On June 18, Mr. Wu Jianmin, China’s former ambassador to France and ex-president of China Foreign Affairs University, died in a car crash. Ambassador Wu, one of China’s most distinguished diplomats, had been a rational voice among Chinese foreign policy pundits. His sudden passing triggered a fierce debate between the so-called “doves” and “hawks”. Their divided views on his policy recommendations is a testament to the growing pluralism of Chinese society.
Going beyond the “dove/hawk” labels, the ongoing debate reflects different world views and approaches informed by China’s experience in recent decades. Do we live in an age of war or peace? Are China’s interests best served by deepening its engagement with the world or retreating into isolation?
Ambassador Wu had been an advocate of peaceful development and rational choices throughout his career. He strongly advised his people not to become giddy with economic success or arrogant with China’s growing clout in the world. He rejected any impetuous talk of war. He argued that China had benefited enormously from reform and opening to a globalized world, and must never return to self-imposed isolation. In his late 70s, Ambassador Wu still traveled the world as well as his beloved country, explaining the link between peace, openness and development. For this, he had been falsely accused of being a spineless “dove” or even a “traitor” to his own country.
These accusations, smacking of personal attacks that had characterized the “Cultural Revolution” (1966-76), are not worth refuting. Ambassador Wu did not think much of the “dove/hawk” dichotomy. “I only respect facts”, he used to say. He and his like-minded colleagues merely suggested that national interests are best served and advanced by rational, cost-effective means, not war-mongering or conspiracy theories. Chinese history is rife with examples where those who paid lip service to their country had done the most to mislead or worse, wreck it.
Take the China-US relationship for example. A harmonious relationship between the emerging power and the established power is in the best interests of the world; a conflict between the two can only bring disaster. As the two nations that shoulder the greatest responsibility for advancing world peace and development, the choice is clear.
In the view of this author, it would actually be a good thing if more “doves” would speak out in China, the United States and the world. Beijing’s adherence to a foreign policy of peace and joint efforts with Washington to build a new model of relations would render a great service to the cause of peace and development in the world.
Yet the reality does not match the imperatives of the moment. During the second term of the Obama administration, the US-China relationship has often been fraught. On June 15, President Obama met again with the Dalai Lama, the mastermind of the “Tibetan government in exile”. US carrier groups have sailed frequently to the South China Sea to flex military muscles. Admiral Harry Harris, head of the US Pacific Command, even urged his forces to be ready to “fight tonight”.
These hawkish postures are in stark contrast to the “dovish” policies favored by the late Ambassador Wu. In China, there is no shortage of headstrong hardliners in the policy circle and blood-boiling youngsters who believe the times are gone when America could ride roughshod over China and it is high time for China to take resolute action to defend its sovereignty and dignity.
While it feels good for China to take on the almighty United States, the consequence can only be confrontation between the nations and hostility between their people. It is in the fundamental interests of the United States to maintain its superpower status. The fundamental interests of China demand that it realizes the “two centenary goals” (i.e. becoming a moderately prosperous society in all respects by 2020 and becoming a modern socialist country that is strong, prosperous, democratic, civilized and harmonious by 2050). The confrontational approach described above would put both nations’ goals in jeopardy.
Beijing has no intention to challenge Washington. It understands that despite its rapid rise, China is still no match for the United States in many respects. Washington must understand that while China’s diplomatic posture may have become more active in recent years, Beijing’s core objectives and policies remain the same. For example, although China has adopted a more proactive approach to the South China Sea disputes by building out islands, it remains wedded to a “foreign policy of peace” and continues to respect and participate in the international order erected by the United States. More broadly, China remains committed to President Xi Jinping’s vision of building a “new model of major-country relations” with the United States. The mantra of “no conflict or confrontation, mutual respect and win-win cooperation” is worth repeating by more “doves” in both countries. The China-US relationship must be guided by more common sense, so that the “core interests” of both sides will not be undercut by the “hawks” craving for war.
In a world where people aspire for peace and development, let there be more “doves” and fewer “hawks”. The untimely passing of Ambassador Wu Jianmin is not only a huge loss for China, but also a loss for the United States and world peace. The more people in the political, military and academic circles take over his mantle, the more smooth will be the journey of building a new model of relationship between the world’s largest developed country and largest developing country.