The Economist declares ‘end of engagement’ between the U.S. and China


This week, the Economist has a cover story on U.S.-China relations (porous paywall), which declares that the era of “engagement” between the two countries is dead.

The piece starts by observing that the Trump administration has changed U.S. policy to compete with China and label it a rival in countless arenas, rather than the decades-long practice of “engaging” with it and trying to help it become a “responsible stakeholder” in the global system.

Though some form of engagement could be resurrected in the future, the Economist writes, “Like it or not, the new norms governing how the superpowers will treat each other are being established now. Once expectations have been set, changing them again will be hard.” The magazine says that the Trump administration is getting three things right here:

  • That America needs to be strong — keeping checks on Chinese power through increasing oversight on investments, prosecuting alleged economic espionage by Chinese spies, and increasing military spending along with foreign aid.
  • That expectations need to be reset for China because of the unique way that its economy and power structure work. (Many commentators, including the former World Bank Director for China, Yukon Huang, agree that new rules need to be drawn up to deal with China’s economy.)
  • That dispensing with conventional wisdom in Trump’s brash way was useful, since it has in some ways built the potential for a deal-making mood.

But for the emerging rivalry to be managed peacefully and responsibly, the Economist advises the Trump administration to do two things that have been exceptionally difficult for Trump, at least so far in his presidency:

  • Promote American values and the rules of the international order, rather than bashing them every chance he gets.
  • Bolster alliances, using them strategically rather than reducing them down to transactions.