Charting a Progressive China Policy for the 21st Century (Marcellus Policy Analysis)

By Ismaila Whittier, Spring 2021 Marcellus Policy Fellow

The United States is facing a geopolitical dilemma that will force overdue reevaluations of its grand strategy regarding U.S.-China relations. Initial ideas of reforming China and molding the country into a cooperative member of a global framework of liberal democracies have failed and miserably so. As tensions increase with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and its officials, the United States needs to take a moment to find a new approach to dealing with China, emphasizing military restraint, diplomacy, and multilateralism.

America’s current strategy, regarding U.S.-China relations and the Asia-Pacific region, has involved expanding expensive security commitments with partners in the region; military posturing and exercises in the South China Sea; increased militarized relations with Taiwan; placing unilateral tariffs on China; and implementing an increasingly aggressive anti-China propaganda campaign here at home to villainize the Chinese Communist Party and China itself. Reforming American Asia-Pacific grand strategy offers a more effective and fiscally sustainable posture that can still protect American interests in the region and around the world.

First, by negotiating new norms on freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, the United States can reduce the chance of a significant conflict in the region. Second, the American relationship with Taiwan needs to be revisited since antagonistically protecting and promoting Taiwan’s sovereignty is not worth the risk of a major conflict with China. Third, through multilateral negotiations with trusted allies, the United States needs to establish some new, much-needed norms and international laws regarding technology and trade. Implementing these solutions is how the United States will maintain peace with China, American prosperity at home, and American competitiveness in the Asia-Pacific region. Finally, the United States needs to tone down its anti-China rhetoric and focus on domestic renewal and bolstering American soft power abroad instead of focusing solely on tearing down China’s global reputation. Otherwise, the United States will put itself in a dangerous Cold War-like scenario that the United States will not be able to reverse.