Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts Bannon Says the U.S. Is at ‘Economic War with China.’ Is He Right?

Bannon Says the U.S. Is at ‘Economic War with China.’ Is He Right?

China File

Most Americans will reflexively answer this question in the negative. The contemporary Western view is that economic interactions are positive sum—a rising tide lifts all boats. Economics is the province of profit-seeking by utility-maximizing rational actors who conduct their business within a framework of laws and respect for property rights, which in turn guarantees stability and a flow of transactions, the outcome of which is conducive to the general good. War, by contrast, is a domain of fear, violence, and coercion. Americans thus tend to see “economic war” as practically a contradiction in terms. But Mr. Bannon’s framing shows his familiarity with the language of Chinese Communist Party decision makers, hence his question about who will be the “hegemon” (霸) in 25-30 years. Chinese strategists call the United States the hegemon. When Xi Jinping refers to the “Chinese Dream,” or the “Great Rejuvenation of the Chinese People,” and invokes the ancient slogan “Rich State, Strong Military” (富国强兵), he is not speaking the language of 21st-century cosmopolitan globalism. He is summoning the lessons of the Warring States period from a formative moment of Chinese history. The Warring States period featured competition and warfare among a handful of states that had commercial and popular links with one another, but which were locked in a zero-sum struggle waged through various forms of diplomacy and also through violence. In other words, this was a time when might—and guile—made right. Ultimately, the winner claimed hegemony, and the losers were subjugated.

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