The US-China Relation is at the lowest point since the U.S. recognized the People’s Republic of China as the only China representing the Chinese people and her sovereignty in 1979. The current trade war initiated by the U.S. against China is fermenting the US-China relation into a hot bed for hostile competition short of declaring each other as enemy. On the whole, the U.S. is the initiator of accusation and hostile actions based on rhetoric such as China conducted unfair practices in trade, investment, technology acquisition and development. As China rises in economy, her warm relationship with countries in Africa and Asia as well as her sovereignty assertion in East China Sea (ECS) and South China Sea (SCS) appear to be a challenge to the U.S. The trade and technology competition are escalated to military competition. The crux of the matter – how to deal with US-China Competition - lies in how the U.S. diagnoses China’s intention and develops her China policy and how China analyzes the U.S. objective in Asia and develops her US policy.
In the U.S., there are two opposing assumptions made about China. One, China has aspiration to dominate the world becoming the world leader. World history offered many examples such as the United Kingdom, Germany, France and Japan. However, in Chinese history, only Mongolians had conquered China and invaded into West Asia and Europe. Mongolians lost their aspiration to dominate the world when absorbed into the Chinese race. The second assumption is that China was bullied for more than one hundred years by the Western powers and her neighbor Japan and Russia. China is ultra sensitive to being bullied again thus striving to be strong and competitive. Not like the U.S. having no serious competitor within arm’s length geographically, China is surrounded by strong competitors like Russia, Japan, Korea, India and Vietnam in Indochina. If the U.S. or Russia would ever target China as the strong competitor or as an enemy, what would China do? Judging from China’s history and her large population, China would never accept being bullied, likely putting up a strong fight to defend herself from any aggressor!
The U.S. viewed the Communist Soviet Union as a serious threat since WW II but never viewed China as a threat, not even during Korean and Vietnam Wars. China actually was instrumental to ending those US wars which hurt the U.S. economy. China also aligned with the U.S. in ending the Cold War succeeded in 1990. What has changed? The obvious answer is that China has risen economically and in contrast the U.S. is stressed in her economy after switching from a manufacturing dominated to a financial service led economy. The U.S. has achieved the superpower status after WW II and has become the only superpower in the world after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The US dominating position in Europe (the leader of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) defending Europe) and her solid hold in Asia (having Japan and South Korea bonded by mutual defense alliances) have made the U.S. the de facto world leader allowing her to handle most international affairs freely despite of the existence of the United Nations.
The post Cold War development of the relationship between the U.S. and China can be traced along two tracks. China placed her first priority on economic development with the objective of lifting her people from poverty; more specifically with the goal to become a member of the West dominated World Trade Organization (WTO). China developed friendly trade relations with the entire world particularly with the U.S., the EU as well as Asian and African nations. The U.S., on the other hand, assumed the world leader role exerting her power in world affairs under the banner of keeping world peace. The U.S. was perhaps sincere in maintaining world peace but her approach tend to be unilateral sometimes placing her national interest above all other objectives, for example in settling acute conflicts in the Middle East and Eastern Europe. China believed in developing her economy along with the world. The two different tracks China and the U.S. were pursuing led to the current situation: China has risen economically as the world second largest economy gaining good wills and friendship with many countries, especially with the third world; whereas the U.S. has gained an unwanted reputation as a war initiator rather than a peacekeeper gradually losing her influence in the world.
The U.S. and China should not behave emotionally rather they should adopt a rational policy to resolve the competition between the two great nations. In today’s world, great powers possess devastating nuclear weapons. The Ancient Greek Thucydides Theory cannot be a rational choice or a destiny in international competition. Human intelligence must be able to take a Smart, Skilled and Silent approach to deal with world affairs settling conflicts and competition among nations and great powers. Let’s call this a 3 ‘S’ strategy. The fact that the current US-China relation is deteriorating is because of wrong assumptions made and mistrust developed between each other. Making threats and taking bullying actions can only increase mistrust unable to turn back the clock or undo the deeds. What must be done is to honestly reassess the assumptions and resolve mistrust. Is China really destined to dominate the world replacing the U.S.? Is the U.S. really a war monger always settling world issues through military actions?
The U.S. China policy taking a turn from open engagement to unfriendly competition had its reasons. However, painting China as an aggressive, threatening and dangerous nation is not a smart policy. If the picture were true, then there would be no need to add untrue fabrication to the picture. If it were not true then painting such a picture would lead to a hostile relation begging for war and mutual destruction. China has indeed risen; there will be competition between China and the U.S. Both the U.S. and China must handle it smartly, skillfully and silently. The current trade war and rhetoric are not productive. A tariff war will not produce winner as the U.S. Administration claims. When rhetoric is increased with bullying language and action (‘everything goes’ and ‘nothing is barred’) can only worsen the relationship gaining no purpose. When the US sanction laws are unilaterally applied to China’s international corporations (the arrest of Ms Meng, CFO of Huawei) it does not help the US reputation in the global arena. The U.S. and China must recognize that healthy competition and beneficial collaboration can coexist.
We will discuss below why the U.S. and China should take a Smart, Skillful and Silent (3 ‘S’) approach to deal with competition and why the 3 ‘S’ strategy is the only healthy strategy to guide the US and China to cope with competition in a healthy way.
The US-China competition is very complex and must be dealt with smartly. The competition is not a simple trade issue or an economic issue (complex economic development model); it extends to technology competition and more fundamentally to many domains, education, philosophy, governance and sociology (healthcare, retirement and lifestyle). China always wanted to reform and seek for solutions for nation building. But she has her special interests groups and unique problems. China has the responsibility to evaluate the applicability of any system she may adopt. So there is mutual dependency and reliance in all competitions. Tariff war does not produce winner, Mutual exploration of technology to find market place is a smart way to produce win-win outcome. The US-China competition should not be treated as a Cold War competition either; otherwise it would lead to arms race and mutual destruction. Using Taiwan Travel Act, Taiwan Assurance Act, etc to pressure China is not a smart way to eliminate competition, no physical benefit to the U.S. It is absurd that the U.S. Congress would introduce bills meddling in China’s domestic issue and not encourage China to create legislation based on her Constitution to resolve the cross-strait reunification issue. The unilateral American First approach did not fare well lately and would not work well with China competition either. The U.S. should work skillfully to discharge competition and turn it into mutually beneficial collaboration, for example in the education and healthcare domains. While two countries are focusing on their own problems and develop technic solutions, it is smart to keep the other country’s problems in mind and skillfully channel one country’s solution to work for another country’s problems. The U.S.-China competition is not a life or death competition. Vocal rhetoric only creates false emotional outbursts. With competition and collaboration coexisting, competition should be conducted silently focusing on data not political rhetoric, such as import export figures, job employment numbers, graduation rate in STEM areas, patents issued, GDP numbers, etc. Focusing on indisputable data leads to healthy competition that produces progress in human civilization.
The citizens of both the U.S. and China are peace loving people, the above 3 ‘S’ Strategy is an obvious approach to manage a healthy competition and guide it into a healthy relationship. The political analysts and think tank fellows specialized in the U.S. and China relations in both countries should give this 3 ‘S’ a serious consideration.