With U.S. President Donald Trump leaving the White House soon, it’s time to reinstate a significant truth about China-U.S. relations: Taking advantage of past debates on China policy in the U.S., Trump launched a campaign of suppression and confrontation that included identifying China as a main strategic competitor and threat, and attempted to frame China-U.S. divergence as the world’s main contradiction. Quite a number of public opinion leaders have been making noise as the two countries have entered an era of confrontation.
To identify the main contradiction in today's world, which is in itself an important, complex and sensitive question, we must first determine whether the theme of our times has changed. The general consensus is that peace and development remain central. Then, the major issues and challenges surrounding that should be the main issue of today's world.
This leads me to the following ideas:
First, the political confrontation and conflict between multilateralism and unilateralism, globalization and anti-globalization, openness-inclusiveness and protectionism – that is, the concept of a “community of a shared future for “humanity,” as opposed to a single-minded concentration on one country’s own interests – constitutes the main contradiction for the international community. The violent comeback of geopolitics has all sorts of manifestations in this regard.
Second, the economic imbalance between highly developed productive forces and belated improvements in the general public's livelihoods constitutes a main contradiction in society. It is most conspicuous in the further widening of the wealth gap worldwide.
Third, there has been a long-standing dilemma in the evolution of the post-WWII order. That is, before the formulation of any new order, the existing one faces increasing doubts about its feasibility and legitimacy, as it appears increasingly unable to adapt in changing times to effectively cope with such severe challenges as climate change and the ongoing pandemic. There is also an outstanding contradiction between the evolution of the global order and global governance in a peaceful environment.
It also deserves emphasis that the macro background of dramatic leaps in technology have added further complexity. The pandemic has mercilessly exposed the weaknesses in some countries’ values.
Fourth, such contradictions have been embodied in state-to-state relations and policy moves, and are closely connected to major countries (including groups of countries) not limited to China and the U.S. Life-and-death confrontation between opposite camps has to a great extent lost favor. The majority of countries in the world don’t want to be forced to take sides between China and the U.S. and least of all to be bound to the anti-China bandwagon. Despite sporadic shows of Cold War thinking and impulses for hot war, attempts by the anti-China faction to drag the world into the abyss of a new cold war is destined to fail.
Fifth, China-U.S. differences don’t constitute the present-day world’s main contradiction. The main problems mostly have their roots at home, originating from whether they have adapted to and caught up with the grand trends in a changing world, from whether their respective economic structure has undergone timely adjustments to keep pace with new economies of our time and from each government’s capacity for decision-making and implementation. Refusing to look at one’s own problems while wanting the world to adapt to and follow one’s self is immoral and against science, logic and the trends of the time.
Some people with ulterior motives have taken China-U.S. relations hostage, falsely claiming the relationship has fallen into a so-called Thucydides trap, and that the world has been divided into one camp of advanced countries led by the U.S. and another featuring China and some other developing nations. They thereby wantonly trumpet China-threat theories and provoke China-U.S. confrontation.
In fact, it was the Trump administration that provoked confrontation; it was the Trump administration that attempted to decouple; and it was the Trump administration that was preaching a new cold war. The Chinese side’s resolute and rational counterattacks against the Trump administration’s slew of provocations were purely in response to latter’s irrational acts. Hence the legitimate moves of self-defense.
The Chinese reactions are in no way driven by any intention to supersede the U.S. as global leader. Facing rampant U.S. suppression and bullying, China has no choice but to fight back. China attempts to seek dialogue, stability and cooperation through such struggles. It has maintained a cool head throughout, always striving to de-escalate tensions and pursue the greatest common ground in the process. The Chinese side has managed to avoid the trap of a direct fist fight set up by the Trump-Pompeo duo. Its principles have emphasized dialogue not confrontation, partnership over competition.
Proceeding from the perspective of the two countries’ positions, capacity and functions in the changing global order and from the perspective of the stability and continuity of China’s U.S. policies, rather than constituting the world’s main contradiction, the differences and spats between China and the U.S., if handled properly, may be more conducive to fulfilling the historical mission and responsibility they share.
Many historians believe today’s China-U.S. relations are completely different from those between the U.S. and the Soviet Union of the Cold War era. How is it that the world’s two largest markets can be integrated with each other, compete and complement each other, while standing for the world’s biggest contradiction? The state of common development in the process of mutual interdependence that both countries have cultivated over the years is actually a kind of positive energy and good fortune for the world, a dividend that all countries can share. The U.S. side may want to think it over, calculate carefully and find out how much the U.S. has benefited from China's development over the decades. Perhaps no other country has been a bigger beneficiary than the U.S. itself.