“In the long term, we simply cannot afford to leave China forever outside the family of nations to feed its fantasies, harbor its hatreds, and threaten its neighbors,” Richard Nixon famously wrote in 1967.
Nixon’s words appear in his seminal article in Foreign Affairsare the foundation of half a century of American and Western politics. After the Cold War, the West, led by Washington, attempted to integrate the People’s Republic of China into the postwar international system.
Is it in the West’s interest for China to succeed or fail? We have no choice: we have to make it fail. If communist China succeeds, it will mean the end of the West.
Nixon’s post-Cold War “engagement” approach should have worked. The idea was that if the Chinese regime had a stake in the existing system, it would then defend it. This strategy was at the heart of U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick’s strategy Formulation of “responsible stakeholder”.announced in 2005. It was in many ways the biggest bet of our time.
However, this bet now looks like a mistake that history will remember. Because when the Communist Party became stronger, it did not join its Western supporters. On the contrary, people believed they could avenge centuries-old grievances and remake the world in their own image. The West’s largesse has created the only thing it had hoped to avoid: an aggressive state that is redrawing its borders by force, attacking liberal values around the world and undermining institutions at the heart of the international system.
What went wrong? “Previous U.S. policy toward China fundamentally underestimated the Chinese Communist Party’s hostility, ruthlessness, and will to power,” Scott Harold told me while at the RAND Center for Asia-Pacific Policy.
Western leaders spent decades telling themselves that the form of China’s government didn’t matter. In addition, Western leaders did not listen to the statements of their Chinese counterparts. Over the course of this century, it has been Xi Jinping Reusing the imperial era views that the Chinese emperor ruled Tianxia– “Everything under heaven” – suggesting that the People’s Republic of China should now be considered the only sovereign state in the world.
Xi’s subordinates have been making this explicit since 2017 argued that the Moon and Mars should be considered part of Chinaand there is even talk of barring other countries from flying to nearby celestial bodies.
“China was the center of its own hierarchical and theoretically universal concept of order,” noted Henry Kissinger in World order. “China viewed itself, in a sense, as the only sovereign government in the world.” For China, the emperor was a figure of cosmic dimensions, the only link “between the human and the divine,” explains Kissinger.
Ridiculous? Yes. Nevertheless, China has announced its intentions: it will dominate the world if it has the means to do so. As Kissinger explained, China’s leaders see the world as one because they have difficulty working with others. “Throughout the flamboyant history of China,” he wrote On China“There was no precedent for how to participate in a global order, whether in line with – or in contrast to – another superpower.”
Today, China’s imperial views are mixed with the country’s communist system. The hostility towards others, reinforced by the racism of the regime’s Han nationalism, means that China cannot coexist with others in the international system, which has recognized the sovereignty of a multitude of states since 1648.
Xi Jinping is not an aberration. He shows the combativeness of a communist system that idealizes struggle and domination.
It also shows the belligerence of a system that is fundamentally unsafe. The Chinese regime identifies the world’s free societies as existential threats, not because of what those societies say or do, but because of their identities. The Communist Party is concerned about the inspiring effect of the values and governance of the world’s democracies, particularly the United States, on the Chinese people.
These Chinese views have consequences. The communist regime believes it has the right to do whatever it wants – including spreading disease, stealing intellectual property, spreading nuclear weapons technology and destroying neighbors.
Short of giving up sovereignty and submitting to Chinese rule, there is nothing the West can do to accommodate Communist China. The Chinese regime believes that it is in a life-and-death struggle with us. In the long term we have to win.
Gordon G. Chang is the author of “The Coming Collapse of China” and the recently published book “China Is Going to War.” Follow him on X, formerly Twitter, @GordonGChang.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own.