Scholars decode future of China-US relations

Source:Global Times Published: 2018/10/24 18:23:40

Editor's Note:

The 2018 North Pavilion Dialogue sponsored by Peking University's School of International Studies and Institute of International and Strategic Studies was held on October 21. What is the future of geostrategic competition in Eurasia? How will China-US relations develop in the future? Below are excerpts of remarks given by five scholars at the event.

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Joseph Nye, former assistant secretary of defense of the US

If we take a long-term view, I would say that US-China relations are good. But in the short run? Not good. In the long run, the US and China really have no substantial threat to each other. This is not like the situation during the Cold War when the US and the Soviet Union were at loggerheads. In the real Cold War, there were tens of thousands of nuclear warheads and no trade or social contacts between the two sides. So, this is not a cold war.

Other people talk about the Thucydides Trap, and that's not true. In fact, in the long run, the US and China have much more to gain from cooperation than from competition. For example, climate change is a tremendously important issue. No country can solve it alone. That's why I'm optimistic in the long run, because our interests are going to converge.

In the short run, though, it's not good. In the economic sphere, there's a feeling that China didn't play fairly - it gives special subsidies to State-owned enterprises and coerces American companies to give up intellectual property if they want access to the Chinese market. There are also concerns that the US sponsored China's membership in the WTO, and it expected Beijing to become market-oriented and liberalized. But the financial sector became more conservative and the internet was shielded by a great firewall.

The third area is the dispute on the South China Sea. US President Donald Trump is fanning the fire. But in the long run, we shouldn't demonize the other side, and we have to look at areas in which we can cooperate. We have to make sure that setbacks in the short run won't prevent us from carrying on.

Yoriko Kawaguchi, former minister of foreign affairs of Japan

The China-US relationship is a very big issue and we are also concerned about the future of the liberal international order or multilateralism. I think it's important that we don't look at the US-China relationship like Trump does. There is more than that, as Professor Nye just said.

This region, East Asia, has benefited from a liberal international order. Therefore, all countries which are members of the WTO should ask themselves to what extent they have benefited and how much they have contributed to the WTO. If there are difficulties, we need to come up with a remedy. These talks will not only contribute to US-China relations, but also to the international community, including Japan-China relations.

I see young people among the audience and think it's important that there is exchange of thought among young people.

I'm from Japan. I want to say that Japan welcomed Premier Li Keqiang, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will visit China from Thursday to Saturday. We need to have such exchanges at all levels.

Andrey Kortunov, Director General of the Russian International Affairs Council

If you believe that there is a real problem with US-China relations, you know nothing about problems. I think that US-China relations can be compared to a flu, and Russian-American relations to paralysis. The US is a difficult partner. It has very complicated domestic politics, and you need a lot of knowledge and patience to deal with the US. This is the lesson that Russia learned the hard way, and I think it's the lesson that China will have to learn the hard way.

What bothers me is that we might be moving into the age of bipolarity. The world might become black and white once again. If the world is deprived of colors, and if there are no fifty shades of grey, I don't think it's the world we'd like to live in. Russia-India relations have been a model of fraternal ties for many years, but if the world is going to be bipolar, I'm afraid we might be pushed apart. Under such circumstances, India might tilt to the US, and Russia might tilt more to China. I don't want it, and I don't think Indians would like to see it, either.

Wang Yizhou, Deputy Dean of the School of International Studies, Peking University

I have confidence in China-US relations in the short term, but I am worried about ties in the long run. Compared with 2016 and 2017, China's geopolitical environment now is better. There have been promising changes on the Korean Peninsula, in China-Japan and China-Russia relations. However, these are only strategic and short-term changes.

When facing a superpower and a capricious US president, major countries want to avoid danger by making small adjustments and maintaining stable relations with their second and third largest partner. I agree that current China-US relations are at a strategic crossroads. On the one hand, I hope that China adheres to reform and opening-up and the US will meet China halfway. On the other hand, there is the possibility of a new Cold War between China and the US, and it's not the responsibility of a single person or a single country, but a very complex issue.

In China, there are voices telling people to be prepared for a new Cold War. I have a bad feeling that when facing such a prospect, China may reorganize its resource allocation, strategic focus and agenda. It's a way of forming relations. If the two countries regard each other as imaginary enemies and rivals, the process of such formation will eventually destroy their relations. In the long run, I'm not as optimistic as Professor Nye.

David Miliband, President and CEO of the International Rescue Committee

There's a lot of talk of the so-called Thucydides Trap. Professor Nye made a point that is very important, and it's called Kindleberger Trap, named after Charles Kindleberger, a political economist. The central question facing China as well as the US is what role they will play in the multi-polar world to promote the delivery of global public goods. For different reasons, both countries are focusing on their own domestic challenges. The difficulty is that in a connected world you can't solve your domestic problems unless you're willing to think about the global commons. My great fear is that both countries think too narrowly and focus on the short term. Above all, in a way that doesn't recognize the political, economic and social interconnections that exist around the world. That is a real danger in the American political system. When everyone is talking about US-China tensions, the rest of us cannot be mute observers.


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