Does the US Have ‘Trump Cards’ Over China?


Although the war bugle has yet to be sounded, the increasingly confrontational tensions between China and the U.S. over a series of regional issues seem to indicate that both sides are trying to test the other’s red lines. Each side hopes to be able to lay significant strategic weights or threats on the other side without being actually dragged into a war. In a recent meeting, Vice Chairman of China’s Central Military Commission Fan Changlong directly expressed his disapproval of U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s remarks in Tokyo on the East China Sea dispute. “The Chinese people, including myself, are dissatisfied with such remarks,” Fan said. Such open and face-to-face criticism is not common in the history of China-U.S. relations.

In recognition of increased tensions, a recent article on Financial Times’ Chinese language site describes a “storm approaching” in current China-U.S. relations, indicating that the probability of a violent conflict between these two countries has been significantly increasing. This article also emphasizes that the U.S. has two trump cards to play: “First, [the U.S. could] utilize the fact that Chinese society is going through a grand transition that has brought about frequent incidents of social unrest and intensified confrontation between the public and the ruling party. [The U.S. could] seek a color revolution using the weapon of democracy. Secondly, [the U.S. could] obstruct China’s economic transformation by using its supremacy in global trade rule-making processes.”

However, analysis of these two so-called trump cards may in fact suggest that these are two weaknesses for the U.S. as it tries to balance the rapidly emerging China. At the least, it’s hard to prove that the U.S. has distinct advantages on these two matters.

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