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Foreign Policy

Is the US’ Fear Necessary?

Jan 31 , 2019
  • Wang Fan

    Vice President, China Foreign Affairs University

Historically speaking, Japan and China are countries always ready for unexpected dangers, due to their geographical position and national power. Now the United States has also become such a country. The US’ fear comes from its worry of losing its hegemonic position. The US’ sense of superiority is based on its hegemonic position in the world. The United States believes it is exceptional and can intervene in other countries’ internal affairs as it likes. All these special ideas are related to the American hegemonic mindset. If the US loses its hegemonic position in the world, its unique lifestyle will go with it. This is the underlying cause of its fear.

The US’ historic fear of losing its hegemonic position began with the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. At that time, the United States believed that the world had become unipolar and it must use this historical opportunity to maximize its power and expand its global reach in order to maintain its hegemony. That fear was actually a worry about the direction of the world future. Since 2008, this fear has become more real and concrete. In the US’ eyes, China is no longer just a potential challenge, but a strategic competitor which must be dealt with in a serious manner.

The United States sees China as an immediate threat instead of a potential danger.

First, there is domestic demand for this. The United States needs external enemies. The American military enterprises and US defense spending cannot survive without external enemies. The external factors are also important to balance and coordinate the two US parties’ political competition. If Russia is regarded just as a military threat to the United States, then China is viewed as a strategic competitor in a more comprehensive sense. The so-called external threats can also act as scapegoats, which US can blame for its own mistakes. For example, economic recessions, unemployment, shrinking in manufacturing industries, and other domestic problems can all be China’s fault, so as to quell the pressure from voters and the opposition party.

Then there is the need for its international strategy. The US’ strength and influence are in relative decline. According to the logic that national strength determines a country’s foreign strategy, the United States should decrease its defense budget. Yet the actual situation is that the US’ external threats are on the rise, and the capabilities of its strategic competitors are also improving. As a response, the United States must also strengthen its external power. Then, the rise of China has become an easy and legitimate reason to convince the American people that the US has to strengthen its external power in order to maintain its position in the world. Interestingly, The US’ worry reflects its contradictory psychology. On the one hand, the United States frequently highlighted the so called “China threat”; on the other hand, it repeatedly emphasized that the United States enjoys an absolute advantage in military power in the world. It is easy to see the contradiction: since the US claimed to enjoy absolute superiority in its military power, why should it worry about other countries? Look further, we can find that the United States has really many rivals; so many that it is difficult for it to focus. This is actually what really worries the United States. The United States can lock its focus on China, but it has found so many more such dangers that it is difficult for it to keep its focus solely on China. This is another underlying worry. This has also become a cause of its strategic uncertainty and strategic chaos. As a global hegemon, the United States has many problems due to maintaining its hegemonic position in the world, which are beyond its control. To find an easy way out, it just related all these problems to China. China does not seek hegemony; yet the United States is worried about losing its hegemony.

China has made great achievements in the past 40 years of reform and opening-up. China should be confident in its future development based on its past achievements. But this is not to say that China is ready to lead the world. China has neither the ambition nor the ability to lead the world. China knows itself well enough not to be placed at the center of the world. It is wrong to regard China’s courage to take responsibility in the international community as evidence of China’s intention to seek hegemony. The US assumption that China is already very powerful is premature and its anxiety is unnecessary. In fact, the real problem lies with the United States itself. Even if China becomes stronger, the United States has nothing to worry about as long as it maintains its strength. Has the United States really lost confidence in its own development? If yes, then this shows that it has no confidence in its own development model. If China’s development model is wrong and destined to fail, the United States has nothing to worry about at all. If the United States thinks that its model has some flaws, and other countries’ models have merits, then the United States can learn from others and correct its mistakes. So, what is there to worry about? Of course, it is difficult for the United States to admit that it has shortcomings. However, the United States should have the courage to face up to its own shortcomings and correct them. All countries in the world would like to see the United States remain strong through correcting its mistakes. In fact, what the United States needs to do now is simple – just keep its confidence, nothing else. China can offer help to the US in order to help it maintain its confidence. The United States must develop itself. The United States did not use the so-called state capitalism to rule the world; instead it used hegemony. It has special rights and always acts on its own. There is no possibility that China would do the same. It is unlikely that China would gain dominance over the United States through war or take its place in the world. Is it possible for China to peacefully transform the United States the way the US did to the Soviet Union? China has never had such an intention.

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