US needs to start seeing China not as an enemy but a contributor to peace and prosperity
- After decades of neglect and bad choices, if the United States now concludes it has a China problem in Asia, it is in part of its own making
- Now is the time for Biden to rebuild the State Department, make the right appointments, re-engage and reassess foreign policy
It left the clean-up to cold-hearted institutions such as the International Monetary Fund, whose dogmatism exacerbated the region’s suffering, while halting Tokyo’s bid to charter a big, stabilising regional bank.
Then came 2008. While Beijing was orchestrating a largely gorgeous Olympics, Washington looked away while Wall Street’s own “wolf warriors” went to town on the world and plunged it into financial darkness. An alert Asia was taking it all in.
‘Welcome back America’: world leaders react to Joe Biden’s victory in US elections
If the United States now concludes it has a China problem in Asia, isn’t it in part of its own making? Why blame Beijing for not wanting to ignore a vacuum?
As an American journalist reporting on Asia continuously since 1996, I cannot possibly be asked to view all this passively. The lost possibilities are too haunting. The America I love is seen as if sleeping through history.
Instead of being able to observe America at its best – and when at its best, America can be awesome and exemplary – I am pressed against the cold glass pane of a yawning black hole, a brain drain in the Asia-Pacific region of America’s international policy. I am not sure a path of escape exists to permit a timely return to a properly balanced policy.
Like the US in Europe last century, China is largely a success but will suffer its share of stumbles as its moves out into the global jungle economically. Elephants can be clumsy and intelligent at the same time. The basic charted direction is anything but idiotic, though.
As my friend and colleague Bill Overholt put it last week in the “Myths and Realities in Sino-American Relations” online conference at Harvard University’s Fairbank Centre for Chinese Studies: “Engagement with China is the biggest single reason that the world has experienced half a century of big power peace and the most extraordinary increase in prosperity in global history.”
First made-in-China aircraft carrier, the Shandong, enters service
No doubt the American superpower game plan found resonance in a modern China tempered by such heartwarming notions as “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun”. More than 75 years after its triumph in the Pacific, the arms of America’s military octopus still drape over Asia as if holding on desperately for relevance.
Having won, let us not return home but stay put as if another major war is just around the bend. Has the American effort to balance China had the unintended consequence of helping Beijing conjure up one big ping-pong table as the field of play on which all shots from the US side require an equally fierce return?
Re-engage multilaterally but without apology for the disarray of the past four years; people understand a political pandemic. Even with all this, a grand re-conceptualisation is necessary. Is China a permanent enemy or a contributor – though not without tears from time to time – to global peace, prosperity and stability?
It includes Australia, China, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand and the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. India took a pass. Take a wild guess as to which other big nation was not involved.
Clinical Professor Tom Plate is founder of Asia Media International at Loyola Marymount University, where he is tenured to the Asian and Asian American Studies Department