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China’s International Malpractice: Is protectionism the best response?

By Joshua Brady L6

One can say, without a doubt, that China is one of the most powerful nations in the modern world. Their GDP is the second largest on the planet, it grows 4 times faster than the GDP of the USA. According to the Global Firepower Index they have the third most powerful military, the second being Russia, a key ally of China. And as it has been demonstrated throughout the past decade, China primarily seeks to use this power to achieve a hegemony that rivals, perhaps even supersedes, that of the United States.

This Chinese goal of hegemony is evident everywhere, from the formation of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, which has rejected western influence and liberal democracy throughout its Eurasian member states, to the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, an organisation founded and headed by China which is actively increasing Chinese hegemony through encouraging developing countries to rely on Chinese economic institutions for development instead of American ones. There are countless examples, from Chinese strategic economic involvement in Africa and cyberattacks to the theft of American intellectual property as a cost for doing business in China, which is forbidden by the WTO.

Of course, this nationalism is not exclusive to China. America does many similar things to China to maintain its dominance. Based on our previous situation and the general nature of nations, I feel it would be safe to assume that Britain, given the same opportunities for power as China today, would pursue similar goals of hegemony also. However, despite the assumption that we would behave similarly to China, this doesn’t mean that China’s actions don’t pose a threat to America, and the wider western world. As with all threats, it is advisable that it should be dealt with, and most politicians tend to be in agreement with this. The issue arrives at HOW it should be dealt with.

Currently, President Trump of the United States is pursuing an aggressive policy to deal with China. On 24th September the planned tariffs on China, worth $200 billion, came into effect. These tariffs are largely composed of import duties on Chinese products, and are worth so much because of the large trade deficit between the USA and China, with China exporting much more than it imports. The tariffs seem poised to be an effective method of dealing with the ‘China problem’, although it can’t be known quite yet.

However, just because the tariffs may achieve the aim of forcing China into compliance with WTO rules, it doesn’t mean it’s the best possible solution. The tariffs will doubtless have global knock on effects, as China will have to sell its products elsewhere, which potentially could mean China flooding European markets with the products formerly sold to the USA, which would damage domestic companies very greatly.

So how else could China be dealt with? Many have suggested that the USA make the first move towards total cooperation between the two countries to ensure world peace and equilibrium. Some have called this the ‘G2’ concept, which visualises a world effectively run by the two powers, who have considerably closer diplomatic, economic and military ties. However, this would require China’s consent too, which grows more unlikely by the day.

Others think that China is bound to take first place on the geopolitical podium eventually, due to their consistently high growth and the west’s consistently low/declining growth.  People such as Philip Lipscy maintain that the entire situation could be calmed by acceptance of China’s ‘peaceful global leadership’, as opposed to ‘coercive’ attempts at leadership that could arise from aggressive policies towards China.

Whatever your opinion is on the ‘China problem’, or how to deal with the ‘China problem’, or whether China is even a ‘problem’ in the first place, it should be known that geopolitical tension is rising between China and America, and the wider east and west. Both sides must decide on the best course of action to take, whether it is taken together or otherwise. In democracies such as ours, our own opinions on these matters will shape foreign policy, and history itself by extension. Thus it is vital that we form informed and rational opinions on such matters, so that our nation’s response to dangers, whether it be China or otherwise, is just as informed and rational too.

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