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Foreign Policy

How Chinese Scholars View China-U.S. Relations

Dec 20 , 2018
  • Ma Shikun

    Senior Journalist, the People’s Daily

In 2019, there are many negative influences that could affect China-U.S. relations. What are they? How big might their impact be? And which direction are China-U.S. relations likely to take? These are questions of common concern to people the world over.

A few days ago, Global Times invited some Chinese scholars on China-U.S. relations to discuss these issues. They provided opinions and analysis to help others understand China-U.S. relations.

Many took a grave view and offered pessimistic assessments, suggesting that interactions between the two countries run the risk of forming a vicious cycle and spiraling out of control. Especially after a strategic blunder, it is difficult to disregard one’s honor, making it difficult for either side to reach a compromise. Relations are currently at a critical and dangerous crossroads, and one road leads to a new cold war. If all the problems between China and the U.S. become strategic and political, then it is inevitable that the two countries will take that road. Of course, if the two sides respect each other and live in peace, then it is possible for them to avoid falling into the Thucydides Trap. China-U.S. interactions can be summed up as U.S. offense and Chinese defense. The U.S.’ strategic anxiety has led to changes and unpredictability in its foreign policy.

The participants made these assertions not based on groundless fear but based on many facts and examples.

In the past year, U.S. policy toward China has undergone a major shift. Since the publication of the National Security Strategy Report in December last year, U.S. officials have issued several reports, all of which have identified China as a strategic opponent. In the past four decades, the U.S.’ China policy has been based on engagement, with caution. Now it is dominated by caution, and even containment.

In the past, when China and the U.S. dealt with sensitive issues, they tacitly understood that they needed to control problems and not let them spill over. Nowadays, however, individual contradictions or specific problems are often politicized and used as strategic pawns. For example, Chinese leaders have repeatedly insisted that the Belt and Road Initiative is not a geopolitical tool, but many people in the U.S. still stubbornly claim that it is a part of China's global geopolitical strategy.

China-U.S. strategic competition encompasses various fields, but the role of each field is changing. The economy has changed from the ballast of the relationship to a flashpoint. Cultural exchanges were an important foundation in the relationship, but the U.S. has begun to create troubles and noise in this area as well. Some domestic problems have spilled over into China-U.S. relations, such as the fentanyl issue in the US.

There are many problems and conflicts between China and the U.S., for specific reasons. There are two main factors. The first is that the strategic goals of China and the U.S., although seemingly similar, are very different. China seeks national rejuvenation, while the U.S. wants to make itself great again, and both are suspicious that the one side’s goal is to harm the other. The second is the shift in the balance of power between the two countries. The U.S. believes that the troubles it encounters today all stem from China’s rise. This serious misunderstanding has led to anxiety in the U.S., and so its strategy has become the suppression of China.

Given this situation, how can one summarize China-U.S. relations? Some experts believe that it is meaningless to label them enemies or opponents. The U.S. and China are neither enemies nor friends. In terms of the trade war, the U.S. is only a competitor of China, but its current China policy is of an imperial nature, similar to the way the British Empire contained France and Germany in the past. Only, the U.S.’ containment of China today is not militaristic, but economic and technological.

In the face of such an opponent, the scholars believe that it is not advisable to compromise with or to just confront the U.S., but common rules of the game should be established. In the past, we tended to view the world from the Eastern perspective of honor, but the West is very different from us. The Meng Xiaozhou incident completely blindsided us. We must become familiar with and understand Western way of dealing with others.

Looking at the prospects for China-U.S. relations, many participants believe that the relationship between the two countries will enter a period of readjustment in 2019, and this period will determine whether China and the U.S. enter a new cold war or establish a new relationship. In the long run, incidents between China and the U.S. will increase and competition will become increasingly intense.

Some experts have relatively optimistic views on the status quo and prospects of China-U.S. relations. They believe that the development of relations is inseparable from China's reform and opening up: without the normalization of China-U.S. relations, China's reform and opening up would not have happened, and if China’s reform and opening up had not happened, China-U.S. relations would not have been normalized. Over the four decades, these two great achievements were realized together. China’s reform and opening up has been fruitful, and its relations with the U.S. have generally developed well, as there has been neither a hot nor cold war. China is now launching a new round of reform and opening up, and China-U.S. relations are entering a new phase.

China should adhere to its policy of non-conflict, non-confrontation, mutual respect, and win-win cooperation with the U.S., and strive to build a new relationship with it. At the same time, China must be prepared to deal with all sorts of incidents. It must also adapt to the current situation of two Americas: one is Trump's America and one is the other America. These two Americas have similarities, but they have different approaches.

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