Unicorns are beautiful, make-believe creatures. But despite overwhelming evidence of their fantastical nature, many people still believe in them. Much of America's China policy is also underpinned by belief in the fantastical: in this case, soothing but logically inconsistent ideas. But unlike with unicorns, the United States' China-policy excursions into the realm of make-believe could be dangerous. Crafting a better China policy requires us to identify what is imaginary in U.S. thinking about China. Author James Mann captures some in his book, The China Fantasy.
Here are my own top 10 China-policy unicorns:
1. The self-fulfilling prophecy. This is the argument that has the most purchase over the United States' China policy. Treat China like an enemy, the belief goes, and it will become an enemy. Conversely, treat China like a friend, and it will become a friend. But three decades of U.S.-China relations should at least cast doubt on this belief. Since the normalization of relations with China, the aim of U.S. policy has been to bring China "into the family of nations." Other than China itself, no nation has done more than the United States to improve the lot of the Chinese people and welcome China's rise peacefully. And, rather than increase its deterrence of China -- a natural move given the uncertainty attendant to the rise of any great power -- the United States has let its Pacific forces erode and will do so further. The United States may soon go through its third round of defense cuts in as many years. Here is just one example of how unserious the United States is about China: As China continues to build up its strategic forces, the United States has signed a deal with Russia to cap its strategic forces without so much as mentioning China. Unless Beijing was insulted by this neglect, surely it could take great comfort in an anachronistic U.S. focus on arms control with Russia. But despite U.S. demonstrations of benevolence, China still views the United States as its enemy or, on better days, its rival. Its military programs are designed to fight the United States. The self-fulfilling prophecy is far and away the most fantastical claim about China policy and thus the No. 1 unicorn.
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