Dualistic model in Western society is a stumbling block to China-US cooperation
Published: Aug 08, 2023 08:18 PM
Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Editor's Note:

Over the past two months, senior US officials have visited China one after another, bringing an opportunity for the easing of bilateral relations. Peter Walker (Walker), speaker on China-US relations and author of the book Powerful, Different, Equal: Overcoming the misconceptions and differences between China and the US, told Global Times (GT) reporter Qian Jiayin that he believes the dualistic model in Western society is a stumbling block to China-US cooperation, and only through dialogue can both sides find a balanced position for cooperation.

GT: From Beijing's perspective, the US wants to ease relations with China on the one hand, but on the other hand, it continues to contain China and provoke on China's bottom line. How do you view this contradictory approach by the US?

On the US side, the challenge is that not everybody who begins that dialogue is saying the same thing. Yellen said security comes before economy in US-China relations, and she also said the US does not seek to decouple from China. And then you have the State Department or some senior official coming out a couple of days later and basically saying that the good thing about cutting off chips to China is that not only does it prohibit them on security issues, but it also hurts their economy. That's a totally different thing from what Yellen said.

If you listen to what Yellen said, which I agree with, the majority of people in the federal government would like to see an easing of relations on both sides and more dialogue and constructive actions on both sides. But not everybody is of that belief or in that position in the US government. Therefore, you are going to continue to have conflicting positions. What the US needs is for everyone on the US side to basically be saying the same thing.

GT: Some people believe there will not be a cold war between China and the US, and no one dares to incite a hot war, but at the same time, the bilateral relationship will remain tense. This may lead to the development of another direction in China-US relations: cold and hostile. What is your opinion on this?

I think we're drifting toward a cold war, and it's basically US-driven. The challenge right now is that we are in an election season. Therefore, the Democrats and the Republicans are trying to prove how tough they can be on China, with one of them trying to be tougher than the other. So I think that the real improvement in relations between Beijing and Washington will not happen until the election is over.

So we need a lot of compromise on both sides to just put aside the military issue. Dialogue first, get through the election, then be very clear about what both sides want; that opens up everything on the economic side and the global issue side. No country has been more peaceful over the last thousand years than China. The US has been quite aggressive militarily, and there's no denying that now we could always say it was for a good cause, but the reality is, we have invaded a lot of countries which has accomplished very little. 

GT: Based on your observations and experience in dealing with China, what do you think are the stumbling blocks to China-US cooperation?

I think one of the main stumbling blocks is that the US, economically, has been No.1 for the last 150 years. And now the US is on its way to being No.2. And given the way Western society works, which is what I would call a dualistic model, if China is winning, the US must be losing. So if you start out with the idea that you deserve to be No.1 forever, which nobody has, then you're always going to resent a No.2 who's about to pass you.

If you look at the more immediate level, the Western media has been under a lot of economic pressure. So they are very focused on what actually captures the interest of the consumers. They know that saying nice things about the US-China relationship doesn't get them any business. So almost everything you can think of that the US media reports on starts with the idea that China is the bad guy, and that's the way they're going to do it.

So when I wrote my first book, Powerful, Different, Equal, I sent off a number of editorials that I thought were reasonably well thought out to each of the major media. And they all said that there's no consumer interest in hearing a balanced story about the US and China. If you take those two factors into account, it's very hard to see how you're going to move from where we are today to a more balanced position.

GT: You are committed to changing the negative stereotypes and misunderstandings about China in the West and promoting communication and mutual trust between China and the West. What challenges or difficulties do you think exist in this process?

I think both countries have taken the right first step because we went through a long period of time without face-to-face communication. And the Chinese and the US have said this many times: until you start a dialogue, nothing good is going to happen.

The US had a Cold War for many decades with the US and the Soviet Union coming out of World War II. And so for 99 percent of Americans, they think of communism as the enemy. If you've heard that for 50 or 60 years, it's going to inevitably influence the way you think about China. I think the word communism, because of the history and the Cold War, makes it that much more difficult to create a positive environment between the two countries.

But I think that the fact that the dialogue has started is a good thing. And you're never going to go from no dialogue to agreeing on anything. So that has clearly started, we had Antony Blinken, we had Janet Yellen, and they had what was reported to be a reasonably constructive conversation. So hopefully, those back and forth will continue in the near future.

GT: You have said that the economy is the "real battlefield" between China and the US. Why do you say that? Recently, "decoupling" has been replaced by "de-risking" as a buzzword in the field of international relations. How do you view the US attempting to decouple from China and the rhetoric of de-risking?

There's a phrase that's used in America many times that's called "it's the economy, stupid," which basically says politicians can argue about anything that they want. The reality is that consumers in America, who were the voters, have one overriding concern: their standard of living and their economics. So they want to know that wages are going up. They want to know that jobs are available. They want to know that inflation is under control. If those things are not true, anyone from the existing ruling party is going to be in trouble economically.

And I think the same thing is true in China, which is going back to reform and opening up. Economically, China has always delivered, producing results for the people that have never been seen in the world before. So I think both the US and China realize that if they don't deliver on the economy for the people, their relative legitimacy is going to be challenged.