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FACTDROP: New thinking in Sino-US strategic ties


New thinking in Sino-US strategic ties

Πηγή: Xinhua
By By Wang Jisi, Qian Yingyi, Wang Min, Jia Qingguo, and Bai Chongen (China Daily)
Feb 13 2012

BEIJING -- Exactly forty years ago, under the circumstances of virtually no economic, social and cultural exchanges, China and the United States, out of respective security needs, embarked on the process of normalization of their bilateral relations. Today, the China-US relationship has grown into the most complex bilateral international relationship in world history. Standing on the global strategic height and at the new point of departure of the history of mankind, we should reassess the nature and future of the China-US relationship, and try to usher in new thinking in international politics.

I. The Rising Prominence of and Severe Tests Facing China-US Relations

After entering the 21st century, especially since the 2008 international financial crisis, the world situation has become increasingly complicated and in flux. Against such a background, two prominent features stand out in today's China-US relations. First, China, after having successfully dealt with the crisis and with continuous expansion of its economy, has promptly come to the center stage of international politics and global governance. Second, the global financial crisis has taken heavy tolls on the economies and financial systems of the United States and the European Union. While the recovery of the Western economies is going to be a tortuous and slow progress, it has been further overshadowed by the ongoing Euro crisis. Under such circumstances, the United States intends to strengthen cooperation with China to overcome its difficulties, and expects China to assume a greater share of "international responsibility." Meanwhile, China is willing to make greater contributions to the restoration of global financial stability and the recovery of global economy with the aim of assuaging the wariness and concerns of the United States and other parts of the world about China's growing power. Now the total size of the Chinese and American economies and the total foreign trade volume of the two countries have amounted to one-third and one -fifth of those of the whole world, respectively. Consequently, the internal development and external strategy of China and the United States, as well as their bilateral relations, have an increasingly important impact on international politics and world economy. Both Chinese and American leaders are of the view that the China-US relationship has become "the most important bilateral relationship in the world."

Meanwhile, the China-US strategic relationship has encountered more stern challenges. Since the end of the Cold War, China-US relations have witnessed ups and downs. After the "9/11" terrorist attacks, counter-terrorism became the top priority of US global strategy, whereas China seized the important period of strategic opportunity and focused on pursuing internal development. Consequently, the China-US bilateral relationship could be characterized as one of "complex interdependence," and a basically stable strategic pattern has been maintained for about a decade. After entering the second decade of the 21st century, the power gap between China and the United States has narrowed considerably and the "structural contradiction" between the two risen. Certain conflict of interests between the two countries in the economic, political and international security arenas tends to gradually grow and escalate, causing both sides to be more vigilant against each other and adding to their mutual suspicions. In particular, the United States recently has, in a high-profile manner, announced its "return to Asia", further strengthened military deployments targeting China, and embarked on the enlargement of the "Trans-Pacific Partnership" (TPP). Some American political figures regard China's rise as the severest external challenge to the United States, and allege that China's refusal to cooperate with the United States on certain international issues is intended to weaken US "global leadership." Those trends have evoked strong repercussions among the Chinese public and political elites, and have caused many to believe that the long-term US strategic intention is to contain China and prevent China from becoming powerful, and that therefore China should take tough counter-measures against the United States internationally. The personages of two countries who wish to strengthen China-U.S. cooperation are gravely concerned that China-US strategic mutual trust has reached a new low.

II. The Main Manifestation of and Deep-rooted Factors for the Absence of China-US Strategic Trust

President Hu Jintao points out, "China and the United States should become cooperative partners that respect and trust each other and should persistently enhance strategic mutual trust." We hold the view that strategic mutual trust in bilateral relations and on the international scene means that both sides deeply understand each other's strategic intention and have a positive expectation of the other side's stances and behavior in areas concerning their respective core interests. To build strategic mutual trust does not mean denial of the objective existence of conflict of interests or ideational differences. Rather, it is, upon the recognition that "common interests are greater than differences", to endeavor to reduce the impact of the conflict of interests and ideational differences on bilateral relations, and to forge the pattern of long-term beneficial interactions. Judging from the present situation of China-US relations, the strategic mutual trust between the two sides still lags far behind the common interests they actually share.

