OCTOBER 11, 2021
U.S. attitudes toward China have changed dramatically in the last few years — and for the better. Spurred by the Communist Party’s cover-up of the COVID-19 pandemic, human rights abuses, and arrogant bellicosity abroad, people are waking up to this regime’s true nature. In an age of hyper-partisanship, that recognition extends across party lines.
A February 2021 Pew Research Center survey found that nearly nine-in-ten U.S. adults consider China to be “a competitor or enemy, rather than a partner.” And 48% think that “limiting China’s power and influence should be a top foreign policy priority for the United States” — up from 32% in 2018. 67% of Americans hold a negative view of China — up from 46% two years prior.
Other polling indicates this trend. A Gallup poll from March 2021 found that the number of Americans who view China as the chief enemy of the U.S. has doubled in one year, from 22% to 45%. Significantly, a Chicago Council on Global Affairs survey from December 2020 found that only 34% of Americans “believe that the U.S. government has handled China’s rise effectively.”
Indeed, outside of the Beltway and Wall Street, many people have been souring on China for years. Now policymakers are catching up.
In a Sept. 24, 2021, interview, Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo told the Wall Street Journal that China “doesn’t play by the rules” of international trade and engages in intellectual theft. CIA Director Bill Burns recently announced the formation of a dedicated China mission center to deal with “the most important geopolitical threat [that] we face in the 21st century.”
The shift in tone shows how much has changed. Not long ago, the dominant view of press and policymakers alike was that China could be a partner in maintaining the Western-led liberal order. The economic liberalization that followed the market reforms of Deng Xiaoping would, it was commonly assumed, lead to China’s political liberalization.
As foreign affairs writer James Mann documented in his prescient 2007 book The China Fantasy, “many in Washington believed that China’s Communist Party leadership intended to transform the country’s political system as well as its economic system.” Many Western political, financial, and intellectual elites continued to hold this view long after the CCP’s brutal 1989 crackdown at Tiananmen Square.
Today, there is no denying that China seeks to dominate the Asia Pacific, which is on track to comprise more than 50% of the world’s GDP. And there is no denying that China is willing to use economic coercion or worse against its neighbors and critics. There is no denying that to be different or free-thinking in China is a quick ticket to the gulag.
Policymakers had better keep up.