Shadow Government

A front-row seat to the Republicans' debate over foreign policy, including their critique of the Biden administration.

Friends Like These

Everyone knows that China is on the rise, the United States is in decline and that the two countries depend upon each other more than ever to solve global problems. As it has since the onset of the global financial crisis, this received wisdom in part shapes the U.S.-China relationship, including at bilateral forums such ...

628319_dialogue_0.jpg
628319_dialogue_0.jpg

Everyone knows that China is on the rise, the United States is in decline and that the two countries depend upon each other more than ever to solve global problems. As it has since the onset of the global financial crisis, this received wisdom in part shapes the U.S.-China relationship, including at bilateral forums such as this week's Strategic and Economic Dialogue (S&ED). But what if this "wisdom" is wrong?

The S&ED, though overshadowed by the drama over the fate of activist Chen Guangcheng, addressed other critical issues such as North Korea, Syria, and bilateral economic tensions. But even without the Chen case, Washington and Beijing are approaching each other with more apprehension than usual these days due to each country's ongoing concerns about the other's strategic intentions. For the United States, the growing fear is that it will be "eclipsed"-- that one day China will dominate Asia. For China, the perpetual fear is America's overreaction to its rise. Chinese leaders, with some justification, view the Obama administration's "pivot" to Asia as a move to contain China's growing power and keep it down.

But the United States and China are worrying about the wrong things. The downfall of popular Chongqing party boss Bo Xilai exposed the high-stakes political struggles in Beijing during a period of political succession. And though we do not know Chen's motivations for planning his escape during this already shaky period, a negative outcome of this drama could lead to further incidents involving activists who might sense cracks in the system. These sudden changes and their longer term implications should cause Washington to be more worried about an unstable and unpredictable, yet likely still authoritarian, China. In the United States, a nationwide weariness with global leadership is manifested most concretely in a reluctance to fully fund its grand strategy, even though this will undercut the stated political goals that have provided the conditions for great power peace in Asia. Beijing should be more troubled by a United States that cannot or will not fulfill its global obligations.

Everyone knows that China is on the rise, the United States is in decline and that the two countries depend upon each other more than ever to solve global problems. As it has since the onset of the global financial crisis, this received wisdom in part shapes the U.S.-China relationship, including at bilateral forums such as this week’s Strategic and Economic Dialogue (S&ED). But what if this "wisdom" is wrong?

The S&ED, though overshadowed by the drama over the fate of activist Chen Guangcheng, addressed other critical issues such as North Korea, Syria, and bilateral economic tensions. But even without the Chen case, Washington and Beijing are approaching each other with more apprehension than usual these days due to each country’s ongoing concerns about the other’s strategic intentions. For the United States, the growing fear is that it will be "eclipsed"– that one day China will dominate Asia. For China, the perpetual fear is America’s overreaction to its rise. Chinese leaders, with some justification, view the Obama administration’s "pivot" to Asia as a move to contain China’s growing power and keep it down.

But the United States and China are worrying about the wrong things. The downfall of popular Chongqing party boss Bo Xilai exposed the high-stakes political struggles in Beijing during a period of political succession. And though we do not know Chen’s motivations for planning his escape during this already shaky period, a negative outcome of this drama could lead to further incidents involving activists who might sense cracks in the system. These sudden changes and their longer term implications should cause Washington to be more worried about an unstable and unpredictable, yet likely still authoritarian, China. In the United States, a nationwide weariness with global leadership is manifested most concretely in a reluctance to fully fund its grand strategy, even though this will undercut the stated political goals that have provided the conditions for great power peace in Asia. Beijing should be more troubled by a United States that cannot or will not fulfill its global obligations.

Read the full article

Daniel Blumenthal is the director of Asian studies at the American Enterprise Institute.

More from Foreign Policy

A Panzerhaubitze 2000 tank howitzer fires during a mission in Ukraine’s Donetsk region.
A Panzerhaubitze 2000 tank howitzer fires during a mission in Ukraine’s Donetsk region.

Lessons for the Next War

Twelve experts weigh in on how to prevent, deter, and—if necessary—fight the next conflict.

An illustration showing a torn Russian flag and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
An illustration showing a torn Russian flag and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

It’s High Time to Prepare for Russia’s Collapse

Not planning for the possibility of disintegration betrays a dangerous lack of imagination.

An unexploded tail section of a cluster bomb is seen in Ukraine.
An unexploded tail section of a cluster bomb is seen in Ukraine.

Turkey Is Sending Cold War-Era Cluster Bombs to Ukraine

The artillery-fired cluster munitions could be lethal to Russian troops—and Ukrainian civilians.

A joint session of Congress meets to count the Electoral College vote from the 2008 presidential election the House Chamber in the U.S. Capitol  January 8, 2009 in Washington.
A joint session of Congress meets to count the Electoral College vote from the 2008 presidential election the House Chamber in the U.S. Capitol January 8, 2009 in Washington.

Congrats, You’re a Member of Congress. Now Listen Up.

Some brief foreign-policy advice for the newest members of the U.S. legislature.