The Platform

Chinese President Xi Jinping. (Anderson Riedel)

A steadier approach toward China will help ensure the dominant position of the United States. However, this could take multiple decades, something the United States is not particularly good at.

China’s power is concentrated in one man, Xi Jinping, who will rule for the foreseeable future. The lack of a clear succession plan will eventually create a power vacuum should Xi ever step down. Although the Chinese Communist Party can use its power to advance its interests efficiently, its need for complete control will undermine the trajectory of China.

Xi is cautious

Xi Jinping is not the aggressive leader some portray him as. Xi will not do anything that could cause him to lose his job. For example, it is unlikely that China will invade Taiwan because the price would be too high. If he were expansionist, he would have invaded Taiwan and retaliated against the United States for banning Huawei. Xi could make Apple suffer at a considerable cost to both countries, but he hasn’t done so.

When Mao Zedong was in power, China was much weaker than it is today, yet Mao’s ambitions were enormous. Mao, with much fewer resources, decided to intervene in Korea and Vietnam. Many are under the impression that all Chinese leaders hold the same expansionist goals as Mao, but this isn’t the reality of a modern China.

The differences between Mao and Xi come from their vastly contrasting backgrounds. Xi, the son of a high-ranking government official, governs over a vastly different China. Born in impoverished China, Mao experienced severe hardships, which impacted how he governed. If Mao was like a lion, Xi is like a gazelle, avoiding trouble and playing it safe.

Mao was aggressive and militaristic. He was willing to go to war to achieve his goals. However, Mao never invaded Taiwan despite conventional wisdom dictating that he should have given his foreign and domestic policy goals.

In the decades of Mao’s rule, he did not invade any territories occupied by Taiwan. Every Chinese leader had an opportunity to claim the Kinmen Islands. They are 5 kilometers from mainland China, yet they still belong to Taiwan. China’s only action was to shell the uninhabited parts of the island and scare the inhabitants up until 1979 when the United States and China established diplomatic relations. Since Mao did not invade Taiwan, Xi will very likely follow suit. Consistency is a trait valued by the Chinese Communist Party.

Containment is futile

An aggressive U.S. policy toward China could force it to act against America economically. China has leverage over the United States. If China stopped buying Treasury bonds, the United States would find it much harder to borrow money. Despite the economic problems this would cause China, the reduced attractiveness of Treasury bonds could force the U.S. government to slash spending, thus weakening its global position.

Trying to cripple China’s economy by excluding it from certain industries could backfire on the United States. For example, when the United States refused to share space technologies with China just a few decades ago, America thought it would permanently keep China out of space. Although it slowed China down by a few years, today, China can do nearly as much as the United States can in space.

Stay the course

Since China’s current system may put a ceiling on its GDP per capita, it is more likely to stay as a producer-based economy. China’s primary source of wealth is exporting goods to other countries, a source that only lasts as long as others are willing to buy. In addition, many of the jobs in China are in the manufacturing sector, which pays comparatively little to the average wage in the United States. The limited consumption and purchasing power of the people in China are directly related to China’s limited GDP per capita, putting a constraint on the government. The growth rate of China’s total wealth relies on how many other countries (notably the United States) will buy from them.

If the United States truly believes that democracy is superior to communism, it should not interfere with China’s current system. Trying to change the system of a competitor is illogical. This isn’t to suggest that the United States shouldn’t lobby for improvements to the country’s human rights record, but the United States should pick fights it can win.

As was shown during the Trump presidency, an overly aggressive China policy isn’t necessarily a fight the United States can win. America needs China and Xi Jinping knows this.

An improved study of Xi’s personality will help understand what the future of China could be under his rule and beyond. The economic sabotage that the United States imposes on China has been ineffective at best and self-harming at worst. The glaring problems that China tries to hide are only making them worse. What happens in China is for the Chinese leader to decide, just as it has been for thousands of years. Despite the inability to change the ‘fate’ of China, America can and should study both China and Xi more thoroughly and prepare accordingly. Not to fight him, but to do more business with him, so that the United States will come out as the winner.

Kevin Feng is student at Williamsville North High School. He is keenly interested in political science and history.