What’s so troubling about this reflexive consensus is that it entirely ignores not just the depth of U.S.-China economic ties, but the profound advances China has made toward ending internal chaos and violence and improving the lives of the vast majority of its citizens. The regime of President Xi Jinping undoubtedly violates many core tenets of Western liberalism and American democracy, ranging from suppression of ethnic minorities including the Uighurs to draconian responses to political dissent. But the United States for decades has maintained relations with countries whose policies it abhors, without jeopardizing more constructive aspects—for example, obtaining oil from regimes in the Middle East, or security and economic cooperation with Thailand.
When it comes to China, however, America writ large now seems to be taking a more absolutist stance, weaving a narrative that leaves little room for anything but disengagement and confrontation. In the long run, this stance will only hurt the United States. China is still a major source of opportunity for American businesses. And it’s not just corporations that benefit from the hundreds of billions of dollars of commercial engagement. China had been a significant investor in U.S. real estate until purchases plummeted this year. It had been sending 350,000 students to study at American universities annually—all paying tuition; now, that number has begun to contract. And, of course, there were the tens of billions of dollars of U.S. farm exports to China that supported local communities throughout the United States until those exports slowed dramatically last year.
What all of this resembles is the deepening of the Cold War with the Soviet Union in the 1950s—except that China today is far less threatening to the international order than the Soviet Union was back then.