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Foreign Policy

Dealing with the US: A Few Thoughts

Jan 03, 2020
  • Zheng Yu

    Professor, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences

Since March 2018, the trade war between China and the United States has intensified, key negotiations have stalled and the Trump administration has continuously escalated its efforts to contain China. Under constant U.S. attack, the Chinese attempt to build a new type of major-country relationship featuring mutually beneficial cooperation on equal footing is hardly sustainable. Chi-na’s policies toward the U.S. have reached a crossroad, and a reorientation is needed.

Against this background, some thoughts on several principles may be helpful.

First, maintaining cooperative relationships with developed countries remains a core Chinese national interest. China’s reform and opening-up is an essential element in establishing cooperative relations with developed countries (and groups of countries) and making two-way exchanges possible. Without cooperative ties with the world — and especially with developed countries — China may return to a state of self-isolation, as its road to a wholesome market economy and advanced industrial technologies may have many detours.

China’s economic development needs support from the world market, and the capital and technologies of developed countries in particular. It’s impossible for China to make world-class scientific and technological achievements on its own, without cooperating and exchanging with others.

Second, China’s choice to seek a peaceful rise on the path of national development not only establishes that it will not resolve disagreements with others by means of war, nor by hard confrontation.

Although U.S. President Donald Trump’s China policies are aggressive, the Chinese side’s reactions con-tinue to be based on the principle of “on just ground, to our advantage and with restraint,” thereby avoiding escalating tensions. China is being defensive rather than offensive.

Even so, China should be particularly careful. It should avoid flinging abuse and rather focus on specific subjects. It should avoid attacking the other party’s social system and ideology.

One tendency that should particularly be avoided is defining the entire West as an alien force, or even an enemy, when encountering rough water. contradictions. Likewise, we should prevent ourselves from being seen by virtually the entire West as an alien, incompatible entity in terms of our social system and development path.

Obviously, without effective, rational management and control, especially on China’s part, the current China-U.S. contradiction may become a vicious circle as the U.S. obstinately goes its own way — with the result be-ing that the European Union and developed countries in the Asia-Pacific region are forced to choose sides amid a fierce China-U.S. confrontation. This will be more detrimental to China and is an international environment China should make every effort to avoid.

Third, with respect to China’s policy posture toward the U.S., the idea of replacing “peace thinking” with “war thinking” will lead the country astray. Approaching China’s U.S. policies with war thinking will not only deal an all-around, destructive blow to the country’s pre-set development strategies but will not effectively cope with and resolve strategic hedging by the U.S. 

Though some individual strategists on the U.S. side have made a judgment that war is inevitable between the U.S. and China, current conditions show that the U.S. strategic containment of China takes place mainly in the non-military realm.

Militarily, the U.S. is considering the concept of “multi-domain warfare,” which is targeted at China and Russia. But for the time being, the Trump administration has mainly adopted two measures: conducting military patrols in waters of the South China Sea and withdrawing from the INF treaty with a plan to enhance intermediate-range missile deployment in the western Pacific.

The patrols in the South China Sea are a continuation of an Obama-era policy, while the withdrawal from the INF reflects U.S. strategic worries about China’s large-scale deployment of ground-based intermediate-range missiles along its coastal belt.

It deserves special emphasis that during the heated confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War, the U.S. side had already formulated, and strictly implemented, the norm for military operations — that it would avoid direct military conflict with nuclear powers capable of striking continental U.S. territories. The 1958 Berlin crisis and 1962 Cuban missile crisis are examples.

China’s military development should continue following the principle of “reasonably sufficient,” and avoid getting bogged down in the mire of an arms race.

Last, China should seek bilateral compromise through unilateral compromise — that is, compromise with strength.

Mao Zedong once earned bilateral compromise between China and the U.S. through unilateral compromise in 1972. So did Deng Xiaoping in 1994 in managing to end the U.S. trade sanctions against China in the aftermath of the June 4 incident.

Of course, China-U.S. relations are much more complicated now than they were in those times; there-fore, seeking compromise through strength will be an important policy option. For example, China can strengthen itself via reforms to develop a tougher skin for the trade war, allowing it to wait for changes, build a win-win investment environment that’s more in line with international norms and attract more investment and technological cooperation from other advanced countries.

It is especially important at present to actively maintain and expand cooperation with the EU, Canada and advanced countries in the Asia-Pacific region.

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