Without Reform and Cooperation with China, the International System Cannot Hold

    Timothy R. Heath, Michael J. Mazarr

    Security, Asia

    U.S. President Donald Trump and China's President Xi Jinping attend a state dinner at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, November 9, 2017. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

    The trick is to decide where compromise is acceptable for U.S. interests and to draw clear lines around principles where it is not.

    The consensus is growing in Washington that the effort to integrate China into a multilateral international order has flopped. “Neither carrots nor sticks have swayed China as predicted,” Kurt Campbell and Ely Ratner argue. The West “bet that China would head towards democracy and the free market,” the Economist laments. But “the gamble has failed.” Perhaps most directly of all, the new U.S. National Security Strategy charges that China “wants to shape a world antithetical to U.S. values and interests.”

    Such arguments reflect disappointment among western experts that China has opted to use the wealth and power gained from engagement with the international system to undercut aspects of the same system. From the South China Sea territorial claims to the terms of trade to censorship and harassment directed at foreign governments and companies, Beijing is flexing its muscles and claiming the right to revise and reinterpret the rules of the game. These actions pose a growing challenge for key rules and norms of the post-war international order so painstakingly crafted by the United States and others. That order includes the United Nations system, the suite of international economic institutions, regional organizations from the European Union to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and the dense network of rules, norms, and values associated with that system.

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