‘Foreign Affairs’ warns against US-China decoupling

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The influential journal Foreign Affairs 2020 Sept 16 came to my mailbox with these paragraphs:

“… There is broad bipartisan support in Washington for taking a tougher approach to trade with China and reducing U.S. dependence on Chinese goods. But is it a good idea to try to sever the two countries’ economic ties?

Henry Farrell and Abraham Newman point out that cutting supply chains can have unexpected negative effects — better to make those supply chains more resilient.

Jeff D. Colgan warns that decoupling could spell the end for any international effort to combat climate change.

And Chad P. Bown and Douglas A. Irwin contend that separating the world’s two largest economies would do irreparable damage to the global trading system.

As an alternative policy, Ely Ratner, Elizabeth Rosenberg, and Paul Scharre propose renewing U.S. competitiveness and enlisting U.S. allies to combat harmful Chinese practices. Roberta Jacobson and Tom Wyler write that deeper North American integration is necessary if the United States wants to compete with Chinese supply chains. Finally, Farrell and Newman argue that decoupling is a fantasy and economic interdependence is here to stay—what Washington must do is learn to manage the risks that come with it. …”

Having read all of them, here are three points to note:

Firstly, the overall idea leans on the ‘No’ side to the talk of decoupling. They mainly suggest the White House to maintain the coupling on one hand, and urge Washington to devise new policies to make the U.S. become more competitive, on the other. It sounds a bit odd as it is not quite in line with the recent Trump administration’s tough wordings. Perhaps, it more or less reflects the voice of the Deep State. Therefore, the rivalry between the two powers is not as bad as what many analysts have imagined or portrayed.

Secondly, in response to the Pompeo-led harsh critics, Beijing has so far remained calm. Beijing is clearly and firmly committed in maintaining close economic win-win relationship with Washington, as shown in the Foreign Ministry press conference, and in the speeches by the ambassador to the U.S. whenever possible. It seems it has yielded some positive reciprocal feedback from the Deep State. Given this phenomenon, whoever the next term U.S. president may be, his China policy is likely to be a bit softer than the present.

Thirdly, despite many geo-political tensions here and there, the over-riding concern is still the economic interests on both sides. As evidenced by Beijing’s bulk purchases of U.S. agricultural products etc for abiding the trade deal with President Trump, China has been dancing with the U.S. so well that the other countries do not need to worry a global economic meltdown.

Having said that, those analysts in Washington should have been aware of the danger that Beijing is able to see through the tricks played in front of the public eyes. There is a Chinese idiom: ‘know self know counterpart, hundred battles hundred victories” 「知己知彼,百戰百勝」. It means while the White House can fool those warmongers, it is not easy to gain an upper hand in the interactive trick-playing game with Beijing.

The opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of China News.

Tony Simon

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