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Does China Need to Fail for the U.S. to Win? A Word from Brookings

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China’s rise on the global stage has spurred debates about the implications for US national security. With China’s growth trajectory in mind, does it pose a direct threat to the United States?

The Biden administration has expressed concerns, with their National Security Strategy noting China as a significant competitor. This raises the question: should the US limit China’s economic growth for its safety?

To better understand this, experts from the Brookings Foreign Policy project analyzed the US-China relationship dynamics. Here’s a concise look at their insights, including pertinent quotes:

China’s Economic Growth: A Direct Threat?

It isn’t China’s economic growth that’s troubling, but rather the aggressive tactics Beijing uses. As per the Brookings experts, the US should consider whether it “should undertake policies to protect its interests, even when doing so slows down GDP growth in China.” The straightforward answer, as one expert notes, is that “The PRC’s brute force economics… poses intolerable risks to U.S. interests.”

However, drawing a clear line between China’s growth and its methods is vital:

  1. Effective Communication: The US must focus on China’s actions, not outcomes, to sidestep misplaced blame. One observation was, “China’s current economic malaise is a product of Beijing’s failure… to undertake well-understood but politically difficult reforms.”
  2. Strategic Clarity: Keeping a distinction ensures US policies remain sharply focused. As highlighted, “If slower PRC growth were the policy objective, U.S. policymakers would be susceptible to prematurely declaring victory.”

The Tech Race: A New Battleground

In today’s world, the tech race is defining global leadership. Those leading in areas like artificial intelligence will, as one expert puts it, “alter the geoeconomic landscape.” China is well aware, as another expert pointed out, “Beijing is executing a multi-decade plan to transfer technology to increase the size and value-add of its economy.”

US’s Role in the Competition

While China is keen on technological dominance, the US must redefine its priorities. Current trends in US corporations have been described as: “US corporations focus on return on capital at the expense of long-term R&D and technology development.” To effectively compete, the US needs policies that foster a long-term vision without compromising competitiveness.

China: An Adversary or Partner?

China’s growing military capabilities and assertive stances in areas like the South China Sea are certainly concerning. However, as one expert cautioned, “A China strategy aimed at keeping China down would be reckless and destined to fail.” A more balanced approach suggests that the US should stand firm against aggressive tactics but steer clear of stifling China’s growth.

The Bottom Line

The prevailing sentiment among experts is not to curtail China’s growth, but for the US to strengthen its own position. As one expert aptly put it: “The United States secures its own future when it responds to coercive tactics with policies that are targeted, transparent, and respectful of the rules-based norms on which our friends and allies rely.”

If it comes to an either/or situation, the choice is clear – fight for freedom or accept a China that sucks up countries around it. China is the only country that uses its economic might almost solely for the expansion of power for the Chinese Communist Party.

But a strategy of keeping China down would not be a successful one. A better choice is to foster competition in the region to maintain alliances and indeed foster respect for the sovereignty and independence of countries that otherwise might be absorbed into that totalitarian nightmare.

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