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'Containment policy' on China seen against US interests

By LIA ZHU in San Francisco | China Daily Global | Updated: 2023-03-20 09:57

The US containment approach to China isn't realistic and is not in US interests, said a China expert, who also said the government must return to diplomacy to address bilateral tensions.

"I don't think at this point that was a very good strategy and a positive one for the United States and paid big dividends," Susan Thornton, former US diplomat and senior fellow at Yale Law School's Paul Tsai China Center, said at a recent webinar.

Under the so-called containment policy toward China, the US has marked out China as an adversary and tried to isolate and contain China, Thornton said, so there isn't going to be a lot of room for bilateral discussion or cooperation between the two countries.

Thinking among US political elites that China can be systemically weakened isn't realistic and isn't in US interests either, she said.

Thornton said it is critically important to normalize regular official meetings between the US and China, because without it, there would be "a very dangerous escalatory security dilemma that will lead to conflict".

"In the absence of constructive official discussions, I think it's really important that we try to keep up other connections. This is the most populous country in the world, the second-largest economy; it's not going anywhere," she said.

"We need to figure out how we're going to coexist with China. We're not going to defeat them. We're not going to overturn their government. We're not going to invade them."

She suggested keeping people-to-people and business connections going and trying to find some areas in multilateral talks where the two countries can work together.

A huge problem in US-China relations is the issue of Taiwan, said Thornton, but unfortunately, people in the US don't understand how provocative and how threatening what the US is doing with respect to Taiwan is seen in China.

"We have to take their (other countries) concerns seriously or we may end up in a situation that we really didn't design and didn't want to be in," she said.

"In the last five years, the careful management of this issue has been dropped, and we have been using it as a kind of a cudgel in the US-China relationship, which has deteriorated, and I think this is extremely dangerous for Taiwan especially, but also for the United States and China and the rest of the world," she said.

As with cooperation, Thornton said there still are a lot of areas where the US can cooperate with China in multilateral forums. She mentioned the example of the recent negotiation over a UN treaty on the high seas, where US and Chinese delegates both worked together to get the agreement across the finish line.

In addressing climate change and other challenges, the two countries are expected to work together toward making progress in their parallel tracks, she added.

"There's the obvious area of commercial cooperation and trade. Last year, US-China trade hit a new record high, so in spite of all of the sanctions and recriminations, we still manage to keep commercial relations going," said Thornton.

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