Book Review: ‘The America-China Divide’

There have been many books written about Sino-U.S. relations since Kissinger’s breakthrough with Beijing in 1972, but very few since the bilateral trade war broke out in 2018. Daniel Wagner’s The America-China Divide is a welcome addition to the literature. In this book, Wagner produces a comprehensive overview of the multifaceted issues associated with the fissure between Beijing and Washington.

His contention is that the trade war, which lay at the heart of the conflict, does not simply have an economic and political dimension, but is evidence of a broadly-based clash that has ideological, military, technological, and environmental dimensions. The book’s subtitle is “The Race to Control the World” because, at stake is, ultimately, which nation has the greater amount of influence in the global corridors of power, more ability to sell products and have sway over national economies, reign supreme in the AI, cyber, and military arenas, and become the dominant power in this decade and well into this century.

Wagner does not believe that the discord between a rising Beijing and a Washington threatened with being dethroned from its pedestal as the de facto global leader in many arenas will result in a Thucydides Trap, wherein military conflict is inevitable between the two. Both sides recognize that the cost of such a conflict would be prohibitive for them and the world. Rather, he sees the relationship as being in a now permanent state of “coopetition,” where China and the U.S. will cooperate where they can but will otherwise compete on every level.

He takes a clear-eyed approach to the subject and readily admits his own bias in favor of the U.S., but he dishes out praise and criticism for both Washington and Beijing throughout the book, not seeing this as simply a black and white issue, but rather, multiple shades of grey. Both nations have the means of prolonging this coopetition indefinitely, and are and will remain, the only two nations capable of engaging in such a dialectic.

The book is extremely timely, given the conclusion of Phase One of what promises to be a multi-phased agreement on bilateral trade that will extend well into the current decade and perhaps beyond. Wagner offers significant insights into this most important relationship which is sure to add value to even the most seasoned China analyst. The America-China Divide is highly recommended and it should be widely read in the global corridors of power.