China has nearly 5000 years of history. The U.S. is less than 250 years old. The U.S.-China relationship has evolved from no-contact to a rivalry state in the last two century. How did this happen? This paper traces the evolution of the U.S.-China relationship from a long time ago to eighteenth to nineteenth century, WW I period, WW II Period, and post WW II to current century (in four parts) in order to understand how and why the two great nations have become rivals and whether they are calculated rivalry?!
Opportunity for Exploiting Two-China situation
- Democracy against Communism
The birth of the republic China (shedding her dynasty system) was perhaps most treacherous one than any other birth of republic in the world. The revolution began many years before WW I and still not completed today after 75 years past WW II. China’s reunification issue has met with ever increasing external influence (frankly speaking, interference) which is clearly motivated by external interest disguised under an ideological conflict of democracy versus communism, certainly not for the benefit for China. Taiwan was returned to China in 1945 when Japan surrendered, but China had an internal war between two factions led by two political parties, KMT and CCP, which were separately supported by the Soviet Union and the U.S. respectively. The internal fight between the two parties was more a power struggle than an ideological fight since both parties acknowledge Sun Yat Sen’s political philosophy (Three Principles of People) and respected him as the real founding father of the Republic China. However, the division of China played into the hands of the Soviet and the U.S. as they were engaging an ideological war, between Communism and Democracy, fighting for the world leadership in reality. In the end, the KMT retreated to Taiwan and the CCP succeeded in uniting the Mainland China resulting in a “two-China” situation, each claiming representing the whole China including both sides of the Taiwan Strait.
The Soviet’s support of CCP ended in the 1960’s when CCP under Mao’s leadership recognized that the Soviet’s communist system is not suitable for China especially for her large poor population. However, the U.S. support for KMT led by Chiang Kai Shet at Taiwan turned into a drive for democracy with a goal of demonstrating democracy as a superior political system. Chiang, with his wish one day returning to Mainland as the leader of the entire China, had no choice but relying on U.S. military and economical support. However, the U.S. had a different strategy or agenda with first priority in targeting the Soviet Union as the enemy. Taiwan was regarded as a strategic military base in an island chain from South Korea, Japan, Taiwan to the Philippines for containing Communist expansions, with the assumption that Mainland China would be a same type of communist country. This assumption was not well founded then even though China got involved in the Korean War fighting the U.S. for North Korea. The Korean War (1950-1953) and the Vietnam War (1955-1975) did teach the U.S. a lesson: China could be an important ally for fighting the Soviet Union. The U.S. developed a strategy to woe China with reservations into the West economy for the purpose of against the Soviet block. The famous Kissinger-Nixon trips to China (1970-1, China was succeeding in getting admission to the UN, eventually joined in 1971)) took place. This paved the foundation for U.S. later recognizing the CCP led PRC (1979) as the only legitimate China at the expense of abandoning Taiwan’s political dream. This and the U.S. 'two-China strategy' were responsible for turning Taiwan to Independence Movement.
However, the U.S. never gave up the assumption that China is a communist country and all communist countries are all alike. (The way the U.S. treated any South American government experimenting communism is the proof.) Thus, the U.S. maintained the strategy of keeping a de facto “two-China” for curbing the communism. The U.S. intensified her goal of making Taiwan as a democratic regime to be contrasted with the authoritarian CCP regime. This assumption and approach are proven wrong today after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990. Taiwan became prosperous because her economic policies (partly owing to the Three Principle of People doctrine) taking advantages of the wars the U.S. engaged in Asia and elsewhere. Taiwan has eventually turned towards one person one vote democracy (demonstrated by the first ever victory of an opposing party DPP against KMT in a Presidential election) in year 2000. Taiwan’s economy depends on Mainland China (46% export to Mainland and Hong Kong today) and has little to do with democracy. In fact, the democratic drive urged by the U.S. divided the island on many issues, the most critical one is the unification with Mainland China. The people would certainly benefit from a harmonious relationship and gradual peaceful reunification (as evidenced by President Ma Yin Jeou's administration, 2008-2016). Somewhat opposite to the U.S.-China trade relation, Taiwan enjoys a positive trade surplus with Mainland China, yet the current Administration clings to Trump’s anti-China rhetoric and policies (including trade issue and technology sanctions) for made-up ideological reasons creating damaging economic consequences to people in Taiwan. The U.S. urges Taiwan to buy offensive military gears, thus alienating Mainland China and intensifying military tension across the Taiwan Strait. This strategy may bring some cash to the U.S. treasury but it worries the ASEAN countries even U.S. allies.
Transformation of Communist China
“China remained as a communist country and never changed in the past seven decades” is the biggest false statement anyone can make. The CCP established the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1949 under the leadership of Mao Ze Dong who never visited Russia or any other foreign country at that time. Communism was a philosophy and a tool for him to awaken Chinese people to change, perhaps to modernization but not to a fixed political system, since it was not imaginable at that time. No one had ruled China with her large number of people other than by an emperor dictatorship. But there were thousands of years of debate on philosophy and policy matters on how to rule a country as large as China for the benefit of the people not the emperor. Emperors may come and go and enjoy luxuries but their life destinies are to make their people to live a better life. CCP had no magic nor KMT, Sun Yat Sen’s Three Principles of People are theories influenced by the East and West political philosophers, he had no practical experience with it and no one in China did. But Qing Dynasty was rotting and dying and China was bullied by the Western Powers (even as small as Holland). China had to reform and transform, but first she had to be united as one nation.
Mao succeeded in uniting the Mainland China, he experimented with communism, like a doctor using heavy dosage to save a dying patient. Some medicines (such as his Great Leap Forward and the Culture Revolution) are bitter, invasive and not effective, but one thing he did succeed was that he built a real political party, CCP, and challenged the party members to serve the country to make people to live a better life. Of course, this party may go wrong like the Nazi or the Soviet Communist party, but the CCP had a built-in DNA, that is the patience and resiliency of Chinese characteristics. The party is charged to always reform and transform or it will be destroyed by the people. Therefore, the CCP becomes stronger as the world is casting a watchful eye on it, the more external criticism, the better it became. After Mao, there was Deng, Hu, Jiang and now Xi. They are all experimentalists, accepting ‘learn as you go’ (feeling stones as you walk across a river), they are not as much as ideologists as transformers. (Ironically, the U.S. China experts have been more persistent in their views about communism and China than the Chinese leaders themselves) The CCP party doctrine defines their DNA, sustains their philosophy and gives them discipline to be practical, responsible and reforming like biological molecular cells transforming CCP members to be ever better cells. Of course, like any organization, there may be corruption, CCP is no exception. So the party needs cleansing which they do from time to time.
(To be continued in Part IV)