Is U.S. Foreign Policy on China Too Hostile?

This myopic position about China, no matter the issue under scrutiny, guarantees that the American public is subjected to a kind-of non-stop propaganda about China, its government and people.

The respected publication Foreign Policy recently invited a group of experts to answer a provocative question: Is U.S. foreign policy too hostile to China?

The 68 respondents were given five possible answers: strongly disagree, disagree, neutral, agree or strongly agree. The data break down this way: 8 (11.8 percent) strongly disagree, 24 (35.3 percent) disagree, 10 (14.7 percent) neutral, 21 (30.9 percent) agree and 5 (7.4 percent) strongly agree.

I accept that analyzing these numbers in just a few sentences means I am omitting plenty of detail. Let us start with the comments that especially caught my attention, and from there we will move into some conclusions.

Paula Dobriansky, of the right-leaning Atlantic Council and a senior fellow at Harvard University, was one who strongly disagreed. She stated “Beijing…seeks to undermine American influence worldwide.” In fairness to Ms. Dobriansky and the other respondents, any statements that were made were brief and therefore lacked examples and complexity.

Kharis Templeman, who says he has “research interests in Taiwan politics,” disagreed. He claimed China has consistently shown a “rigid refusal” to offer concessions regarding Hong Kong.

Patricia M. Kim, of the left-leaning Brookings Institution, was one of the people who answered neutral. She believes the Biden administration “has framed the right approach” with China by being willing to both cooperate and compete, depending upon the issue.

Michael Swaine, of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, agreed that U.S. foreign policy toward China is hostile. He asserted that “demonizing China…might make for good political theater but does nothing to advance American interests.”

Finally, Jeffrey Bader, also of the Brookings Institution, stated that treating China “as an all-purpose adversary is profoundly contrary to U.S. interests.”

People tour the National Mall in Washington, D.C., the United States, on Apr. 11, 2021. (Photo/Xinhua)

The most disappointing aspect of this survey is that you and I could have guessed a person’s answer simply by determining either where they worked or with which think tank they were affiliated. Consider, as one example, that people aligned with the conservative Atlantic Council supported U.S. foreign policy remaining tough, if not hostile, on China. And as another example, people connected with moderate or liberal organizations asked that the Biden administration and Washington’s political elite acknowledge that constantly bashing China was detrimental not only to U.S.-China bilateral relations but also to the U.S. itself.

In effect, people you or I would label as “right” or “conservative” saw no reason to offer a positive or even neutral assessment of China, and people we would label as “left” or “liberal” reminded their audience that America’s political elites had to discontinue hostile and empty rhetoric about Beijing and focus instead on policy.

Mr. Swaine’s comment about bashing China as eye-catching in style and devoid of substance also could apply to most mainstream U.S. news agencies. They remain content to parrot one anti-China statement after another made by elites across the political spectrum. Viewing China too often through the bubble that is Washington and power politics, these supposedly objective journalists appear content framing their reporting of China through the lens of “China cannot be trusted.” The chronic need to report the empty “lab leak” idea as an explanation for the cause of the coronavirus pandemic is the most obvious and current example. Seeing no reason to question a second World Health Organization-led investigation of the Wuhan Institute of Virology is a related example.

A student waits to receive a dose of COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination point of Wenshu middle school in Nanjing, east China’s Jiangsu Province, Aug. 23, 2021. (Photo/Xinhua)

This myopic position about China, no matter the issue under scrutiny, guarantees that the American public is subjected to a kind-of non-stop propaganda about China, its government and people. The only recent exception to this myopia occurred whenever former president Donald Trump unleashed his most nasty rhetoric about China and coronavirus. In those circumstances, the media acknowledged that Trump was going too far in the words he was using. Too often, however, that was as far as they would go in critiquing the statements of any politician about China.

Experts are presumed to be people with deep knowledge of a country or region, and the men and women who completed the Foreign Policy survey are certainly welcomed to consider China as friend or foe. There are ample outlets for them to offer their opinions. However, you and I, who are not so-called experts, have an important role to play in framing the domestic and international conversation as well.

Each day, we must affirm the critical need for the U.S. and China to work together to solve the problems of the twenty-first century instead of engaging in rhetoric associated with the twentieth century.

Each day, we must demand news organizations offer more complex and objective reporting about China; it is inappropriate to label a nation of more than 1.4 billion people as uniformly hostile to the U.S.

Each day, we must use our networks and our social media platforms to identify how we can build a community with a shared future.

Our stage might never be as large or as bright as it is for think tank leaders and politicians, but we must push back against any efforts to see China as uniformly bad for U.S. and global interests.