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Foreign Policy

Myths about China-U.S. Relations

Mar 10 , 2016
  • Yu Sui

    Professor, China Center for Contemporary World Studies

The “China Threat” theory is old news and the “China Collapse” theory has also surfaced from time to time. These two extremist theories have direct or indirect implications for China-US relations.

China-US relations should achieve sustained, sound and steady growth. To do this, it is necessary to unravel eight prevailing myths.

The first myth is that China and the US, as a rising power and an established power, are bound to have conflicts. This theory derives from the so-called “Thucydides trap”.

As a matter of fact, China and the US have never fallen into the Thucydides trap. Over the past 30 years and more since the establishment of diplomatic ties, the two countries have traversed on two parallel, non-colliding tracks. China has undertaken a reform and opening-up campaign, and emerged as the biggest trading partner of the US. The two countries have exchanged hundreds of thousands of students. When it comes to international hotspot issues, such as the Ukraine crisis and the turbulence in the Middle East, none of them was caused by the intrinsic conflict between China and the US. On the contrary, it is precisely thanks to the coordination between the two countries and their cooperation with other countries that the Iranian nuclear issue was effectively resolved. The two countries are now working together to explore ways to address the Korean nuclear issue.

The second myth is that the structural conflict between China and the US is unavoidable. The fundamental “structural conflict” between the two countries is no more than their differences in social system. But history has already made the judgment. Countries with different social systems had no difficulty working in concert against the Fascists during the Second World War, and they have coexisted peacefully over the past seven decades since the end of the war.

Is the socialism with distinctive Chinese features in any way hindering the development of the US? None of China’s socialist core values, namely prosperity, democracy, civility, harmony, freedom, equality, justice, rule of law, patriotism, work ethics, credibility and kindness, is in conflict with the US interests. In handling state-to-state relations, China has all along upheld the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence over the past 60 years, and now China stresses the concepts of peace, development, cooperation and win-win results, none of which is unacceptable to the US.

The third myth is that the building of a new model of major-country relations between China and the US is not based on reality. In fact, this initiative is highly practical. It features non-conflict and non- confrontation, mutual respect and win-win cooperation, principles that no country has any reason to reject. Thanks to years of mutual accommodation and interaction, the two countries now share more consensus.

The fourth myth is that China and the US are competing over the right for leadership in the Asia Pacific. A prevailing view is that countries in the Asia Pacific region have formed a binary structure, relying on the US for security and relying on China for economic growth.

China is indeed the largest trading partner of almost all East Asian countries. But close economic ties are by no means a trigger of tensions. Instead, they are vital to peaceful development, security and stability. Moreover, it is the set policy of a few countries to count on the US for security.

The Chinese-initiated Asian security concept and the establishment of the AIIB and the Silk Road Fund are giving the jitters to some in the US, who are worried that some day China may take over the US as the leader in the region. I believe time will show such worries to have been unnecessary.

The fifth myth is that the DPRK nuclear tests will rouse disputes between China and the US. China’s position on the Korean nuclear issue is consistent. First, the security and normal development of the DPRK as a sovereign state must be guaranteed; second, denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula must be ensured; third, disputes should be resolved peacefully under the framework of the Six-Party Talks. The Korean nuclear issue has become gravely complicated because of the US unwillingness to accept the above-mentioned first principle. China and the US have all along seen eye to eye with each other on the other two principles, as demonstrated by the recent agreement reached by the two countries on expanding sanctions against the DPRK.

The sixth myth is that China is assertive on all fronts. To use the word “assertive” to describe China’s diplomacy is at least inappropriate, if not a malicious distortion. Each and every measure of China’s diplomacy is about maintaining peace, promoting development, enhancing cooperation and pursuing win-win results, and in keeping with China’s standing as a big, responsible country.

The seventh myth is that China must form an alliance to deal with the US. Non-alignment is a policy that China has pursued since the inception of reform and opening-up. It is not a policy of expedience, but rather one that is based on the trend of the times and the Chinese dream of great national renewal.

The eight myth is that China is now a lonely power trapped in the Asia Pacific quagmire. This is contradictory with the theory of China-US competition in the Asia Pacific. If China is wrestling with the US for leadership, how can it be lonely? If China is trapped in a quagmire, how can it be capable of competing with the US?

China is neither in a quagmire nor is it lonely, though some people hope to see such a scenario. China not just navigated through both the 1997 Asian financial crisis and the 2008 international financial crisis unscathed. It has also emerged as an important engine for the world economic growth.

Some people have attempted to constrain China with the TPP. The 12 TPP countries account for 40% of the world economy, but only 25% of the total trade volume in the world. China’s phenomenal economic aggregate and the trade opportunities it provides make it hard for TPP not to seek benefits from China’s demand and influence.

Some put it this way, when a confident and insistent China meets a diffident and fretful US, a lot of problems may arise in China-US relations. This is a thought-provoking point.

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