China Is Becoming More Like the U.S.

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China should not be considered the United States' number one adversary – unlike, say, the former Soviet Union, which was an enemy of the United States. The Cold War antagonism was based on geopolitical differences as well deep and irreconcilable ideological ones. China's relationship to the United States today is very different.

To be sure, China remains officially a socialist state, but in practice its economic system is a capitalist one and it is integrated deeply into the global trading system. Admittedly, the state continues to play a major role in the Chinese economy, but state-led capitalism is hardly unique to China and the state is an important actor in many European economies as well.

[See a collection of political cartoons on Chinese hacking.]

There is no doubt that China is building up its military strength. Its neighbors certainly have a great deal of reason to worry about that, and China may well be their number one adversary. This military build-up implies a corresponding reduction in U.S. influence in East Asia, yet that fact alone hardly makes China a major adversary of the United States.

In many ways, China's rise is returning it to the position that it has occupied historically in the region. For those concerned about China's imperial past, it is notable that even at its height China never sought to colonize far away lands, contenting itself to dominating its own peripheries. For now at least, China has too many problems at home and near its borders to seek to dominate the world. What it desires is first and foremost a global role proportionate to its size and importance — which we can hardly begrudge.

Perhaps most importantly, much of what China is doing is simply emulating the United States. Just as it has liberalized its economy, it has built a legal infrastructure to support market relations and foreign economic investment, both before and after its accession to the World Trade Organization. The chief model for these Chinese legal reforms has been the U.S. legal system.

Ironically, China's rise is in many ways a result of its becoming more like the United States. This does not make China America's adversary, but an important new competitor in a global order designed largely by the United States. Those who for decades deplored China's political and economic isolation have gotten precisely what they wished for.

Teemu Ruskola

About Teemu Ruskola Professor of law at Emory University

Tags
China
national security
foreign policy
diplomacy
economy

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