US risks being drawn into conflict with China by third parties’ provocations

By Zhang Zhengwen Source:Global Times Published: 2014-6-24 18:33:01

China is facing more pressures imposed by the US in the East China Sea and the South China Sea recently. In the meantime, Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines have been incited to be more provocative against China. The concerns of the international community are growing stronger that China and the US will be engaged in a confrontation triggered by a third party.

This kind of "third party-triggered confrontation" has a history between China and the US. After 1949 when the People's Republic of China was founded, all military confrontations, direct or indirect, between these two nations happened on the land of a third country. The root cause of third party-triggered confrontation is antagonism over core interests of both sides.

Whether in the Korean War (1950-53) or the Vietnam War (1955-75), China's involvement was caused by the need to protect its core interests.

The key issue to avoid third party-triggered confrontation is to reduce the possibility of miscalculation and bad response in terms of strategic plans and actions between both nations.

The culprit in these confrontations between China and the US is the Obama administration's rebalancing to Asia policy. From the perspective of China, in order to restrain China's rise, Washington is tricking Japan and the Philippines to cause disturbances against China in the name of territorial disputes. The real danger is that the US is overconfident that the entire situation will always be under its control.

It is highly possible that some countries will risk the dangers and cross China's bottom line. At that time, China will have no choice but fight back. Then the US will be bogged down in a dilemma: On the one side, if it shows no solid support to its allies, Washington's authority as their leader will be shattered; on the other side, if it resorts to retaliatory actions, the US and China will probably have to relive the bitter past.

Avoiding the recurrence of this kind of confrontation requires both China and the US to reinforce crisis controls.

First, both sides need to clearly define the strategic orientation of their bilateral relationship. Facing one of the most influential bilateral relationships in the international community, the US is still struggling with this issue.

After the Cold War, Washington's biggest problem has been how to deal with China's rise. In 2013, both leaderships reached some basic principles, advocating "no conflict or confrontation, mutual respect and win-win cooperation." These principles will be pivotal in shaping a positive relationship between China and the US if both sides can stick by them.

Second, both nations must specify their strategic bottom lines, including their interests, strategic goals and policy bottom lines. As an established power, the US will spare no effort in guarding its worldwide interests, while as a rising power, China's influence and national interests will expand. Thus, the priority of the Sino-US relationship is to maintain a dynamic balance and address conflicts of interests, which can only be done after each side properly understands the strategies and scope of interests of the other side. China's bottom line in the Sino-US relationship is clear, which is to safeguard its own interests, respect the interests of the US and expand common interests.

China has no intention to challenge the US-dominated global order and the current international system, and welcomes the constructive presence of the US in the Asia-Pacific region. At the same time, the US should be both physically and mentally prepared to accept the reality that China will rise to be another major power, and try to benefit from the rising process.

Third, the framework of strategic interactions between China and the US needs to be further normalized. Whether China and the US can sustain their relationship in a positive manner depends on whether the game rules can be acceptable for both sides. Strategic dialogues are an essential approach to ensure a stable Sino-US bilateral relationship.

Since 2013, China and the US have conducted many conversations on different levels including top leaders and military officers, more frequently than before. This mechanism will fend off miscalculation and mistrust. We need to make sure the bottom line of no confrontation and no conflict won't be crossed so that a third party-confrontation can be effectively avoided.

The author is a professor at Nanjing Army Command College.

Posted in: Viewpoint

blog comments powered by Disqus