America’s relationship with China has taken a turn toward the confrontational. Tariffs are rising, rhetoric is heating up, and both sides are digging in. For all the efforts at a resolution, this current phase will likely be remembered as merely the opening skirmish in a long-term competition. The China contest now represents a key organizing principle of American foreign policy. Even a successful trade agreement would represent only the end of the beginning in a new era.
If Donald Trump and Xi Jinping strike a deal—perhaps at their planned meeting during next month’s G20 summit—it will be partial at best. Perhaps Beijing will commit to buy more American farm products, natural gas and autos, for example, while pledging (again) not to steal intellectual property. Such a deal would resolve just a fraction of the economic disagreements dividing Washington and Beijing, and arguably not the most important ones. Larger issues—like subsidies to Chinese state-owned enterprises, unfair investment rules, forced technology transfer, and government influence over firms like Huawei—are intrinsic to the fundamental Chinese economic model. They are largely intractable and not amenable to resolution.
An indication that this conflict is here to stay is the striking bipartisan support for President Trump’s approach. Unlike every other aspect of the president’s foreign policy—toward Iran, for instance, or North Korea, Saudi Arabia, or Russia—Washington’s Democrats and Republicans largely agree that the time for a reckoning with China has come. Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill tend either to signal agreement with the president, suggest that he’s not tough enough with Beijing, or remain silent. Some quibble with Trump’s objectives (such as his fixation on reducing the trade deficit), but virtually everyone in power seems to believe that America’s tone should be sharp and tolerant of risk.
Read the full article in The Atlantic.
More from CNAS
CommentaryChina's post-Covid 19 'techno-nationalist' industrial policy
While Covid-19 brings China one step closer to technology-perfected authoritarianism through improvised health apps and real-time surveillance, Europe is busy looking inward. ...
By Rebecca Arcesati & Martijn Rasser
CommentaryConverging Chinese and Russian Disinformation Compounds Threat to Democracy
In recent weeks the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) propaganda and disinformation blitz around COVID-19 has drawn increasing attention, and with good reason. In addition to pr...
By Andrea Kendall-Taylor & David Shullman
CommentaryEnergy Markets, Geopolitics, and COVID-19
On May 14, members of the CNAS Energy, Economics, and Security (EES) program held a Twitter conversation on the impact of COVID-19 on energy markets and geopolitics. EES Progr...
By Sam Dorshimer & Abigail Eineman
VideoU.S.-China relations are in a free fall, says expert
Former State Department official Anja Manuel joins Morning Joe to discuss why she says U.S.-China relations are in a free fall. Watch the full conversation on MSNBC....
By Anja Manuel