The Brookings Institute’s sponsored “Addressing U.S.-China Strategic Distrust” report received a great deal of media coverage recently. At the heart of the analysis are the differences between the drive of each nation to become the economically dominant one in the world. Another core difference has to do with the Chinese rejection of democracy in favor of the central control exerted by the communist party in the People’s Republic. Yet another is the growth of military friction between the two countries. The picture painted is one in which there will never be a reconciliation between the two countries, despite recommendations by the report’s authors of how this might be otherwise.
The authors suggest four paths to better relations. The first is to create an environment in which China is more likely to invest in U.S. assets and in which China’s government and economic operations are more transparent to U.S. officials. The second is to have a dialogue between the two countries about the military interests of each. The third is to lower cyber terrorism by China aimed at the United States. The last is to set talks with other nations with common interests to the U.S. and China, which would include Japan and India.
None of these solutions will work because the deep-rooted antagonism between the two nations is already too great. China’s government is convinced it can overtake the U.S. as the largest economy in the world. The proof of that is China’s rapid rise in gross domestic product, compared to the slower increase in the size of the U.S. economy. Why China would give up that ongoing advantage is a mystery.
China’s military will continue to expand. The nation does not want the U.S. to control the seas adjacent to it, the fate of Taiwan or the balance of military power in Asia.
China’s cyber terrorism is the most effective way for it to gain access to sensitive U.S. data and to potentially disrupt the internet, which is so essential to American information dissemination and commerce.
China will continue to try to best the U.S. in a number of areas because it can right now. The U.S. will continue to resist the rise of China as the world’s largest power because it does not want to take second place in a world in which it believes the only acceptable political system is democracy.
The U.S. election will be in part a referendum about how China should be treated. Many Americans are already convinced that China is responsible for the loss of millions of U.S. jobs and that this trend will continue. Unemployment may be the central issue of debate between now and November.
The Brookings Institute’s report implies that the U.S. and China see the battle between them a “zero-sum game.” It is nearly impossible to make the case otherwise, given the current state of affairs and their likely future.
Douglas A. McIntyre