Richer China can also make US profit

Source:Global Times Published: 2012-11-27 0:45:07


Joseph Nye
Joseph Nye

Editor's Note:

The US presidential elections and China's 18th Party congress were undoubtedly among the biggest global events in November. In recent years, "China's rise" and the "US decline" have been hotly discussed among politicians and scholars. How does China's rise influence the US? Is the US really in decline? How will the Sino-US relationship develop in the future? Global Times (GT) reporter Wang Wen interviewed American political scientist Joseph Nye (Nye), former dean of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University on these topics.

GT:  We've just had the elections in the US, and a leadership change in China. How do you see the future of the Sino-US relationship?

Nye: I've been struck that the Chinese leaders have talked about designing a new relationship between large powers which can be a win-win one.

US President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have also talked about this.

And I think that's the real challenge for both China and the US in the years to come.

What worries me a little bit is that if we allow rivalries in traditional military power to dominate, we will lose this capacity to define a win-win relationship in these larger terms.

The more nationalism grows in both countries, the more it becomes difficult to focus on this win-win relationship. It's a tendency of temptation in policies to focus just on competition and not cooperation.

So if you look at this last US election campaign, there's a lot of competition between Obama and Romney, about who can be tough about China, and not much focus on how to develop a win-win relationship with China.

The same thing, I believe, is true to some extent in China. Nobody wants to be seen as being soft on the US.

In the US-China relationship, just like any relationship, there should be competition and cooperation. It's dangerous when you only focus on the competition and ignore the cooperation.

I agree that's a danger if the US becomes too worried about China, they may act foolishly.

And if China becomes too convinced that the US is in decline, they may act foolishly.

But I don't think that's inevitable.

GT: China is now the second-largest economy of the world. How do you view the rise of China and its impact on US power?

Nye: I think it has been good for hundreds of millions of people in China and the raise of poverty, having good life and good income. I think that has been also good for the US. As China is getting richer, that can make the US richer too.

But we have to think about what these figures mean. China will probably have a larger total GDP than the US within a decade, but when it comes to per capita income, not within 30 or 50 years, if ever. Who knows?

The point is that it's a long way away. Once China gets richer, it's good for China and good for the US.

GT: Do you think the US is in decline?

Nye: Not in absolute terms. The US economy still has enormous resources, creativity and technology, but in relative terms, given the rapid growth of China, India and Brazil, the US is less dominant in the world before the growth occurred.

You can either call it relative decline or you call the rise of the rest. If you see it as relative decline, the question is whether other countries will surpass the US or not.

The US probably had the most relative power in 1991. That was caused partly by the collapse of the Soviet Union, and so in part that power was artificial. The fall of the Soviet Union left the US with no other balancing powers.

And the rise of China, India, Brazil and others doesn't replace the Soviet Union, but it does mean that there are more countries playing a significant role than in the past.

But power is limited. Take the late 1940s or early 1950s, when at points the US economy outweighed all others put together, and the country had a massive army, but that didn't give it the power to win the Korean War outright.

So, even when the US had more power compared with other countries than any other time in history, it was often very difficult to translate that kind of power resources into action.

If you look at the invasion of Iraq, the US couldn't really transform Iraqi society. I think some of the issues that are raised now like the Arab Spring, are revolutions from below.

America still doesn't have the power to control that, anymore than it has the power to stop the Chinese revolution in the late 1940s.

GT: What kind of US does the world need?

Nye: If the US defines its national interest in ways where they coincide with the interest of other countries, like China, India and Brazil and others, then, the Americans can play a very useful role in organizing collective action.

So if you take an issue like international financial stability which is very important but can't be solved by the US alone or by China alone, it means that using something like the G20 to coordinate in that area is the right way to go about it.

This is what I called power with others rather than power over others.

If power is the ability to affect others to get the things that you want, some things you can do by exerting power over others and some you can't do except by exerting power with others.

So, you can't solve problems like international financial security or international climate change by trying to exercise power over others, only by exercising it with others.

If you ask what kind of US is needed in the future, it's one that helps to organize these collective goods, and defines its national interests broadly.

So it's a win-win situation, where what's good for the US is also good for Brazil, good for China, and so on. This is a key task for US decision-makers.

Posted in: Viewpoint

blog comments powered by Disqus