We Need a New Approach to China Even if We don’t Care About Human Rights and Free Trade

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 6, No. 2, February 2018

By Ho-fung Hung, Ph.D.

Obama era officials Kurt M. Campbell and Ely Ratner recently published “The China Reckoning: How Beijing Defied American Expectations” in Foreign Affairs, arguing US’ assumption underlying its China Policy over the past several decades has been wrong. They admit that China has not changed in the direction most China hands in the US had expected. Rather than becoming more liberal and democratic, it became more authoritarian; rather than more opening to trade, it became more protectionist. They call for a reorientation of Washington’s approach to China. This article has triggered some internal debate and soul searching in the China watchers’ community.

It is understandable that many who expect China to embrace liberal democracy and more economic openness have been disappointed. What is missing in the discussion is that even many realists and corporations who do not care too much about the ideals and principles of economic and political liberalism are frustrated with China too. Over the last few years, another China reckoning is that China is unable, or never intended, to deliver and keep its promises even on many economic and geopolitical issues that are unrelated to the sensitive areas of political reform and change.

Graffiti depicting a portrait of former Chinese leader Mao Zedong with Chinese yuan signs in his eyes, on a wall in Shanghai on March 1, 2017. Source: JOHANNES EISELE/AFP/Getty Images.

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