US China strategy paper Longer Telegram stirs little debate in Beijing


Flags of U.S. and China are displayed at American International Chamber of Commerce (AICC)’s booth during China International Fair for Trade in Services in Beijing, China, May 28, 2019.

Jason Lee | Reuters

BEIJING — A recent U.S. strategy paper on China that’s widely read in Washington, D.C., has drawn only a passing response in Beijing where limited public discussion has focused on one point: The author got China wrong.

“The Longer Telegram” released in late January proposed how the new U.S. administration should deal with a rising China by laying out a detailed critique of the Communist Party government under President Xi Jinping.

An effective U.S. approach on China requires the “same disciplined approach it applied to the defeat of the Soviet Union,” the paper said. “US strategy must remain laser focused on Xi, his inner circle, and the Chinese political context in which they rule.”

The anonymous author is a “former senior U.S. government official,” according to the D.C.-based think tank Atlantic Council that published the lengthy paper.

The piece attempts to echo a historic document that shaped Washington’s policy on the Soviet Union — named the “The Long Telegram,” it was sent from Moscow in February 1946 at the dawn of the Cold War.

So far in Beijing, major state media have not discussed the paper much, except for the vociferous state-backed tabloid Global Times, and even then, almost entirely in English. “‘Longer Telegram’ a late-stage hegemonic farce,” read the title of one op-ed.

On the official news website of China’s People’s Liberation Army, an article in Chinese portrayed the strategy piece as holding an outdated mentality, and contrasted its view of the country with a recent state media report about a Chinese woman’s ability to rise from poverty.

US strategy must remain laser focused on Xi, his inner circle, and the Chinese political context in which they rule


The Longer Telegram

China’s foreign ministry — in response to a question from a Global Times reporter — criticized “The Longer Telegram” for its call to contain China.

The ministry said, according to an official translation, that such comments against the ruling Communist Party were “a collection of rumors and conspiracy theories” and attempts to drive U.S.-China relations toward conflict would result in “total failure.”

The sparse state-level comments come as tensions brew between the U.S. and China, the world’s two largest economies and run by vastly different government systems.

“The Longer Telegram” generated much controversy in the U.S. foreign policy world, with critics saying the paper mischaracterizes China and puts too much emphasis on the role of Xi. But many agree with the paper’s call for a more thought-out U.S. policy on China.

That growing cohesion around a tougher U.S. stance on China is a source of concern in Beijing.

“The Longer Telegram” doesn’t represent China’s reality and isn’t a good starting point for dialogue, said Shen Yamei, deputy director and associate research fellow at state-backed think tank China Institute of International Studies’ U.S. department.

According to Shen, the mistake the paper makes is that it isn’t applicable in this situation, since China didn’t say it wanted to replace the U.S. She added that it’s the U.S. that cares about whether it will lose its central position in the world.

Critics say China’s state-dominated system benefited from being allowed to join the World Trade Organization in 2001 without rapidly incorporating the sort of free-market and rules-based system that countries like the U.S. have advocated.

A history of the long telegram

The online response

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