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Chinese Are Wary of the “China Threat Theory”

May 13 , 2014
  • Ma Shikun

    Senior Journalist, the People’s Daily

If an opinion poll is conducted in China: What do you dislike the most about US action towards China? The trumpeting of the “China threat theory” would certainly come near the top. The unfriendly rhetoric of US officials in recent weeks has only reinforced this view. 

Ma Shikun

In the eyes of many Chinese, the “China threat theory” has long been used by the United States to contain China. They believe the United States sees China’s preference for a low profile, peaceful rise and harmonious relations with neighbours as its key vulnerability, and tries to drive a wedge between China and certain countries to keep China down and thwart its development. 

This is a typical red herring. The advocates of this theory see China’s every move – political, economic, military, and diplomatic – as threatening. The theory has many versions: some are deliberately misleading, others are groundless; still others simply stand truth on its head. Let us sample a few of them: 

China is a threat to global food security. This was advanced by US scholar Lester Brown in his 1994 book Who Will Feed China? China only has 7 per cent of the world’s farmland, while its population account for 21 per cent of the world’s total. Therefore, Brown argues, the Chinese cannot feed themselves and will surely cause a global food crisis. His argument does not stand up to scrutiny. However, spread by US media, it caused quite a scare in the world at that time. Twenty years on, China still maintains basic self-sufficiency in grain and has not caused any “panic buying” in international grain markets. Even Brown himself has admitted several years ago that his conclusion was wrong. 

Chinese espionage activities are a threat to other countries – This allegation has been circulating for many years. It caused the biggest media frenzy in May 1999 when the 800-page Cox Report, released by US Congress, portrayed Wen Ho Lee, an American of Chinese ancestry, as “China’s nuclear spy”. The report also painted Chinese scholars, students, businesspeople, etc. in the US as suspected spies. This caused panic and resentment among the Chinese community. After nine months of detention, Wen Ho Lee was found innocent and given 1.8 million dollars as compensation by the initiators of the lawsuit, including the US Department of Energy, the Department of Justice, The New York Times and four other US media organizations. Have they ever realised that it is against not just moral principles but also human rights to defame an individual, an ethnic community or a nation? 

China is a threat to the territory of others. In recent weeks, several senior US officials accused China of violating the territory of other countries by force: with the dispute with Japan over the Diaoyu Islands and with the Philippines over some islands and reefs in the South China Sea. In making these allegations, they are putting the blame on the innocent party. Take the Diaoyu Islands for example. They have historically been part of China’s territory. The Cairo Declaration of 1943 stated clearly that Japan’s territory shall be limited to its four islands and the Diaoyu Islands shall be restored to China. In 1972, the US, in a backroom deal, transferred the right of administration of the Diaoyu Islands to Japan, to which China protested vehemently. When China and Japan negotiated the normalisation of their diplomatic relations that same year, they agreed to shelve the dispute and engage in joint development. However, in 2012, Japan announced the “nationalisation” of these islands in a thinly disguised attempt to make them Japanese territory. Of course, China took necessary countermeasures to defend its sovereignty over the islands. In the meantime, China has all along called for a peaceful, negotiated settlement of the dispute. 

Contrary to the expectations of some Americans, these different versions of the “China threat theory” have not isolated China. The truth is, more and more countries see China as a friend. Many EU member states, which are US allies, are building strategic relations with China and seeking cooperation from Beijing on a wide range of issues. 

What angers China is US duplicity: on the one hand, it vows to build a new model of major-country relations with China; on the other hand, it uses the “China threat theory” to smear China’s image. China always handles its relations with other countries with sincerity and hates to be treated in a duplicitous way. If Washington truly wishes to forge a new model of relations with Beijing, it should act like a responsible power. Ditching the “China threat theory” is a good place to start. 

Ma Shikun is a senior commentator at the People’s Daily.

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