Lin Songtian: The Old Path or the New?

Jan 28 , 2021

Lin Songtian, President of the Chinese People's Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries.


The relationship between China and the United States seems to be very complex and challenging, but the biggest issue is about perception. The only way out is to make the right strategic choice.

Should a stable, open and strong China be viewed as an opportunity or a challenge for the United States and the rest of the world? This is an issue of perception. The problem on the U.S. side results from its insistence on outdated geopolitical theories, the Cold War mentality, a zero-sum game approach in dealing with China-U.S. relations and international relations. Seeing China as a major strategic competitor instead of a strategic partner, the U.S. has created many sources of confrontation with China. In addition, it has imposed maximum pressure on China and rolled out a strategy of containment against the country. But what are the results of these moves?

China has achieved two miracles over the past 40-plus years, namely sustained rapid economic growth and social stability. It has also achieved its target of poverty alleviation as scheduled, lifting one-fifth of the world’s population out of absolute poverty. In 2020, China was the first country to bring the pandemic under control; its GDP grew by 2.3 percent, and international trade by 1.9 percent. Since 2008, China has contributed about 30 percent of global economic growth every year, and that is higher than the combined level of all developed countries, including the United States, Europe and Japan. Without reform and opening-up and rapid development in China, many factories in the developed world would have been closed and more people would have lost their jobs.

Some people worry that a stronger China will seek hegemony. This argument finds no basis in history or in reality. China used to be the most powerful country in the world. In 1820, it accounted for nearly one-third of the world’s economy. Unfortunately, however, in the 100 years after 1840, China fell behind many other countries and became a victim of foreign aggression, which brought untold suffering to its people. A top priority back then was to achieve national rejuvenation and deliver a better life to the people, and then it became the choice of the Chinese people and the mission of the Communist Party of China. This is something that will not be changed.

The 5,000-year Chinese civilization has made remarkable contributions to the progress of mankind, and its essence is best described as “valuing peace and striving for the wider public good.” Over the past four decades, China has achieved rapid development, and the key to success is its commitment to peaceful development instead of foreign aggression or colonial plunder. It has neither a history of colonization nor plunder nor the DNA of hegemony.

Since the beginning of the 21st century, the United States has adopted a series measures designed to incite color revolutions in China and contain its development. It has never ceased its efforts, yet has never succeeded. In the past two years, the Trump administration breached the bottom line of morality and played with no rules when exerting extreme pressure on China, starting a trade war and trying to discontinue bilateral technological, financial and people-to-people exchanges. In the end, ASEAN and the European Union have replaced the United States as China’s largest and second-largest trading partners respectively.

Former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo did his utmost to force U.S. allies to contain China. But what we have seen is that 140 countries and more than 30 international organizations have signed Belt and Road Initiative cooperation documents with China. Not long ago, 15 Asian countries signed the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement, and the China-EU Investment Agreement negotiation was concluded. Many U.S. allies are involved in those partnerships, and it is only a pity that the United States did not participate. In 2020, inbound FDI into China reached $163 billion, the largest in the world, and this represents a vote of confidence in China’s development prospects. Notably, British investment in China increased by more than 30 percent year-on-year.

This is the response from countries around the world to the U.S. attempts to contain China. Governments around the world understand that politics and economy are two sides of the same coin. Only by realizing economic development can livelihoods be improved and consequently can the authorities win votes and stay in power.

Therefore, the difficulty and predicament in China-U.S. relations are attributable to incorrect perceptions. It is rooted in an outdated international relations theory that has failed to keep pace with the times. And to break the deadlock and get out of the dilemma, it is imperative for the United States to make the right strategic choice and meet China halfway.

Based on a simple but great belief that “There is no reason for China and the United States to be each other’s enemy,” in 1972 U.S. President Nixon and his Chinese colleagues moved to normalize the bilateral relationship with a handshake across the Pacific Ocean. This has brought enormous benefits to people in China, the United States and the world at large. Bilateral trade has increased by a factor of more than 250 since the early days of diplomatic ties. The annual output of U.S. enterprises in China has exceeded $600 billion, and bilateral economic and trade ties have supported 2.6 million jobs in the United States.

On many occasions, President Xi Jinping has explained China’s perception and strategic approach to China-U.S. relations. Simply put, there are a thousand reasons to make the China-U.S. relationship a success, and not a single reason to break it. Win-win cooperation is the best choice for both sides. China is ready to work with the United States to develop a new type of major country relationship featuring no conflict, no confrontation, mutual respect and win-win cooperation.

What is the future of China-U.S. relations? Now the United States has two strategic choices: It can continue down the old path of the zero-sum game, or it can choose to follow a new path of win-win cooperation for common development — and the results will be completely different. The old path will cause endless conflict and hurt both sides, while the new path will lead to win-win cooperation for common development. I believe that farsighted American people from all walks of life will change their perception on China and make the right strategic choice.