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US-China: Unconventional wisdom

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This post is part of the US China policy debate thread. To read other posts in this debate, click here.

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20 January 2010 16:33


This post is part of the US China policy debate thread. To read other posts in this debate, click here.

Raoul says in his latest post that American commentators 'have only just begun to question the bizarre but conventional expectation in Washington that a stronger, more prosperous China would also be more cooperative'.

Bizarre, perhaps. But conventional? Who in Washington actually believes that a more prosperous China will necessarily be more cooperative? I would be very surprised if this is the received wisdom among foreign policy thinkers and practitioners.

I think we need to distinguish between, on the one hand, the expectation that China will develop more America-friendly positions, and on the other hand, the expectation that China will acknowledge the authority of the major conventions and institutions of international policy. There may be some advocates of China engagement who take the former view, but I'd guess the majority take the latter.

What I think advocates of engagement want is for China to become a status quo power, rather than a revolutionary one that seeks to overturn the existing world order. Their view is not that China will necessarily cooperate more with the US as it gets richer. Rather, they allow that serious differences will remain and even that they may increase. But their hope is that, if China is persuaded to work within established and new international institutions, such disagreements can be channeled into less threatening and destabilising arenas.

Photo by Flickr user heather, used under a Creative Commons license.

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