Trump aims to upend current trading order: Expert

Source:Global Times Published: 2018/7/5 22:08:07

Editor's Note:
China-US relations tend to be tense and uncertain amid grim circumstances. Will there be a bipolar structure in the world? How will differences between the two over issues such as trade and Taiwan evolve? Global Times (GT) reporter Li Qingqing interviewed Yan Xuetong (Yan), dean of the Institute of International Relations at Tsinghua University, on these issues ahead of the seventh World Peace Forum scheduled on July 14-15.

Yan Xuetong  Photo: Li Hao/GT

GT: The theme of the seventh World Peace Forum is "constructing a security community: equality, equity and justice." What does a security community imply?

Yan: To understand security community, we should first know what a community is, then discuss the concept of security. A community refers to countries that become united to protect their shared interests. The European Community and the East African Community, for example, were founded because the members had common economic interests. Communities may be different in style and composition as countries may have common interests in economy, security or ideology and yet they must be based on shared interests. Objectively, countries that share common interests may have conflict of interest with other nations. As a result, many of our panels during the World Peace Forum are regional or even sub-regional ones. Likewise, it is more realistic to establish a regional or sub-regional community, as the countries are more likely to share common interests.

I'm afraid that forming a global community is impossible now. No country is able to lead the world under the trend of bipolarity. Without a global leader, major regional countries will have to protect the security of their own regions and establish regional communities. It's hard to set up a sub-regional community, let alone a bigger one. For example, it would be impossible to build an East Asian Community or even Asian Community when simply building a Northeast Asian Community seems difficult. To build a community, countries should first seek common interests in a comparatively small area.

Then we need to discuss the concept of security. Security means no threats, no fears, and no uncertainties. Thus a security community means countries that have common threats, common fears and common uncertainties. Without a global leader, uncertainty in the world has been increasing. For example, on July 4, people were still guessing whether China and the US will adopt their new tariff policies on July 6. People still expect US President Donald Trump to change his decision even though there are only two days left. At present, countries share common uncertainties in global trade.

Besides, different regions have different fears. For example, surplus countries will have more fear and uncertainty than countries suffering trade deficits. Nations are also facing different threats. Middle Eastern countries, for instance, are facing the threat of war, while East Asian countries are not, especially when the tension over North Korean nuclear issue has been eased after the Singapore summit. Therefore, which countries could together build a security community depends on their common interests.

GT: You have mentioned that the bipolarity structure may be finalized in five years, which attracted Western media attention. Since bipolarity between the US and the Soviet Union finally led to the latter's dissolution, will the structure bring more hazards to China?

Yan: There are three types of configurations in the world: unipolarity, bipolarity and multipolarity. Which one is beneficial to China? It depends on China's actual strength. If China is an insignificant country under all of the three configurations, then none of them will have much influence on us.

However, if we are the most powerful country, then unipolarity will be the most preferable. Besides, China being one of the bipolar powers is better than being one of the multipolar powers and even better than in a unipolar configuration dominated any other power. In my opinion, compared with the unipolarity led by the US, China will face fewer security hazards in being one of the bipolar countries. For example, the US won't attack Chinese embassy under the bipolarity structure, while it may be possible under unipolarity. If bipolarity between China and the US comes true, it at least shows that the two countries match each other in strength and China has the chance to rise to power. However, China will never rise under unipolarity led by the US. Bipolarity will actually benefit China.

The Soviet Union's failure was mainly caused by its problematic domestic policies. It reminds China and the US that the one who adopts more successful domestic policies and who enhances its national power more rapidly will finally win the competition. What we can learn from the Cold War is that major countries change the world by changing themselves. The US changed the world by building its own power while the Soviet Union did it by its dissolution. Different from the bipolarity between the US and the Soviet Union, China and the US are facing off with globalization, in which the international environment has mingled with the domestic one. If China and the US want to benefit in the bipolarity structure, they need to adopt domestic and international policies in accordance with globalization.

GT: You have said that China and the US should avoid ideological conflicts. The US is currently vigilant about China. What should China do to ease tension over ideology between the two countries?

Yan: To avoid ideological conflicts, China should avoid adopting policies which may escalate the ideological disputes. To be specific, the dispute can be avoided when the US is promoting its ideology overseas while China is not.

Besides, it is not Trump who wants to have ideological disputes with China, it is the judgment of some of his cabinet members. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and US Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis both advocate a competing model with China. Pompeo once talked about Africa: "If we can put in place the building blocks, the ones we all know, right, the rule of law, property rights, sort of some of the central understandings of how economic growth take place, I am confident that the growth will occur with a model that looks more like the West's than China's." Thus, the Chinese government should try to avoid ideological conflicts when President Trump hasn't decided to support his cabinet's opinion. At least we have the ability to prevent ideological dispute from being the main component of the two countries' strategic competition. However, if Beijing promotes the China model in the global society, we are not sure whether Trump will still oppose his cabinet.

