Will McCain’s legacy linger in China-US relations?
Published: Aug 26, 2018 10:33 PM

US Senator John McCain, 81, died of brain cancer Saturday. Within the US, politicians are paying tribute to this veteran politician and Republican heavyweight.

In China, Senator McCain is known to some people for his anti-China outbursts. In a blunt speech in Sydney last year, he accused China of acting more like a "bully" than a responsible stakeholder in the Asia-Pacific region after growing "wealthier and stronger," urging US allies to unite to challenge Beijing's "aggression."

The special context of the Cold War has given birth to a group of American elites obsessed with ideological confrontation and geopolitical competition. Surviving more than five years of captivity during the Vietnam War, McCain was deeply influenced by the Cold War.

"What greater cause could we hope to serve than helping keep America the strong, aspiring, inspirational beacon of liberty and defender of the dignity of all human beings and their right to freedom and equal justice?" McCain asked in a speech delivered on July 25, 2017, a week after disclosing his cancer diagnosis. It's clear that the Senator strongly believed in American superiority. 

With its rise, China is increasingly seen as a rival by US elites. They expressed negative views about China and sowed discord in China-US bilateral relations. However, that's not completely a bad thing if viewed from a different perspective.

The stance of China hawks represented by US politicians of McCain's generation has made clear the key factors that affect the bilateral relationship: different ideologies, political systems and differing visions of China's economic model. Regarding China as a rival that is different from the US in these aspects, these politicians have been pressuring China.

Such pressure failed to suppress China's rise. Instead China has become more confident in its choice of development mode. China has deepened reform and opening-up over the past 40 years. The Chinese people have never been intimidated by such pressure in the process of development, nor will they yield to US pressure from an escalating trade war.

Since the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and the US, a Cold War mentality adopted by American politicians of McCain's generation has been influencing on Sino-US relations. Whether such a confrontational posture can be changed will be key to determining whether China and the US can co-exist in peace and whether the two countries can build mutual trust and a new type of major power relationship.

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