After the global economic crisis, prophecies of US decline and Chinese rise have become mainstream. But are the US strengths being underestimated? Will the giant really lose its grip? Has US strategy fundamentally changed? The Global Times (GT) talked to Wang Jisi (Wang), dean of International Studies at Peking University, on these issues.
GT: Can the US maintain its position as the dominant global superpower?
Wang: Four reasons have contributed to the overwhelming power of the US. The tradition of rule of law ensures the nation's political stability. The consistency and continuity of its social values guarantee the nation's internal cohesion, enhancing its unique sense of patriotism. Technological and systematic innovations provide great power for society to move forward. And, a highly-developed civil society generates strong self-correcting ability which prevents the nation from being led astray and committing strategic errors when dealing with external affairs.
There are also serious problems that have been plaguing the US for a long time, including the erosion of capitalism, the wealth gap, a lack of bipartisanship, political corruption, racial disputes, the crisis of faith, the fall of government authority and their "savior" attitude in international affairs. But the above-mentioned four points that keep the US strong have not fundamentally changed.
GT: What is the US doing in order to cement its position?
Wang: The future of long-term US dominance largely relies on whether the top figures can make the right strategic choices, and President Barack Obama has been trying to ensure this since taking over the helm in 2009. Obama's domestic strategy is mainly focused on constructing energy-saving infrastructure, increasing R&D investment, exploiting clean energy, improving school hardware, promoting broadband network, cutting tax for 95 percent families, broadening medical insurance coverage, reducing fiscal deficit, relaxing immigration policies, and other measures. Though the real effectiveness of the controversial economic and social reforms is yet to be seen, the administration is determined to carry on this path.
The alteration of the US global strategy is fundamentally in line with its domestic reforms. Washington had turned its focus from anti-terrorism and nuclear-related safety issues to economic-oriented ones which will ensure the revival and stability of global finance. This suggests that Washington will decrease its defense budget as domestic development has become its priority.
The use of "smart power" has become a guideline of US diplomatic strategy as Washington no longer announces that "radical forces" of the Islamic world are their most-wanted enemies or highlights their anti-terrorism campaign.
Though it is centered on the Middle East at present, it is inevitable that the US security strategy will shift back to Asia. Nuclear issues still plays an important part, since the US, despite accepting the multipolarized economic situation, still enjoys its overwhelming military dominance.
When it comes to politics and diplomacy, Washington is more willing to rely on smart power than hard power to maintain the attraction of the Western values system.
Though Washington refuses to admit it, the significant changes in US internal and external policies proves that the strength of the US is weakening in the last 10 years. However, the vitality of all social aspects is rejuvenating, indicating the country's superb self-correcting ability.
GT: Will the rising powers pose a threat to the US?
Wang: The debate over the US rise and fall had lasted for more than half a century and it's likely to continue for at least another 50 years. Chinese scholars and analysts have long underestimated the self-correcting ability of the US while overestimating the problems it faces.
You can't say "it is an inevitable trend" that rising powers will shake the foundation of the old order of the world because it is much hard to predict the fate of newcomers than defending champions. Therefore, observers should be careful about making predictions.
The following conclusions can be made if we look back into history: First, the US is still far away from reaching its full potential in terms of development. Nature hands them "hard" geographical advantages and the country, famous for its immigrant tradition, the size of its elite, legal spirit, innovation system, liberalism, separation of powers, federalism, multi-cultural background, mild reforming tradition, freedom of speech, huge numbers of middle-class citizens, free internal market and powerful overseas expansion, provides itself with soft power. Its potential remains strong, given both its hard and soft power have not changed.
US economic, military and technology power is still on the rise. Its democracy, legal system and core social values have firmly stayed the same, its civil society has remained energetic and its political ideology is swinging back from the conservative right wing to a relatively normal condition.
US dominance will not be rocked in 20 to 30 years as it has already reached a historical high. Suggesting the imminent downfall of the US based merely on issues in the last year or two is groundless.
China's economy may surpass the US in 10 years but its overall strength definitely won't. Many uncertainties await the Asian giant on its way forward. It is far from being able to reshape the order of the world given the rising nations it represents can not even be called counterparts of the Western powerhouses.
Both the internal and external strategies of the US are changing, which will help the entire country - but clearly the reforms are against the interests of the right wing and mega-corporate interests. Whether the US can shape a better global management system via its renewed strategic alteration and international cooperation relies not only on Washington itself, but also on interactions within the global economic body and the policies that other countries hold toward the US.