A new era of U.S.-China parity
China responds to proposed U.S. tariffs with tariffs of its own, demonstrating that it now considers itself a great power
[Read the full article in The Hill]
The looming prospect of a trade war with China is the opening bell on a new era of the U.S.-China relationship. Whether or not a trade war actually develops, China has responded as an equal, not as a lesser power. China is not protesting American behavior, it is countering our actions with equivalent actions of its own. An era of parity has begun.
Previously, China was careful in challenging the U.S. because of the greater American capacity to respond. In the early 1980s China was quite concerned about continued American military sales to Taiwan, but rather than directly threatening retaliation, it suspended diplomatic relations with the Netherlands because the Netherlands was negotiating the sale of submarines to Taiwan.
Similarly, China was upset when we sold F-16 fighters to Taiwan in 1992, but it responded more harshly to France’s sale of Mirage fighter jets the same year, closing the French consulate in Guangzhou (Canton) and freezing out French companies trying to enter the China market. The Netherlands and France backed down, but the real cause of China’s concern was the U.S. China behaved in accord with the old Chinese adage of “killing the chicken to show the monkey” (act against the lesser to send a message to the greater).
China did stand up to the U.S. in various ways. It was very critical of NATO’s attacks on Serbia in 1999, and when its embassy in Belgrade was destroyed Chinese generally assumed that it was because of Chinese support for Serbia rather than an accident as we claimed. Thereafter, China was careful to avoid public criticism of our invasion of Iraq. While military brushes have occurred on China’s periphery, both sides have been careful to avoid escalation.
But Party Secretary Xi Jinping has announced a new era for Chinese politics. On the one hand, it includes a slower, “new normal” rate of growth. China is no longer doing whatever it takes to barrel along at 10 percent growth, it is now happy to pursue sustainable growth in the 6 percent range. A more moderate rate is less scary to China’s neighbors, many of whom are also growing at that rate, and they are attracted by China’s offers to build new Silk Roads to integrate Asia.