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The United States and China are becoming strategic rivals.

The mounting trade war is but the most visible manifestation of this new reality. But the competition goes well beyond trade.

It extends to political influence, military strength and even the information realm. At its core, it’s an intensifying competition over who will shape the future.

For 75 years, American power and leadership has been the dominant feature of global politics.

Emerging triumphant from World War II, Washington used its unquestioned power to forge a rules-based order that offered countries the prospect of security through alliances, prosperity through free trade, and freedom through democracy and the rule of law.

China is now challenging American leadership and the very rules-based order itself. That much became clear on a recent visit to Hawaii, home of the U.S. military’s Indo-Pacific Command. In briefings and conversations with top military leaders, including the commander of U.S. forces, the challenge posed by China to the region was their singular preoccupation.

China’s growing economic power is well known and understood. Through 40 years of extraordinary effort, China has become the second largest economy and will surpass the U.S. in a few years. Much of its growth was the product of internal effort. But all too much of it was the result of nefarious and predatory practices — stealing of blueprints and technology, large government subsidies to key industries and the closure of large parts of the Chinese market to foreign competition, even as Beijing enjoyed full access to U.S. and other markets.

As China grew richer, it bought power and influence in other realms.

During the past quarter century, China has expanded and modernized its military tenfold. It’s deploying aircraft carriers as part of a growing blue water navy, fourth- and fifth-generation combat aircraft, and an extensive arsenal of missiles to attack on land, sea and air. It’s rapidly increasing its presence in space and continually perfecting its cyber offensive capabilities.

China now has a military base in Djibouti, in Africa just across from the Arabian Peninsula. Its navy has sailed to the Baltic and Barents seas. And a string of artificial islands in the South China Sea, with airstrips and deep-water ports, provides it with an intimidating presence in a contested region through which more than $5 trillion worth of goods are shipped annually.

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Beijing is also using its economic might to exert influence beyond its territory.

It’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative stretches through Southeast and South Asia on to Africa and Europe. China finances loans, provides plans and employs its own workers to build sea and air ports, rail and road links and other critical infrastructure throughout the world. Failure to repay loans in time can result in seizure of assets, as Beijing did with a port it built in Sri Lanka.

China has a large and growing diplomatic corps, and it’s extending its presence in countries and international institutions throughout the world.

Every time the United States steps back, be it at the United Nations or another place, China is ready to fill the void — with people, money and influence. The message is clear: China is a power to be reckoned with. And people are taking notice. As Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin said recently, “China’s offer of a strategic partnership is a bit more attractive than the current offer of the U.S. of strategic confusion.”

There is nothing unusual with what China is doing. It’s acting like any great power would — using its economic and military prowess to extend its political influence to all corners of the globe. And quite naturally, it seeks that influence to serve its own interests and purposes.

How should the United States respond to this growing challenge? The military commanders I met at the Indo-Pacific Command had a clear, definitive answer: Bolster relations with our “allies, friends and partners.”

They emphasized that the United States could not, nor should, match China at every step. Instead, just as Beijing was exploiting its strengths, so should Washington. And America’s strength lies in having the one thing China does not: allies, friends and partners.

Together with its key Asian allies (Japan, Australia, Korea, the Philippines and Thailand) and important friends and partners, including New Zealand, Indonesia and India, the United States retains formidable economic, political and military capability to counter China’s encroachment and influence.

American allies in Europe and North America also have an interest in limiting China’s reach, and they can work with the United States to ensure western influence remains strong and unchallenged in the Asia Pacific and other critical areas around the globe.

America’s rivalry with China is inevitable. But competition need not lead to confrontation. If America works together with its allies, friends and partners, it can continue to shape the international order to the benefit of all.

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Ivo Daalder is president of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and a former U.S. ambassador to NATO.

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(14) comments

DMoney

China remains a paper tiger. Beneath the propaganda is a rotten and backwards system and society. They have increased spending--so what? They still don't touch our level militarily. Their massive economy is built on their immense population and cheap production costs--which is only sustainable if the population remains poor and disenchanted. We could crush them economically if we has a backbone. Without our raging hunger for cheap goods, they don't have a market. Their "success" is dependent on the USA and until that changes (it can't, see my comment above), they will remain far behind. Read some respectable books on geopolitics.

oldhomey

D, it is not 1935, it is 2019. You seem to want to fantasize the world as you believed it to be from the WWII comic books you have been reading and collecting, when pre-war relative military strength was measured by numbers of battleships, primarily.

