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Foreign Policy

Please Don’t Misread the Name of the Game

Jun 12 , 2015
  • Wu Jianmin

    Former President, China Foreign Affairs University

Commenting on American foreign policy, Professor Joseph Nye said recently that the U.S. made a big mistake on Iraq and a small mistake on the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). Many people agreed with him. But Nye didn’t point out why the U.S. made these mistakes. To my mind, the two mistakes came from one origin: U.S. misreading of the name of the game of our time.
The name of the game varies from one era to another. What’s the name of the game today? It’s win-win cooperation. Two major factors are behind it:

First is economic interdependence. The world has never been so interdependent as today.
Second are common challenges facing mankind: climate change, terrorism, nuclear proliferation, pandemics and natural disasters, just to name a few. No country, however powerful it is, is able to cope with those challenges alone. The human race is bound to work together to address those challenges for its survival.

Those two major factors bring people together.

Misreading the name of the game of our time is a major mistake, which can lead to disastrous consequences. Just look at Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, where US made two-and-a-half wars in the new century. These wars led to the current messy situation in the Middle East and North Africa. Hundreds of thousands of people have lost their lives. Ten million people have become refugees and live in dire conditions. Who should be held accountable? The United States. To some extent, this disaster is US-made.

Win-win cooperation, as the name of the game today, is new. The world today comes from the past. In the past centuries, the name of the game was zero-sum. War used to be omnipotent. If countries couldn’t agree to settle their disputes through diplomatic means, they went to war and war settled everything. The warring parties accepted the outcome of war.

The world has changed, yet people’s mindset lags behind reality. Inertia is at work. Zero-sum thinking is still guiding some people’s thinking and behavior. That explains why President George W. Bush decided to go to war in Iraq, in spite of strong opposition around the world. Even U.S. allies like France and Germany opposed the Iraq War vehemently. President Bush was convinced that war could do the job. Later the reality proved him dead wrong.

The zero-sum game mentality has led the current American administration to decide not only to refuse to join AIIB but also try to prevent allies from doing so. They believe the AIIB was aiming at undercutting existing international financial institutions, such as the IMF, the World Bank and the Asia Development Bank. China is a member of all three of these international financial institutions. In our modernization drive, we have benefited from our membership in these institutions. Why should we undercut them? The Chinese are not that stupid!

Win-win cooperation is powerful. Let’s take China-Africa trade cooperation as an example. In 1962, China-Africa trade stood at $100 million. Thirteen years later, it went up to $1 billion. In 2000, it was $10 billion. In 2014, it jumped to more than $220 billion. What is the explanation of this rapid growth? Win-win cooperation.

The same applies to China-US trade. In Nov 1971, I went to New York for the first time as a junior member of the Chinese delegation to attend the 26th Session of UN General Assembly. That year, China-American trade was barely $5 million US dollars. But last year, it went up to $514 billion, beyond any imagination!

President Xi Jinping, on behalf of the Chinese government, launched “One Belt, One Road” initiative (short for “the land and maritime silk road” initiative). This decision was made considering the changing world, Asia’s reality and China’s situation. Today, the global growth center is located in East Asia. In the past few decades, East Asia’s growth rate was more than double the global average growth rate. We all need Asia’s growth. The “One Belt, One Road” initiative is intended to link East Asia, South Asia and Central Asia together. The economies of these regions are highly complementary. If “One Belt, One Road” initiative succeeds in linking these Asian regions together, it will stimulate Asian growth and make it sustainable. And Asia’s continuous strong growth will benefit not only itself but also the rest of the world.

So please don’t misread the name of the game again, when you look at China’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative.

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