Washington needs to reexamine assumptions on China

The National Interest, June 7, 2019

US-China trade negotiations
President Donald J. Trump participates in a bilateral meeting with President Xi Jinping at the Great Hall of the People, Thursday, November 9, 2017, in Beijing, People’s Republic of China. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

The raging U.S.-China trade war has inspired much commentary on America’s China policy. The conventional narrative among the foreign-policy establishment is that the United States has engaged with China because for too long, Washington has mistakenly believed that trade would weaken the Chinese Communist government and bring greater political freedoms to China.

Increasingly, one could walk away from such discussions not knowing that two decades ago, U.S. support for China’s entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO), which drastically expanded Washington-Beijing bilateral trading relationship, had anything to do trade and economics.

Certainly, China has disappointed Washington both politically and economically, and has emerged as America’s most potent strategic rival. Yet devising solutions to China’s challenge requires that policymakers not fall into amnesia. As such, a walk down memory lane is a useful exercise.

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