How to Avoid an Avoidable War

Ten Questions About the New U.S. China Strategy

A staff member walks past U.S. and Chinese flags placed for a joint news conference by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, June 2018. Jason Lee / REUTERS

This November, we will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of what was called “the war to end all wars” between the great powers of the early twentieth century. Of course, the war to end all wars turned out to be anything but. Because of a catastrophic series of unintended consequences, more wars followed in its wake, and the geopolitical map of the world has been redrawn three times since then.

When future generations look back on 2018, it could well be as the year in which the relationship between the two great powers of the twenty-first century—the United States and China—shifted from peaceful coexistence to a new form of confrontation, although its final trajectory remains far from certain.

In a speech at the Hudson Institute earlier this month, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence accused China of unfair trade practices, intellectual property theft, increasing military aggression, and interference in the United States’ domestic politics. The vice president’s speech is the latest in a long line of authoritative statements and policies from the Trump administration redefining future U.S. strategy toward China. These include the U.S. National Security Strategy published last December, January’s new U.S. Defense Strategy, last month’s Department of Defense report on the future of U.S. defense manufacturing and, of course, the initiation of the trade war with China in June.

This series of doctrinal statements by the United States has formally declared an end to a 40-year period of U.S. strategic engagement with China, and its replacement with a new period of strategic competition. All rest on the assumption that engagement has failed; that China’s domestic market has not opened up sufficiently to foreign export and investment penetration; that, rather than becoming a responsible stakeholder in the global rules-based order, China is now developing an alternative international order with Chinese characteristics; and that instead of becoming more democratic in its domestic politics, Beijing has now decided to double

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