US-China Watch

With the world in flux as never before, macroeconomic insight and analysis is always at risk of chasing a moving target. That is especially the case when it comes to the US-China conflict, driven by the oft unpredictable crosscurrents between the world’s two largest economies and their ambitious geostrategic aspirations. Through the combination of blogging and tracking the rapidly shifting news flow, the weekly updates below will attempt to keep you abreast of the latest developments on the US-China watch.

China’s Take on the SVB Crisis

Last week I hinted that the rapidly spreading SVB crisis — from Silicon Valley Bank to Signature and First Republic Banks, to Credit Suisse — could have important implications for the US China conflict. I am now back in Beijing for the first time in over three years, giving me a different perspective to ponder this worrisome possibility.

So, what does this latest financial crisis have to do with China and the escalating Sino-American conflict? For the past 20 years, a group within the senior ranks of the Chinese leadership has argued that America is in a state of permanent decline, providing an opening for China’s global ascendancy. This view gained support in the aftermath of the US-made Global Financial Crisis, and most assuredly will gain even more support as the SVB crisis hits a new segment of the US financial system.

A rising China could hardly ask for more. At a time when the Western financial system is once again suffering from self-inflicted impairment, the recent imagery of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping embracing each other in the Kremlin as “dear friends” pretty much says it all. China apparently views a cold war and the carnage in Ukraine as a small price to pay to strengthen its push for geostrategic hegemony.

There is an important footnote to China’s view of a declining America. While Mao alluded to it in broad terms — a US “paper tiger … in the throes of its deathbed of destruction” — this argument was first fully articulated by Wang Huning in his 1991 book, America Against America. Based on Wang’s first-hand observations while living in the US, the book was a scathing critique of America’s social, political, and economic decay.

Wang is hardly an innocent bystander to China’s new assertiveness. He was the chief ideological adviser to Xi Jinping’s two immediate predecessors, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao, and has played a similar role for Xi in the exposition of “Xi Jinping Thought” as China’s new ideological anchor. And Wang, one of only two holdovers who remained on the top seven-man leadership team (the Standing Committee of the Politburo), has also just been named Chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. The demise of SVB only cements Wang’s stature.

In the end, it pays to ponder Chinese etymology. The Mandarin word for crisis, wéijī (危机), has the dual meaning of danger and opportunity. From SVB to Wang Huning, that’s precisely the point of the increasingly worrisome interplay between another US-made financial shock and a sharply escalating Sino-American cold war.  A rising China is taking dead aim at crisis-prone America.

You can follow me on Twitter @SRoach_econ

Canary in the Coal Mine?

Simmering tensions are a necessary but not sufficient condition for conflict. I have stressed in Accidental Conflict that it will take a spark to ignite the high-octane fuel of US-China conflict escalation. Over the past few months, I have written about several...

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Several high-profile opinion writers have recently taken issue with Washington’s increasingly adversarial stance toward China.  It’s about time. As I noted a couple of weeks ago, the accelerating escalation of a long simmering Sino-American conflict is especially...

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The Drumbeat of War

Anti-China sentiment in the United States is now at the danger point. The rapid progression of conflict escalation over the past five years — a trade war quickly followed by a tech war that has now morphed into a new cold war — is now hinting of something far worse. ...

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Accelerating Conflict Escalation

What are we to make of the sharp increase in the pace of conflict escalation between the United States and China? In the past five years, the two nations have gone from a trade war, to a tech war, to the early skirmishes of a new cold war.  That has been a rapid pace...

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Cold War Lessons

In thinking and writing about a new cold war between the US and China, I have long been struck by the inclination of many serious observers to remain in denial over the possibility of such an occurrence. President Joe Biden, in a press conference after his November 14...

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Xi’s Ideological Conflict

Xi Jinping threw down the ideological gauntlet in a major speech on February 7 to senior Party leaders. The essence of his remarks focused on the ideological underpinnings of modernization. The extraordinary success of modernization with Chinese characteristics, he...

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Cold War 2.0 – Special Update

Unexpected events have an uncanny knack of creeping into long-term stories.  Such is the case with the sudden cancellation of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s long planned and eagerly awaited trip to Beijing during February 5-6. My new book, Accidental Conflict,...

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False Narratives and Conflict

The false narrative is central to my saga of escalating conflict between the United States and China. My new book, Accidental Conflict: America, China, and the Clash of False Narratives, argues that both nations are prone to project into the future unrealistic threats...

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The Ebb and Flow of Conflict

Conflict progression — either escalation or resolution — does not occur in a straight line. The US-China conflict is an important case in point. In the past five years, the Sino-American relationship has taken a decided turn for the worse.  A trade war was soon...

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A Difference of Opinions

With the benefit of hindsight, some key lessons from my trip to Hong Kong last week are slowly coming into focus. First, it was great to be back in Asia.  A three-year Covid-induced travel embargo was starting to become intolerable. Zoom is great for makeshift...

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