Professor Jessica Chen Weiss (JCW) published her interview with Ryan Hass (RH a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute and Michael H. Armacost Chair in Foreign Policies Studies) on the Washington Post Monkey Cage Analysis, entitled ‘The Cold War Is a Poor Analogy for Today’s U.S.-China Tensions’. RH served as the director for China, Taiwan and Mongolia at the National Security Council during the Obama administration. JCW is a political scientist and professor of government at Cornell University, as well as an editor at the Washington Post Monkey Cage blog and a non-resident senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. JCW posted five questions to RH referencing his 2021 book: 1. Where do you see China headed? 2. Assessment of U.S. sanction efforts to China tech giants such as Huawei’s? 3. Where and what successes the U.S. influenced (pushed) China? 4. Referring to G7 ‘Build Back Better World’ (BBBW), how effective is the U.S. led competition against China’s BRI? 5. Differences and similarities between Cold War and today’s U.S.-China situation? This paper will review the JCW-RH interview and offer an opinion on each Q and A.
RH has given to-the-point answers to the five questions however with arguments understandably influenced by his political background. On Q1, RH cited ballooning debt, aging population, shrinking productivity and vulnerability in food and fuel supply making China’s continued economic ascent less guaranteed. Further, he stated that with her political system less dynamic and international image declining, China will be constrained globally but will remain an endurable competitor because of the strength in her innovative ecosystem, 800 million citizens lifted above poverty, and a clear vision of rejuvenating the nation. In this author’s opinion, the above arguments and conclusion might be plausible but not comforting if the U.S. was assessed on the same balance by the same factors, debt, aging, productivity, dysfunctional political system, deficits in trade, diminishing reputation on the world stage, etc. This may be the fundamental reason that ‘China Threat’ and ‘Fear China’ are being inflated on the foreign policy dialogue. Furthermore, the U.S. has unnecessarily put too much attention and energy on China rather than focus inward on flaws of the American political system and economic problems. Solving the U.S. domestic issues such as infrastructure, industry revitalization, healthcare, homeless, wealth gap and competitive productivity is more beneficial to the U.S. than targeting China to wish her demise.
On Q2, RH stated that “limits on Huawei’s access to computer chips made with U.S. inputs, have pushed the company to consider moving away from smartphones and 5G technology toward less chip-intensive technologies.” China in response is intensifying her drive toward self-reliance. RH’s view is that “the more China turns toward indigenous innovation, effectively limiting its ability to draw on the talent and ingenuity of the rest of the world, the more it could slow itself down. That would be China’s choice.” This author felt that RH should have noted the fact that the U.S. policy change of restricting Chinese scientists and students to come to the U.S. to participate in technology research will slow the U.S. as well, perhaps more severely since China produces many more STEM graduates than the U.S. does each year.
On Q3, RH responded with three examples: 1. Intensive U.S.-China economic coordination around the 2008-2009 global financial crisis helped avert global economic depression, China’s currency appreciated, trade balance with the world lessened and Chinese demand for imports fueled global economic expansion, 2. China joined the international response to the Ebola outbreak in 2014 and helped Africa in public health, and 3. China became a key player in securing agreement at the Paris climate conference in 2015. RH further claimed that “the currently elevated tensions in the U.S.-China relationship defies unilateral solutions, whether the challenge is stopping COVID-19, strengthening global health security, building a more inclusive global economy or tackling the climate crisis. From this author’s observation, the above U.S. successes in influencing (pushing) China, are actually perceived differently by international political analysts as China’s success in understanding the U.S. financial turmoil (credit bubble) and world issues (virus management and climate change control). China’s recent achievements in environmental protection, energy and transportation grid, COVID management, space exploration, and exporting infrastructure projects, etc. are evidences that China is capable of planning and executing programs for her and world’s benefits without any nation to push her.
On Q4, RH said that “Western countries cannot compete on a cost basis for constructing roads and railways. The G7 ‘BBBW’ initiative will likely be more effective if it avoids attempting to out-China China, Instead, focusing on building digital technology infrastructure, investing in climate resilience and supporting good governance.” In this author’s view, it makes more sense to cooperate rather than compete with China’s BRI and to stop all smearing propaganda against China. The fact that China embraces the UN and receives more support from its members than the U.S. does should serve as a reminder to the U.S.: Condescending diplomacy days are over.
On Q5, the key question, RH remarked: “The Cold War is a poor analogy for understanding U.S.-China relations today.” I fully agree with his arguments that 30 years of global war and depression then is very different from 30 years of great power peace and global economic expansion now. The Soviet Union exploited power vacuums along its periphery then and China is surrounded by capable powers in Asia today. The Soviet Union was weak and isolated in its economy then, China is deeply embedded in the global economy as the driving engine today. Thus, I agree with RH; containment is not an option for dealing with China, since no U.S. allies or partners would be eager to align with the U.S. against China. RH did point out “one similarity to the Cold War is the risk of a devastating military conflict between two nuclear-armed superpowers. Only time will tell whether U.S. and Chinese leaders would choose to prioritize risk reduction.” In this author's opinion, this risk may be contained so long China adheres to her policy (never to use nuclear weapon first) and the U.S. does not provoke China to war. There are just too much to lose if the two great powers would engage in a hot war. It is surprising though that RH makes only a light remark “only time will tell” rather than offering some serious recommendations.
In this interview, JCW did not ask and RH did not comment on the current Biden's China policy. Reviewing what has happened, the U.S. busy seeking alliances, engaging military exercises in South China Sea, and arming Taiwan to confront, agitate and provoke China, all negative actions that will hurt the U.S. and the world's economic stability. The Biden Administration is clearly conducting a hostile China policy; RH (and Brookings Institute) should make explicit recommendations to turn his negative actions to positive policies. Judging from RH's another Brookings Institute article, entitled, 'Taiwan Voters Should Look Before They Leap on Pork Referendum' (7/12/2021 Order from Chaos), RH was very explicit in giving advice with a patriotic stand - warning Taiwan voters not to reverse Tsai Yin-Wen’s decision of allowing import of U.S. pork containing ractopamine. This is a serious health concern, especially FOR Taiwan people Who consume a lot of pork meat, pork internal organs and many derivative food products made from pork. Taiwan also exports many pork food products to other countries. It is understandable why the pork issue has risen to the level as a referendum for the entire population to vote on but nevertheless it is just a domestic issue. This author is surprised that RH would go so far to warn Taiwan citizens that their voting may seriously affect trade relations with the U.S. He even implied that the pork referendum may affect the American commitment to Taiwan thus its security, an apparent message of threat. On the other hand, the U.S.-China tensions is a far more serious national security issue concerning both the U.S. and China, yet RH is far from explicit in advising his readers, the American people, what is wrong with the current U.S.-China policy and why it is dangerous with a real possibility of driving the U.S. into a nuclear war.