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Foreign Policy

Back to Cold-War Mentality?

Aug 11 , 2015
  • Chen Jimin

    Associate Research Fellow, CPC Party School

Recently, I participated in a number of international seminars, most with American scholars. Through these exchanges and dialogues, the following two points were clearly demonstrated:

Firstly, China-U.S. relations suffer from a lack of strategic mutual trust, but there remains room for cooperation. Lack of strategic trust is largely reflected in the traditional security fields. In fact, when it comes to issues like the South China Sea and the United States alliance system in Asia, the two sides will be inevitably find themselves in a tit-for-tat argument.

On the issue of South China Sea, the US scholars believe that it was the “unilateral act” of China’s construction on Nansha Islands that would undermine regional peace and stability as well as damage the freedom of navigation and overflight. However, Chinese scholars said that there was obviously “selective evidence” for the U.S. in assessing the current situation in the South China Sea. In other words, the United States had “double standards” in dealing with China’s construction on the Nansha Islands. In the views of Chinese scholars, it is justified and lawful for China to do this task, because China has sovereignty over these islands in the South China Sea, and other related parties have already done the construction on reefs under their control. Why has the United States turned a blind eye to such behaviors and singled out China’s construction activities? In addition, Chinese scholars believe that China’s behavior on the Nansha Islands did not interfere with any other countries’ sovereignty.

On the American alliance system in the Asia-Pacific region, the two sides also have big differences. American scholars say that the US alliance system in Asia is mainly to address the threats from North Korea. Historically, the US alliance system in Asia had made tremendous contributions to the stability and prosperity of the region. In the context of the rebalancing strategy, the United States would further strengthen its presence in Asia. To build a broader alliance and partnership network was one of the major steps. However, Chinese scholars considered that the US alliance system in Asia was nominally to prevent North Korea’s provocation but practically designed to counter China’s rise. Moreover, the United States’ Asian alliances are exclusive and confrontational in nature, which could not meet the challenges posed by the complex, dynamically changing geopolitical situation in the Northeast Asia. For the most part, the US alliance system has caused more tensions in the region in recent years.


Nevertheless, the two sides also believe that China-U.S. could cooperate on many fields such as climate change, disease prevention and poverty reduction. Thus, the trust deficit between the two countries is still evident, which has become an obstacle to further development of bilateral relations. It is obviously necessary to build a new model of major-countries relations featuring “no conflict, no confrontation, mutual respect, and win-win cooperation”. A realistic approach is to strengthen communication, enhance pragmatic cooperation and manage differences to ensure “no confrontation and no conflict”,

Secondly, a renewed Cold War mentality has entangled the U.S. When discussing China’s international behavior in recent years, the U.S. scholars expressed their concerns: Would China seek an exclusive “sphere of influence” in Asia or other places after China becomes powerful? This comes from two premises: (1) the US scholars are deeply influenced by historical empiricism. In their views, the imperialist powers would seek an exclusive “sphere of influence” after becoming stronger, and China would be no exception. (2) American scholars adhere to zero-sum game thinking. In their views, China’s rise has been moving the US’ cheese, and will inevitably undermine its vital interests.

Therefore, in order to safeguard their own interests, eliminating the threat of potential rivals is an appealing strategic choice. Some U.S. scholars began to call on the US government to resume a tough policy toward China, even advocating efforts to promote regime change in China. Joseph A. Bosco, a former officer in the office of the Secretary of Defense, wrote an article titled “America’s Asia Policy: The New Reality” on the Diplomat website. He pointed out that “In the immediate term, regional and global security requires the United States to contain China’s expansionism. Long term, the interests of the Chinese people, as well as regional and global security, can only be served by American support for regime change in China.” This idea is very dangerous and if it becomes a mainstream idea in the U.S., it will have a very devastating impact on Sino-US relations. In essence, it is a reflection that some Americans are still stuck in the stereotype of ideological struggle. From this perspective, in order to maintain the overall stability of Sino-US relations, the United States needs a thorough ideological emancipation and attitude adjustment to remove dogmatism and Cold War mentality.

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