China as a Global Actor, Needs to Live With Criticisms and Take it Constructively | CHINA US Focus

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China as a Global Actor, Needs to Live With Criticisms and Take it Constructively

David Shambaugh, Professor, George Washington University
September 28, 2011
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Video Interview

Speaker: David Shambaugh, Professor of Political Science and International Affairs, Director of The China Policy Program in the Elliott School of International Affairs at The George Washington University, and Nonresident Senior Fellow in the Foreign Policy Studies Program at The Brookings Institution .

Date: September 20, 2011




Interviewer: We’re very pleased to have Professor David Shambaugh here. He is the professor of China Studies in George Washington University, and he is also internationally recognized as the authority on contemporary China affairs. So, welcome, Professor Shambaugh.

Shambaugh: Thank you very much. Pleasure to be here.

Interviewer: Maybe we can start with an important issue and question. That is about the US China relations in several years or even a decade later. So now we know the United States is in some kind of economical difficulties, but many of us would believe that the US will recover from current financial crisis. However, it could be a different context especially in terms of power. So in the different power structure, how will you evaluate the interaction between the United States and China in the future? Thank you.

Shambaugh: Well it’s a very good question you asked. You’re correct that the United States is in some very severe financial difficulties at the present time. In terms of it’s high level of public and private debt, in terms of unemployment, now nine and a half percent. In terms of the tax system, the whole number of reasons, this is the most serious financial situation the United States has been in since the Great Depression. The United States economy has not really recovered fully from the recession and the global financial crisis two years ago. It’s going to be awhile, it’s going to take some vision, it’s going to take some time, it’s going to take a lot of effort, but I am confident the United States will recover and is quite a resilient country. But it’s similar to maybe where China was in 1978, when it began it’s restructuring. The United States needs to do some fundamental restructuring of its social welfare system, of its infrastructure, and other aspects. This is going to take some time. But your question has to do with what will the power balance be between the US and China and other powers, Once the United States does recover. You Chinese have a phrase that will summarize very well what the power balance is going to be: “Yi chao duo chang”(one super with many greats). One, you know, “Chao ji da guo”(super nation), with many “Changs” (greats) many powerful middle powers. Now the United States I think when it remerges from the financial crisis, is still going to be by far the predominant power in the world. Economically, militarily, intellectually, scientifically, culturally, in many ways. But it will be relatively less than it was previously, but at the same time, China, India, Brazil, European Union, others, Australia perhaps, South Africa, these powers are rising, emerging middle powers. So it’s a world, it’s a more multi polar world. Okay, and it’s going to be a world in which many countries need to cooperate together. The era of American dominance is ended. It’s finished, it’s over. The United States has to cooperate very effectively with many countries to address common problems. We live in an era of common problems. So no nations including China, can simply look after itself. We all need to contribute to global governance and addressing common problems together.

Interviewer: Very interesting, so the other related issue is the economic development, but the economic ties between China and the United States is so significant, not only to themselves but also to the whole world. So my second question is in the past thirty years, the US China economic relations has functioned very importantly sometimes as a stabilizer. But sometimes when the trade is rising, some people will say that economic ties will be destablizer. So now the financial crisis happens, it’s clear that the model of the United States and China’s economic relationship cannot sustain anymore. Maybe in the future, China will import more and the United States will export more. So the model change of the economic relationship between the two countries, how will that influence the bilateral relations in general? And influence the world as a whole?

Shambaugh: Well I’m not sure if I completely agree with the premise of the question. Both countries are in the mist of rebalancing their economies, and they’re actually coordinating rebalancing. Secretary Treasury Geithner and Executive Vice Première Wang Qishan have had numerous discussions. And there are numerous discussions between the NDRC and their American counterparts. So as both of our countries are economically restructuring and rebalancing internally, domestically we’re having a, we’re doing that in a coordinated fashion. So that it does not destabilize the global economic order. But the basic fact has been several years and it’s only going to intensify that these are two countries are very interdependent economically. This is not a zero sum game, it’s a very interdependent game. There are structural imbalances in some dimensions of the economic relationship. The trade dimension, is structurally very imbalanced. That is unsustainable on a politically level in the United States, perhaps on economic level. We have to do something about that. China as you say needs to import more, the United States needs to export more and we need to bring down this unsustainable trade surplus on China’s behalf. But basically I’m of the view that interdependence is a good thing. Because it stablizes and buffers the relations from external shocks. So I’m not sure if the United States and China are going to have cause difficulties for the international economic order. Quite to the contrary we grow together we benefit the whole world. So that’s how I look at it.

