Analysis & Opinions - NPR

3 reasons why China may become more assertive — and what that means for the U.S.

| Oct. 19, 2022

Excerpt from NPR article with comments from Chris Li

Xi Jinping is expected to break longstanding tradition in the coming days and secure a third term as China's president, putting the country on a new course that could increase tensions with the U.S.

Two key issues China and the U.S. are likely to clash over in the coming years are Taiwan and technology, according to Chris Li, the director of research at the Asia-Pacific Initiative at Harvard University's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.

China's strategy toward Taiwan has not fundamentally changed, Li said, but "there's a perception that Beijing is more focused on no longer just deterring independence ... but rather, compelling reunification."

But that perception — and the resulting actions from the U.S., such as high-level congressional visits from the likes of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — has led to something of a catch-22 situation, Li said.

"You get this tit-for-tat retaliation where there's not a lot of trust ... and sort of a back and forth where the U.S. views its actions as responsive to China's actions, [and] China views its actions as a response to the U.S.'s actions," Li said.

Meanwhile, the tech industry has become a larger priority for China, especially as the country moves toward the "great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation" by the centennial of the People's Republic of China in 2049, in which Xi aims to make China a modern socialist country.

As this has become more of a focus, China has worked to bolster its domestic research and innovation capacity, Li said, and that has then caused those in the U.S. to talk about decoupling from China when it comes to the technology and the supply chains that support it.

With this response from Washington, and China's desire to increase its self-reliance, it's likely that "this sort of strategic competition between technological capabilities, between supply chains, that's going to accelerate," Li said.

While these are two specific issues, there's a larger one that plays into the overall relationship: the asymmetrical views both countries have of the relationship. The U.S. tries to approach things issue by issue, Li said, while China often sees everything as connected, with action needed on certain issues before talking about others.

That's led to what Li said is essentially an impasse. But that doesn't mean progress can't happen, only that achieving it will test both countries in the years to come.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation:3 reasons why China may become more assertive — and what that means for the U.S..” NPR, October 19, 2022.