Is This How a Cold War With China Begins?
There are few issues on which the dominant consensus in Washington has changed as rapidly in recent years as it has on China. Donald Trump made taking on China a core pillar of his campaign and presidency. And while Joe Biden has toned down the harsh anti-China rhetoric of his predecessor, many of his administration’s policies have gone even further than Trump’s did.
In October the Biden administration unveiled sweeping controls on advanced chip exports to China — a move that former Trump officials have described as a sharp break from where their administration’s policies were. And the Biden administration doesn’t intend on stopping there: It plans to roll out further controls that target China’s biotech and clean energy sectors.
Meanwhile, Biden has repeatedly voiced such strong declarations of American military support for Taiwan that his own administration has had to walk them back. And, in Congress, China policy is one of the few areas Democrats and Republicans seem willing to work together — almost always in the direction of getting tougher on Beijing.
Jessica Chen Weiss is a political scientist and China scholar at Cornell. From August 2021 to last July, she was a senior adviser in the Biden State Department. And she emerged from that experience as one of the most outspoken critics of Washington’s more hawkish turn regarding China. “The more combative approach, on both sides, has produced a mirroring dynamic,” Weiss wrote in a 2022 essay called “The China Trap.” She worries that Beijing and Washington are misreading each other’s ambitions, resulting in a “downward spiral” of mutual aggression that will leave both sides — and the world more broadly — less prosperous and secure.
So I asked Weiss to come on the show to help me understand the state of U.S.-China relations and why she thinks it’s headed in the wrong direction.
“The China Trap” by Jessica Chen Weiss
“A World Safe for Autocracy?” by Jessica Chen Weiss
Seeking Truth and Hiding Facts by Jeremy L. Wallace
Our Missing Hearts by Celeste Ng
See No Stranger by Valarie Kaur
Thoughts? Guest suggestions? Email us at email@example.com.
You can find transcripts (posted midday) and more episodes of “The Ezra Klein Show” at nytimes.com/ezra-klein-podcast, and you can find Ezra on Twitter @ezraklein. Book recommendations from all our guests are listed at https://www.nytimes.com/article/ezra-klein-show-book-recs.
“The Ezra Klein Show” is produced by Emefa Agawu, Annie Galvin, Jeff Geld, Rogé Karma and Kristin Lin. Fact-checking by Michelle Harris. Original music by Isaac Jones. Mixing by Isaac Jones. Audience strategy by Shannon Busta. The executive producer of New York Times Opinion Audio is Annie-Rose Strasser. Special thanks to Pat McCusker and Kristina Samulewski.
Taiwan has a parliamentary, multi-party system of government. But the two major parties are the Chinese Nationalist Party (CNP) and the Democratic Progressive Party or (DPP). The CNP favors closer ties with mainland China and the DPP favors Taiwanese nationalism and closer ties to the West. When Rep. Pelosi went to China in August 2022, the DPP was in power. Part of her visit was as an arms salesman and indeed Taiwan agreed to buy $1.1Billion of US made armaments. This was in addition to the $18 Billion Trump sold them. It was also to show US support for the DPP. What the US media did not show were the Taiwanese protests against Pelosi's visit. Taiwan held national elections in Nov 2022 and the DPP lost badly. The CNP now controls the government. By this time the proxy war between the US and Russia was in full swing in Ukraine. Clearly, the Taiwanese do not want Taiwan to become another Ukraine, which they see being used callously by the US as a pawn to weaken Russia as Sec of Defense Austin admitted in April 2022. Could the parallel be more clearly drawn? If Ukrainians could have seen the effect that a potential NATO membership would have on their lives, I wonder how many of them would be eager to sign up. The distance from Taiwan to China is 100 miles, almost exactly the distance of Cuba to the US. When Russia put arms in Cuba, we nearly had a nuclear war. China has shown much more forbearance toward US meddling in Taiwan than the US did with Russia. But there is no guarantee that this will continue. The US seems to be blind to the fact that other countries can and will expand economically and practice different forms of government than suits the US view that it should be the only super power. This does not seem prudent or even rational.
China has 4 times our population. They are a very well educated, hard working population. As ever the aggressive, militaristic approach of the US to any country which refuses to bend the knee to the US will alienate China which is a powerhouse in its own right will hurt the US and the world in the long run. America is on the wrong side of history.