US must cooperate with China, lone ranger mentality outdated
Published: Apr 28, 2024 05:43 PM
Photo: VCG

Photo: VCG

Editor's Note:
Recently, several senior American officials visited China, bringing positive signals to the China-US relationship. However, at the same time, the US side is still pushing forward its strategy of containing China, with negative factors in the relationship still prominent. 

Denis Simon (Simon), a distinguished researcher at the Washington-based Institute for China America Studies, said in an interview with Global Times (GT) reporters Qian Jiayin and Xing Xiaojing that the US needs to realize that China and the US must become partners and deal with conflicts and changes in the international system together. In today's world of innovation and technological development, there is no such thing as a lone ranger, and the era of going it alone is outdated.

GT: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited China twice in less than a year. Some Western public opinions have emphasized Blinken's visits to China were aimed at exerting pressure on China. How do you view the so-called pressure?

Simon: We all recognize that the China-US relationship in 2024 will be very different than it was in the 1980s and 1990s. China and the US have achieved parity, or near parity, in many areas. That means that the way they interact must change, and there is now a need for more communication between China and the US as equal partners rather than as teacher and student.

The US had previously been the dominant power. The reality now is that the US must be aware of the necessity of cooperation with China, and both sides can become partners to jointly deal with conflicts, changes, and difficulties in the international system. I hope that there has been a more equal discussion between officials from China and the US. The US must recognize China's long-term presence and interests in the evolution of the international system and be willing to work together with China. This requires an ongoing sustained dialogue between China and the US that needs to be very different from discussions that have taken place in the past.

If you want to truly solve the problem, frank communication is essential. Regardless of the differences between China and the US, it is necessary for both countries to maintain communication and eliminate misunderstandings through dialogue.

GT: Last year, leaders of China and the US reached a series of important consensuses in San Francisco. Despite the stabilizing trend in China-US relations, the US continues to advance its strategy of containing China. What challenges do you think current China-US relations face?

Simon: I think the major challenge that the bilateral relationship faces is that the US is attempting to slow down China's growth while at the same time advancing its own growth potential. We must recognize that we can no longer interact with China in a hierarchical manner; we need to adapt to a new reality. For example, the fact that the two countries have established a working group to deal with the fentanyl problem is a good sign. This spring there's going to be a meeting of another working group on artificial intelligence and its application, which is also another positive sign. The creation of various economic and trade-related working groups also indicates progress. So amid some of the tensions that have not gone away, we do see some steps being taken where the two countries are trying to solve actual problems, and that to me is a very positive sign. 

Of course, there are a number of problems which are yet to be solved. For example, we haven't reached an agreement about the future of science and technology cooperation, and the US-China Science and Technology Agreement (STA) that was supposed to be renewed has now only gotten a six-month extension. So, we do have a way to go in terms of filling out the agenda of issues that must be dealt with if the two countries are going to move together in tandem and in a more constructive way.

GT: Recently, the issue of the US investigating and even repatriating Chinese students has attracted high attention in Chinese society. How is the US campus affected by anti-China paranoia? Is academic exchange between China and the US experiencing a "chilling effect"?

Simon: Currently, on many US campuses, connecting with China is not actively encouraged. We see in many public universities, in particular, the tendency to follow the State Department travel advisory that China is a level three country, which means "don't go if you don't have to go." Some people are concerned that American citizens going to China could be detained. As far as I understand, American students and their faculty advisors are safe to go to China, and, of course, as long as they don't break any laws, they are free to come and go. In fact, China has a welcome mat out for them. 

There is no doubt that academic exchange between China and the US is experiencing a "chilling effect." Some students received official visas issued by the US government and went to the US to study, but they were treated unreasonably upon entering the country. I'm not sure what the US government wants to do. The good news is, as far as I know, the number of such cases reported in the past few weeks is less than 20. In my humble opinion, even one case is too many. I hope that there will be greater clarity about policy, and that if not from the White House, at least from the State Department, in order to align our efforts to improve relations with China and our policies in the education domain. This will help prevent situations where Chinese students face difficulties and, in some cases, are turned back and forced to return home. I think that's unwarranted.

I'm working on some initiatives with the Institute of International Education and the China Education Association for International Exchange to see if we can find ways to get more students from the US to study in China, whether for short-term or long-term programs. America needs individuals who understand China, just as China needs individuals who understand the US. If we do not educate a group of young people who can speak to one another and understand one another, for the long term, our two societies are going to be in deep trouble. I hope that this current period will evaporate very quickly. 

GT: In recent times, the US government has intensified its crackdown on China in the field of science and technology. How do you view the politicization of economic, trade and technological issues by the US toward China?

Simon: I have always believed that the so-called decoupling is wrong. It's very clear that you can't isolate technology by itself and separate it from the economic relationship, the trade relationship, etc. Today, many American companies and Chinese companies are right at the forefront of economic and technological activity. And, of course, they are advocating more open markets on both sides of the equation. Chinese companies would like to do more business in the US. But they're facing investment restrictions. US companies want to do more business in China, but they're facing export controls and the entity list. I think that we must understand that in today's world of innovation and science and technology development, there can be no so-called lone ranger. The era of developing advanced science and technology alone is outdated, and most scientific and technological innovations are finally realized through cross-border cooperation. Without cross-border cooperation, science and technology cannot develop rapidly.

I think that it is time that we renew the US-China STA now. It is not an easy thing. The STA is facing a situation that is very different from what existed back in 1979, when the agreement was first signed. At that time, issues like big data, data management, and data security were not even anyone's concern. Now big data management, data security, and privacy represent a whole new issue area that these two countries have to work out and understand. 

The US learned a very tough lesson from the China initiative that had been put in place, in which many Chinese Americans, unfortunately, were accused of everything, from espionage to industrial spying. It has become very clear that in order for the US to meet its talent needs for the 21st century, it must be able to sustain a pipeline of foreign students and scholars, and a good percentage of those people are coming from China. Without Chinese students and scholars, I think it will be very difficult for the US to meet its talent needs in the years ahead. Chinese officials are trying to invite more international researchers to come and work in China because they also understand that the globalization of the talent pool is something that China too can benefit from.