In July 1947, Foreign Affairs Magazine published a long article titled “The Sources of Soviet Conduct” by one “Mr. X”, which advocated containment of the Soviet Union and eventually was celebrated as the philosophical road map for the US winning the Cold War more than four decades later. “Mr. X” was George F. Kennan, then deputy chief of mission in the US embassy in Moscow.
Recently, the US State Department’s policy planning branch, its center for “innovation and creativity” published a 10 point, 74 page, 21st century version of that article entitled “The Elements of the Chinese Challenge” on how to deal with China’s rise.
The article calls on the United States to “secure freedom at home by preserving constitutional government, promoting prosperity, and fostering robust civil society”.
The authors, however, must be living in a parallel universe, given the economic and personal damage caused by the US administration’s lack of leadership especially after the outbreak of COVID-19, not to mention trampling the rights of Black Lives Matter protesters.
The authors say the US should make efforts to maintain its position as the world’s strongest military power. Ironically, while the administration trumpets the US military’s superiority at every opportunity, it never fails to resort to double standard to criticize China for modernizing the People’s Liberation Army.
Perhaps this double standard emanates from the myth of “American exceptionalism” that the US has been given a special mission by God to lead all the people on Earth, and China is interfering with this divine plan.
The article also exhorts the US to “fortify” the post-World War II rules-based world order. Yet it fails to mention that the Donald Trump administration has been trying to dynamite this very order. It has withdrawn the US from the Paris climate agreement, the UN Human Rights Council, UNESCO, and the Iran nuclear deal.
The White House has not only crippled the World Trade Organization but in the midst of a lethal pandemic when its resources and expertise were critically needed, it has pulled the US out of what it calls a “corrupt” World Health Organization. And recently, the US withdrew from the Treaty on Open Skies, which established a program of unarmed surveillance flights over the entire territory of signatory parties in order to enhance mutual understanding and thus prevent misunderstandings leading to conflicts.
But I concur with many of the points the article makes. For example, cooperating with China, where our national interests overlap, and requiring the US to “train a new generation of public servants”, not merely China experts but also experts in the cultures of the US’ friends and foes alike.
What I find odd, however, is that in the last four years the State Department and other US government departments have been systematically decimated. Ideologues have replaced experts. Politics has replaced policies.
Overall, the US is both jealous and envious of China, as the article catalogues many of China’s profoundest accomplishments, including those emanating from the Made in China 2025 plan and the Belt & Road Initiative, which the article says pose a threat to the US.
But rather than being willing or equipped to compete with China, the US has been marshaling specious ideological and racist arguments against China and its government. This is nothing new. Think back to the 1980s when the then Asian economic power, Japan, was similarly seen as a threat to the American way of life. And even back then, the US, rather than competing against Japan, raised many of these same excuses.
At its core the Trump administration’s message in the article is that the Communist Party of China is divorced from the Chinese people and has “authoritarian goals and hegemonic ambitions”. Could anything be farther from the truth?
Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government conducted a 13-year-long study in China through to 2016 based on more than 31,000 interviews in both urban and rural areas. And 93.1 percent of the respondents to a survey done by the researchers said they were either “relatively satisfied” or “highly satisfied” with the central government’s performance, an increase of 7 percent from 2003, when the study started. In contrast, Americans’ satisfaction with the US federal government dropped from 39 percent in 2003 to 37 percent in 2016, according to Gallup polls.
So why was the article published now? Perhaps to divert attention from the US administration’s continuing failure to contain the COVID-19, which has already claimed more than 270,000 lives in the US. It may also be part of an attempt to box-in President-elect Joe Biden and bind him to the failed policies of President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. This would be a real pity.
The current administration sees Sino-US strategic competition as a race to the bottom and a possible war. I prefer the alternative approach proposed by secretary of state nominee Antony Blinken who acknowledges the competition but welcomes a race to the top that can help boost the economies of China, the US as well as other countries.
Woven throughout the article is the US’ visceral aversion to “communism” and “socialism”, and post-election studies show Republicans used this fact to great effect against the Democrats. One of the worst periods in US history was the anticommunist frenzy (known as the Red Scare) whipped up by fanatical Senator Joseph McCarthy in post-World War II America. The brutal campaign ruined the lives of many patriotic Americans－quite a few of them were driven to despair and committed suicide, and a large number were incarcerated.
The overarching takeaway from the article is that the outgoing administration is intent on triggering not only a new Cold War but also a new Red Scare, this time against China. Ironically, one of McCarthy’s State Department victims was George F. Kennan, who penned that article in Foreign Affairs in 1947. McCarthy’s legal enabler was Trump’s take-no-prisoners favorite lawyer, Roy Cohn.