The Big Ideas

by Malcolm Riddell

‘A trend for hostility toward China, inflamed under Trump, is a recipe for American failure’

Global Asia

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Kishore Mahbubani | National University of Singapore & author of 'Has China Won?'
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May 2, 2021
‘A trend for hostility toward China, inflamed under Trump, is a recipe for American failure’
‘A trend for hostility toward China, inflamed under Trump, is a recipe for American failure’
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Kishore Mahbubani | National University of Singapore & author of 'Has China Won?'

BIG IDEA | ‘A trend for hostility toward China, inflamed under Trump, is a recipe for American failure.’
‘Hostility toward China, much of it misinformed historically and strategically, has deepened in the United States in recent years, with a consensus hardening among both Republicans and Democrats that China is at root an adversary that must be thwarted.’
‘Four years under President Donald Trump have enlarged and inflamed that trend, but it is a recipe for American failure.’
‘The Joe Biden administration needs to seriously rethink Washington’s approach to Beijing.’

‘The most important question that US President Joe Biden’s administration needs to ask in formulating its China policy is a simple one:’

  • ‘Was Donald Trump right or wrong on China?’

‘Right now, the overwhelming consensus in Washington is that even if he was wrong on everything else, Trump was right on China.’

  • ‘There is therefore a real danger that the Biden administration will retain many elements of Trump’s policies toward China.’
  • ‘If so, America is heading toward a disaster.’

‘What exactly did Trump accomplish with China? Did his administration’s policies raise America’s standing in the world, weaken China significantly, and lead to the progressive isolation of China from the vast majority of countries?’

  • ‘The answer to all three questions is a resounding no.’

‘If America were to listen, what would it learn from the perceptions of other countries toward China?’

‘First, none of those other countries would agree with the Trump administration’s belief that the Chinese Communist Party will disappear.’

‘Second, more importantly, none see China as an exporter of communism to undermine democracy.’

‘Third, most serious leaders around the world see Xi Jinping as a capable, competent and constructive leader.’

  • ‘The demonization of Xi, particularly in the Anglo-Saxon media, has been damaging because it will lead Americans to underestimate him.’

‘Trump was praised in America for bashing China, no major country supported his policies toward China.’

  • ‘They could see these policies heading toward failure.’

‘The third and most difficult step that the Biden administration will have to take is to develop a realistic understanding of the real strengths and weaknesses of its strategic adversary.’

  • ‘Most Americans believe that the 1.4 billion Chinese people are unhappy.’
  • ‘Hence, they cannot even conceive of the realistic possibility that the Chinese people may be swimming happily in an ocean of Chinese norms and values, which create both a sense of a well-ordered moral society and psychological wellbeing.’
  • ‘By historical standards, the vast masses of Chinese people have never been better off. For the Chinese people, especially for the bottom 50 percent, the past 40 years have been the best in the 4,000 years of Chinese history.’

‘The fourth step is to work out a comprehensive long-term strategy to manage the competition with China. This will not be easy.’

  • ‘Some past options are not available.’

‘Containment, for example, will not be possible.’

  • ‘More countries trade more with China than with America. Indeed, much more.’

‘Nor can America assume military superiority, especially close to China’s shores.’

  • ‘All the Pentagon war games show that American aircraft carriers and battleships are vulnerable to Chinese hypersonic missiles.’
  • ‘Fortunately, the Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) doctrine will prevent all-out war between America and China.’

‘The Biden administration has been wise in reaching out to allies and friends in formulating a new China policy.’

  • ‘Many allies and friends, including Japan, India, the UK, and Australia, share American strategic concerns about the rise of Chinese power, but none will join a containment policy.’

‘The fifth and final step that the Biden administration needs to take may look simple: Stop insulting China (in the way Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo used to do).’

‘At the end of the day, what most of humanity would like to see is a rational understanding and a rational discourse between the world’s two leading powers, America and China.’

‘Insults never help.’

  • ‘One of the best definitions of a good diplomat is that he or she is someone who can tell you to go to hell in such a way that you feel you are going to enjoy the journey.’

‘Diplomacy has been around for several thousand years.'

  • ‘It’s the best weapon the Biden administration can use to build a new relationship with China, with the right balance of competition and co-operation.’

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