Two recent opinion articles, one entitled, Some Friendly Advice for China’s Leaders, published in Wall Street Journal on 8-22-2018 by Maurice Greenberg, founding chairman and CEO of AIG and current Chief of C. V. Starr & Co having insurance business in China and another in-depth strategic essay, entitled, From Engagement to Rivalry: Tools to compete with China, appeared on Texas National Security Review 8-21-2018 by Peter Mattis, a former CIA Counterintelligence Analyst, currently Editor of China Brief and a fellow of Jamestown Foundation, have compelled me to write this piece to respond to the cited papers above. Greenberg recounts history of US-China engagement since 1900 giving credits to the U.S. helping China throughout her miserable period of nearly being colonized by Europeans and the savage invasion by the Japanese. His advice to the Chinese leaders is to level the playing field by reassessing the terms of bilateral trade and making them more fair and equitable without specific suggestions to Chinese leaders other than urging them to recognize the critical importance of maintaining a constructive and open relationship. Greenberg looked at the trade issues with a narrow lens and offered a somewhat oversimplified interpretation of the trade issues.
Mattis’s article on the other hand is a thorough analysis of the US-China Relations, particularly focused on a review of the American China policy beyond the trade issues. Mattis regarded the past ‘engagement’ policy as a failure and attributed the failure to misunderstanding of the Chinese Communist Party and wishful thinking of changing the CCP or expecting China to be liberalized. Thus Mattis called for a new examination of the China policy and a different approach to analyze and “order the China knowledge” to develop a workable China Policy. Although Mattis’s suggestion is plausible but he is essentially biased against the ‘engagement’ approach and favoring the ‘competition’ approach treating China as a strategic enemy calling for adopting a set of right tools (targeting the Chinese Communist Party and capture the individual wealth deposited in the U.S., a familiar tactics used against terrorists) to deal with China. This bias is perhaps coming from Mettis’s CIA background, I submit though if a fair and logical examination of China’s historical behavior and recent assertive diplomatic actions would not necessarily yield his conclusion that the ‘engagement’ policy was wrong and a hostile ‘competition’ policy will be right.
Looking from high on the US-China Relations over the past century and far into the next several decades, one can discover a number of logic conclusions on why the US-China Relations fell to a new low in recent years with an uncertainty for the future. The first logical conclusion is that the U.S. has always placed her national security strategy as the top priority in formulating her foreign policy and conducting her foreign relationship including trade relation. At the same time, the U.S. does not regard other nations’, case here, China’s national security strategy of any importance in formulating her China policy. On the other hand, China having keen respect to the U.S. as the world’s superpower observes and analyzes the U.S. diplomatic behavior carefully and wishes to learn and follow suit as China is developing up as a sovereign big nation. When China was rising from a weak developing country, the above mismatch of security strategy consideration did not amount to any significant concern simply, therefore tolerated.
When China maintained a steady economic growth with near double-digit annual advance, the U.S. certainly had noticed it. If one observed the transformation taking place in China and how rapidly China had embraced capitalism, the ‘engaging China’ and ‘bringing China into the global economy’ policy actually succeeded not failed. Treating China as a trade partner helped the US foreign policy to contain and eventually to cause the Soviet Union collapsed making the U.S. the only superpower in the world. However, as the U.S. maintained her superior military strength, her national economy took a transformation favoring financial and service industries over basic manufacturing and industrial sectors. On the contrary, China focused on manufacturing and continued her rapid growth to become the second biggest economy of the world and the greatest manufacturer in volume. So in a fair analysis, the ‘engagement’ China policy did succeed in bringing China to the open world and securing the U.S. superpower position. The real issue is what does the U.S. have to do to deal with the inevitable competition element which always comes with a big rising economy. It happened with the European allies and it happened with Japan both created big trade imbalances with the U.S..
The U.S. essentially obtained concessions from EU and Japan as they had been US allies relying on the U.S. for national security protection. The trade imbalance issue with China is far less complicated than the competition perceived by the U.S. The U.S. never treated China as an ally, on the contrary, more like an adversary, thus never offered her security protection. The U.S. from her national security point of view targets China as a threat despite of China’s denial; China solemnly advocates her peaceful rise and from her national security point of view she regards the U.S. Pivot to Asia policy posing military threat to China. Therefore, concession of trade deals cannot resolve this trade war launched out of misunderstanding of national security considerations. China is a single large country with 1.4 billion hard working people, very different from EU, a collection of smaller countries and also different from Japan a natural resource limited aging nation by US design relying on US protection for national security. Of course, the U.S. has a right to negotiate and try to reduce the trade imbalance; however, she must take a fair and honest approach to solve this trade conflict without compounding the trade issue with twisted national security consideration and misunderstanding. Just imagine, if the U.S. and China would have a national security alignment treaty, the trade issue could easily be settled over a negotiation table.
Blaming is not a fair approach in solving conflicts. China did not and cannot steal American jobs. As an MIT professor said, no one can build and dominate any industry by stealing. You need skilled talents and hard working people to build a successful industry. China’s desire to elevate her technology by charting a ‘China Manufacturing 2025’ is a legitimate competitive economic development plan. The U.S. must have a legitimate counter measure to deal with competition. China has become the number one patent producer and the largest producer of STEM graduates. It is obvious that the U.S. must accept and work with China for mutual benefits. The U.S. still leads in many areas of high-technology. Sanctioning hi-tech export only destroy hi-tech industry’s future. Mattis is taunting a ‘competition’ policy to replace ‘engagement’ Policy, but in all fairness, he did not dwell in the fundamental question - What is the definition of national securities for the U.S. and China? The leaders of the U.S. and China need to understand this question and reach an agreement. Then the U.S. can develop an ‘engagement and competition’ China Policy and China can develop an ‘engagement and competition’ US policy both under a fair and mutually acceptable definition of national security strategy.
Ifay Chang. Ph.D. Producer/Host, Community Education - Scrammble Game Show, Weekly TV Columnist, www.us-chinaforum.org . Trustee, Somers Central School District.