Opinion: U.S. and China — time to set our sights on new alliances
What should the next move be for the U.S. in relation to the People’s Republic of China? A look back at this year’s China Summit may give us answers
Just before lunch, Ford Motor Company’s Vice Chair for Policy and former Ambassador Jon Huntsman Jr. strode onto the stage at Utah Valley University’s Noorda Center to inspire attendees at the inaugural China Challenge, cosponsored by the Utah World Trade Center and UVU in June.
He invited a full house of innovators, entrepreneurs and policymakers to free themselves from old ways of thinking about our place in the world generally and our relationship with China specifically and devise new solutions to challenges we face in the mid-21st century.
Huntsman’s words also made me think about a passage I recently read in China expert Elizabeth Economy’s latest book, “The World According to China,” where she quotes the founder of Alibaba.com (a Chinese based online emporium akin to Amazon), Jack Ma, when he said that China should avoid “filling the blind spot” in its relations with Europe and the United States; or, said another way, China should stop trying to copy what they are doing in constructing viable geopolitical and economic systems to address the needs of the 21st century.
Put simply, both Huntsman and Ma called for innovative ideas on both sides of the Pacific in addressing a relationship that has revolved around supply chains, intellectual property, prosperity (for citizens in both the United States and China), and long-term security.
As I thought about this invitation during an afternoon session of the China Summit entitled “Trade Winds and Viable Alternatives to China” my mind went to two places.
First, many of the speakers at the conference confirmed that through a variety of political, diplomatic and economic tools, China is moving towards greater self-sufficiency in the mid-21st century.
China is doing this in a variety of ways internally and externally.
Inside the country, the government has encouraged a concept called “dual circulation” as part of its “Made in China 2025” policy. This means that instead of outright departure from the global economy, China would acquire the technologies and processes necessary for greater self-sufficiency while still engaging in global trade generally. This would protect the country by absorbing unforeseen economic shocks.
Similarly, President Xi Jinping’s current push towards a more socialist society, also known as “common prosperity,” might cause disruptions in China’s domestic economy, which could have external impacts, including supply chain delays, adverse reactions to Western culture, and the ability to leverage economic gains made in-country.
Externally, China’s Belt and Road Initiative, in many ways, like the British Navigation Acts of the 17th and 18th centuries, serves as a mechanism to build ports, railways, and bridges to easily move Chinese goods to market as well as collect scarce resources like oil and coal with minimal recourse to external infrastructure or economic “leakages.”
Similarly, China has used tariffs on goods from countries including Australia to coerce nations that have taken measures contrary to the China’s wishes. In the case of our Australian friends, China slapped tariffs on agricultural exports and coal as a result of clear calls for an investigation of the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic.
With a deeper sense of China’s push for self-sufficiency, my second thought during the afternoon session turned to what Huntsman encouraged: to think about new solutions to these global problems.
While we will have to engage with China, why not, as Ma suggested to his Chinese audience, do something completely different than what the other side is doing?
Why not consider an Atlantic Alliance for Prosperity, for example, with the European Union, Latin America, and Africa as an alternative to running a parallel race with China in the Indo-Pacific — though we surely will not abandon those regions.
There is one common language that is spoken between the republics of the Americas, Europe and much of Africa, and that language is liberty (with a few notable exceptions, some of whom are not in attendance at this week’s Summit of the Americas). Latin American republics were established not too long after the United States with European empires devolving to republics after the French Revolution. Many of the African nations that declared their independence in the 20th century, including Ghana and Nigeria, appreciate the rule of law (or are striving for it) and are in pursuit of stronger educational policies and economic prosperity.
An Atlantic Alliance of Prosperity would also give greater relevance to the idea of an “Atlantic World,” which is so often associated with the stain of slavery. The United States could engage with trade, energy and tech sectors in Europe (including self-sufficiency in the area of fuel production as nations ramp up towards the use of clean energy and cope with self-imposed bans on Russian resources), while engaging existing and new free trade agreements with Latin America and Africa would facilitate some supply chain migration away from the Indo-Pacific region.
We will always have an abiding interest in China and the Indo-Pacific, but perhaps it is time to start giving greater attention to alliances in the Atlantic World, where we have so much familiarity economically and ideologically.
Hopefully, these are the types of conversations that Ambassador Huntsman’s comments and the China Challenge will inspire for our future.
Evan Ward is associate professor of History at Brigham Young University, where he teaches courses on world history. His research includes work on tourism development infrastructure in Latin America, the Middle East, and, most recently, Southeast Asia.