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The Hale Podcast with John J Mearsheimer -Episode 22

The Hale Podcast with John J Mearsheimer -Episode 22

A Realpolitik View of US-China Relations

Dear Readers,

On November 23rd, I had the pleasure of speaking with John Mearsheimer, the esteemed political theorist of great power rivalries at the University of Chicago, to discuss his recent article in Foreign Affairs for the Hale Report. I have spent some time thinking about what he said, in particular his use of the word tragedy to describe the geopolitics of where we find ourselves today. If you are concerned about the US-China relationship, Mearsheimer’s works are required reading for understanding the arc of engagement between the two countries over the past fifty years. Some key points:

  • There is no example of a great power assisting the growth of its own competitor, as the US has engaged with China in anticipation of its adherence to the liberal world order

  • The original reason Nixon went to China was to block its then rival, the Soviet Union. After the demise of the USSR thirty years ago this December 26th, no policy adjustment was made and the US continued promoting China globally within institutions such as the WTO while intensifying economic ties.

  • We did not anticipate China’s rise, although if I may I would like to offer China Takes Off written in 2003, also in Foreign Affairs, as one of several possible exceptions.

  • Regional allies such as Japan and Australia also subscribed to the view that increased trade and common commercial interests would result in shared values—until quite recently

  • China’s rise is more likely to be slowed by internal conflict and economic weakness than by its competition with the United States or US actions

  • The ultimate deterrent to conflict is the fact that both the US and China are nuclear powers, and exercising this option by either side would have unimaginable catastrophic effects on both.

We also spoke about Taiwan, Iran, Afghanistan, and the current situation in Ukraine. Hopefully, I asked some of the the questions you would have liked to pose. Please feel free to leave comments and questions which are open to both paid and free subscribers for this episode.

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You’ll find a selection of Mearsheimer’s work below. A more complete version including a list of his six books is available on his website I have also added related views including Elizabeth Economy’s piece in Foreign Affairs, just out.

John Mearsheimer: Selected Writings & Media Appearances

November/December 2021 / Foreign Affairs

The Inevitable Rivalry: America, China, and the Tragedy of Great-Power Politics

Beguiled by misguided theories about liberalism’s inevitable triumph and the obsolescence of great-power conflict, both Democratic and Republican administrations pursued a policy of engagement, which sought to help China grow richer. Washington promoted investment in China and welcomed the country into the global trading system, thinking it would become a peace-loving democracy and a responsible stakeholder in a US-led international order. Of course, this fantasy never materialized.

April 1, 2019/International Security

Bound to Fail: The Rise and Fall of the International World Order

The liberal international order, erected after the Cold War, was crumbling by 2019. It was flawed from the start and thus destined to fail. The spread of liberal democracy around the globe—essential for building that order—faced strong resistance because of nationalism, which emphasizes self-determination.

September/October 2014 / Foreign Affairs

Why the Ukraine Crisis is the West’s Fault: The Liberal Delusions that Provoked Putin

The taproot of the trouble is NATO enlargement, the central element of a larger strategy to move Ukraine out of Russia’s orbit and integrate it into the West.

August 26 2021/ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)
Podcast with Tom Switzer

Defending the US withdrawal from Afghanistan

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Related Views

January-February 2022/Foreign Affairs

Xi Jinping’s New World Order—Can China Remake the International System?

Elizabeth Economy

This shift in the geostrategic landscape reflects and reinforces an even more profound transformation: the rise of a China-centric order with its own norms and values.

November 19 2021/American Compass

After Hegemony
Elbridge A. Colby

America may no longer be the world’s dominant state, but we must not allow China to claim that title. Alternative strategies that insist we must democratize China or fundamentally weaken or collapse it would provoke far more cost and risk for Americans than is worthwhile.

December-January 2021/National Interest

Has Washington’s Policy Toward Taiwan Crossed the Rubicon?

Paul Heer

Testimony from officials in the State Department and Defense Department this week included subtle but important shifts in the U.S. policy toward Taiwan.

December 8 2021/U.S. - China Perception Monitor

“Democracy is a Good Thing:” Political Reform and China’s Forgotten Past

Yawei Liu

President Biden’s decision to organize a virtual Summit for Democracy on December 9 and 10, 2021 has enraged China.

China’s anger stems not only from the fact that China was not invited, but that Chinese leaders believe Washington has so many domestic political problems that it is not qualified to convene such a conference.

December 6 2021/Wall Street Journal

China Increasingly Obscures True State of Its Economy to Outsiders
Liza Lin and Chun Han Wong

China’s Communist Party has long maintained tight control over information, and the effort has intensified under leader Xi Jinping. The country has become increasingly opaque over the past year, even as its presence on the world stage grows.

November 28 2021/Beijing Channel on Substack

The Xi-Biden meeting, assessed by Chinese experts
A compilation of mainstream Chinese experts on the recent Xi-Biden virtual meeting.

December 8 2021/Geopolitical Futures

Ukraine’s Chances of Survival
Viktoria Laura Herczegh

Perhaps the biggest obstacle is that any solution requires a degree of strength the government in Kyiv simply does not have. It doesn’t even control the whole of Ukrainian territory. To rise above its station, Ukraine will need to adopt more strategic and subtle approaches to the parties at play rather than remaining a pawn in their game.

December 8, 2021/Global Americans

The Defense Department’s Role in Addressing Extra-Hemispheric State Rivals

R. Evan Ellis

Latin America: Even in countries not governed by authoritarian populist governments, commercial engagement by the PRC as the principal U.S. geopolitical rival, and its impact as an alternative development model and source of resources, has undercut the United States’ agenda and strategic position in the region.

As the year ends, I would like to thank both Ying Zhan, managing editor at Econvue, and Sam Fu, the producer of the Hale Report podcast, for their contributions that have kept us going through these last two difficult years. And I would like to ask you, as a valued reader and listener, to consider a paid subscription to EconVue to help us continue to provide you with content which I hope you find valuable. For more information, please click on the link below:

With many thanks and all best wishes,


Lyric Hughes Hale
Twitter: @lyrichues

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