China’s rise and the luck factor

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China’s rise and the luck factor

The author is the head of the China Institute of the JoongAng Ilbo.

As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine started while the U.S. was focusing on pressuring China, China unexpectedly got some room to breathe. In fact, when it comes to the U.S.-China relations, history seems to be siding with China in the 2000s.

U.S. President George W. Bush, who was inaugurated in January 2001, was not friendly to China. During the campaign, he said that if a war broke out in the Taiwan Strait, he would help Taiwan defend itself. After a U.S. reconnaissance plane and a Chinese fighter clashed on April 1 that year, U.S.-China relations were frozen. But it didn’t last long, following the Sept. 11 attacks. America had to put all its energy toward the war on terrorism. China participated in the war against terrorism, joined the World Trade Organization (WTO), and became the second largest economy in the world after it joined the WTO.

After an election victory in 2008, the Obama administration chose the rebalance of the Asia-Pacific region to help curb China’s rise. The U.S. attempted to alienate China from the rest of the world with the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a strategy to encircle China. But when Donald Trump took power and declared he would leave the TPP, the plan was scrapped. Trump also waged a trade war with China, but his China-bashing lost steam due to reluctance from allies such as Europe, South Korea and Japan to help contain China. Since his inauguration last year, President Joe Biden has been putting full-scale pressure on China by restoring alliances by focusing on universal values such as human rights and democracy.

Dark clouds were gathering as China’s isolation intensified. Then, Russian President Vladimir Putin appeared like a savior for China. After Russia invaded Ukraine, Russia — not China — became the main target of the U.S. and the Western world. Whether Russia wins the war or not, the Russian economy is expected to suffer great chaos for at least one or two decades due to its confrontation with America and the West. The U.S. cannot afford to go all-in on beating China anymore. That’s why China is considered to have earned time, at least five to ten years from now.

The situation is not bad for China. As Russia is under international sanctions, its oil and gas can only go to China, probably at a cheap price. Chinese online media Duowei News says that among many reasons for China’s rise, the most important is “luck.” The “national fortune” played a great role whenever China was faced with a crisis, it says. We need to watch longer whether it is true, as we are only 20 years into the 21st century and China’s ascent is still in progress.

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