The flags of the United States and China are displayed on the American International Chamber of Commerce (AICC) booth during the China International Services Trade Fair in Beijing, China, May 28, 2019.
Jason Lee | Reuters
BEIJING – A recent US China Strategy Paper, widely read in Washington, DC, elicited only a fleeting response in Beijing where limited public debate focused on one point: the author was wrong on China.
“The Longer Telegram,” published in late January, proposed how the new US administration should deal with the rise of China by presenting a detailed critique of the Communist Party government under President Xi Jinping.
An effective US approach to China requires “the same disciplined approach it applied to the defeat of the Soviet Union,” according to the newspaper. “US strategy must remain focused on Xi, his inner circle and the Chinese political context in which they rule.”
The anonymous author is a “former senior US government official,” according to the Washington-based think tank Atlantic Council that published the long article.
The play attempts to echo a historic document that shaped Washington’s policy on the Soviet Union – called the “Long Telegram,” it was sent from Moscow in February 1946 on the dawn of the Cold War.
So far in Beijing, the main state media have not discussed the document much, except for the loud state-backed tabloid Global Times, and even then, almost entirely in English. “‘Longer Telegram’, an advanced stage hegemonic farce,” read the headline of an editorial.
On the official China People’s Liberation Army news site, an article in Chinese described the strategy as having an outdated mindset and pitted its view of the country against a recent state media report on the ability to a Chinese woman lifted out of poverty.
China’s Foreign Ministry – in response to a question from a Global Times reporter – criticized “The Longer Telegram” for its call to contain China.
The ministry said, according to an official translation, that such comments against the ruling Communist Party were “a collection of rumors and conspiracy theories” and that attempts to drive US-China relations into conflict would result in a ” total failure “.
The sparse state-level comments come as tensions rise between the United States and China, the world’s two largest economies and run by very different government systems.
“The Longer Telegram” has sparked much controversy in the US foreign policy world, with critics claiming the newspaper distorts China and puts too much emphasis on Xi’s role. But many agree with the paper’s call for more thoughtful US policy on China.
This growing cohesion around a stronger American stance on China is a source of concern in Beijing.
“The Longer Telegram” does not represent Chinese reality and is not a good starting point for dialogue, said Shen Yamei, deputy director and associate researcher in the US department of the think tank China Institute of International Studies.
According to Shen, the newspaper’s mistake is that it is not applicable in this situation, since China has not said it wants to replace the United States. She added that it is the United States. United who care whether they will lose their central position in the world.
Critics say that China’s state-dominated system was granted permission to join the World Trade Organization in 2001 without quickly embracing the kind of free-market, rules-based system that countries like the United States advocated.
A story of the long telegram
To counter these developments, “The Longer Telegram” said the United States should establish clear red lines and national security points for Beijing which, if crossed, would induce a firm American response.
Some of those red lines include a Chinese military attack or an economic blockade on Taiwan, according to the report, which also says the United States should more firmly repel any Chinese threats to America’s global communications systems.
The author of the original “Long Telegram” in 1946 was US diplomat George Kennan, who responded from Moscow to a US State Department question on Soviet foreign policy. Kennan published a related article the following year in Foreign Affairs magazine under the pseudonym “X” and in 1952 began a brief term as United States Ambassador to Moscow.
In his article, Kennan argued that the Russians were determined to expand the Soviet system around the world and to oppose coexistence with the West. He believed that instead of appeasement, the United States should use pressure to achieve cooperation with the Soviet government, and potentially even its internal collapse.
For more than 70 years – including the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991 – the United States has ruled a so-called liberal world order in which international institutions set the rules for a world system.
That has started to change over the past decade or so, with China’s growing economic and technological clout, alongside former US President Donald Trump’s isolated approach to foreign policy.
The online response
It is not yet clear what action President Joe Biden will take, but he is sticking to a firm stance on China, albeit with a calmer tone than the previous administration.
“The challenges with Russia may be different from those with China, but they’re just as real,” Biden told European allies in a speech last week.
Biden made his first phone call as president with Xi earlier this month. The US president and the first lady also posted a video of greetings for the Lunar New Year, which was shared widely on Chinese social media.
The scattered online comments on “The Longer Telegram” remained dismissive.
In an approximately 30-minute video from Feb. 5 that has more than 900,000 views, University professor Fudan Shen Yi dismissed the newspaper’s attempt to duplicate Kennan’s efforts as a joke.
A Feb. 7 online article by Qiao Xinsheng, professor at Zhongnan Law and Economics University, said in an online article that the strategy paper fails to accurately analyze the country’s own difficulties. Soviet Union and that the United States should not expect China to “disintegrate”.
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