The United States is increasingly belligerent in its efforts to stifle China’s progress and pressure its allies to do the same. But none of the tactics – trade wars, “freedom of navigation” operations (FONOPs), pushing allies to drop Huawei equipment or the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), etc. – have worked.
In fact, one could even argue that the more the United States tries to put China down, the higher and stronger the Asian country stands up. Accusing China of setting “debt traps”, for example, has seen several nations join their BRI.
The most recent to join BRI were Argentina and Nicaragua. The Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) also signed a comprehensive agreement with China on cooperation in a wide range of areas, including investment, security and more.
At home, China is also doing relatively well. Its economy grew at an astonishing rate of 8.1% in 2021, the highest annual growth in a decade. According to the International Olympic Committee (IOC), China did a magnificent job of holding the Winter Games amid a pandemic and other challenges.
The Beijing Winter Olympics were watched by more than 2 billion worldwide, including more than 100 million Americans, according to the IOC. The majority of those who attended the Games praised China’s efforts to curb the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic and to deliver a good show.
Despite the United States diplomatically boycotting the Winter Olympics, more than 30 foreign leaders and senior officials participated in the Games. But the only response from the US was to make a mountain out of the mole hill with regard to every little problem, such as the weather in Beijing, which is too cold, or the food not hot enough.
Simply put, the United States’ “China containment policy” has failed miserably, raising the question: Why is the United States unable to stifle China’s progress? It’s not because of a lack of attempts. Successive US administrations have spent enormous amounts of resources pushing down or isolating China and sending senior officials to all corners of the world to persuade countries not to embrace the Asian giant.
Former President Barack Obama’s “focal point for Asia” policy and the signing of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) were intended to erode China’s influence in the Asia-Pacific region. His successor Donald Trump imposed on China trade and technology wars to overthrow it from its economic mantle. Current President Joe Biden even retained or extended many of Trump’s anti-China policies for the same reason.
What happened? Well, three reasons for these failures come to mind.
First, history is not on the side of the United States. Allegations of “evil deeds” based on dubious information will bring disappointment and despair, as witnessed by the Vietnam and Iraq wars.
Second, few countries if any will sacrifice their national interests and security to please America.
And finally, China is even more determined to move forward with its “social market economy” architecture in the midst of the increasingly toxic US-China relationship.
Undocumented anti-Chinese allegations
Economic or military conflicts against China will not yield the intended results. Since Vietnam was in the run-up to the war in Indochina, China will be strongly encouraged to resist the American attack. For example, the US government blocked the sale of advanced chips to China, Beijing to invest billions of dollars to become self-sufficient in this area.
China’s success in combating US politically motivated policies is due in part to the fact that they were based on dubious information. An example of this is that the United States accuses China of committing genocide against the Uighurs in Xinjiang.
Whether China has committed genocide and other “evil” acts depends on who you talk to. But the American allegations were simply speculation without proof. They also defied conventional definitions of the term “genocide.”
Redefining genocide as “structural social change” to wipe out the Uighurs to fit the narrative is a bad argument. How can anyone but God know what the future holds? The Uighur population may become larger and richer because of the linguistic and vocational training that future terrorists have received.
The Chinese government introduced the “de-radicalization policy” of putting potential terrorists in language and vocational schools (as the United States called concentration camps or prisons). In fact, Chinese politics received support not only from the Uighur community in Xinjiang but also from the Muslim world.
Since the beginning, there have been no terrorist acts in Xinjiang. And according to the government, many Uighur trainees have found a paid job and are now enjoying a better lifestyle.
As for whether China’s BRI investment loan is a “debt trap”, it again depends on who you are talking to. But debt statistics in the recipient or participating countries suggest the opposite.
Sri Lanka’s debt to China accounts for less than 20% of the country’s total foreign debt, according to Sri Lanka’s government statistics. The majority of its foreign debt is due to Western or US-controlled financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, which require Sri Lanka to repay loans before spending on economic development or recovery.
The thing is, BRI is a “win-win” for both China and the recipient countries. For example, the Sri Lankan port of Hambantota (which the United States cited as an example of a “debt trap”) was leased to a Chinese company for economic reasons. The port actually became economically viable after handing it over to the Chinese company.
Moreover, how can an economy develop without investment in infrastructure? The roads, ports and power generation facilities made possible by the BRI framework are largely responsible for accelerating economic development in Africa, Latin America and other parts of the world. Roads and ports are required to facilitate trade and commerce.
Similar counter-arguments can be made against US claims that China is bullying small nations, removing human rights and democracy from Hong Kong and other “evil” acts.
No country in Southeast Asia worried about instability in the South China Sea before Obama introduced the “pivot to Asia” policy. But Obama’s stance provoked China to a defensive position, asserting its claims within the “nine dashes” (which, incidentally, were drafted by China’s former nationalist government in 1947 with American blessings).
Despite all these US anti-China policies, China’s global economic, technological and geopolitical status continues to grow. In fact, US policies have not only strengthened China’s will to become stronger, but also turned off many US allies.
The United States is unable to recruit many for its cause
Biden’s China policy differs from his predecessor Trumps in one significant way: to try to recruit allies to oppose China with the slogan “democracy versus authoritarianism” or simply “good vs evil.” But unfortunately for Biden by the world, including the United States’ allies, probably who is “good” and who is “evil.”
Just ask the countries that the United States bombed for no other reason than not following its line. Or ask the Native, Black, Asian, and non-white Latin Americans how well they were treated by some American politicians.
Perhaps the more important reason why the United States was unable to recruit allies for its anti-China crusade is national interests. To take part in the fight against “evil” communist China means sacrificing their national interests. Most of the allied countries are neighbors to China and are heavily dependent on it for their economic well-being.
For example, China is the members of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue members’ largest or second largest trading partner. According to Chinese customs statistics, about a third of Australian exports are sold to e.g. China.
Against this background, it is no surprise that none of the Quad members want to have a showdown with China, especially over dubious allegations of “evil” deeds. Doing so would wreak havoc on their economies.
Due to its geographical proximity to China, allying itself with the United States against it would militarily jeopardize the national security of Quad members. A US-China military war would be fought on Allied lands as well as in the United States and China.
But the United States will not take that risk and explain why they are pushing to establish a mechanism that ensures that confrontation does not turn into wars. The vast majority of the American population will oppose a war with China, especially one that fights for “fake news.”
China is not Vietnam or Iraq, it can inflict enormous damage, destroy many American cities and kill a large number of Americans. Of course, many Chinese cities would also be destroyed and people killed. In fact, a war between the United States and China could lead to mutual destruction.
China has every right to follow its path of development
Under the Charter of the United Nations, a country has the right to adopt a development and governance architecture that reflects its history, culture and other institutions unique to it. Well, the “social market economy” has proven to be extremely successful, and it has driven China to become the second largest economy, eradicate extreme poverty, become a major military and technology power.
So there is no reason for China to follow the US demand to dissolve that architecture.
Following the American-inspired world order would mean that China and other developing countries would forever be obliged to or subordinate themselves to the West, especially America. This is something China does not want to do.
In short, China is determined to get stronger and richer, whether the US likes it or not. China has the economic, technological and military prowess to do so.
Ken Moak taught economic theory, public policy, and globalization at the university level for 33 years. He co-authored a book entitled China’s economic growth and its global impact in 2015. His second book, developed nations and the economic impact of globalization, was published by Palgrave McMillan Springer.