September 09, 2021

Neoliberals, Anti-imperialists, and the China Question

By Van Jackson

Does China’s more ambitious foreign policy and bid for “national rejuvenation” come at the expense of American hegemony? It’s a question where some neoliberals and some on the anti-imperialist left converge — in opposition to Washington’s conventional wisdom.

Most of the DC Establishment now takes for granted that, obviously, China seeks to displace the United States, in Asia and the world. The Sinologist community is divided on the question.

The neoliberal view of China that prevailed from roughly the Tiananmen Square massacre to the 2008 Great Recession sought to make China a “responsible stakeholder” in the international system. Bush-era appointee Robert Zoellick popularized that phrase in 2005, but it aptly captures an essential goal in China policy during the George H.W. Bush, Clinton, W. Bush, and early Obama presidencies. It also lingers in aspects of President Biden’s China policy.

If there are arguments to be made in favor of cooperation with China, or to justify not sweating China’s accumulation of power, they’re probably best made on grounds other than the somewhat trans-partisan claim that China’s challenge is a boon for the system America built.

Most international relations scholars would probably eschew calling this neoliberalism in favor of neoliberal institutionalism and economic interdependence, but it’s a simple premise regardless whether you acknowledge the ideology: embed China’s rise within a globalization that disproportionately benefited Washington, Wall Street, and Silicon Valley. How? By selling US debt instruments to China at scale, courting Chinese foreign direct investment, centering China in transnational production networks that delivered cheap goods to US consumers, and coordinating economic and fiscal policies with China at senior levels. Do those things and a few others and China’s growth strengthens the entire system of global capital. It becomes American neoliberalism’s greatest success.

In this way, talk of win-win wasn’t just Communist Party of China (CCP) sophistry; it was to some extent American strategy. Hank Paulson said it best: “the inextricable interdependence of China’s growth and that of the global economy…presents the best means of influencing China’s emergence as a global power and encouraging its integration into the international system.”

Read the full article from Inkstick.

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