Tackling the China challenge requires a strategic response. Trumps scattershot policy will be counterproductive, writes Michael F Fuchs
In recent months, Donald Trump has launched Americas new buckshot approach to China hit China everywhere and see what works. On Wednesday, Vice-President Mike Pence gave a speech to articulate this new get tough policy. The strategy includes starting a trade war and shining a spotlight on Chinas propaganda in the United States, with presumably more to come.
Faced with real threats from China that require a strategic response, this scattershot policy will be counterproductive. The trade war is the perfect example of the drawbacks: using indiscriminate tariffs in an unlikely attempt to change Chinas economy will only hurt America and its allies without solving the real problems American businesses face in China.
Its become fashionable in Washington to be tough on China. As Chinas assertiveness in maritime disputes with neighbors has increased, and as its economic influence around the world has grown, so too have the calls for a tougher policy on China.
Without a doubt, we need to push back on China in certain realms. But as America contends with the growing debate over China policy, the challenge is to be specific and realistic without succumbing to an all-encompassing, self-defeating anti-China approach akin to a new cold war.
There are more than enough areas of concern to focus on. Chinas assertiveness at sea evidenced by a recent dangerous close encounter between US and Chinese vessels threatens to destabilize Asia. Chinas outright theft of American intellectual property rights threatens American prosperity.
But not every single thing that China does is threatening. Its commitment to curb emissions as part of the Paris climate agreement is positive, and the world will not tackle climate change without China.
There are murkier areas too. Chinas Belt and Road initiative to invest hundreds of billions in infrastructure abroad could be both good and bad: good when investing in infrastructure that benefits all; bad when used to foster debt trap diplomacy that China uses to secure strategic real estate for military purposes, as it did in Sri Lanka.
US policy must also be informed by realistic assessments of what we can achieve. For instance, the Chinese Communist party (CCP) is unlikely to respond to tariffs by changing the entire Chinese economic model; a more targeted strategy to prevent IPR theft from American firms is more likely to succeed.
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