The main manifestation of and deep-rooted causes of the absence of China-US strategic mutual trust are as follows:

Inadequate sincere communication and failure of carrying out some consensuses

In January 2011, President Hu Jintao made a successful visit to the United States when the two sides reached new strategic consensuses of far-reaching significance. At present, the two countries have established many effective dialogue mechanisms at various levels and in various issue areas, notably the highest-level "China-US Strategic and Economic Dialogue". However, some dialogues might have become a mere formality or highly scripted event in which the two sides merely stick to talking points or utter rhetoric. Consequently, there is disconnection between the consensuses reached and real policies or actions that follow. Commenting on the effects of some of the dialogues, former CEO of the American International Group (AIG) Maurice R. Greenberg has recently written in The Wall Street Journal, saying, "I have taken part in a number of dialogues over the years between Chinese economists and trade officials and similarly placed economists and officials on the US side. Every time the results are the same. Each side states its problems and concerns and reports the other side's problems and concerns back to their respective governments. Although the proceedings are cordial, unfortunately nothing is resolved and the frictions that hamper development of a better relationship persist." Many people in both China and the United States share Mr. Greenberg's feeling. Currently, the main problem is not that the number of dialogues is inadequate, or that the scope of the dialogues isn't broad enough, or that the level of dialogues isn't sufficiently high. Rather, the problem is that some of the dialogues have failed to strike home or resolve real problems.

Politicization of economic frictions weakens the basis of strategic mutual trust

Economic and trade relations have for decades served as the "ballast" of China-US relations. However, as the economic and trade frictions between China and the United States grow and are increasingly politicized, the weight of the "ballast" of China-US relations is continuously decreasing and, it may sometimes even become a stumbling stone to strategic mutual trust. The United States has on many occasions threatened to name China as a "currency manipulator" and impose sanctions, continuously imposed restrictions on high-tech exports to China, and set up political barriers to prevent Chinese firms from investing in the United States. As the 2012 US presidential election unfolds, many American politicians, out of their political motivations, have jumped on the wagon of "scapegoating" and blaming US economic woes on China. Those actions will bring all harm and no benefit to strategic mutual trust.

Changes in relative power between China and the United States

Since the 2008 global financial crisis, the power gap between China and the United States has narrowed. The change in the relative power between China and the United States has led to subtle and yet significant psychological changes on two sides. As a result, worries and anxieties on both sides are on the rise. Specifically, there are concerns and worries in many quarters of the United States about the possibility of the rising power of China threatening US preeminence and the "China Model" posing challenges to the "American Model". Meanwhile, the Chinese government remains highly vigilant against America's "export of democracy" and "human rights diplomacy". Moreover, the Chinese political elites are frustrated at the appearance that China's security environment does not seem to have improved as China's power position rises, and are anxious and worried that the United States has been intensifying strategic encirclement along China's periphery. Despite the reassurances by top leaders of both countries that their strategic intentions are not intended to do harm to the other side, it has proven to be difficult, if not impossible, to remove the mutual suspicions and anxieties that have been internalized in both societies.

III. Abandoning Outmoded Thinking and Steering Clear of Obstacles to Establishing China-US Strategic Mutual Trust

If we do not make great efforts to abandon outdated ideas as quickly as possible and to redress the misunderstandings and prejudices, the cornerstone for stabilizing China-US relations will be severely eroded and even shaken.

Abandoning zero-sum thinking

The biggest peril of zero-sum thinking is that it is a "self-fulfilling prophecy" in nature. Some would argue that in modern world history there has not yet been a precedent of peaceful co-existence between a rapidly rising great power and a dominant power seeking to preserve hegemony. However, we believe that historical precedents are set by the people and their countries. The China-US relationship can and must set a precedent for avoiding rivalry for hegemony and for long-term cooperation. To do otherwise will hurt the fundamental interests of the peoples of the two countries and the world at large. As US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton points out, "China represents one of the most challenging and consequential bilateral relationships that the United States has ever had to manage," adding, "(a)t the end of the day, there is no handbook for the evolving China-US relationship. But the stakes are much too high for us to fail." US Vice President Joe Biden also wrote last August in The New York Times that "a successful China can make our country more prosperous, not less". Likewise, US economic recovery and prosperity, as well as the positive, inclusive elements in US domestic and foreign policies are also beneficial to the development of China.

