In the lead up to the cut-throat grand election, the U.S. hopefuls and their campaign strategists would spare no efforts to have a showdown, and then China card will be a handy tool at their disposal to win the public favor.
US magazine Foreign Policy on August 29 published an article, titled “Everything You Think You Know About China Is Wrong”, claiming Americans always lagged in recognizing the declining fortunes of their foreign rivals, including China.
“In the 1970s they thought the Soviet Union was 10 feet tall -- ascendant even though corruption and inefficiency were destroying the vital organs of a decaying regime. In the late 1980s, they feared that Japan was going to economically overtake the United States, yet speculative madness and political corruption led to the collapse of the Japanese economy in 1991,” the author wrote.
The article thinks when it comes to China, Americans made the same mistake in overestimating its rival’ power. It says, many signs have indicated China’s economic decline, such as persistent slowdown, a glut of unsold goods, rising bad loans, a bursting real estate bubble. And the factors that once powered China's rise, such as the demographic dividend, disregard for the environment, cheap labor, are either receding or disappearing.
However, the American elites, let alone the American public, are still unaware of the trend. The mainstream attitude to China is self-evident since Obama’s “Pivot to Asia” policy and a planned missile shield in Asia acted on the premise of China’s continuing rise in economy and defense respectively.
As the U.S. presidential election moves into full swing, both Democrats and Republicans play the China card, saying China poses a threat to the U.S. national security and politics. Democrats use China's growing economic might to call for more government investment in education and green technology. Republicans justify increasing defense spending with the excuse of matching China's military capabilities.
The perception of a strong China is unshakable among most Americans even if the U.S. media have often played up troubles in China. They tend to think the current slowdown is “neither cyclical nor the result of weak external demand for Chinese goods” and China’s “fundamentals remain strong”.
The author blamed such misperception on Americans' domestic situation, claiming “It is no coincidence that the period in the 1970s and late 1980s when Americans missed signs of rivals' decline corresponded with intense dissatisfaction with U.S. performance”. And today, despite China’s growth rate falling from 10 to 8 percent, it is still better compared with America, whose growth stays at below 2 percent while unemployment above 8 percent. In the eyes of many Americans, things may be bad in China, but they are much worse at home.
According to the article, overestimating China’s strength will cause adverse consequences. The U.S. pivot to Asia is considered as evidence of Washington's unfriendliness to Beijing, who will in return make the U.S. pay the price for it, say, xenophobia could be exploited by the Chinese side as an asset. In fact, many Chinese already accuse the United States for flaring up China’s recent sea disputes with Vietnam and the Philippines.
The article automatically proposed Washington seriously consider an alternative strategy, one based on the assumption of declining Chinese strength in the coming two decades, because when that happens, “the geopolitical landscape of Asia would transform beyond recognition”.
But the author also sounded a cautious note, saying it’s premature to completely write off the China's capacity for “adaptation and renewal”. Washington should not rule out the possibility of China “roaring back in a few years” either. All said, U.S. policymakers would be committing a strategic error if they miss or misread the current signs of trouble in China, the article concluded.
The U.S. presidential hopefuls should be mindful of their steps when playing China card, as it could also be a risky game, if not properly dealt with.