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Foreign Policy

Deng Xiaoping’s US Policy Remains Consistent

Aug 25 , 2014
  • Yu Sui

    Professor, China Center for Contemporary World Studies

August 22nd of this year marks the 110th anniversary of Deng Xiaoping. In so far as the contributions to China-US relations in the modern era, Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai are the undisputable founders while Deng was an energetic pioneer from the Chinese side. 

Yu Sui

There is now a widespread concern. As China moves so rapidly in development, will its US policy that Deng helped so much to put in place stay unchanged or will it undergo changes in the future? My answer is that there will be changes for sure. But these changes will only be of a consequent, positive and benign nature, or take the form of a zigzag development. I will back up my argument with real-life examples. That is, Deng’s ideas and propositions on the subject matter are being carried forward with great enthusiasm by China’s leaders of today. 

Example one, Deng believed that one should view China-US relations by bearing in mind the characteristics of our times. He pointed out that there were only two major issues in the world, that is, global issues with strategic importance. One was peace, and the other was the economy, or development. In his view, our times were no longer dominated by such themes as war and revolution. Maintaining peace and promoting development would be impossible without the world’s biggest developed country the United States of America. The job also required an increasing role by the world’s biggest developing country China. Such was the big picture behind the argument that China-US relations ought to become better and not worse. Real-life events, such as rolling back the financial crisis, preventing nuclear proliferation, waging war on terrorism, etc. have time and again proved that China-US cooperation can never be short of converging points and popular support.

Example two, in face of post-Cold War complexities and volatilities around the world, Deng called for the building of a new international political and economic order based on the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence. Such principles as mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, mutual non-aggression, non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, equality and mutual benefit and peaceful coexistence have always been, and will continue to be, the foundation stones of China’s foreign policy. They should, too, be the foundation stones of the new model of major-country relationship committed by China and the US.  

Example three, Deng believed that the prerequisite of normalization of China-US relations was mutual respect. In his talks with former US President Richard Nixon in 1989, he said that countries should go about their relations with others by proceeding from their own strategic interests and taking care of them with a long point of view. But they should also treat the interests of other countries with respect. Indeed, he made the principle of mutual respect the focal point of China’s US policy, namely, to enhance trust, reduce trouble, develop cooperation and refrain from confrontation. This helps us see a close affinity between what Deng said then and what President Xi Jinping offered as features of the new model of China-US major-country relationship: no-conflict, no-confrontation, mutual respect and win-win cooperation.

Example four, Deng was totally convinced that China and the US could live side by side harmoniously. In his talks with US presidential special envoy in December 1989, he said that though the two countries had gone through some troubling moments and still had some problems and differences, the relations were bound to get better at end of the day. He said that China posed no threat to the US and the US must not take China as an adversary that threatened it. Such a conviction was echoed time and again and in greater detail by President Xi in his meetings with President Obama.

Example five, it is true that Deng was quite unequivocal in voicing China’s opposition to hegemonism just as to terrorism. It deserves a closer attention though to how he phased it. Deng’s statement was that we oppose whoever that has practiced hegemony and whoever that has committed aggression. He did not put the hegemonism tag on any fixed individual or country for good. If we need to implement the UN Charter and basic norms governing international relations and promote greater democracy in international life, we will have no choice but express our opposition to hegemonism and terrorism.

When talking about China-US relations, some questions, such as the following, need to be answered:

Some say, because China and the US have different social systems, it is impossible for them to stay in good terms and develop a cooperative relationship. This argument is not justified. In WWII, America and then Soviet Union forged a strong alliance against fascists. Could any one tell me why?

Some say, the China-US relationship should be defined as one between neither enemies nor friends. China and the US are not enemies for sure. Because either from the fact of a globalized world where countries are increasingly interdependent, or from their respective development strategies, we don’t see any reason for the two countries to become enemies. Neither am I convinced that China and the US are not friends. Since “friends” can mean different things, if you equate “friends” with “allies”, China of course is not an American ally. But if you equate “friends” with “partners of cooperation”, how could anyone say that China, with over 500 billion dollars in trade with the US, is still not a friend of America?

Some ask, how come China and the US are described as partners of cooperation one moment and rivals of competition the next? I think cooperation and competition are merely two sides of the same coin, with the former being the prerequisite and the latter appearance. Countries can very well compete with each other amid cooperation, and cooperate with each other amid competition. Working together in good faith and competing in accordance with rules, this will lead us to a benign interaction and win-win results for both sides.

Some vociferously assert that a rising China is a threat to the US. I find it rather bizarre. When the US was deep in financial hot water, China came to its rescue by purchasing a huge amount of US treasury bonds. So much so that Secretary Hillary Clinton likened China-US relations to passengers riding in the same boat. I still remember that vividly. Not long ago, President Xi Jinping called for a new Asian Security Vision characterized by common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security at the Fourth CICA Summit as well as building together an Asian security path that all can share and benefit from. This, too, will serve the US interests in the Asia-Pacific.

Yu Sui is a professor at the China Center for Contemporary World Studies.

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