US policy at risk: New 'China hands' may fuel extreme stance with narrow perspective
Published: Jul 27, 2023 05:11 PM
Illustration:Chen Xia/GT

Illustration:Chen Xia/GT

According to a recent report from the US magazine Foreign Policy, the number of Chinese scientists leaving the US has steadily increased over the past decade.  "We're losing a generation of people who are knowledgeable about China," the magazine quoted Daniel Murphy, the former director of the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies at Harvard University. He warned that this could severely hinder Washington's understanding and perception of China in the future.

The main reasons for the significant drain of "China hands" intellectuals in the US are threefold. First and foremost, the US is experiencing a wave of neo-McCarthyism, where anyone or anything associated with China is treated with an extremely hostile attitude. Second, extreme racial discrimination is prevalent within the US, and its inherent racism is often targeted toward Chinese individuals.

Third, there is a "securitization" of cultural and academic exchanges and research between China and the US. Normal people-to-people exchanges are portrayed by the US government as potential security risks, resulting in a pervasive lack of security among Chinese scholars. The "China Initiative," initiated by former president Donald Trump to prosecute perceived Chinese spies in American research and industry, was implemented for over three years from 2018, and had particularly serious and negative consequences within the Chinese community in the US. Many Chinese individuals have been inexplicably subjected to suspicion, lawsuits and detentions. The China Initiative was canceled by President Joe Biden. But it's found that the initiative has had lingering effects.

These factors have collectively led to the departure of many intellectuals from the US, particularly in the fields of humanities and sciences, as they seek regions where they can comfortably pursue their careers. 

Recently, Henry Kissinger, China's "old friend" and former US secretary of state, visited China and received a warm reception from the Chinese side. These old-generation China hands often form comprehensive judgments about China through the study of its history, language, culture, diplomacy and customs. Their approach allows them to empathize with China and engage in perspective-taking, resulting in a certain level of objectivity and positivity when looking at China.

In contrast, instead of having a fundamental understanding of China's history and culture, some present-day China experts often rely on abstract, theoretical, and preconceived assumptions about China. In addition, the new generation of the so-called China hands has greatly affected by an atmosphere of strategic competition between the US and China, leading to a rigid and one-sided view of China permeated with notions of competition and confrontation. Furthermore, many self-proclaimed China experts may not necessarily possess expertise in studying China. Since US policy clearly focuses on China, numerous individuals seeking political prominence direct their attention toward China, inevitably leading to politically biased views of China in the US policymaking circle. In the current political environment in the US, the real China hands either choose to remain silent or adapt to prevailing sentiments. On the contrary, opportunistic individuals who cater to the prevalent anti-China atmosphere are highly active, making it challenging for healthy, profound and pragmatic policy suggestions to be heard and for policy improvements to find adequate space.

Furthermore, due to the significant influence of public opinion on US political decisions, the gradual decline of rational voices will lead to increasingly extreme and sensational analyses in US media when it comes to China-related reporting. This toxic cycle formed by the US political establishment, media, and public opinion regarding China issues will further deteriorate the political atmosphere concerning China in the US. This, in turn, will result in more chaotic policies, making it increasingly difficult to maintain stability in China-US relations.

Under this vicious cycle, there is no doubt that US policy toward China will develop in an increasingly extreme direction. However, China-US relations are not determined solely by the US; they are not just a bilateral matter but a global one. China hopes for mutual respect, peaceful coexistence, and win-win cooperation with the US, and the international community also desires that China-US relations avoid conflict and achieve stability.

Considering this shared aspiration from China and the international community, along with the increasing power and influence they possess, the process of the US undermining China-US relations will undoubtedly face resistance not only from China but also from US allies and other countries worldwide. Consequently, the development of China-US relations doesn't necessarily have to follow a downward and uncontrollable spiral. 

The future of China-US relations depends on two factors. First, whether China's ability and wisdom in leading the relationship will strengthen, and second, whether the international community can impose stronger constraints and limitations on the US' fervent, extreme, irrational and destructive policies toward China. The faster China's strength grows and the more robust constraints the international community imposes on the US, the more hopeful the prospects of China-US relations will be.

The author is a professor at the Institute of International Relations at the China Foreign Affairs University. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn