American strategic worries about China are not entirely without merit, of course: China’s cyberassaults on U.S. infrastructure, including the Pentagon, for instance, are unrelenting. But in interviews here this week, on a trip sponsored by the nonprofit Committee of 100, a U.S. organization committed to better bilateral understanding, it’s clear that Beijing is far more concerned about its internal problems—one reason, perhaps, it has been so slow to invest in a “blue-water” navy or other traditional means of force projection.
That’s why America ought to be shoring China up right now, not seeking to contain it. The United States has its own political and economic problems that have kept growth under 3 percent since the 2008 financial crisis. So does Europe, which continues to grapple with its collective failure to stimulate growth. By these reckonings, the Chinese look less dysfunctional. Their system has lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty in just three of decades, easily the most stunning human-development achievement in world history, and it is still the primary source of growth in the global economy. The government has definitely delivered—which is why ordinary citizens harbor a fair amount of goodwill and patience, and why the party will likely remain entrenched for a long time. “In 10 years, China will invest $500 billion overseas, import $10 trillion from other countries, and send 400,000 students abroad” who will bring home the best practices and ideas, says another high-ranking official, summing up the government’s vision. Probably China will muddle through the coming decades at a slower but still successful rate of growth.
The best thing U.S. and Western policymakers can do is to keep pushing the Chinese along the path they’ve lurched down since the days of Deng—toward opening up, rather than cracking down. One means at hand: the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which is intended to force Beijing into guaranteeing IP and other rights. “The Chinese attitude toward TPP has evolved from deep geopolitical suspicion,” says the Shanghai Institutes’ Ye, who compares it to the way WTO accession forced change. Now the party is “deliberately using TPP as one of the major external driving forces to push forward the tough domestic reform agenda.” The U.S. also needs to cajole Beijing to float its currency freely rather than pursue beggar-thy-neighbor devaluation policies that have allowed China to maintain its export might. And, of course, Beijing isn’t nearly as serious about capping carbon emissions as many other large economies are.