As the trade war between the US and China escalates, with President Donald Trump imposing tariffs of Chinese imports, both sides are trying to portray themselves as victims of an unconstrained unilateralist rival. They're both wrong: this dispute is about something much bigger. For many years, American foreign policy adopted a fairly strong pro-China stance. The US was a major proponent of China's accession to the World Trade Organisation and took no direct policy action in response to its long-running manipulation of the yuan. It advocated China's development and tried to integrate it into the broader international system, despite China's abuses in areas such as intellectual property. All along, its goal was to avoid conflict, get China to reform and open its economy, and assimilate it into a system built around open markets and liberal values. The problem was that China never really accepted this system. As Princeton professor Aaron Friedberg recently described the conflict: Ameri...

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