Taiwan risky crux in Sino-US relations

Source:Global Times Published: 2016/7/20 15:03:00

Yan Xuetong Photo: Wang Wenwen/GT

Editor's Note:

With the changes of the international landscape, the relationship between China and the US still remains highly complex. Will China's rise and competition with the US lead to a bipolar world in the near future? How will this bilateral relationship affect China's policies with its neighbors? Global Times (GT) reporter Wang Wenwen talked to Yan Xuetong (Yan), dean of the Institute of International Relations at Tsinghua University, on these issues at the fifth World Peace Forum, where Yan is the secretary-general, over the weekend in Beijing.

GT: You believe that the world is heading toward a bipolar pattern dominated by China and the US. But many think it is too early to say this because China cannot catch up with the US in many aspects, despite its outstanding economic performance. What is your take?

Yan: China's comprehensive strength still lags behind that of the US, but it does not necessarily mean that China cannot become a superpower if it does not possess the same strength as the US. During the Cold War when the Soviet Union and the US formed the two poles of the world, there was a huge gap of strength between them.

Besides the economy, the other elements of comprehensive power are also narrowing between China and the US. For instance, the disparity of military and Internet technology are decreasing as well some elements of soft power.

In the past, the Chinese tended to learn from Western developed countries about education, but now some Western countries are learning from Chinese middle school education. The gap of comprehensive strength between China and other major powers, except the US, is increasing.

GT: You have suggested China give up non-alliance policies and provide security assurances to its allies. The South China Sea issue has highlighted China's regional security plight. Regional countries depend on China economically, while they lean on the US for security. How can China break this dilemma?

Yan: The Chinese government has been insisting on non-alliance policies. But it is widely believed that China and Pakistan are allies. In the joint statement in which China and Russia vowed to strengthen global stability, signed during Russian President Vladimir Putin's visit to China last month, the language explicitly targeted the US. A few days later, China made a statement in a congratulatory message to North Korea to mark the 55th anniversary of the alliance treaty between them.

China should form its own alliances for the sake of improving ties with neighboring countries and shape a favorable surrounding environment for China's rise.

Some analysts argue that we cannot form alliances with our neighboring countries with which we have territorial disputes. Likewise, the US will not be able to make alliance with Iran and North Korea. It is true that two hostile countries cannot become allies.

But in Southeast Asia, there are many countries, such as Laos and Cambodia, are not hostile to China. It is not the case that there is no country willing to become our allies, but one whether the Chinese government wants to be ally of other countries.

GT: How will the Taiwan issue affect relations between China and the US?

Yan: It won't be long before the Taiwan issue becomes the core divergence between China and the US. The separatist principle adopted by Taiwan leader Tsai Ing-wen is unlikely to change. One consensus between Chinese and US scholars is that the strategic conflict between China and the US will sharpen.

China defines Taiwan as its core interests, while the US sees arms sales to Taiwan as its core interests. When the two sides discussed about respecting each other's core interests, the first divergence was on the Taiwan issue. The "One China, One Taiwan" advocated by Washington contradicts Beijing's reunification efforts.

If Taiwan goes on the path of separatism, this conflict will be inevitably intensified.

GT: China has been facing multifaceted pressures from the Korean Peninsula, the East China Sea, the South China Sea and the Taiwan Straits. How possible is it that one conflict triggers the other three at the same time?

Yan: The threat from Taiwan separatism is not yet urgent at this moment. The East China Sea and the South China Sea are not directly linked. The Taiwan Straits sit between the two seas. When the Taiwan issue becomes intensified, it can easily stir the waves of the entire waters.

In regard to the issues on the Korean Peninsula, the US and South Korea announced to the deployment of the THAAD system at a time close to the award of the South China Sea arbitration initiated by the Philippines against China.

Many observers contend that Washington and Seoul deliberately chose this timing because they could take advantage of China's difficult position on the issue of the South China Sea to ease their own pressures brought about by China's objections to THAAD deployment.

When each stakeholder tries to worsen frictions between China and the others to reduce tensions between itself and China, all the frictions may increase at the same time. Currently, the possibilities that all conflicts between China and the other East Asian powers may erupt at the same time should not be excluded.

GT: Some scholars are doubtful about long-term strategic cooperation between China and Russia, despite that the leadership of the two countries has strived to push forward bilateral ties. What is your view of China-Russia cooperation?

Yan: In the early 1990s, I predicted that Russia would not swiftly regain its status as a superpower and it needs at least 100 years for Russia to become what it was during the Cold War. In the early 1990s, few Russian observers agreed with me as they believed Russia had good educational systems, a strong pool of talent, advanced industry, good infrastructure, and rich natural resources.

The longevity of Sino-Russian strategic cooperation will be determined by how long the strategic competition between China and the US lasts. Those who are suspicious of strategic ties between Beijing and Moscow may deem that Sino-US relations will improve in the short term. But I see little chance of this, and believe that China-Russia cooperation will last as long as China-US competition.

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