Copyright The INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE/ The NEW YORK TIMES
THURSDAY, JUNE 9, 2005
NEW YORK The relationship between the United States and China is beset by ambiguity. On the one hand, seven presidents have affirmed the importance of cooperative relations with China and a commitment to a one-China policy.
Nevertheless, ambivalence has suddenly re-emerged. Various U.S. officials, members of Congress and the news media are attacking China’s policies, from the exchange rate to military buildup, much of it in a tone implying that China is on some sort of probation.
Before continuing on this subject, I must point out that the consulting company I chair advises clients with business interests around the world, including China. Also, in early May, I spent a week in China, much of it as a guest of the government.
The rise of China – and Asia – will, over the next decades, bring about a substantial reordering of the international system. The center of gravity of world affairs is shifting from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
China’s emerging role is often compared to that of imperial Germany at the beginning of the last century, the implication being that a strategic confrontation is inevitable and the United States had best prepare for it. That assumption is as dangerous as it is wrong. Military imperialism is not the Chinese style. China seeks its objectives by careful study, patience and the accumulation of nuances.
It is also unwise to apply to China the policy of military containment of the cold war. The Soviet Union was the heir of an imperialist tradition, which had projected Russia from the region around Moscow to the center of Europe. The Chinese state in its present dimensions has existed substantially for 2,000 years. The strategic equation in Asia is altogeth er different. American policy in Asia must not mesmerize itself with the Chinese military buildup. There is no doubt that China is increasing its military forces, which were neglected during the first phase of its economic reform. But even at its highest estimate, the Chinese military budget is less than 20 percent of America’s; it is barely, if at all, ahead of that of Japan. When China affirms its cooperative intentions and denies a military challenge, it expresses less a preference than the strategic realities. The problem of Taiwan is an exception and is often invoked as a potential trigger. is often invoked as a potential trigger. This could happen if either side abandons the restraint that has characterized U.S.-Chinese relations on the subject for more than a generation. But it is far from inevitable. All major countries have recognized China’s claim that Taiwan is part of China. So have seven American presidents of both parties, none more emphatically than President George W. Bush.
With respect to the overall balance, China’s large and educated population, its vast markets, its growing role in the world economy and global financial system foreshadow an increasing capacity to pose an array of incentives and risks, the currency of international influence.
Short of seeking to destroy China as a functioning entity, however, this capacity is inherent in the global economic and financial processes that America has been pre-eminent in fostering.
The test of China’s intentions will be whether its growing capacity will be used to seek to exclude America from Asia or whether it will be part of a cooperative effort.
Paradoxically, the best strategy for achieving antihegemonic objectives is to maintain close relations with all the major countries of Asia, including China. In that sense, the rise of Asia will be a test of America’s competitiveness in the world now emerging, especially in the countries of Asia.
The vast majority of Asian nations view their relations with the United States in terms of their perception of their own interests. In a U.S. confrontation with China, they would seek to avoid choosing sides; at the same time, they would generally have greater incentives for participating in a multilateral system with America than adopting an exclusionary Asian nationalism.
They will not want to be seen as pieces of an American design. India, for example, finds no inconsistency between its improving relations with the United States and proclaiming a strategic partnership with China.
China, in its own interest, is seeking cooperation with the United States for many reasons, including the need to close the gap between its own developed and developing regions; the imperative of adjusting its political institutions to the accelerating economic and technological revolutions; the potentially catastrophic impact of a cold war with America on the continued raising of the standard of living, on which the legitimacy of the government depends.
But from this it does not follow that any damage to China caused by a cold war would benefit America. The United States would have few followers anywhere in Asia. Asian countries would continue trading with China. Whatever happens, China will not disappear. The American interest in cooperative relations with China is for the pursuit of world peace.
Attitudes are psychologically important. China needs to be careful about policies that seem to exclude America from Asia and about U.S. sensitivities regarding human rights, which will influence the flexibility and scope of America’s stance toward China.
America needs to understand that a hectoring tone evokes in China memories of imperialist condescension and is not appropriate in dealing with a country that has managed 4,000 years of uninterrupted self-government.
As a new century begins, the relations between China and the United States may well determine whether our children will live in turmoil even worse than the 20th century or whether they will witness a new world order compatible with universal aspirations for peace and progress.