GT: The Trump government pursues the "withdraw doctrine" and unilateralism, which poses a challenge to world order. Western media believe that the power vacuum left by the US will create opportunities for China to lead the world. What is your take on this?

Yan: In terms of strategic competition among major powers, when the strength of the dominant power declines and it is unable to provide leadership for the world or withdraws from some regions, there will be a power vacuum. The emerging powers should not blindly enter these regions.

We need to ask why the US withdrew from these regions and why it does not want to provide leadership. The US is more powerful than China. If it fails to provide leadership in these regions, can countries with less strength have the ability to replace it?

The reason the US withdraws from these regions is that it doesn't have enough strength to lead these regions anymore. When it is powerful, it can benefit from leading these regions. But if it continues to provide leadership while its power declines, it will only suffer losses.

If the US is less powerful than China, China can consider providing leadership and gain from it. But the fact is that even the US, which is more powerful than the rising countries, cannot gain from its leadership. So China cannot make it. When China is not able to lead its neighboring countries, I don't think it can provide leadership to other regions, or its losses will outweigh its gains.

Sometimes, China even lacks the strength to provide leadership in surrounding regions. For example, in Northeast Asia, Japan does not accept it; in South Asia, India does not accept it; in Central Asia, Russia holds reservations against it, although it still cooperates with China.

If China is to lift its international standing, it should focus on how to strengthen its leadership in its neighborhood. Before this leadership is established, it should not provide any leadership to external regions.

GT: You hold that the success of a rising power lies in that its political leadership is more powerful than the dominant power. How will you evaluate the political leadership of China and the US at the current stage?

Yan: Judging from policies adopted by the two governments, uncertainty has become the feature of the US government. Since Trump took office, US soft power has seen an obvious decline and its leadership status is waning. This shows the leadership that Trump provides to the US is not effective.

China has maintained its policies adopted by previous governments. China also faces a number of difficulties. Noticeably, it is hard for China to retain its economic growth at 7 percent. It indicates that China lacks strength to sustain rapid economic development.

GT: The US has threatened a trade war against China and its main trading partners. How will this trade war evolve? Will it deal a heavy blow to the multilateral trade system?

Yan: What Trump is doing is to change the current multilateral trading system. It was reported that the Trump administration has drafted legislation that would allow the US to abandon WTO rules. In other words, Trump aims to upend the current trading order rather than just challenge it.

It is hard to predict how the trade war will evolve. It is possible that it will expand to the investment field, as the export of goods is directly linked with foreign investment and development of factories. I'm afraid I can't predict whether it will further expand to other fields.

GT: You once said you disagreed with the view that there will be a war between China and the US. Do you still believe so?

Yan: First of all, we need to define the time. I think during the Trump administration, or in five years' time, there will not be a direct war between the two. The crux is nuclear weapons. Neither China nor the US could bear the aftermath of a nuclear war. North Korea owns nuclear weapons, and the US dares not start a war against it. So there is little possibility that a war will break out between China and the US.

The conflict between the two may take other forms, such as trade disputes or financial disputes. The war I mentioned is not the proxy war like the one that the US and Russia have in Syria. The proxy war was common during the Cold War era, while no actual war took place between the US and the Soviet Union. Currently, there is no menace of a direct war between China and the US.

GT: In a previous interview with the Global Times, you held the possibility that conflicts involving the Korean Peninsula and the Taiwan Straits may erupt at the same time. Now that the North Korean nuclear crisis has somewhat eased, do you hold on to such views? Will the Taiwan row escalate during the Trump era?

Yan: Now these conflicts have already been linked up. Trump first linked the issue of China-US trade deficit with the North Korean nuclear issue. After the nuclear issue has eased, he brought together trade deficit with the Taiwan issue. Now the Taiwan issue has exacerbated.

The US has sent officials to Taiwan and spoke with Taiwan leader Tsai Ing-wen. The US congress also passed the Taiwan Travel Act. The State Department has reportedly requested that US Marines be sent to Taiwan to help safeguard American Institute in Taiwan, which is to restore military ties between the US and Taiwan.

These problems went much further than I had expected and I believe things will get worse. In 2016, I predicted that Trump will support Taiwan independence forces. Now we can say that Trump is the American president who lends the most support to Taiwan separatists since the administration of Ronald Reagan.

GT: After the Trump-Kim summit in Singapore, Trump mentioned that the US may withdraw its forces from South Korea. This is supposed to bring great changes to Northeast Asian security architecture. How do you see this possibility?

Yan: I think it was just empty talk. It is very unlikely that US troops will be withdrawn from South Korea during Trump's tenure.

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

blog comments powered by Disqus