With the new Biden administration taking office, the US-China relationship is about to turn on a new page. To the US, China used to be a Far Eastern, ancient, and remote land of mystery; In the recent half of the century, China has become an emerging marketplace and a new world power.
How to cope with China poses a major question for the US government in the 21st century. Where is China heading for? Is China a friend or a foe to the US and Western civilization? What is the most effective strategy to confront China? The outgoing Trump administration had kicked off drastic confrontations with China at many fronts, and now President Joe Biden may have to continue along this track.
This is definitely a challenging and complicated mission and there are many things that need being set right in order to achieve the right results. Most importantly, I deem it is high time for the US to set the right outlook on China.
US’s historical misconception of China
The US outlook on China in the past missed some critical targets and therefore now needs being adjusted and refined. We can easily quote three key examples as supporting evidence.
In 1950, when the Korean civil war broke out and the US sent its troops to help counter the North Korean attacks, neither the Truman administration nor General Douglas MacArthur (in charge back then) expected China would move in large troops to join the war.
The second case, in 1966 the US had very little clue about why the then Chairman Mao would launch the so called “Great Cultural Revolution” in China and plunge the whole country into chaos, tumult, and violence. Without a good insight of China’s modern history like the Cultural Revolution, one can hardly figure out and grasp the pulse of China’s contemporary politics, complexities, and social culture traits.
The third example is since the start of this century, the US has welcomed China into the World Trade Organization (WTO) with the expectation that a gradually open and developing China will be on the right path of becoming a country of democracy and freedom upholding the rule of law and Constitution, just like the US itself. To date, however, we can’t say such an expectation is totally wrong or has failed, but at least it turns out to be an assumption that can’t materialize naturally and smoothly.
The five curves of China’s mindset
In order to set the right outlook on China, one needs to better understand the Chinese mindset or thinking framework that is essentially made of five major changing curves: the current situation factors, the political and ideological agenda, the national spirit and sometimes frenzy, the historical and cultural influences, and the top leader’s personal characters.
Current situation factors include breaking events and incidents, economic and technology power, military strengths, resources availability, etc. The political and ideological agenda includes the ruling party’s political belief, stance, direction and strategies. The nationalism includes China revival goals, patriotism, ethnical and racial pride, etc.
The 3000-year historical tradition and cultural influences in China are huge and nearly shadow everything people do there; The top leader’s traits matter very much in a country like China and include the person’s background, experiences, education, ambition, vision, and implementation capabilities, etc.
In most cases, the current event can be the trigger, and the five curves can establish the reaction. Together they forge the Chinese mentality in handling things.
Hence today, when judging whether China is a friend or a foe to the US and West, one needs to definitely take into consideration China’s current actions and behaviors, but also make sure all other keys curves being observed and analyzed thoroughly.
Like politically, the party’s ideology is leaning right, moderate or extreme left? Does the national spirit stay at rational level or get manipulated out of control? History and culture are touted and inherited in progressive or regressive manner? Who’s the top leader, and what makes him or her land that position?
After a careful and deep analyses, once all curves fall into a moderate and normal range, the conclusion may favor a friend. If on the other hand, the curves by the end make quite a polarized look, then that may hint about an adversary.
David W. Wang is a writer and analyst of political culture, current affairs, and US-China relations. His book publishing includes Decoding the Dragon’s Mindset – Inside China’s Destiny and Its Hint to the World. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of GVS.