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US Should Recognize Times Are Changing

Nov 11 , 2015
  • Wang Yusheng

    Executive Director, China Foundation for Int'l Studies

The China-Europe relationship is taking on a new aspect since Chinese President Xi Jinping made a successful visit to the United Kingdom, successive calls on Beijing by the Dutch king, German chancellor and French president, and the scheduling of high-level meetings between Chinese and Central-East European officials yet to be held.

The international response to the new development are generally positive with praise, support and expectations, but there are also negative voices, especially that of the United States, which seems to contain some jealousy. Washington even reproved its ally Britain for bowing to China in disregard of “principles”. Some observers remarked that the development was a “Go” move Beijing had taken to “contain” the US. They are misinterpreting China, Britain and Europe.

Undoubtedly Britain and Europe never have the intention to “betray” their American ally, but they know the importance of “follow the trend of the times.” A better Europe-China relationship meets the needs of both sides as well as the call of the times. Is it possible that China doesn’t want a “comfortable and mutually dependent relationship” with the US? Surely China wants that. In fact, China has never stopped showing bona fides to the US. In economy and trade, for instance, the two countries are mutually complementary. The US failed to develop a mutually dependent relationship with China as vigorous as that between Britain and China. What went wrong? It was not caused by an attempt of China to “contain” the US but by Washington’s failure to answer such questions as posed by the international situation: how to take changing times and changes in the balance of international strengths.

Can the US find a proper position for itself in the world? The global trends are changing so strongly that nobody can buck it without being brushed aside. What course will the US follow? Britain’s Lord Meghnad Desai once remarked that the US should learn to enjoy its (relative) decline — to be quick to turn around to enjoy the scenery going down the hill. He said it.

The US has many think tanks, which never lack experts and scholars with true insight. More and more of them have made remarks to warn their government. They say: the world is seeing changes — one of which is undoubtedly the rise of China — which have made the US nervous and afraid. They say America has been accustomed to being the most powerful nation in the world but we have grown relatively weaker in the power contest. People tend to blame on the leadership, thinking that a more powerful and assertive leader might lead the US back to the peak of its power, but in fact no one can do that, whoever captures the White House.

As early as in 1998, veteran American diplomat George F. Kennan said: “This planet will never be ruled by a single political center, no matter how strong a military might it has.” Backed by a decades-long diplomatic career, he told American leaders to “reduce a little bit of your dream and wish for the possibility of leading the world” and learn to respect the other countries.

At a diplomatic reception in January 2008, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said the current world is no longer a “uni-polar world” as it was more than a decade ago and “super power” is no longer as resounding; the world, he said, is entering an “era of relative big powers” with the “Golden BRIC” countries having broken new ground for a “major powers chorus” and a “multi-polar world.”

David Lampton, a top China expert in the US, recently said that the US-China relationship had reached a “critical point”. But he also emphasized that the US must reconsider its definition of “dominant power” in its final sense (with regard to the question whether China and the US can avoid the risk of confrontation). Former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger also said recently that the world order is in an unprecedented state in which every country can participate with their contacts becoming extraordinarily closer than before, and China is an “absolutely necessary participant.”

There has been an increase in such comments in the US recently. They seem to be not hostile towards the country’s top leader; instead, they sound somewhat sympathetic and understanding. Here is their argument: It is unfair for the neo-conservatism idealists to accuse Barack Obama of “inaction” and “being weak”; for many things, Obama failed not because he didn’t act but because he was rendered unable to act. As for the need of maintaining the “dominant power” and “rules-setting right” and the need of ‘leading the world for another 100 years” and “never reducing ourselves to the status of number two,” didn’t Obama say much about them? Even if the needs are as important as they sound to be, so what? George W. Bush was unmistakably a “strong and assertive” president. So what? Just think what he brought to the US.

These well-meant remarks were obviously aimed at reminding the US of the changing times and helping it position itself properly in the new century. Working strenuously beyond one’s capacity only to make enemies everywhere — is it worth it? If the US embraces cooperation instead of pursuing rivalry, all partners can harvest good results, and the US can still be a powerful partner. Why not do so?

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