China is no paper tiger. It is an economy that is on the cusp of over-taking ours as the largest in the world. It has a vast military with a full complement of nuclear warheads and delivery systems as sophisticated as ours. Your grasp of how the world economy works is at least as weak as that of our president, Donald Trump. Your 8:15pm post is pure playground musings that is harmless until one considers you are a voter.

DMoney

"The weakness of insularity for China is poverty. Given the ratio of arable land to population, a self-enclosed China is a poor China. Its population is so poor that economic development
driven by domestic demand, no matter how limited it might be, is impossible. "

This is from the geopolitical website Stratfor and it's regarding China in 2019. They can't afford to sell their products domestically, and at the same time they only have enough arable land to feed 1 in 3 of their billion people. Put those two factors together--they MUST have a very large market to sell their goods and they MUST import a massive amount of food for survival. The reality is, we have them by the tail. Unfortunately, people like you are very weak and short sighted, along with being primarily politically motivated. Trump, being someone who recognizes power and control, and being someone who puts his (and by proxy, his companies, country, etc) first, engaged in the current trade war. He knows we can easily win. But he overestimated the will of the American people. China, knowing our weakness, called the bluff.

If China has any advantage over us, it's unity amongst it's people. A lot of that is forced because they are still a communist country. It's military pales in comparison to ours. But again, they would be more willing to use it and face attrition and losses. They know we are fragile, unless they really tick us off. Therefore, they'll push to the max unless it becomes a true war, in which case they'll surrender.

oldhomey

D, you seem to be writing off the entire future of China as a world economic, political and military power because of two sentences you found on the internet about its weaknesses. If you read it a little more carefully, however, it is saying that China cannot continue to be a rising power if it tries to become self-contained or (if I read your fantasies correctly) we impose our will and isolate China, cutting it off from world markets.

In fact China is busily at work keeping on friendly terms with all of our traditional allies and trade partners that Mr. Trump is busily insulting and pulling away from.

China is also spending billions upon billions of dollars in the Third World, building up infrastructure and good will there because China knows it is a member of the world community and is intent on being intimately involved in nations that represent future rising markets. And these are countries that own many of the most rare but essential raw minerals used by the new technologies. It knows what it is doing. Its rapid economic growth may be slowing, as Stratfor predicts, but it also predicts the same for all the industrial powerhouse nations of the world, including the U.S. Meanwhile, the U.S. under Trump is killing off foreign aid, basking in the cheers of ideologues such as yourself as he does so.

The Chinese by now must have the largest middle-class in terms of numbers in the world. Yes it has a lot of impoverished farmers still, but it has a very large domestic market that may not be growing as fast as it did in the past 40 years, but it is there, still demanding goods and services. You seem to think China sells everything it makes overseas. Have you looked at videos of most Chinese cities these days?

China must import food, yes, but they do not have to import it from the U.S., a source which has been exceptionally useful for them because of ease of trade and transport, but it will use our reliance on China as a market for our agricultural exports as a cudgel against us. It already is, and the bozo in the White House, who says tariffs are good, now is going to bill the taxpayers for multi-billions of dollars of subsidies for our farmers who will get whacked by the loss of the China market. The subsidies won't be enough to cover the losses. The taxpayers, meanwhile, will be paying a lot more for consumer goods imported from China. A double whammy on you, my naive young friend.

As for China's being a military paper tiger relative to us, and its nukes being irrelevant, consider what your source, Stratfor, has to say about the face-off in the South China Sea where China is claiming atolls and building them up as military fortresses:

"-- China will continue to push the envelope in the South China Sea because controlling the waters is key to its national security strategy.
"--The United States will be limited in its ability to respond because of its concerns about escalation and because of China's nuclear capabilities.
"--Beijing will lobby Washington to keep Japan out of the dispute, but Tokyo will remain involved."

In other words, Stratfor believes we need to rely on Japan to pull this chestnut out of the fire for us. That means we need an ally, something Mr. Trump disdains. Even when he is lured to Japan in a bald-faced flattery campaign to curry his favor, he manages to p.o. the Japanese because of his love affair with the sick ruler of North Korea.

We need to be building bridges right now with our best friends and allies, D, not building animus against former friends and allies, which is what your man in the White House is intent on doing. It takes more strength to build a bridge than it does to hurl lies and insults. Your prediction of a Chinese surrender is a bit loony, to the say the least.

