Because of its size, rate of change, unanticipated success and political coloration, China has become the poster child for those aspects of globalization that threaten the United States. For his part, President Bush has a balanced view and is seeking to keep relations on an even keel. In his May 31 press conference, he noted that “the relationship with China is a very complex relationship, and Americans ought to view it as such.” But increasingly, as seen in the reaction to the attempted takeover of Unocal by the Chinese National Offshore Oil Corporation, more Americans are beginning to view China in ominous terms. We have witnessed a marked paradigm shift in thinking about China in the last few years, one that threatens to substitute one flawed framework (a “weak China”) with another (a “China on steroids”). An April public opinion poll conducted by the Canada Institute of the Woodrow Wilson International Center found that 31 percent of Americans polled agreed with the statement, “China will soon dominate the world.”
These perceptions, often exaggerated, have led many Americans, some members of Congress and the top echelons of the Defense Department–all ignorant of the severe problems China faces–in the directions of economic defensiveness and external stridency.