Clinton is the latest former or current political leader to do so. Christopher Wray said about the same as Clinton and US generals have also cautioned about China.

Has something changed politically to make these leaders suddenly change their tune about China?

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    Do you have any evidence this is a new policy position for them? China has been the economic boogeyman for the US for quite awhile. – IllusiveBrian May 8 '18 at 18:47
  • @IllusiveBrian: until the late 80s Japan, rather than China, was the bogeyman for the US. – Denis de Bernardy May 8 '18 at 19:39
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    The late 80s were quite a while ago. The Clintons were rhetorically against China in 1992. It was only when they were in power in 1994 that they switched stances. – Brythan May 8 '18 at 23:18
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    The question should at least explain what are Clinton or Wray's positions about China and how they differ with their previous stands, and not only refer to links. – Evargalo May 9 '18 at 8:52

The short answer is that it's not sudden. Over the past few years China has been increasing its influence locally and trying to have more influence globally in a similar way to the US. This increasingly brings China and the US in to direct competition in a number of areas. As China's power and influence increase, more and more politicians in the US will gradually change from viewing China as a manageable, economic challenge to the US and become more of a genuine geopolitical rival that (from the US point of view) needs to be checked.

In more detail, in recent years China has taken a number of initiatives to assert increasing control of the South China Sea. It has always claimed the deliberately vague nine dash line:

Map of disputed islands in the South China Sea

But in recent years it has taken more steps to enforce that claim, which is vital to China's maritime trade routes. It has embarked on a process of rapid modernisation and expansion of its navy

The People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) capabilities will surpass most other navies by 2020. China would have as many aircraft carriers as Britain and India, more nuclear attack submarines than either Britain or France, and as many AEGIS-like destroyers as all the other non-US navies combined. China would have two aircraft carriers, 20-22 AEGIS like destroyers and 6-7 nuclear attack submarines, while United States would have eleven aircraft carriers; 88 AEGIS like destroyers; and 48 nuclear attack submarines. While China would still be considerably behind the US Navy, its growing capabilities could already begin to have significant consequences for the United States and other countries.

(taken from here)

It has also been building and expanding artificial islands in e.g. the Spratly Islands to support airstrips, naval facilities and anti-ship missiles to control access in the region

China appears to have deployed long-range anti-ship cruise missiles and air-defense missiles to the Spratly Islands, providing the islands with offensive reach for the first time. The move dashes hopes across the region that China would refrain from, or at least limit, its militarization of the extensive bases it has built on reclaimed coral reefs in the heavily disputed islands.

(taken from here)

In a similar vein, China has been in a high profile dispute with the Philippines over oil exploitation in Philippines' territorial waters, with China essentially asserting that the Philippines can only develop there with China's permission and involvement. President Duterte of the Philippines is notably closer to China than previous Philippines' presidents who have been very tightly aligned towards the US. The two countries have recently come to an agreement on the subject, but the view seems to be that China's negotiation was backed up by the none-too-subtle suggestion they'd be prepared to use the military to assert their claims if necessary.

Further afield, China has been increasing diplomatic, economic and military influence elsewhere. It recently promised to defend the Maldives from Indian interference in the Indian ocean, has been tension with India in 2017 over Sikkim in the Himalayas (in terrain not well suited to any real fighting) - which has lead to some tense diplomacy between the countries.

There has also been the One Road One Belt initiative which is an attempt to create a trade network centered on China that spreads through Eurasia.

On 4th May 2018, the US accused China of using lasers to deliberately injure USAF pilots in Djibouti. Whether that is true or not I don't know, but it does serve to emphasise that China has military bases around the world, such as in Djibouti, to protect Chinese interests.

Politically, the recent Chinese communist party conference in effect gave President Xi Jinping more power than any individual has had in China since Mao's death. The Party in fact adopted a deliberate policy of preventing individuals from gaining that much power as a reaction to what was seen as Mao's catastrophic use of it. That President Xi has accumulated so much personal power is partly a reflection of his political acumen, and partly a recognition by the Party that China needs a single strong leader at the moment as it transitions from a weak local power recovering from the disasters of Japanese occupation in the early 20th century followed the cultural revolution and the great leap forwards, and instead becomes a global power.

Put it all together, and you have a country that has put itself on a path to becoming a global power, and is consciously taking steps to secure and advance its position.

Since the US is currently in the position of being the sole global superpower, it is inevitably going to oppose anything that even slightly threatens that. Currently all shipping and naval activity in the world takes place with the implicit consent of the US navy (in that it is capable of dominating any areas of the ocean it wishes to). For the US, China having the ability to take that role away in the South China Sea is an unacceptable threat to US interests.

This is something that has really only started to develop in the last few years. And as China's power grows, US politicians, one by one over time become aware and increasingly concerned, and start to raise those concerns publicly.

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  • Great answer. The incremental change you mention isn't something I've considered, but it may explain why the tune feels like its changing over time. – KriyanshAurik May 9 '18 at 13:30
  • It should be noted that those trade routes China seeks to control are also vital to the other Asian economies that are competing with China. Also, there is a substantial oil field under the Spratly Islands. – tj1000 Jun 26 '18 at 3:32

The Diplomat said in 2016:

Clinton has a long history with China, dating back to her time as First Lady. In 1995, Clinton gave a rousing speech on human rights in Beijing at the UN World Conference on Women, in which she declared that “women’s rights are human rights.” Fourteen years later, when she assumed office as secretary of state, Clinton was proud enough of this moment to specifically list it in her official State Department biography, but the incident left a lasting negative impression on China, which keenly resented being embarrassed on the world stage.


But it’s not only her stance on human rights that irked China. Clinton was seen as the point person on the rebalance strategy. Her 2011 Foreign Policy article, “America’s Pacific Century” largely laid out of the contours of the rebalance, and her extensive travel in and personal attention to the Asia-Pacific made her the strategy’s public face. Yet Beijing finds the rebalance inherently threatening, believing it is a thinly-veiled gambit to ‘contain’ China. Thus Clinton, the supposed architect of the rebalance, is viewed with deep suspicion in Beijing.

Hillary Clinton is not just noticing negatives about China. That has been her official stance for some time. It was the campaign's stance when her husband was running in 1992. It was her stance as First Lady. It was her stance as Secretary of State. It was her stance as a candidate in 2016, although Donald Trump's harsher rhetoric spent more time in headlines.

Christopher Wray is part of the Trump administration, appointed by Trump. Trump was anti-China for economic reasons during the campaign. He backed off for a while when negotiating with North Korea. But he is back to pushing tariffs and a potential trade war.

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