America’s China Policy Hasn’t Failed, but It Needs to Be Recalibrated

America’s China Policy Hasn’t Failed, but It Needs to Be Recalibrated
President Xi Jinping arrives for a plenary session of China's National People's Congress at the Great Hall of the People, Beijing, March 13, 2018 (AP photo by Andy Wong).

Forty years after China embarked on the economic reforms that have helped transform it from an isolated and impoverished communist outpost into an increasingly confident and capable global power, a growing number of observers in the United States have, understandably, concluded that Washington adopted the wrong strategy toward Beijing. Their judgment is largely rooted in two propositions. First, the United States was mistaken to assume, or hope, that China would become more democratic as its economy grew. Second, by persisting with efforts to integrate China into the postwar international order, the United States ultimately enabled the rise of a country that now stands not only as its principal competitor, but also as its putative replacement on the global stage.

It is difficult to dispute the first point, although Elizabeth Economy of the Council on Foreign Relations rightly cautions that “political change is a long game, and the game is not over.” Especially under Xi Jinping, however, Beijing has taken a decisively authoritarian turn—cracking down more aggressively on foreign nongovernmental organizations, more explicitly renouncing Western values and governance, and consolidating what may well be the world’s most intrusive, far-reaching surveillance state. With the Chinese Communist Party’s decision to end presidential term limits, moreover, Xi is poised to preside over China for as long as he lives. The New Yorker’s Evan Osnos observes that China is “reentering a period in which the fortunes of a fifth of humanity hinge, to an extraordinary degree, on the visions, impulses, and insecurities of a solitary figure.”

But the second point—that the U.S. has aided the rise of its now-chief competitor—is more debatable. Could the U.S. have either stalled China’s progress indefinitely or cultivated a less formidable competitor?

Keep reading for free!

Get instant access to the rest of this article by submitting your email address below. You'll also get access to three articles of your choice each month and our free newsletter:

Or, Subscribe now to get full access.

Already a subscriber? Log in here .

What you’ll get with an All-Access subscription to World Politics Review:

A WPR subscription is like no other resource — it’s like having a personal curator and expert analyst of global affairs news. Subscribe now, and you’ll get:

  • Immediate and instant access to the full searchable library of tens of thousands of articles.
  • Daily articles with original analysis, written by leading topic experts, delivered to you every weekday.
  • Regular in-depth articles with deep dives into important issues and countries.
  • The Daily Review email, with our take on the day’s most important news, the latest WPR analysis, what’s on our radar, and more.
  • The Weekly Review email, with quick summaries of the week’s most important coverage, and what’s to come.
  • Completely ad-free reading.

And all of this is available to you when you subscribe today.

More World Politics Review