Open Letter to the President and Congress on China Policy Published in the Washington Post on July 3rd (online edition) and July 4th (print edition), 2019 Entitled "China is not an enemy"
Dear Mr. President and Members of Congress,
We, the undersigned, are members of the U.S. scholarly, foreign policy, military and business community, including many who have focused on Asia throughout our professional careers. We are deeply concerned about the growing deterioration in U.S. relations with China, which we believe does not serve American or global interests. Although we are very troubled by Beijing’s recent behavior, which requires a strong response, we also believe that many U.S. actions are contributing directly to the downward spiral in relations.
The following seven propositions represent our collective views on China, the problems in the U.S. approach to China, and the basic elements of a more effective U.S. policy. Our institutional affiliations are provided for identification purposes only.
1. China’s troubling behavior in recent years—including its turn toward greater domestic repression, increased state control over private firms, failure to live up to several of its trade commitments, greater efforts to control foreign opinion, and more aggressive foreign policy—raises serious challenges for the rest of the world. These challenges require a firm and effective U.S. response, but the current U.S approach to China is fundamentally counter-productive.
2. We do not believe that Beijing is an economic enemy or an existential national security threat that must be confronted in every sphere; nor is China a monolith, or the views of its leaders set in stone. Although its rapid economic and military growth has led Beijing toward a more assertive international role, many Chinese officials and other elites know that a moderate, pragmatic, and genuinely cooperative approach with the West serves China’s interests. Washington’s adversarial stance toward Beijing weakens the influence of those voices in favor of assertive nationalists. With the right balance of competition and cooperation, American actions can strengthen those Chinese leaders who want China to play a constructive role in world affairs.
3. U.S. efforts to treat China as an enemy and decouple it from the global economy will damage America’s international role and reputation and undermine the economic interests of all nations. U.S. opposition will not prevent the continued expansion of the Chinese economy, a greater global market share for Chinese companies, and an increase in China’s role in world affairs. Moreover, the United States cannot significantly slow China’s rise without damaging itself. If the U.S. presses its allies to treat China as an economic and political enemy, it will weaken its relations with those allies and could end up isolating itself rather than Beijing.
4. The U.S fear that Beijing will replace the U.S. as the global leader is exaggerated. Most other countries have no interest in such an outcome, and it is not clear that Beijing itself sees this goal as necessary or feasible. Moreover, a government intent on limiting the information and opportunities available to its own citizens and harshly repressing its ethnic minorities will not garner meaningful international support nor succeed in attracting global talent. The best American response to these practices is to work with our allies and partners to create a more open and prosperous world in which China is offered the opportunity to participate. Efforts to isolate China will simply weaken those Chinese intent on developing a more humane and tolerant society.
5. Although China has set a goal of becoming a world-class military by mid-century, it faces immense hurdles to operating as a globally dominant military power. However, Beijing’s growing military capabilities have already eroded America’s longstanding military preeminence in the Western Pacific. The best way to respond to this is not to engage in an open-ended arms race centered on offensive, deep-strike weapons and the virtually impossible goal of reasserting full-spectrum U.S. dominance up to China’s borders. A wiser policy is to work with allies to maintain deterrence, emphasizing defensive-oriented, area denial capabilities, resiliency, and the ability to frustrate attacks on U.S. or allied territory, while strengthening crisis management efforts with Beijng.
6. Beijing is seeking to weaken the role of Western democratic norms within the global order. But it is not seeking to overturn vital economic and other components of that order from which China itself has benefited for decades. Indeed, China’s engagement in the international system is essential to the system’s survival and to effective action on common problems such as climate change. The U.S. should encourage Chinese participation in new or modified global regimes in which rising powers have a greater voice. A zero-sum approach to China’s role would only encourage Beijing to either disengage from the system or sponsor a divided global order that would be damaging to Western interests.
7. In conclusion, a successful U.S. approach to China must focus on creating enduring coalitions with other countries in support of economic and security objectives. It must be based on a realistic appraisal of Chinese perceptions, interests, goals, and behavior; an accurate match of U.S. and allied resources with policy goals and interests; and a rededication of U.S. efforts to strengthen its own capacity to serve as a model for others. Ultimately, America’s interests are best served by restoring its ability to compete effectively in a changing world and by working alongside other nations and international organizations, rather than by promoting a counterproductive effort to undermine and contain China’s engagement with the world. We believe that the large number of signers of this Open Letter clearly indicates that there is no single Washington consensus endorsing an overall adversarial stance toward China, as some believe exists.
The signatories to the Open Letter published in the Washington Post on July 4th, 2019.