DMoney

Nukes are irrelevant, they'll never be used. And their conventional military is a joke, unless we invaded and tried to conquer them. They have no power projection. Look up their military figures, equipment and expenditures. Let's end the amateur hour.

oldhomey

As Mr. Daalder considers how China is on the verge of surpassing our economy as the largest while increasing its military ten-fold, spreading its wings all over the world, he asked our military commanders how the U.S. should respond. He says they told him the U.S. should not over-react but fall back on the strength China could never match, which is working with our vast network of international alliances and friendships. He doesn't mention that we now have a president who is kicking the struts out from under all those alliances and friendships, and we have a younger, naive, clueless population of people like D, who cheer on Trump and his poisoning of the wells of friendship we spent so much blood and treasure in the 20th Century creating and maintaining. Are we dooming ourselves to second class world citizenship, like the British? It looks like it to me.

DMoney

Our alliances are no worse than they have been in many years. Has a country announced severing ties? Have we been kicked out of any bases? No. And this has nothing to do with Trump. Had nothing to do with Obama. It's entirely because we remain the most powerful nation on Earth. As long as that's the case, we'll have many "friends". Trump knows this, and therefore is leveraging our weight by making some reasonable demands. And it's worked--South Korea is covering more of their defense costs, for instance.

oldhomey

Trump has been in office a little over two years, D. Of course our traditional allies are not going cut the cords with us instantaneously because of his extraordinarily bad, myopic, uninformed and ill-suited behavior. But do you actually believe that our Pacific rim trade partners are cheering Trump on after he torpedoed the planned trade agreement? Do you think South Korea and Japan are sitting back, thinking Trump is taking us and them in the right direction with his totally naive efforts with Kim, or are they weighing other defensive alignments should this idiot somehow get another four years? Our closest trade partners are Canada and Mexico. With Trump in the driver's seat in this country, do you think they are feeling like they can trust and rely any more on these three nations being able to work in concert in our best interests, or are they beginning to look over their shoulders for more stable relationships? How about our most important defensive allies, the Europeans, who are watching Putin play Trump like a cheap violin in the Middle East. Trump meanwhile bloviates about pulling out of NATO, a man who hasn't got a clue of what it has done in the last 70 years, wouldn't read a position paper about it and ignores his own advisors who try to counsel him. Do you think our relationship with Europe is secure? Probably not, but you seem to be as clueless as Trump is when it comes to post WWII European/American history.

DMoney

Sooo... you are entirely speculating? You admit we've lost no allies, and aren't about to.

Mexico and Canada, as well as the Chinese and any other major exporters, need us more than we need them. Without our obese, materialistic consumers they have no product to sell, no jobs, no future. Trump knows this and for once has our country making some well deserved demands. It's about time we match our requests with our position in the world. Took a non-politician business person who doesn't give a darn about feelings to do it.

oldhomey

Right, D. Everybody knows the U.S. is the only consumer economy in the world, that we are the sole market for consumer goods made by other countries. Donald Trump, that superb businessman/bankrupt/bunco artist set us and the rest of the world straight on that. He has markets the world over reeling and good former friends and trade partners wondering if there is anything normal or reliable left about America. They haven't abandoned us yet. Trump has only had a little less than two and a half years in office, but an awful lot of trusted former trade allies seem to have backed themselves close to the doors in case they have to make a quick exit.

But I digress, The U.S. is the only place in the world manufacturers can go to if they want to sell their wares, according to D. Take the auto industry, perhaps the biggest industry in the world (I really don't know, though it may well be). America is THE auto country of the world, right? But it looks like Renault and Fiat are about to merge, making them the third biggest auto maker in the world. They would displace General Motors from third place. The two biggest are Toyota and Volkswagen. So that would mean the three biggest auto makers are not American, but, according to D, most of their output must be sold in the U.S.

In fact, last year the biggest auto market in the world for new cars was China, where 21 million new cars were registered. You know, China, the country D assures us is a paper tiger, a toothless economic giant, so poor by D's estimation that its economic revival is over and done and is doomed, even though it had 21 million consumers with the wherewithal to buy new cars last year. In the U.S. the used car market is booming because people can't afford new cars. But I digress.