Interviewer: Personally I think that would be very good if that happens. So, in recent times, China published this white paper called “China’s peaceful development”. So in this document, for the first time, China clearly defined its core national interests. That means the national sovereignty, national security and territorial integrity and national reunification. And also our system’s protection and also how to maintain our sustainable economical development. So with this document published, how will the United States look at it? And what’s your view and evaluation about the definition of the core national interest?

Shambaugh: Well I personally think it’s a very important document. I read it very carefully two or three times. It’s one of the most systematic articulations of official Chinese government policies on world affairs that has been made for several years. So I think it merits very careful attention. But I have to tell you that it has not been receiving very careful attention in the United States. Most American officials and scholars and experts hardly noticed that it was published. Yeah, white papers, I have to be honest with you, some countries publish them, most countries don’t. United States never publish its white papers. China publishes about 6 or 8, 10 white papers a year. So, they’re not, they’re all important. White papers are official government policy so they merit attention. But I’m just saying to you that they’re not getting the attention perhaps that they merit. Your question about the core national interest, it’s useful, that the Chinese government has now defined carefully what these 5 areas are. It’s the first time, as you say, that the.. 6, that’s been done. But I’m not sure that those core national interests are any different than any other country’s core national interests. With the exception of territorial unification, your country is split, most countries are not. So that dimension, the Taiwan dimension, is different. But there are disputes about China’s national territorial definitions, in the South China Sea, 6 other countries dispute them. India and China still have not resolved common boarder problem. So for China to assert what they are, to me, that should be the beginning of a conversation with other countries. China should not just assert them and say: fine, that’s the end of the story. You should be respectful. Other countries should be respectful, including the United States. But I don’t find these core national interests, I mean when was the last time you heard any other country in the world, there are 180 countries in the world, what other countries feel that they need to articulate what their core national interests are? I find it a little bit unnecessary. I mean it’s good, but I don’t think it’s terribly necessary.

Interviewer: Interesting views. In fact I know that the United States, different departments have their so called “strategy reports”. Okay, every 4 years or 2 years. So maybe there are some differences between them, like between the strategy reports with China’s White paper? What do you think?

Shambaugh: Well it’ll make a good scholarly study. United States, you’re right, we do publish the national security strategy of the United States, the national military strategy of the United States and the quadrennial defense review. These are the three, and the national security nuclear posture review. So yes, the U.S government publishes these, but those are more documents for the U.S government than for the rest of the world. But it would make a good scholarly comparison.

Interviewer: Very interesting, so the other regional arrangements and regional maybe affairs. So we know in last year, in Eastern Asia there are many events and disputes which made the regional countries feel a little bit nervous and worried. And we also know that some kind of regional institution restructuring, such as the East Asia Summit, and the United States is pushing forward the TTP initiative. Some people will say that China and the United States have some different preference of regional arrangements, especially in pacific area and maybe in other regions in the globe as well. So what’s your opinion about the difference and how would you suggest for them to reach a kind of consensus?

Shambaugh: I think there are some differences in a way that the United States and China look at multilateral institutions, but I wouldn’t exaggerate the differences. I think we have more in common than we differ about. When it comes to East Asia, I see the multilateral architecture as a having over lapping levels. There are many different organizations that have evolved over the last 20 years, and they all kind of reinforce each other. Some of them are older, such as the American 5 alliances that the United States has with Japan, South Korea, Thailand, the Philippines and Australia, those go back way far in time. Others they’re more recent, as you said, like the East Asian Summit, TPP. So none of these are mutually exclusive, they’re reinforcing of each other. And second point has to do with exclusivity and inclusivity. The United States very much believe in inclusivity, that all East Asia nations and actors, which includes the United States, should be a member of these regional institutions. China seems to have a more exclusive view. And in some cases such as the East Asian Summit, it’s very well known, China was not in favor of the Americans being involved, until other countries: India, Japan, Australia and South East Asian countries brought some pressure to bear on the Chinese government and then the Chinese government changed their position. So I think there’s a little bit of, there’s some difference about membership, and there’s some difference about what we call norms. China has put forward an alternative view to institution building. That is embodied in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. It’s a very interesting organization that is doing some very good work, but it’s a certain type of organization and it’s dissimilar from others. So, again I don’t see these in a zero sum fashion, all these organizations are mutually reinforcing. And the United States and China are two central members, but by no means the only ones. This is the region where there is some very significant powers: South Korea, Japan, ASEAN collectively, Australia. So the more dialogue and more organizations the better, I believe in “dui hua” (dialogue). But there also has to be effectiveness, and I think all of these organizations right now in East Asia, are facing a kind of crisis of effectiveness and legitimacy frankly. You can have “dui hua” for a long time but if it doesn’t address problems effectively, then the legitimacy of the organization has to be questioned. So I think in many of these cases, we need to pay some attention to implementation of policies and decisions.

