Xu Bu: Perceptions Matter

Jan 27 , 2021

Xu Bu, President of China Institute of International Studies.


Thank you, chairman. I’m so happy to be here. And it’s really true that the U.S.-China relationship is the most important bilateral relationship in the world. But it’s also true that the relationship is at a critical moment. How to deal with the U.S.-China relationship is not only related to the stability and development of the Asia-Pacific, but also of the world.

So actually, we all heard what Mr. Zhang Xiaoqiang has just talked about. The trade war between China and the U.S., obviously will not solve the problem. Then why was the Trump administration so interested in launching the trade war? Why will the Biden administration be slow to change what the Trump administration has already done?

In my view, the problem of friction between China and the U.S., is fundamentally not about economics or trade or finance. It’s really a problem of strategic calculations based on incorrect mental assumptions. Actually, Ambassador Mahbubani also talked about mental assumptions. The U.S.-China relationship, you know, we got to be cautious. Yes, we got to be very patient. But we got to be very clear: The friction is really coming from the mental perception, or conception, of the United States.

China does not pose any security challenge or threat to the U.S. China will never think about launching a sneak attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, where I stayed for quite a long time to study. China will not have any interest doing offshore reconnaissance in North America. China will not have any interest in having a sphere of influence in Latin America.

China does not pose any security challenge to the United States, nor does it pose any economic threat to the U.S. The per capita GDP of China is only one-sixth that of the United States. And the Chinese economy and U.S. economy are more complimentary than they are competitive. China is a participant in the currently existing international trade order, international financial order and international economic order, including as a participant in the WTO, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

China does not even pose any kind of unique political or ideological threat to the United States, because China does not export our way of development. China is not interested in making or forcing any other country follow what we are practicing in China. So, how do we deal with the mental perception, which is making so much impact, so much negative impact, on the U.S.-China relationship? I would like to make three points.

First, we got to respect history. History tells us that the establishment of the bilateral relationship between China and the U.S. has been beneficial to both. It’s not only beneficial to both but it’s also beneficial for peace and development in the Asia-Pacific. It has been beneficial to world peace and stability.

Second, the notion of so-called “engagement with China by the U.S. has failed” is a kind of mental perception that goes against reality, the historical facts and figures.

Third, we got to abandon the Cold War mentality. I totally agree with what Ambassador Mahbubani has just talked about — the Cold War mentality. A clash of civilizations doesn't fit with the trend of history. Nations are different in societies and cultures. We got to respect each other. We got to try to have a kind of win-win cooperation based on mutual respect.

Any kind of Cold War mentality will only bring real clashes between countries. So China and the U.S. need to be engaged in trying to build a kind of a new model of major power relationship.

Many people in the world are talking about the decline of the U.S. Many of my colleagues in the U.S. also talk about the decline of the U.S. In my view, the United States is not declining. In my view, China’s rise does not build on the basis of U.S. decline. Actually Chinese development and Chinese prosperity rely a lot on U.S. prosperity. Only both the U.S. and China can enjoy prosperity, then can the Asia-Pacific and the whole world enjoy prosperity.

So we got to change our mental conception to see, or to believe, that the rise of China can only be built on the basis of the decline of U.S. It’s a wrong conception. If the policymakers in Washington are not going to change their mentality, it will be very difficult for us to solve the so called trade friction or technological problem or economic war. We got to be very clear; we got to be very cautious. And I do hope the new administration in DC will come up with these issues and join hand in hand with China to make sure we walk on the right path.

Thank you very much.