oldhomey

I thought I responded to your 9:14om post last night, D. Maybe I hit the cancel button instead of the Post Comment button. This is what I recall saying: You seem to credit the U.S. as being the only consumer market in the world, D, that all consumer goods produced by other nations find their markets in the U.S. We are a very big market, indeed, for having only about five percent of the world's population, but you seem to overlook both the manufacturing and consumer power of 95 percent of the world's population. We are a powerhouse, no doubt, but we are not the commander in chief of the world's economy. The markets are, lest you forget your capitalist-beating heart. E.G., the automotive industry is one of the biggest, perhaps the biggest, in the world. Fiat and Renault are likely to soon merge, which would make them into the third largest auto company in the world. They would displace the U.S.'s largest maker, GM, which is currently third largest in the world. That would make the world's big three Honda, Volkswagen and Fiat-Renault, all foreign makers to us Americans. By your measure, D, I guess most of the "big three" product is sold in the U.S., and their viability rests solely on the U.S. market. Not some weasely, meager consumer market like China, the country you label as a "paper tiger". Why last year, the Chinese market bought only 21 million new cars, something like, I believe, one fourth of the new cars sold worldwide last year. Meanwhile, the true economic tiger, the U.S., has a booming used car market because so many people can't afford new cars. As for Donald Trump, that genius businessman, noted bankrupt-prone real estate mogul, cheat and con-man coolly striding on to the world political stage with no political experience and getting America what she deserves by being a bully and a lout, people in business across the world are used to braggarts and blowhards. They don't listen to what they say, they pay attention to what they actually do. Mr. Trump is not honoring promises any better in international trade than he did as a businessman. He may be used cynically by some for their own advantage, but by and large he will be shunned as a bad business bet. Unfortunately, it isn't him, any more, it is the U.S. that he represents, and you and I won't want what the rest of the world thinks we deserve because of his "stewardship" of our affairs. Is that speculation? Perhaps, but we see the groundwork laid by this nincompoop daily. It is horrifying.

DMoney

I've never stated my opinions, regarding China and their reliance on us. I've quoted and cited experts, from a site that as far as I can tell is politically neutral. The simplest way I can retort is to refer you to the same website. Refer to the geopolitics of the USA, part two. It undisputably crushes your theories, and paints the picture of truth using data, logic and trends. Trump, and the team he employs, are working with a much bigger tool box than you. Trump, for all of his faults and shortcomings, has developed multi-million dollar enterprises employing the same identical strategies used with world affairs. I trust his and the experts outlook more than yours.

DMoney

And I'm willing to make another bet (without looking) that our import numbers from China, Canada and Mexico dwarf any other country. By at least 25% (tens of billions of dollars). Our population, GDP and culture create more demand than any country in history. The loss of the US to China would be the equivalent to the loss of fat, trashy MAGA people for Walmart.

oldhomey

D, I will treat both you and others who might be following our set-to on this subject to the only paragraphs that I could find in the document you cited about China: "China, which faces regional and ethnic splits Japan does not, has copied the Japanese finance/export strategy as a means of both powering its development and holding a rather disparate country together. But the Chinese application of the strategy faces the same bad-debt problem that Japan's did. Because of those regional and ethnic splits, however, when China's command of this system fails as Japan's did in the 1990s, China will face a societal breakdown in addition to an economic meltdown. Making matters worse, China's largely unnavigable rivers and relatively poor natural ports mean that China lacks Japan's natural capital-generation advantages and is saddled with the economic dead weight of its vast interior, home to some 800 million impoverished people. Consequently, China largely lacks the capacity to generate its own capital and its own technology on a large scale. "None of this is a surprise to Chinese leaders. They realize that China depends on the American-dominated seas for both receiving raw materials and shipping their products to global markets and are keenly aware that the most important of those markets is the United States. As such, they are willing to compromise on most issues, so long as the United States continues to allow freedom of the seas and an open market. China may bluster — seeing nationalism as a useful means of holding the regions of the country together — but it is not seeking a conflict with the United States. After all, the United States utterly controls the seas and the American market, and American security policy prevents the remilitarization of Japan. The pillars of recent Chinese success are made in America." It doesn't exactly prop up your argument. It doesn't even match what the same organization opined on its view of the face-off on the Chinese island reef build-up of it military and naval power projections vis a vis the U.S. and Japan. Go figure. You persist in painting Trump as a business genius. The man had 11 major bankruptcies in his career, stiffing thousands of creditors and shareholders. In the years running up to his run at the presidency there was not a single banking institution in America that would trust him enough to lend him money. The one bank that did bankroll him in those years, Deutchebank, now deeply regrets doing business with him and probably will face a passel of legal problems because of its dealings with him. You also commend Trump for his pulling back on our traditional trade and defense alliances, and his attempts to withdraw America from the world scene. Perhaps you should read the report you referred me to a little more deeply, in which it states: "The greatest threat to the United States is its own tendency to retreat from international events. America's Founding Fathers warned the young country to not become entangled in foreign affairs — specifically European affairs — and such guidance served the United States well for the first 140 years of its existence. "But that advice has not been relevant to the American condition since 1916. "

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