China's strength does not mean diplomatic power in short-term

14:32, September 15, 2010      

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Sino-U.S. relations have been a cause for concern recently. Some say that the United States is "containing China from both the southern and northern hemispheres" making a "strategic battle" between the two countries inevitable.

Some say that the United States and China are just "false friends" and call the so-called "partnership" between the two nations a show. Some have even said that "a weak country has no diplomacy and backward nations will get bullied." Their position is that with increasing strength, China should speed up its progress on the question of maintaining national rights. The issues involved in the aforementioned discussion are complex and cannot be treated in a simplistic manner.

First, we need to fully understand the "complexity" of the Sino-U.S. relations

These relations have always been very complicated and should never be looked at from an extreme black-and-white perspective.

First, although Sino-U.S. relations have been unstable throughout history, their common interests are greater than their differences on the whole. Therefore, their relationship has been maintained until now. Since establishing diplomatic relations more than 30 years ago, experience shows that the most fundamental reason why Sino-U.S. relations have been developed until present is that there is a "common interest" between the two countries, and it is just that the "carriers" of the common interests have changed in different times.

Before the end of the Cold War, their common strategic interest was to deal with their common enemy, the Soviets, while their common mission after the 9/11 Incident was to fight terrorism. Most recently, after the financial crisis in 2008, the two countries have formed more extensive common interests in coping with the global challenges. Their common interest is greater than the contradictions and frictions as a whole. Therefore, the two countries can overcome difficulties and maintain the relationship. Past experiences show that both countries should keep alert when their relationship is stable and remain optimistic when their relationship encounters difficulties.

Second, the nature of Sino-U.S. relations is difficult to discern and the various titles of "partnerships" necessarily reflected its complexity. We cannot simply call it a "partnership" or an "adversarial relationship." Therefore, some have seen it as a relationship of being neither friends nor enemies. Later, it was called a "constructive strategic partnership," "strategic partnership coping with the common challenges," "responsible stakeholders" and so on. The various concepts and titles reflect the complexity of Sino-U.S. relations.

The different concepts have a core meaning: "partnership." This is a neutral word meaning both cooperation and competition, and both friends and rivals. Of course, it does not merely refer to friends or rivals. It is difficult to summarize the complexity of Sino-U.S. relations with the label of “false friends.”

Third, the complex structure of Sino-U.S. relations means not only broad cooperation but also a high chance of friction. China and the Unites States have different ideologies, social systems and sets of values, so it is not easy to build the "strategic trust" between the two countries. Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping once said in 1989 when meeting with former U.S. President Richard Nixon that the development of bilateral relations should be based on each country's own strategic interests, especially the long-term strategic interests.

The fact that China has been making rapid and significant progress since the introduction of the reform and opening-up policy has successfully narrowed the perception gap between what Americans thought China was and what China really is. The then U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick brought forward the concept of "responsible stakeholders" in September 2005. He stressed that China is different from the Soviet Union and it would be wrong to equate China with the Soviet Union.

He proved theoretically that the foundation of China-U.S. relations is common strategic interests. However, the differences in ideologies and social systems have unavoidably exerted influence on the U.S. policy towards China. In addition, the bilateral economic, military, and cultural relations as well as certain international and regional issues of mutual concern have created plenty of opportunities for win-win cooperation but also for frictions and conflicts.

Last but not least, judging from the recent developments in Sino-U.S. relations, there are now lots of differences and disagreements between the two countries, buy it is impossible for their relationship to seriously deteriorate. Admittedly, the United States' recent unusual moves in the Yellow Sea and South China Sea have damaged Sino-U.S. relations to a certain extent. The United States made such moves probably because of the upcoming mid-term elections and adjustments to its strategies and policies.

But is it true that the United States plans to build a smaller version of NATO in Asia in order to better contain China just like some media reports have said? I believe that the strategic relationship between the two countries has not experienced any substantive changes, and they have many more common interests than differences, so it is impossible for the bilateral relations to sharply deteriorate. Even if the United States was determined to "besiege" China with all its allies, it would be a very difficult dream to achieve.

East Asian countries have a very complex mentality. On one hand, they rely on the United States to contain China and do not want the super power to completely withdraw from Asia. On the other hand, they may be unwilling to directly confront China in conjunction with the United States.

The members of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) have benefited a lot from the rapid development of China, so they must acknowledge that China's development is a good opportunity to them rather than a threat.

Although American military power ranks first worldwide, the times have long changed and the world is no longer one where the strongest is master. This situation leaves no room for the United States to persistently make arbitrary moves in the South China Sea.

Finally, we must see that the mutual interests of China and the United States are too interwoven to split. If the United States further damages Sino-U.S. relations, it will eventually hurt its own interests. Therefore, although there will likely be disputes and trouble in China-U.S. relations, the relations is unlikely to deteriorate across the board.

Second, we should be fully aware of the difficulties in the process of "rights protection"

China's "rights protection" issues have become a major issue in the relationship between China and the United States. "Rights protection" involves a country's core interests and leaves no room for compromise. However, how can we "protect rights" involving many sides and restricted by various conditions?

Following the rise in China's strength, some Chinese Internet users believe that since China was a weak nation that had "no diplomacy" and was a backward country that was bound to be bullied by others in the past, it should now accelerate the pace to "protect its rights" and some have even proposed to seek explanations from the United States.

However, China's "rights protection" issues, particularly the issue of U.S.-Taiwan relations that is a question left over from history, are very complicated and can never be "instantly" addressed because of China's economic development and increased strength. In other words, we should be fully aware of the difficulties in the process of "rights protection."

The diplomatic game indeed relies on strength. But China's GDP growth does not mean too much. Although China's GDP ranks second worldwide, its per capita GDP is less than one-tenth the average level for developed countries and ranks lower than the 100th position worldwide. China is still a developing country.

China has internationally been flattered as a "developed country," but we should be clearly aware that this is not true. Aside from the per capita income indicator, there are also some basic indicators to define a developed country, such as the percentage of urban population, the middle-class share of the population, stable living quality, sophisticated market economic system, and sound social security system. China is far backwards in these indicators.

Politically and historically, China is the only country among global powers that still faces the threat of being separated and dismantled by alien forces, and has special memories of being bullied as a "developing country."

Therefore, China cannot contend with developed countries in terms of the level of prosperity but rather has the determination and courage to be a developing country for the long term.

Despite China's development, it has had new issues involving its development and the international environment facing China has not always been smooth and favorable. The experiences over recent years show that China's development has caused others to be jealous and concerned about China, and they have even played dirty tricks on China, brought negative pressure and trouble. The West is now actively hyping up the "China threat," "China responsibility," and "China arrogance" theories after abandoning the "China collapse theory." This indicates that the international environment for China is becoming more complex along with its development.

Moreover, China's increased power cannot be immediately translated into diplomatic initiative and political advantages.

Although China became a big winner during the World Bank's vote on the reform plan in April 2010 with China's vote being increased to third place second only to the United States and Japan, China's diplomatic, political and military power will not improve immediately.

The issues concerning sovereignty and China's core rights and interests cannot be solved by China's increased power alone. Do not forget that diplomacy is related with the interests that need all kinds of means and ways. It is a long process, and haste makes waste.

No matter how difficult the struggle is, China must be resolved to protect its rights and interests. We should always remember Deng Xiaoping's passionate remarks, "China will never allow others to interfere with its internal affairs. Do not expect China to swallow the bitter results of compromising our interests."

By Xiao Feng, China Center for Contemporary World Studies, translated by People's Daily Online


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