Last month, in a column I wrote for The Week, I wondered whether President Trump’s “sloth and incompetence” might actually save America from catastrophic war by signaling clearly to our most important geopolitical rival — China — that they can easily get more by picking our pockets than by trying to mug us, while deluding the most nationalistic portion of the American public into thinking that all was well and America was becoming great again.
But as the administration’s collapse hastens, it seems likely that the illusion of dominance will be impossible to maintain. So my latest column in The Week is about what the Chinese themselves are up to.
Just this month, The New York Times published two major stories sounding the alarm, one about China’s burgeoning investments in Africa, the other about China’s massive investments in infrastructure in Southeast and Central Asia. As the Trump administration slips further into solipsistic delusion, starving its own diplomatic corps and boasting about trade dealsin which America got badly outmaneuvered, China’s potential moves on the global chessboard only multiply. Alarm would seem to be justified.
But what game is China actually playing? Is China constructing a 21st-century version of a colonial empire? If so, is that something America ought to be concerned about? And what should — what can — we do about it?
Read the whole thing to see how I answer the question in full. But I conclude:
Ultimately, whether China’s bets pay off spectacularly or only partially — or whether they are largely written off — the most important fact remains the quality and scale of the bets themselves, and the fact that China can readily afford them. That’s the important contest we’ve been losing.
If we invest in our own human and physical capital, we’ll be in a position to deploy that capital in ways that are mutually beneficial to ourselves and our trade and investment partners. If we neglect strength at home in favor of shows of dominance abroad, we’ll be playing right into China’s hands.
Unfortunately, with the generals increasingly in charge of foreign policy and both Congress and the administration essentially paralyzed, it seems all too likely that we’ll get precisely the opposite.