This is the most important geopolitical development of our era. Not least, it will increasingly force everybody else to take sides or fight hard for neutrality. But it is not only important. It is dangerous. It risks turning a manageable, albeit vexed, relationship into all-embracing conflict, for no good reason.
China’s ideology is not a threat to liberal democracy in the way the Soviet Union’s was. Rightwing demagogues are far more dangerous. An effort to halt China’s economic and technological rise is almost certain to fail. Worse, it will foment deep hostility in the Chinese people. In the long run, the demands of an increasingly prosperous and well-educated people for control over their lives might still win out. But that is far less likely if China’s natural rise is threatened. Moreover, the rise of China is not an important cause of western malaise. That reflects far more the indifference and incompetence of domestic elites. What is seen as theft of intellectual property reflects, in large part, the inevitable attempt of a rising economy to master the technologies of the day. Above all, an attempt to preserve the domination of 4 per cent of humanity over the rest is illegitimate.
This certainly does not mean accepting everything China does or says. On the contrary, the best way for the west to deal with China is to insist on the abiding values of freedom, democracy, rules-based multilateralism and global co-operation. These ideas made many around the globe supporters of the US in the past. They still captivate many Chinese people today. It is quite possible to uphold these ideas, indeed insist upon them far more strongly, while co-operating with a rising China where that is essential, as over protecting the natural environment, commerce and peace.