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Foreign Policy

Joseph Nye Is Wrong

May 05 , 2014
  • Yu Sui

    Professor, China Center for Contemporary World Studies

According to an April 19th report by Japan’s Kyodo News, Professor Joseph Nye of Harvard University made some less-than-friendly remarks regarding China during an exclusive interview. I was surprised after reading it. 

Yu Sui

The professor first made his own interpretation of the United States’ position on the issue of the Diaoyu Islands. He said that the US government insisting that it doesn’t take a position on the issue of sovereignty over the Diaoyu Islands means it does not take a specific position on what happened at the end of the 19th century. Since the US returned jurisdiction over the Diaoyu Islands to Japan when Okinawa was returned, the US-Japan security treaty is applicable to the islands. He even resorted to a condescending tone, warning that China shouldn’t make a misjudgment. 

It is not difficult to see from such interpretation that the interviewee could not deny that the Diaoyu Islands are China’s inherent territories. He just made a make-believe thrust with the “no position” rhetoric, and dodged history. Second, the interviewee ignored the solemn international laws the US itself has signed, and evaded the Cairo Declaration and the Potsdam Proclamation Defining Terms for Japanese Surrender, which stipulated in explicit terms that Japan should return territories it had stolen from China, including the Diaoyu Islands. Third, since the US takes a “no position” stance on the historical issue, it acknowledges that disputes do exist between China and Japan over the Diaoyu Islands. The Chinese have adhered to the principled stance that Japan should acknowledge the existence of such disputes (which Japanese authorities vehemently deny), and the two parties should resolve the disputes in a reasonable manner through negotiations and consultations on the basis of such a consensus. The Chinese position is aboveboard and straightforward. Joseph Nye cannot negate this. He is simply biased in favor of Japan where rightist forces are increasingly rampant out of the special needs of his own design. He is like a advocate defending a thief, who resorts to force to “protect” what he has stolen. What weird logic! 

Immediately after that, the interviewee threw cold water on the building of “new-type of major-country relationship” between China and the United States, which is a hot topic of concern, making some outrageously bizarre statements. China proposed to build a “new-type major-country relationship” with the US, but nobody knows what China actually means, it’s a kind of slogan. 

Joseph Nye has forgotten. But President Obama knows it well. On the evening of March 14, 2013, after his assumption of Chinese presidency, Xi Jinping talked with Obama on the phone at the request of the US. Obama pointed out that the US and China are facing historical opportunities for establishing future orientations, and that the US side hopes to work together with the Chinese side in building a new-type major-country relationship that is based on healthy competition rather than strategic gaming. On June 7th the same year, during his meeting with President Xi, President Obama stated both China and the US wish to build a cooperative relationship. Military-to-military relations are a realm for concrete progress, and at the same time an example of the two countries’ efforts for building the “new-type major-country relationship”. Currently, China and the US face a peculiar opportunity for upgrading bilateral relations. We should strive to make sure such a fine opportunity is not squandered. 

President Xi has presented a concise summary of the new-type major-country relationship: no conflict, no confrontation, mutual respect, win-win cooperation. It’s regrettable that Mr. Nye has misread the Chinese leader’s proposal as China seeks a “US-China hegemony (G2)”, and claimed that the United States would not tolerate Chinese hegemony. Everybody knows very well who is conducting hegemony in the world. 

At last, Mr. Nye did not forget to condemn China’s current diplomatic policies in front of the Japanese. He claimed that China felt its economy increasingly strong after the 2008 financial crisis while that of the US’ has been declining, and thus abandoned the low-profile diplomatic policies that had been in place since the Deng Xiaoping era, damaging relations with such neighboring countries as Japan. He even came to the conclusion that the stronger its self-confidence, the worse its conditions. This is a major dilemma for China. As a well-known scholar, how could Mr. Nye ignore reality and the peaceful diplomatic policies China has adhered to? 

The Lianhe Zaobao in Singapore published an article on April 22 titled “Taking China as An Enemy Would Accelerate US Decline”. I would like to recommend it to Mr. Nye. The article observed that US judgments about China weren’t made on the basis of China’s historical or present international behaviors, but of its own deep-rooted ideologies. Americans believe a rising power will inevitably challenge the existing one, and tend to impose their own thinking on other countries. It seems that if the US cannot correct its strategic misjudgments about China, and cannot restrain its infinite strategic greed, it may inevitably fall into such a logic and embark on a course of decline at a higher speed. 

Talking about this, it occurs to me that in his book Soft Power, Mr. Nye quoted in positive tone what a Norwegian diplomat said to him: Every country wants to promote the values it earnestly believes. As the richest country in the world, the US’ most vulnerable aspects of its soft-power schemes are undisguised double standards and instability. 

I appreciate Mr. Nye’s pragmatic attitude here, and wish he could understand and treat China in consistence with such an attitude. 

Yu Sui is a Professor with the China Center for Contemporary World Studies. 

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