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The failure of America's China policy

Trump and China's Xi.
President Donald Trump and China's President Xi Jinping shake hands at a press conference following their meeting outside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Nov. 9, 2017. Photo: Artyom Ivanov/TASS via Getty Images

An important essay by former Obama and Clinton officials highlights the decades-long failure of U.S. policy towards China.

Be smart: There were lots of good reasons to pursue engagement with China, and it's too late and risky to completely undo it now. Now the fundamental American policy framework towards China is shifting again to a harder line with near bipartisan consensus.

America’s China policy is a failure, according to 2 former Obama officials and Clinton advisers in an essay in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs.

From "The China Reckoning" by Kurt Campbell & Ely Ratner:

"Neither carrots nor sticks have swayed China as predicted. Diplomatic and commercial engagement have not brought political and economic openness. Neither U.S. military power nor regional balancing has stopped Beijing from seeking to displace core components of the U.S.-led system. And the liberal international order has failed to lure or bind China as powerfully as expected. China has instead pursued its own course, belying a range of American expectations in the process."

What might have been? James Mann, author of then controversial 2007 book "The China Fantasy," sent me the following comments after reading the Campbell/Ratner piece, which he says validates the premise in his book:

  • They share the same 2 central points — U.S. hopes of changing China were wrong, and the assumption that China could or wanted to be integrated into (our) international order was also wrong.
  • Put this new Foreign Affairs piece together with Trump's recent National Security Strategy, and it means that the central  argument of "The China Fantasy" has now, for the first time, become mainstream thinking in both major parties.
  • This leave the questions of how much harm was done over the past 11 years and would Trump be president today if American policy was adjusted earlier so American workers in states like Pennsylvania wouldn't have been "left alienated and embittered?"

One takeaway: Trump may be taking a tougher approach to the PRC but be under no illusions that a President Clinton would have been softer.