Authors:

  • William Overholt

Excerpt

June 6, 2023, Paper: "Most of the literature on Sino-American relations focuses on conflicting policies (for instance, over the South China Sea or intellectual property) or on characteristics of the international system (such as multipolarity, hegemony, or the Thucydides Trap). But conflicts also arise because domestic problems become internationalized. In particular, while economic development typically leads eventually to domestic stability, geopolitical influence, and mutual benefits with other countries, it also creates difficult challenges. The U.S. economy is shifting from a manufacturing workforce to a services workforce, mainly because of technological advance. But U.S. politicians of both parties have found it more convenient to blame China for the decline of manufacturing jobs than to make difficult decisions at home. Likewise, as China develops, its originally simpler economy and society become complex and it faces predictable economic problems and political challenges. Beijing has sought to suppress the ramifications of social differentiation rather than accommodate them. This results in ever tighter political controls at the cost of future economic growth. Political leaders can find it convenient to blame the resultant stresses on foreigners. Misidentification of the problems leads to exaggerated fear of potential nearby color revolutions and to a mistaken sense that Russia shares the same problems as China. When China was poor and weak, as with other poor, weak countries, the developed world tolerated intellectual property theft, predatory industrial subsidies, and denial of market access. Now, China’s economy is very large and these same behaviors create massive global distortions. Meanwhile, the U.S. overreacts to the emergence of new and challenging powers, exaggerating their prospects and the dangers they pose. This exaggerated status anxiety and fear typified the U.S. response to the Soviet Union and Japan and now typifies its response to China."