15 May 2024

America, China, and the Trap of Fatalism

Zhou Bo

According to the National Security Strategy that the Biden administration issued in 2022, the United States faces a “decisive decade” in its rivalry with China. Chinese officials have come to believe the same thing. As Washington has grown ever more voluble in its desire to compete with Beijing, the Chinese government has turned from surprise to protest to an avowed determination to fight back. In Beijing’s view, the United States fears losing its primacy and forces this struggle on China. In turn, China has no choice but must “dare to fight,” as the report of the 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party insisted.

Such intensifying confrontation is lamentable but not inevitable. Beltway analysts have greatly exaggerated China’s supposed threat to Western democratic systems and international order. In recent years, U.S. leaders have cast China as a revisionist power and invoked the specter of a global clash between democracy and autocracy. But democracy’s troubles in the twenty-first century have little to do with China. According to a 2023 report from Freedom House, liberal democracy around the world has been in steady decline for 17 years. That is not China’s doing. China has not promoted its socialist values abroad. It has not been directly involved in any war since 1979. Despite its partnership with Russia, it has not supplied lethal aid to the Russian war effort in Ukraine.

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