Abandoning cold war mentality

The features of the Cold War mentality are to make political systems and ideological beliefs predetermine the closeness of state-to-state relations, form rivaling military and political alliances, and forge two antagonistic international camps. Some would argue that two countries with distinct political systems and ideologies are bound to head down the irreversible path of confrontation and rivalry. The matter of fact, however, is that forty years of history since the embarking on of the normalization of the China-US relationship has proven that the differences in political and value systems didn't prevent the two countries from moving closer to each other, nor did they stop the expansion of exchanges and cooperation between the two sides. On the one hand, the political differences and diverging values between the two countries will exist for a long time and at times the two sides might even run into fierce debates. On the other hand, the society, culture and domestic politics of the two countries are constantly changing and influencing each other. Little, if any, shadow of the Cold War can be found in today's exchanges between young students from the two countries. Internationally, virtually no country would be willing to get itself involved in the strategic confrontation that might occur between China and the United States; the era of forming two antagonistic ideological and military camps is forever gone. Therefore, a new Cold War between China and the United States is something that can be avoided.

Abandoning arrogance and parochial thinking

Both Chinese and Americans are great peoples in the world, with many merits and good qualities, and together the two peoples have made outstanding contributions to the civilization of mankind. The United States of America, after gaining independence, had quickly joined the ranks of the world's major powers, and in the past sixty plus years, has kept its position as a "superpower." Therefore there must be something praiseworthy in the US experiences of administrating a country. In the past several decades, China has rapidly changed the face of poverty and backwardness, and has in the history of mankind made achievements that have attracted worldwide attention. Therefore there must be undeniable characteristics and advantages in China's political, economic, cultural and value systems. The growth experiences of China and the United States show that both countries have chosen a path of development that suits their own national conditions. Looking into the future, the national power of China and the United States will continue to grow together, the living standards of both peoples will improve continuously, and expanding mutual cooperation will be beneficial to both countries' development. Therefore, both sides should look at each other with a modest rather than arrogant attitude, much less to gloat and jeer at or take pleasure in the other side's domestic difficulties and shortcomings. We shall also acknowledge that there is a tendency in both countries to have insufficient global vision and to overly rely upon their own experiences when dealing with international affairs. Therefore, in dealing with bilateral and international affairs, China and the United States should enhance consultation and coordination, learn from each other's experiences and angle of view, respect the other side's attitudes and stances, and abandon parochial thinking.

IV. Building China-US Strategic Relations with Creative Thinking

Vice President Xi Jinping, in his meeting with former US Secretary of Treasury Henry Paulson last December, pointed out that "history has proven that China-US relations are mutually beneficial and win-win in nature and the common interest and need for cooperation between the two countries far outgrow their differences". Such a statement is a reflection of the creative thinking on the Chinese side regarding China-US relations. Indeed, there are controversial and seemingly irresolvable difficult problems in certain areas of the bilateral relationship, and the two countries hold vastly different positions on certain international security issues. But by applying such a new mode of thinking, one may find that these problems and differences cannot fundamentally hinder the exchanges and cooperation between the two countries on global finance, trade, energy, climate change, public health, and regional hot spot issues, nor can the problems and differences reverse the long-term trend of the continuous expansion of social interactions between the two countries and of drawing on each other's merits in fields such as education, culture, and science and technology. As long as both China and the United States continue to expand the "convergence of interests" in various fields and at various levels and aim to construct a "community of interest", the two countries should be able to build a global partnership based on strategic mutual trust.

To sum up, as Chinese scholars and experts who wish to engage in in-depth strategic thinking, we would like to lay out three main points.

First, the China-US relationship is encountering severe tests and facing the absence of strategic mutual trust. As a Chinese aphorism says, "a boat sailing against the current must forge ahead or be swept downstream." The relationship is just at this critical juncture.

Second, turbulence in this bilateral relationship would cause enormous and unbearable losses of interests of both sides and jeopardize world economy as well as global security. Meanwhile, the profound changes in the international situation and the increasingly growing common interests between the two countries also provide unprecedented strategic opportunities for both sides.

Third, we must adhere to the new type of strategic thinking that holds that "China-US relations are mutually beneficial and win-win in nature". That is, we should not only face squarely the difficulties and obstacles in bilateral relations, but also make efforts to discard outmoded thinking that is unbeneficial to the development of common interests, so as to gradually accumulate and build strategic mutual trust.

Wang Jisi and Jia Qingguo are professors at the School of International Studies, Peking University; Wang Min is a research fellow at Peking University; Qian Yinyi and Bai Chongen are professors at the School of Economics and Management, Tsinghua University.

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