington tries to completely destroy relations with Beijing, which has posed serious risks to US national interests, and also harmed world peace. Washington has lost in terms of morality and justice. This will generally help China accumulate more resources to resist US suppression.
Seventh, there are still some Chinese people who worry about the US turning against China. Some of them simply find it hard to adapt to sudden changes, and most of them worry that China will be trapped into self-isolation and conservatism under US pressure. However, these are all within the scope of the Chinese people's ability to adjust. Since the trade war, China has been moving forward steadily. We have every reason to believe that the more we fight, the wiser we become, and the more we mature.
Beijing to balance nationalism with pragmatism in US relations
Sarah Zheng, Kinling Lo and Jun Mai
South China Morning Post, Hong Kong – 29.7.2020
Analysts say that despite the “Wolf Warrior” attitude from Chinese diplomats, official rhetoric and online nationalists, Beijing has stopped short of overly provocative steps and has not, or cannot, retaliate with equal force to American diplomatic volleys.
Tensions flared last week when the US ordered China’s consulate in Houston to close within 72 hours over alleged espionage activities. Beijing reacted by closing the American consulate in Chengdu, rather than shuttering high-profile offices like the one in Wuhan that was temporarily closed during the pandemic or more significant US consulates in Shanghai or Hong Kong.
Despite framing the closure in Chengdu as “necessary”, “appropriate” and “reciprocal” – and allowing for a live stream of the event to be viewed by millions – it highlighted Beijing’s balancing act in trying to please its domestic audience without pushing bilateral relations to the brink.
“Basically, it intended to show that China stands firm but does not want to escalate the situation,” said Zhang Baohui, a political science professor at Lingnan University in Hong Kong. “China’s overall approach, as a rising power, is how not to move the US towards a full-fledged cold war.”
Tensions between China and the US began to simmer when, in mid-2018, Washington fired the first shots in a trade war that continues to this day. Although US President Donald Trump has dismissed further trade talks with China, Beijing maintained it was still committed to the “phase one” trade deal the two sides signed in January.
Relations have only worsened as the major powers clashed over technological competition, corporate espionage, the coronavirus pandemic and Beijing’s actions in Hong Kong, Xinjiang, Taiwan, and the South China Sea.
Last Thursday, when US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged democratic-leaning Chinese citizens to more aggressively “induce change” from the Chinese Communist Party, Foreign Minister Wang Yi was busy working to improve relations with Germany.
Foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said the speech showed Pompeo was “launching a new crusade against China in a globalised world” and urged the world to “step forward to prevent him from doing the world more harm”.
In early July, Wang sent out a public call for reconciliation and dialogue “as long as the US is willing”. But just over a week later, he said the US had “
lost its mind, morals and credibility
” and said the Trump administration’s “America First” policy had induced bullying and egoism.
Cui Lei, an associate research fellow at the China Institute of International Studies in Beijing, said the party was still seeking to ease the situation, as had happened after previous moments of heightened tensions; particularly after the US bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in 1999 and in 2001 when a US aircraft and Chinese fighter jet collided near Hainan.
“Beijing’s strategy is both to maintain stability, express goodwill and to preserve, at least on the surface, a sense that they will not give in,” Cui, a former diplomat, said. “As long as the US does not want to go to war, there is still room for negotiations.”
When the US sanctioned senior Chinese officials in July over Beijing’s repression in Xinjiang, the most prominent being Politburo member and Xinjiang party secretary Chen Quanguo, China responded by sanctioning lawmakers Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Chris Smith and the relatively unknown official Sam Brownback, the US ambassador at large for international religious freedom.
Also in July, Beijing reacted to the US State Department’s approval of a US$620 million missile upgrade package to Taiwan by sanctioning Lockheed Martin, a move of little consequence because the US weapons supplier has limited business interests in China.
Shi Yinhong, a government adviser and US specialist at Renmin University in Beijing, said China had largely avoided equal reciprocation to US actions in recent years.
“China has less in its toolbox to retaliate with, compared to sanctions that the US and its closest allies, including the UK and Australia, could use,” he said. “Regular use of tit-for-tat could also give Trump exactly what he wants, and further isolate China internationally. And it would get the domestic public used to a strong response and further stimulate the appetite for US hawks in China.”
It is difficult to gauge domestic public sentiment in China because of tight censorship and fears of expressing positions in contrast to the official political line.
On China’s highly regulated social media platforms, state media coverage of the US-China row has spurred more nationalistic, anti-American sentiments. This could put pressure on the leadership to not appear weak against perceived US grievances.
Zhu Feng, an international relations professor at Nanjing University, said there was a “wide spectrum of public opinions” but that they may not necessarily influence Beijing decision-making.
“For domestic purposes, China did try to avoid looking weak with the decision in Chengdu and as part of its ‘Wolf Warrior diplomacy’, but I think China has been clear in trying to avoid the new cold war the US now wants to impose on China,” he said.
Some have also suggested that tensions between the powers could ease after the US presidential election in November, citing that Trump has sought to blame Beijing for American woes from the coronavirus pandemic. The US makes up more than one-quarter of the nearly 16.5 million cases globally.
But American lawmakers have coalesced around a bipartisan consensus pushing for a more aggressive approach to counter Beijing’s increasing assertiveness.
Shen Dingli, a Shanghai-based expert on China-US relations, said every action from either country would guarantee a reaction in the current atmosphere, with no end to the downward spiral on the horizon.
“This has become an infinite loop of action and reaction, and every step of it is taking Sino-US ties closer to the edge of a breaking in ties,” he said. “As long as neither country says, ‘We will not make any moves after being attacked’, then this loop obviously will not stop.”
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