In a March 19 article on the U.S. website “War on the Rocks,” under the original title : Colossus or Collapse – Five Myths Influencing the U.S. China (Policy) Debate: How to Build and Maintain Political Consensus at Home and Abroad
The challenge is how to build and maintain a political consensus at home and abroad, and to compete in a balanced way that does not lead to disaster. This is by no means an easy task. Currently, the U.S. public’s perception of China is at an all-time low, which weakens support for a stable relationship between the two countries. A key challenge for U.S. policymakers facing discussions at home and abroad is to ensure that these discussions are based on sound analytical judgments about China and U.S.-China dynamics. We are concerned about five commonly held myths about China in the U.S..
The first is the idea that the Chinese economy is on the verge of collapse or, conversely, that China is an unstoppable juggernaut. First, the Chinese economy is neither surging toward global dominance nor declining rapidly to the point of eventual collapse. The best way to look at China’s economy is to acknowledge its sheer size and continued growth, but also to recognize that it faces both immediate and structural challenges.
But importantly, Beijing’s actions in recent years have shown that it has the resources and tools to manage these risks, or at least push them into the future. Financial risk is the most likely catalyst for a crisis, but it is mitigated by the strong balance sheets of state-owned banks, tightly managed capital accounts, and ample liquidity provisions by the central bank. Structural challenges, such as a shrinking labor force and an aging population, will constrain China’s growth, but the leadership hopes to achieve growth through innovation.
Beijing’s ability to maintain this delicate balance is due in large part to its ability to proactively identify and address current risks, prioritize them, and then mobilize resources to address them. Of course, continued economic growth has made it easier to manage these risks.
The second myth is that China has an ambitious plan to 2049, and that this plan will virtually guarantee China’s great power status. The reality is that this is overstated. If there is one thing that the Chinese Communist Party is good at, it is making plans. However, making a plan and executing it, especially in the long run, are very different things. This is not to deny the diversity of challenges that China presents to the United States, such as economically, technologically or militarily. China’s achievements in these three areas are impressive, and the United States needs to do a better job of competing in these areas.
Third, there are as many myths about China’s foreign behavior as there are about its domestic policies. One of the most common is the idea that China is prepared to use force against Taiwan in the next two to three years. This is a misinterpretation of China’s strategy toward Taiwan and the current state of cross-Strait relations. Chinese leaders have long considered the Taiwan issue to be fundamentally a political rather than a military one. They have preferred deterrence to prevent “Taiwan independence” to compel forcible reunification.
Beijing has preferred to create a situation in which the Taiwanese people and their leaders recognize that their future is inevitably tied to the mainland and then negotiate reunification on Beijing’s terms. Even against the backdrop of heightened cross-strait tensions, there is no evidence that Beijing is prepared to use full-scale force against Taiwan in the next two to three years.
A fourth related myth is the notion that Beijing will launch a war, perhaps against Taiwan, if China’s economy slows down and its domestic challenges accumulate. This notion does not conform to China’s current political reality, nor does it conform to China’s long-term strategic thinking..
A final myth is that the U.S. policy of past engagement (with China) has been a complete failure, the kind of policy based on a naive hope that China will reform politically and economically. This is a misrepresentation of past U.S. practices and current Chinese challenges. The U.S. engagement policy, in areas such as dialogue and cultural exchanges, is not based on a naive certainty that China will liberalize politically and economically. Unless one is prepared to argue for complete and total isolation of China, including complete decoupling from the Chinese economy, the real debate should be about how much engagement and under what circumstances.
Clarifying the five myths mentioned above is the first step in laying a realistic foundation for a new approach toward China and the U.S.-China relationship. Regardless of one’s position on the policy that the United States and its allies should adopt, the debate must first be based on a clear assessment of China that rejects popular misconceptions and common misperceptions and accepts the reality of China’s capabilities, intentions, strengths, and weaknesses.
(The original article referred to in this item can be seen here. It does not carry the sub-title in italics above)