Washington takes on Beijing | HT Editorial
The US has finally woken up to the Chinese threat. This is goodUpdated: Jul 26, 2020, 17:45 IST
The United States (US) and China are the world’s two superpowers and they can barely stand each other. Senior US officials have given four speeches explaining why their government feels it is no longer possible to do business-as-usual with China. The US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, gave the last one, adding a call for other democracies to recognise the nature of the threat, and suggesting that perhaps an “alliance of democracies” was the need of the hour, particularly in the Indo-Pacific. Earlier, the US’ national security adviser, attorney general and head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation gave expositions on elements of Beijing’s “designs for hegemony”. The statements portrayed present-day China as a powerful entity, controlled by a malevolent leader, Xi Jinping, and a communist party, whose ideology of control and repression was being offered as a template for governance. China, they argued, seeks to extend its technology-enhanced thought control beyond its own borders. Mr Pompeo pointed to Beijing’s overseas behaviour — treating treaties as “suggestions,” violating every possible economic norm, disrespecting territorial norms — as predatory and unprecedented.
Friction between a rising power and a status quo power is basic international relations theory. The US argument is that China has become a major global player by working within an international order of which it is a primary beneficiary. Instead of seeking to embrace this order, Mr Xi has taken China down a darker path in which his own people have been the first victims and the rest of the world could be next. Mr Pompeo admits containment is no longer possible, but if “like-minded nations” push back concertedly, China can still be kept at bay.
This will be music to New Delhi’s ears. Few governments have consistently had as unblinkered a view of China as New Delhi. Mr Pompeo now calls for others to practise this, but India has long insisted on reciprocity and transparency from China. In the past, India preferred not to raise its concerns in the international arena because its views of the Middle Kingdom were seen as petulance, including by Washington. But New Delhi should still wait to see if these speeches represent a new US consensus. Strikingly, the new “Trump doctrine” was laid out by everyone except the president. And the other candidate for the Oval Office, while agreeing China is a competitor, believes he can still do business with it. The US policy remains a work-in-progress.