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US peace efforts with China have failed? Don’t be fooled by the narrative

Illustration: Craig Stephens

Josef Gregory Mahoney

October 2, 2023

American efforts to foster detente with China have failed: it’s time to acknowledge this and move on. This argument has emerged in recent weeks in several important publications, including The Washington Post and Foreign Affairs, expressed by key opinion leaders considered close to the Biden administration and those representing more conservative positions.

These views have not been endorsed officially by the administration but suggest a consensus coalescing on both sides of the American political spectrum. They seem to express the next chapter of a dark narrative arc established when Joe Biden took office.

The arc points especially to the Xi-Biden meeting on the sidelines of last year’s G20 summit and the follow-up cabinet-level visits to Beijing during the summer. In short, the story goes, the US made good-faith efforts for detente but got nothing in return from a China determined to impose an intolerant and intolerable sphere of influence in Asia and beyond.

This narrative has a double value. First, it normalises zero-sum approaches that raise the spectre of military conflict while portraying a new cold war as a best-case scenario.

US policy has been criticised – including by a group of leading American scholars of different political stripes – as being too aggressive, and the narrative is a response to such criticism.

But it promotes the lazy pseudo-intellectualism of reductive, “historical” arguments that such confrontations are inevitable, by warning of the Thucydides trap, a clash of civilisations, and, most recently, what happens when two countries become “enduring rivals”.

Continue reading this important article in South China Morning Post of September 28, 2023.

You’ll also find references to other articles and videos in it. Also, read Zhou Xiaoming’s “In calling it a great power contest, the US is whitewashing its aggression towards China.” That, too, contains interesting bonus materials.

Josef Gregory Mahoney is professor of politics and international relations at East China Normal University and a senior research fellow with the Institute for the Development of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics at Southeast University, and the Hainan CGE Peace Development Foundation. He was previously with the Central Compilation and Translation Bureau in Beijing, then China’s leading think tank.

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