ArticleHow China is responding come escalating strategic competition through the USRyan HassMonday, march 1, 2021
Editor's Note:Ryan Hass analyzes China\"s testimonial of and also geopolitical and also economic solution to spicy shifts in U.S.-China relations and also its global environment and the feasibility that the strategic realignments. This item originally appeared on the China leadership Monitor.

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There appears to it is in a growing agreement in Beijing that U.S.-China connections will continue to be rocky for the foreseeable future. Also so, chairman Xi Jinping and also others have actually been touting that time and also momentum space on China’s side in its pursuit to relocate closer come the center of the people stage. Chinese officials identify that lock will must overcome obstacles in your country’s pursuit of its national goals. To execute so, China shows up to be follow a three-pronged medium-term strategy: maintaining a non-hostile external environment in stimulate to focus on domestic priorities; reducing dependency on America while increasing the remainder of the world’s dependence on China; and expanding the reach of Chinese affect overseas. At the same time, China’s actions space generating far-reaching reactions, both in ~ home and also abroad. Whether China have the right to learn native this feedback loop to attend to its very own vulnerabilities continues to be an open question, one that just China will certainly be capable of answering.


Ryan Hass

Senior fellow - international Policy, center for eastern Asia plan Studies, john L. Thornton China Center

The Michael H. Armacost Chair

Chen-Fu and Cecilia Yen Koo Chair in Taiwan Studies

Nonresident Fellow, Paul Tsai China Center, Yale regulation School


Understanding China’s evaluation of – and an answer to – sharp shifts in U.S.-China relations and its international atmosphere have hardly ever been an ext important. Provided its broadening economic reach and growing strategy weight, China’s actions currently directly affect lives in the unified States and also around the world. Yet, in some respects, that has come to be more an overwhelming to see clearly what assumptions and decisions space guiding China’s changing approach come America and the world. There has been much more heat than light in countless recent American debates about China’s ambitions. Travel restrictions due to COVID-19 have eliminated opportunities for both not blocked in-person exchanges v Chinese officials and also first-hand observation of Chinese society, which often have served as among the wealthiest sources of insight into the policy zeitgeist in Beijing. And also into this vacuum, numerous American scholar have come to rely more on interpreting official and semi-official Chinese messages to build conclusions ~ above China’s strategic direction.

​My vault government business at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing and also in the White house National security Council (NSC) has actually instilled me v humility about extrapolating China’s strategy designs indigenous its publicly easily accessible statements and also reports. Nevertheless, drawing from end 50 hours of Zoom-based dialogues with Chinese officials and also scholars, a evaluation of Chinese officials’ speeches and also Chinese expert commentaries, and over a decade of communicating with an elderly Chinese public official on together questions, i do believe it is possible to draw some preliminary observations about China’s evolving strategy to its changing international environment.

​The beginning point the my evaluation is to watch how far Chinese foreign policy has moved during the previous two years. Composing for China management Monitor in in march 2019, former Obama administration National security Council (NSC) senior Director because that Asia Evan Medeiros observed that, “China’s reaction was far an ext cautious – and also even conciliatory at times – 보다 confrontational. Beijing was primarily focused on limiting down-side risk and, to a restricted extent, exploring methods for upside gains.”1 Medeiros concluded, “A pattern became an extremely clear in 2018: in the face of confrontational U.S. Statements and actions, China maintained comprehensive engagement v a wide variety of Americans, made very careful publicly statements, and promoted negotiated solutions. Calibration and proportionality to be driving China’s playbook far an ext than the tactics of opprobrium, isolation, and also push-back.”2

​This testimonial of China’s orientation towards the united States continued to be largely undamaged through January 2020, as soon as both sides finalized negotiation on a “phase-1” trade deal. In the weeks that followed, the bilateral dynamic change sharply. Dealing with the humanitarian and financial losses resulting from the uncontrolled spread of COVID-19, chairman Trump change from touting Xi Jinping together his girlfriend to branding China as his enemy and also the resource of the ache that many Americans to be feeling. And China largely reciprocated, pointing that is propaganda cannons at America’s an answer to the public wellness crisis and also the cascade that social, economic, and also political troubles that flowed indigenous it.

In subsequent months, a tit-for-tat sample emerged, e.g., on treatment of each side’s journalists, top top consulate closures, ~ above recriminations over each side’s authorized in the beginning of COVID-19, and also on sanctions of high-level people in both countries. Beijing started mirror-imaging America’s financial pressure toolkit. Favor the unified States, China occurred laws and regulations for export controls, nationwide security investment screening, policy-related visa sanctions, and extraterritorial provisions in laws and administrative regulations.

Beijing also grew much less restrained in that is actions in ~ home and abroad. Chinese authorities advanced a project of brutal suppression in Xinjiang, tightened regulate of Hong Kong, crushed dissent throughout the country, engaged in deadly clashes v Indian troops for the very first time in 45 years, punished countries and individuals that tested China’s wanted narratives on perceptible issues, and pointedly criticize the performance of west democracies. This actions represented a significant departure native the foreign policy emphasis on calibration and caution that had actually BEEN observable as newly as feather 2019.

China’s testimonial of the joined States

There shows up to be large agreement amongst officials and experts in China the America’s strength in the international system is decreasing relative come China’s. Countless Chinese experts diagnose America’s anxiety about its relative decline as driving its reflexive efforts to undermine China’s rise.

Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi provided expression come this viewpoint, because that example, in his end-of-year interview v Xinhua top top January 2, 2021. Reflecting on U.S.-China connections over the vault year, Wang concluded:

​In recent years, China-US relations have run into unprecedented difficulties. Fundamentally, that comes under to serious misconceptions the U.S. Policymakers about China. Some check out China together the so-called best threat and their China policy based upon this misperception is merely wrong. What has happened proves the the U.S. Attempt to suppress China and also start a new Cold War has actually not simply seriously harmed the understanding of the 2 peoples, but likewise caused severe interruptions to the world. …China policy toward the United states is consistent and also stable.3

​In various other words, Wang placed forward Beijing’s boilerplate explanation because that the downturn in relationships – it’s America’s fault.

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​There room a diminishing number of Chinese public official or experts who continue to be willing, at least visibly, to inquiry this explanation the the downturn in U.S.-China relations. Among the few to carry out so, albeit subtly, is Wang Jisi, president of the institute of International and also Strategic studies at Peking University. In a January 2021 op-ed, Wang observed, “Our actions in ~ home and also in the civilization determine to a big extent the perspective of the U.S. Towards us. I believe that China, not the joined States, deserve to turn the tide of U.S.-China connections at historic junctures, return this position might be debatable.”4

​One worry where over there does show up to be convergence that views inside China, though, is the expectation the there will certainly be continuous in America’s strategic orientation toward China from Trump come Biden. Even as Chinese experts acknowledge the the Biden administration likely will adopt a more nuanced tone and professional technique for dealing with problems, they expect the root causes of American antagonism towards China will stay unchanged.