Over at the Diplomat, I’ve written a short series riffing on some of the questions that Dan discussed here: How should the United States approach the very high likelihood that the People’s Republic of China will become the world’s pre-eminent economic (and possibly military) power in the next few decades? The first in this series asks a related question: Why did the US not take steps to actively inhibit China’s rise in the 1990s?
U.S. policymakers worried a great deal about the expansion of Chinese economic and military power in the 1950s and 1960s, but less so in the 1970s and 1980s. The best answers to why the United States stepped back from steps intended to check China’s rise run as follows. First, the rise of China was advantageous in geopolitical competition against the Soviet Union. Second, the development of the Chinese economy worked to the advantage of both U.S. businesses and U.S. consumers, although not to all labor sectors. Third, U.S. policymakers were optimistic that China would reform politically as it reformed economically, thus removing it as an international threat. Of these, the first was true, but became irrelevant in 1991; the second largely remains true, as the U.S.-China trade axis has underwritten global economic growth since the 1980s; the third has not been realized in any meaningful way.
And as it turns out, Dan and I have dedicated this week’s episode of the LGM podcast over to this very question. We’ll follow up with the second part of this podcast on Monday, dealing with some of the same issues.