How China should cope with US policy shift

By Xue Li Source:Global Times Published: 2018/8/21 19:28:43

Compared with the initial stage of reform and opening-up, the significance of the major powers in China's overall diplomacy has been lowered, with Beijing attaching more importance to neighborhood diplomacy. But if we analyze China's diplomacy on a country to country basis, the US still comes out on top. From the US perspective, its China policy has turned from hedging to comprehensively guarding. The US does not view China as an enemy that needs to be contained like the Soviet Union; it sees China as a rival that it has to be vigilant against.

US President Donald Trump has shown little interest in ideologies and human rights. Compared to his predecessors after WWII, he has also paid the least attention to global leadership and the alliance system. He mainly focuses on America's economic interests, especially the manufacturing sector. By taking advantage of the US' overall strength, he wants to force China to open its market more to benefit the manufacturing sector of the US. Meanwhile, it is creating hurdles for Chinese enterprises in the American market.

China's judgment about China-US relations hasn't changed, and a friendly policy toward the US is still the mainstream tone. But China doesn't expect that the US will be friendly with it, and is prepared for a "cold wrangle" with Washington.

China's policy of leaning one-sided toward Soviet Union in the 1950s was then reasonable. However, long time hostility with the US also cost China heavily. For example, China's economy was left behind then because its isolation from world's major markets, and its technology lagged as it was not linked to Western developed countries. Maintaining good relations with Western countries is necessary for China's successful reform and opening-up, and opening up first of all means opening up to the US. Former leader Deng Xiaoping pointed out that China's friendship with the US is by no means due to expediency, but a long-term and strategic policy.

The view still hasn't changed. The reality is that China needs to realize national rejuvenation in a peaceful way. It is an unprecedented cause, and relations with the US are the touchstone. China is building a new type of international relations featuring win-win cooperation, hoping that China-US relations can overcome the "Thucydides Trap" and build a new model of major-country relations featuring non-conflict, non- confrontation, mutual respect, and mutually beneficial cooperation.

President Xi Jinping once said that there are "a thousand reasons to make the China-US relationship work, and no reason to break it." As China's strength and international influence increase, it becomes more confident in dealing with the bilateral relations with the US. While learning from Washington, Beijing is aware of its shortcomings. Instead of accepting "Westernization," China strengthens its confidence in the path, theory, system, and culture of socialism with Chinese characteristics.

China has also showed a departure from its low-profile foreign policy, is fully supporting globalization and trying to initiate new international mechanisms such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

It makes Washington worry that Beijing will take the place of the US, and that it is taking advantage in China-US relations. However, it isn't true. President Xi once said that "China has been stepping up efforts for world peace and development not because it wants to become a 'world cop,' even less to take anyone's place." This is more than diplomatic rhetoric. First, there is still a gap between fast-developing China and the US, and Beijing still needs to learn from developed countries to create momentum for reform through opening up. Second, a world war seems impossible in an era of nuclear weapons, while in a peaceful time it's hard for China to build an international mechanism and military alliance system that counterbalances the US. Besides, China's thoughts on global governance are different from Western countries. Policies like distinguishing enemies and friends, achieving security by forming alliances and assimilating other countries are not China's way. However, it takes time for Western countries to understand that.

The author is director of the Department of International Strategy at the Institute of World Economics and Politics under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.


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