Interviewer: I also heard recently that you are writing a book, called: China Goes Global”. It’s a very interesting topic, because we all know that China now has very broad interests domestically and also over seas, in every parts almost, in the globe. So China is a new comer, relatively, compared to western countries. And maybe it’s not so experienced to deal with new challenges. And also it has very legitimate demands of some interests. What’s your suggestions for China to deal with new challenges, and how China should play much more active and very useful role in the future.

Shambaugh: I wouldn’t want to interfere with your internal affairs by offering advise, China has to find it’s own way in the world, and learn from experience. And part of learning from experience is learning from mistakes. China is going to make mistakes as it goes global. China has already made mistakes as it gone global. In the economical area for example, many mergers and acquisitions that Chinese companies have under taken, have not worked out very well, lost a lot of money. So China needs to reflect on why these mergers and acquisitions have not gone so well to do better next time. One thing though I would say from the American experience and perhaps European experience, if you’re going to be a global power, you have to expect criticism. It comes with being a global power. Not everybody is going to love you, if you were a major power. Criticism and friction is part of being a global power. So China I think has to expect that it’s going to be criticized in various parts of the world, for some of its activities. For example, it’s investments in oil and lining. You know, if you look at the “dui wai tou zi”, China’s “dui wai tou zi”, it’s external investments in the recent years, more than around 80 % of it, has been in the energy and natural resources sector. For obvious reasons, China needs these resources to grow the economy, but it’s very unbalanced in trade terms. So many of these countries such as Brazil, Argentina, African countries, they don’t want China coming in and just take their resources. They want more goods and services as a part of the trade portfolio. And so there’s been criticisms in many countries, in Chile, in Brazil, in Congo, in Nigeria, of China’s activities in this area. So I think China needs to pay a little bit more attention to the image that it has and the image that it projects, and do more for local communities, that would help improve the image. But in my book, I’m looking at several different dimensions of China’s international posture. Economic, cultural, diplomatic, military, security and global governance. And I’m finding that, as you say, that China’s global presence is now very broad, but it’s not particularly deep yet. Soft power for example, is not so strong. So I think China needs to work on the cultural dimension a little bit. Engage in more cultural exchanges, student exchanges, Confucius institutes, this kind of… and media, the media needs to “Zou chu qu” (step forward). “Zhong Yang Dian Shi Tai” (CCTV), Xin Hua She (Xin Hua News Agency) etc.”. But the main point is if China is going to be a global actor, you have to expect criticism, you have to expect problems. You’re going to have your citizens kidnapped on occasion, you’re going to have some of your citizens killed on occasion, you’re going to have security problems that come along with it. It’s just the nature of being a global power or actor. So I think China needs to prepare itself for some difficult waters, not everything is going to go smoothly. We Americans are very accustomed to this. We’ve been a global power for a long time and people criticize us all the time and you have to learn to live with the criticism and take it constructively.

Interviewer: The one fact that we, sometimes we know is many criticisms are from the western countries, especially from Europe like in terms of Africa issue and maybe from the United States on some other issues. So do you think these criticisms are very objective or they need to change some mental style?

Shambaugh: I think the European countries’ criticisms concerning Africa are a result of historical factors, the European colonialism and relations with African countries. But Frankly, I think you need to look at the criticisms that China gets from these developing countries. Not just from Europe and United States. If you look at the Brazilian media and the Argentinean media, Chile, I’m more familiar with Latin America than I am with Africa, but also in the Middle East. These are countries who are voicing their criticisms of China as well. So, you know, it’s just not a “Zhong Guo wei xie lun (China Threat) ”. You have to listen carefully to what they’re saying and try and adjust.

Interviewer: Yeah, I think so. China has a tradition to be modest and to be accepting. I think China is going to try it’s best to do that. Thank you very much Professor Shambaugh.

Shambaugh: My pleasure, thank you very much too.

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