The following is a guest post by Kaiser Kuo! Enjoy! – Ed.
Here’s a translation of a brief essay on U.S-China relations by Chen Xiangyang (陈向阳), an associate researcher at the World Politics Institute at the China Academy of Contemporary International Relations. The original appeared in Xinhua’s 瞭望新闻周刊 (Liaowang Xinwen Zhoukan, Outlook Weekly). I found this to be a fairly representative perspective from the Chinese foreign policy community, and thought ChinaGeeks readers would enjoy it. Hat-tip to Bill Bishop for linking to the piece on Twitter a couple of days ago. The author’s liberal use of quotes around certain phrases is reproduced in the translation; I’ve added none of my own. Any errors in translation are, of course, mine; corrections and comments welcome!
Entering the year 2010, Sino-American relations stand at a “new historical starting point.” This has highlighted the new shift in the relative power of the two countries against the backdrop of the financial crisis, and reflected the “new epoch” that has become increasingly evident in global challenges, and the growth in mutual competitive and interdependent interaction of the great powers.
In looking at Sino-American relations one should be holistic, dialectical, and calm. There remain a number of real problems and long-term challenges between China and the U.S.. Promoting “sustainable development” in Sino-American relations requires continuous advancement of strategic mutual trust and mutually beneficial cooperation, as well as appropriate response to, and effective management of, all manner of crises.
In looking at the new epoch in Sino-American relations, one mus be wary of “three misunderstandings.”
Misunderstanding 1: Overestimation of the global importance and impact of Sino-American relations, particularly exemplified by the notions of so-called “Chimerica” or “the G2.” In the present multipolar international order, besides America the “sole superpower” and China among the “stronger” states, there is also the European Union, Japan, Russia, India, Brazil and others among the “heavyweight contenders.” Sino-American cooperation alone is not enough; the participation and cooperation of the other “power centers” is required. The G2 theory only sees areas of Sino-American common interest and cooperation, and ignores the profound differences between the countries, “structural contradictions,” “differences in political systems,” and radically divergent external strategic orientations. Sino-American strategic mutual trust remains fragile, and cooperation remains limited. The U.S. is still pursuing global and regional “hegemony” and a “leading position,” while what China is pursuing is multi-polarity and maintenance of independence. The American approach to China’s rise remains a “two-handed” one: On the one hand, the U.S. sings its praises, using “great power responsibility” to harness, “regulate,” and “lead” China, while on the other hand, it guards against China and seeks to keep China down, fearing being overtaken by China.
Misunderstanding 2: Overestimation of the pattern of increase in the influence of China in the bilateral relationship. For a relatively long time, America will still have very long lead in terms of overall strength. The capacity for social adjustment and “self-repair” must not be underestimated. The possibility of the Obama Administration getting clear of its diplomatic difficulties through “clever leveraging of strength” and a “multi-partner plan” cannot be ruled out. If China wants to overcome its weak position and catch up with the U.S. it will require a long-term, concerted effort. Therefore we cannot exaggerate the extent to which “they’ve contracted while we’ve grown” in terms of relative strength in the Sino-American relationship. When dealing with Sino-American relations we should proceed with sober analysis and a clear estimation of our own strength.
Misunderstanding 3: Seeing the intricately complex and developing Sino-American relationship as “single-faceted,” “absolute,” or “static.” Either emphasizing only the cooperative or the competitive facet of the relationship, or mechanically bifurcating cooperation and competition and believing that Sino-American relations will always be, as they have been, bifurcated, will make it difficult to achieve substantive breakthrough.
At present, the various issues and contradictions between China and the United States are still there; moreover, they will continue to develop. The “major developments” in Sino-American relations are all contained in the objective economic interdependency and the subjective mechanized management. Through the efforts of both sides, most of the problems and contradictions can be kept under control, and cannot go so far as to attack overall bilateral relations. In addition to this, Sino-American cooperation and competition are increasingly intertwined: There is cooperation within competition, and competition within cooperation. There is no absolute cooperation or competition. Therefore we should not completely reject competition, and we should strengthen cooperation, manage competition well, and strive for benign competition. Additionally, the “relative weight” of cooperation and competition in Sino-American relations will change at different stages, and though it’s the “coexistence of cooperation and competition, at particular stages it may be “mainly cooperation,” and it may also be “competition stands out.”
At the same time, we must respond appropriately to seven great challenges:
The first is that Sino-American “strategic trust” is still insufficient. Chiefly because deep down the United States looks upon China as a “challenger for hegemony” and a “political anomaly,” the defensiveness, discrimination and prejudice in the American mindset toward China will be as deeply important as ever.
Second are Sino-American “structural contradictions” — in other words, the serious divergence of the two sides’ takes on the international situation and the international order will grow more conspicuous. Although American “unipolar” ambitions have been seriously stymied by the financial crisis, America still does not recognize multi-polarity, and will do all that it can to prolong its global hegemony, anything at all to maintain its primacy. As China continues to accelerate in its rise and attains commensurate great power status, the ranking of the United States and China in the “chart toppers” list of national power will, sooner or later, undergo change. A “ranking” struggle between the two is, I fear, unavoidable.
Third is the contest between “developmental models.” The international financial crisis exposed the shortcomings of the “American model,” and the U.S. has reacted to this by intensifying its “containment” and derision of the “Chinese model.” The divergence in political systems and values between China and the U.S. have perhaps been “magnified.”
Fourth, the contest or chess game for regional spheres of influence will grow more complex and intense, especially in the Asia-Pacific and the region of China’s own “great periphery.” The two sides’ policies in dealing with regional “hot spots” like “the North Korean nuclear issue, the “Iranian nuclear issue,” the Afghanistan and Pakistan issue, the Myanmar issue and so on are not identical. China places emphasis on maintaining “regional stability” and respecting the “legitimate rights of nations,” and America for its part is too self-interested, intending to take advantage of these issues to expand its political influence and even attenuate China’s influence.
The fifth encompasses the competition for so-called “global public space” and “strategic new frontiers” — mainly the development of outer space and network security. America is attempting to maintain its hegemony over outer space and networks, and continues to push for global and regional “anti-missile” systems, to research, produce and deploy “space-based” weapons, to establish a “network command center,” harping on the “China threat theory” in the two great “frontline fields” of space and cyberspace and doing its upmost to preserve in perpetuity the advantage of its “great leadership.”
Sixth are constraints imposed by domestic factors in each of the two countries, to include struggles between the American political parties, between the extreme conservative faction and the extreme liberal faction, and the media and military interest groups, but also including, in China, the flood of public opinion that has accompanied the breakneck process of informatization of Chinese society and the conspicuous strengthening of national power.
Seventh are the international constraints of third-party factors, including the concerns of the European Union, Japan, Russia, India and other “major powers” over the development of Sino-American relations. It also includes the resort, by certain countries bordering China, to the strategy of “great power balancing,” in an attempt to use the United States as a “check and balance” on China, providing a suitable vehicle for the U.S. to “intervene” and to play “balancer” in the “balance of power” game.
(The author is an associate researcher at the World Politics Institute of the China Academy of Contemporary International Relations)