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Opinion
Hal Brands

America’s Secret Weapon Against China: Democracy

Tyrannical states can move fast. Free states always win in the end.

Who belongs at the head of the table?

Who belongs at the head of the table?

Photographer: Jason Lee/AFP/Getty Images

In his speech at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit over the weekend, Vice President Mike Pence put the clash of political values between the U.S. and China at the heart of the clash of geopolitical interests between the two countries. Pence declared that America seeks a “free Indo-Pacific” where countries and individuals can “exercise their God-given liberties”; he touted Washington's progress in deepening its relationships with the region's democracies, from old allies such as Australia, newer partners such as India and small nations such as the summit host, Papua New Guinea. Pence contrasted this approach with Chinese coercion and announced that “authoritarianism and aggression have no place in the Indo-Pacific.” 

The basic message of Pence’s speech was that the region will find a better friend in a democratic America than a dictatorial China. And that message is not simply spin or propaganda. It reflects the fact that in today’s geopolitical competitions, a democratic superpower has advantages its authoritarian rivals will find hard to match.