Shalom Wald is a serious student of China. He knows its history. As importantly, he knows how China’s history affects its self-image and its role in the world. He offers assessments of China in a clear-eyed and non-polemical fashion.
His JPPI paper, “China’s rise, US Opposition, and the Implications for Israel,” once again reflects his careful analytical approach. He offers not an apology but an explanation for why China, having suffered a century of humiliation by external powers in the 19th century, is focused on re-establishing its rightful role in the world – a role it believes its global economic weight entitles it to have.
Wald offers an unvarnished view of why America sees China through a prism of growing threats and observes that the US in the 20th century faced competitors but none like China. Whether it was the Germans or the Japanese or later the Soviet Union, America faced military challengers but never an economic one. China, even today, according to Wald may already have more purchasing power than the US.
That does not mean that China will necessarily outpace the US and dominate the emerging economic landscape. But the US will have to work at and heavily invest in Artificial Intelligence and quantum computing at a time when China is determined to steal a march on both. Wald offers a comparison between the relative strengths of America and China as they compete to see who is more likely to win the race in these cutting edge technologies.
While Wald’s comparison of the relative strengths of the two societies is presented analytically—even agnostically—I would point out that we have once again seen the limits of authoritarianism and its implications. The Chinese response to the coronavirus is a vivid reminder of the fear that constrains honest discussion or reporting or intellectual development in that vast country. Had its doctors not been afraid of reporting what might be a new epidemic, given the fear of punishment, the disease would surely have been far more easily contained and China’s image, not to mention its economy, would have suffered far less of a blow. I would argue that China’s authoritarianism makes it far less likely to win the competition with the US—and this year both with Hong Kong and the coronavirus, China has exposed its weaknesses for all to see.
That is not an argument for complacency, but for perspective. And, Wald offers important perspective on what he sees as quasi-US hysteria on China as a rising threat. He makes the case that the US and China need each other. His arguments are worth considering—and, of course, so is his discussion on the fall-out that Israel faces getting caught between these two giants. He argues effectively for why Israel must be able to maintain its economic and technological relationship with China. He bemoans a US approach that seems reflexive and not thoughtful even as he makes a series of recommendations for what Israel needs to do to work out understandings with the US on what is and is not permissible in Israel’s commercial, trading relationship with China. Here he notes there is a burden on Israel to work out with the United States a set of understandings across the range of economic and technological activities it pursues with China. Until now, Israel has not established the mechanisms that would act on that burden.
Wald’s analysis and his recommendations should be read and taken seriously by Israeli and American policy-makers.