Better understanding can lower China-US mistrust

Source:Global Times Published: 2019/7/9 19:13:42 Last Updated: 2019/7/10 15:06:25

Michael Swaine Photo: Bai Yunyi/GT

Editor's Note: 

Over 100 American experts on Asia, including former government officials and scholars, signed an open letter - "Making China a US enemy is counterproductive" - to oppose the China approach of the administration of President Donald Trump. Michael Swaine (Swaine), a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, one of the writers of the letter, talked to Global Times (GT) reporters Bai Yunyi and Yu Jincui on the motivation behind and significance of the letter, as well as current problems between China and the US, on the sidelines of the Eighth World Peace Forum held in Beijing from Monday to Tuesday. 

GT: What has driven you to sign the letter?

There were about 20 people who worked on it together. There was a committee effort to do that. I think the primary point of the letter is simply to say that even though the US and China have some serious differences and there's a lot of concern about Chinese practices in some areas, there is no consensus in the policy community and other relevant communities in the US to support the extreme policy toward China, sort of zero-sum policy that labels China an existential security threat. I think that letter showed very convincingly that there is no clear consensus in support of that kind of extreme viewpoint.

GT: What impact do you expect the letter to have on the US government? How have the government and Congress responded to this letter so far?

: I don't know what the influence will be on the Trump administration. So far there has been no specific reaction from the government, either in the Congress or the White House or anywhere else in any official capacity. So I don't know what their reaction is at this point. My guess is that there won't be much open public reaction to it, but I am not sure. 

I very much hope that it will cause some supporters of the extremist policies toward China to reconsider their support, given the number of extremely well-respected people who signed the letter.  I also hope that the letter convinces people overseas, including those in China, that the US policy community is not united behind the extremely adversarial policies of the Trump administration. 

GT: Are you optimistic about the prospect of a trade deal between China and the US? 

: I really don't have any inside information on that. I think they will reach some kind of deal, yes, but whether it satisfies both sides completely is doubtful. I don't think it will satisfy either side completely. There is some kind of mutual compromise that both can strike, and I think there are many people on both sides, especially on the US side, who were pushing for a complete win. They want to get everything and they're not gonna be successful. I hope they will withdraw the tariffs after a period of time. We'll see what the results are.

GT: What do you believe will be the biggest uncertainty on the way to a final ceasefire between the US and China? 

: There are a lot of difficulties and uncertainties in relations between the two countries, and we're certainly going to remain in a more competitive relationship for the indefinite future. But the real challenge is to establish a relationship that recognizes that we can compete in some areas in sometimes a very sharp way, and not be enemies, and where they can also cooperate in many necessary areas. 

The US-China relationship is the largest, most significant and complex great power relationship today, and it requires a level of sophistication and understanding about how each side regards the other side, and what the differences are, and what are the differences within each side in viewpoints, because there is no unified single viewpoint, on one side or the other. There are bases for differences that can be used to try to improve relations in certain areas, I think, both in China and in the US. 

GT: Americans believe that the US is addressing the problem of China-US trade deficit, but Chinese believe it is cracking down on an emerging China. How do you view the completely different viewpoints? Do they stem from pure misunderstanding? Is there any other reason for that?

: It's not purely a misunderstanding. I think that there are legitimate grievances that Americans have toward China over trade and technology and other practices such as in cyber (security area), that are legitimately a source of real concern in the US. They have become worse over time. In some areas (China) they've improved, but in many areas they have not. That has generated this kind of desire in many quarters for a more effective counter to try to get China to improve in those areas. 

I share the concerns of people in the US on certain issues, but what I am not in support of is across-the-board characterization and condemnation of China as the source of evil, the source of existential threat to national security that has to be responded to in a cold war type fashion. That is to my mind not justified by the facts, and it's something that would be counterproductive for the US and China. 

By the same token, I think China itself cannot go down that path of looking at the US as its serious, adversarial opponent or an enemy. I think it has to continue to be relatively restrained in its response, and continue to work with American officials and with others within the American foreign policy and other communities to maintain as good a relationship as we can, recognizing that we have differences that are not going to be easily overcome.

GT: China's rapid development had been foreseen by the West a long time ago, but why does it suddenly matter so much? Why has the concern or vigilance on China in the US burst out in the open over the past two years? 

: I think this concern toward China has been building for quite a few years. There are many reasons behind it. It's not a very simple question to answer. It partly has to do with China's more assertive behavior in various areas, overseas, particularly along China's maritime boundary, where it has increased its presence and become more assertive in defending what it sees as its rights. It's partly to do with China's greater efforts to protect its own industries and to engage in certain types of discriminatory policies. It's also in part a reflection of the change within China toward a more ideological approach. 

Many people in the US now are very concerned by what is happening in Xinjiang. So many people are very concerned about that, and they want to see China progressing in ways that will not require or involve that kind of behavior. I think that's a very legitimate concern. 

And there's also the simple fact that China has become a more powerful player. It has not only economic influence, but military and political influence in many different areas. And this has created a lot of anxiety and uncertainty in the minds of many people, not just Americans, about what role China will play in the international order. 

I don't believe that China wants to overthrow the international order, I think that's ridiculous. But I do think China wants to reform areas of it, but it has to be clear about what it wants and what it doesn't. That's particularly true in areas like the South China Sea, where China has been most unclear about its position in certain areas. 

GT: From your perspective, what will possibly be the pattern in which China and the US treat each other in the next 10 years?   

: In the next 10 years, I think we will surely have a more competitive relationship. I think the Trump administration today has more than just a competitive relationship, it′s an adversarial relationship in some ways. I think some in China have a similar view. And I'm hoping that through greater understanding and greater sophistication and policy, as well as less domestic uncertainty and insecurity, we can lower that suspicion. That's gonna require a lot of work. It's gonna require some basic understanding, a realistic assessment about how each country exists and how their attitude is toward the other, and linking of those realistic capabilities with policies in different areas, in terms of both the opportunities and the concerns they present. 

GT: To what extent will the US 2020 elections affect China-US relations?

: That′s extremely difficult to say. It depends entirely on who wins and it's very unclear who would win. And in the campaign, I think you will have a lot of criticism of China by both sides. The criticism will be very simplistic, very broad, and distorted. One can almost guarantee that. So China shouldn't take much of that seriously. You have to look and see what the real policies are, once the government is in place.

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