Questioning the hawkish China policy
Both the Trump and Biden administrations have taken a tough approach to addressing the China challenge. Democrats and Republicans disagree on many internal and external affairs, yet they have reached a rare consensus on how to deal with China. In recent years, Congress has passed a number of anti-China bills and the White House has launched a series of confrontational policies towards China.
However, some Americans are questioning the soundness of this hawkish approach. In fact, it’s grown into a full chorus.
I wrote an article in The Hill on Feb. 17, 2022, criticizing Congress for adding China-bashing content to bills such as the America COMPETES Act of 2022 and proposing to reverse the irrational anti-China trend. I asked, is the downward spiral of U.S.-China relations in the best interests of the United States?
Since last year, the voice of questioning America’s China policy has increased. For example, Jessica Chen Weiss, a political science professor at Cornell University, published an article in the September/October 2022 issue of the Foreign Affairs magazine, exposing the perilous logic of zero-sum competition between the United States and China. In December 2022, The New Yorker published a special feature article, calling Weiss “a professor who challenges the Washington consensus on China.”
In February 2023, Weiss wrote an opinion piece in The Washington Post, arguing that the United States should deter, not provoke, a potential Beijing attack on Taiwan. In March 2023, she was interviewed by the Foreign Policy journal and discussed whether the U.S. policy towards China is too “hawkish.” Weiss served as a senior advisor to the Department of State’s Policy Planning Staff from August 2021 to July 2022. Since returning to Cornell, she has spoken out on various occasions and encouraged a more rational policy towards China.
Fareed Zakaria, a well-known Indian-American journalist who also hosts CNN’s current affairs program “Fareed Zakaria GPS,” published an article in The Washington Post on March 2, 2023, criticizing the dangerous “groupthink” of Washington elites on China, as displayed during the first hearing of the House Select Committee on Strategic Competition between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party in February 2023.
Max Boot, a columnist for The Washington Post and a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, pointed out in a recent Washington Post commentary that even if the two parties have a consensus on the same issue, it does not necessarily mean they are correct. He called the congressional hearing on China “disturbingly one-sided.”
Meanwhile, The New York Times published commentaries about China two days in a row recently. The March 11 piece was written by the editorial board, titled “Who Benefits from Confrontation with China?” The March 12 piece was penned by a member of the editorial board, Ms. Farah Stockman, who recently returned from a research tour in Taiwan. She proposed to deal with cross-Taiwan Strait relations with the old concept of “a Chinese Commonwealth”. Regardless of their intentions, it is clear that the editors of The New York Times are reflecting on U.S. policy towards China, hoping to lower tensions in U.S.-China relations and cross-Taiwan Strait relations.
Additionally, moderate scholars such as Michael Swaine of the Quincy Institute and Stephen Roach, former chairman of Morgan Stanley Asia who is teaching at Yale now, have warned that the United States may sleepwalk into a war with China.
Some Americans have taken direct actions to express their views. The most high-profile group is CODEPINK, a peace organization formed of mostly anti-war women. During the first hearing of the House Select Committee on China, Olivia DiNucci, an organizer of CODEPINK, and her friend held up the slogans “China is not our enemy” and “Stop Asian Hate” to protest against the committee that claims China is the existential threat to America. Members of CODEPINK also smashed conferences in Washington, D.C., slamming speakers who promote the “China threat” agenda.
The deterioration of U.S.-China relations is not in the interests of the peoples of both countries; and it also betrays the expectations of the international community. The U.S. policy towards China seems to have been kidnapped by hardliners and warmongers. It is just wrong when politicians and generals are busy predicting when a U.S.-China war will break out, but few are talking about how to avoid conflict and promote peace.
The current wave of questioning U.S. policy towards China may not be able to form a strong wave of opposition, but it is clear and loud enough to remind our government and politicians that their knee-jerk confrontational policy toward China has not received widespread support, and a more constructive and balanced approach is needed to manage U.S.-China tensions and to serve Americans’ interest.
Zhiqun Zhu is a professor of political science and international relations at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pa.
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