Future hurdles in Beijing-Washington relations can’t be underestimated

By Da Wei Source:Global Times Published: 2017/12/27 18:53:39

According to the first National Security Strategy report of US President Donald Trump published on December 18, and his recent steps, Washington is highly worried about China's success over the last five years and is preparing to compete.

The plan shows Trump's principle-based pragmatism. It deems the US faces an extraordinarily dangerous world filled with competition, and rivalry between major powers is main part of international politics, claiming that the country has suffered an enormous loss due to operations of China and Russia.

This view of world overlooks the changes in current international relationships and Trump's view is risky.

First, the plan presents China as the biggest rival. It lists three main challengers - the revisionist powers, the rogue states and transnational threat organizations - and puts China in the first category. Traditionally, the US saw China as an important but not so a threatening challenge, but this time it sees Beijing as the biggest challenger among powers, even above Russia.

Second, the report repudiates US' former strategy on China and says it was wrong to think that supporting Beijing's rise and helping it integrate with the world order would make the country liberal. Then it seems well-reasoned to change its diplomacy toward China.

Third, the report divides the world into two groups. It talks about ideology and believes competition is not only between nation states but also between ideologies. It says the US will strengthen cooperation with countries sharing similar values and put pressure on other nations, and such division appears to show a sense of Cold War.

There are various kinds of competition among countries. The report sees economy as a national security priority and blames China for stealing US intellectual property and unfair trade practices like before. But it's worth noting that for the Trump administration, economic challenges from China lie more in the role of Chinese government in economics.

Second, the report brings up competition in politics and ideology. It accuses China of advocating anti-Western views and  create divisions among Western nations without naming names.

Third, the report comes up with geopolitical competition and says China is trying to replace the US in the Indo-Pacific region by spreading its influence in the region. The plan, which claims China is seeking to expand its footprint through worldwide infrastructure projects, sees Beijing as a threat to Washington in South Asia, Central Asia, Africa, Latin America and Europe. Such language is unheard before.

Fourth, the report focuses on military as the main element of competition with China, including nuclear forces, defense industrial base, space, cyberspace and intelligence.

Fifth, educational and cultural competition also catches attention. The report considers restrictions on foreign STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) students from designated countries, apparently targeting China. The step may lead to a freeze in bilateral cultural communication.

China should not worry too much just because of a single strategy report. But it should be noted that the National Security Strategy plan has been accorded the highest status by Washington. Based on the plan, recent Western media opinion and Trump's former strategist Steve Bannon's recent speeches, we can conclude that the US strategy toward China has changed to one of bilateral competition, of which China should be highly wary.

Inside the US, Trump's administration differs widely with strategists, but they share the opinion that the country should be hard on China. Their differences are only over values and the extent the tough measures should go to. The report can be seen as the US government's official response to the debates of strategies toward China. China faces not only the change of Trump's administration's attitude, but also the transformation of the country's overall attitude toward China.

Facing pressures, China would not compromise, but it needs to avoid falling into a vicious cycle of competition, or even the trap of a new Cold War. China should consider dealing with US aggressiveness in every part of its policy and it can be the more mature side in the competition by restraining the intensity of the rivalry and expanding the cooperation.

What's more, China needs to resort to discourse and properly deal with the Western countries' finger pointing over Beijing's politics, economy and diplomacy. The most vital part is making our views clear and using specific policies to support and advocate our beliefs, like a community with a shared future and a new type of international relations.

The author is director of the Center for International Strategy and Security Studies, University of International Relations. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn


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