The US-China relation has evolved several turns from enemies to partners now changing again. The U.S. China policy naturally is a corollary of the U.S. foreign policy. Recently, the U.S. is switching her China policy towards targeting China as a competitive opponent causing concerns in the world. This essay does a review of the evolution of the U.S. China policy and makes comments. It appears that the U.S. China policy has become more ‘transparent’ to the public for its lack of logic and short-sighted with no long-term objectives.
Sun Tzu’s Book, the Art of War or Military Strategy is world renown, not only respected by generals but also by statesmen. Beyond his brilliant analysis on military strategy and tactics on war and battles, Sun’s book is also a great book on the philosophy on diplomacy and foreign relations. Some profound principles are that “War should be the last resort for settling inter-national differences.” and “Win without war is the best and ultimate goal.“ Therefore, diplomacy and foreign policy are extremely important in a competitive world in Sun’s teaching. His philosophy has profound influence on Chinese generals, military scholars and statesmen as evidenced by Chinese history where many more wars were avoided than occurred in the past 2500 years resulting in a unified China in contrast with Europe.
In comparison, the Western political scientists and military strategists seem to believe in the ‘Thucydides Theory’ derived from Ancient Greek history (~ 400 BC) that competitive nations are destined to have a (unavoidable) war with the rising power challenging the existing strong power. (Ref: Graham Allison, Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides Trap? 2017) Another well known book, On War, by Carl von Clausewitz (Vom Kriege is a book on war and military strategy by Prussian general Carl von Clausewitz, 1780-1831), prescribes a different philosophy: It advocates “War must never be seen as having any purpose in itself, but should be seen as an instrument of politics and policy. (Whereas Sun’s caution on War tries to avoid wars and refrain from being a war monger.) Clausewitz describes war’s objectives as rendering the enemy politically helpless and militarily impotent, very different from Sun’s philosophy keeping military strength in the background, more for defense than offense, and pursuing a winning strategy through diplomacy and foreign policies.
Sun Tze is just one of many great philosophers in Chinese history honoring a common theme that is focusing on peace loving and a harmonious world. This philosophy helped China or Chinese people to avoid many possible wars in their long history and helped them to unite as one nation despite of numerous tribes or minority factions existed from the Warring States era (Zhanguo era 500 - 300 BC) evolving up to today. Unfortunately, in the modern history of two hundred years (~1797 to 1997 the year Hong Kong was returned to China), China was gradually weakened, invaded and eventually occupied by the Western and Asian Imperial powers making her a devastated state trying to rebuild herself and rendering a poor image of an extremely weak nation (Asian Sick Man!) with no military strength and diplomatic skills to deal with the world. Most sadly China had fallen from the most prosperous nation, the number one economy in the world, to “butcher’s meat on the block for carving”.
The US-China Relations is significant only in the recent two hundred years since the U.S. is a young country started her relation with China as a minority party of the colonial powers eyeing the riches of China. The US China relation was better than the relation between other Western powers such as UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal, and Holland with China, because she was a new nation founded on liberty and justice and advocated the ‘Monroe doctrine’ fending off European colonialism from the continents of America. The U.S. returned a part of war reparation back to China for building universities and hospitals, a far-sighted China policy, which, to this day, received Chinese people’s gratitude. The US-China relationship further improved as allies during WW II fighting the aggressive Japanese Imperial army. China was able to tie up millions of Japanese soldiers on the mainland of China while the U.S. could win her naval and air battles against the Japanese forces.
WW II interrupted China’s treacherous revolution to establish a republic nation in the presence of Western powers physically dominating parts of China. Japan’s ambition of conquering China as a whole, although created a brutal war in China, but ultimately the Sino-Japan War caused the withdrawal of the colonial powers from China and awakened the Chinese to defend their nation with life. The war victory gave China a new life but under the influences of Russia and the U.S. two political parties split China to two parts, the Mainland (CCP) and Taiwan (KMT). The U.S. backed the KMT (Taiwan) under the military strategy of forming an island chain surrounding the Communist countries from the north, Russia, North Korea and China, a salient part of the US anti-communist strategy. The U.S.-China relation took a strategic twist in the peak of the Cold War with the U.S. led NATO confronting Soviet Union led Warsaw pack in arms race and regional conflicts. The U.S. recognized the Mainland China (People’s Republican of China, PRC) as the only China and engaged her as a partner against the Soviet Union. Whether it is pure sympathetic sorry or selfish strategy, the U.S. Congress passed the Taiwan Act with the intent to protect Taiwan from a forced take over by the Mainland. PRC had no intention to use force to unite Taiwan unless provoked, which clearly followed Sun Tzu’s philosophy.
The U.S.-China policy worked successfully as far as making the Soviet Union to collapse in 1990. The U.S. became the only super power in the world and China had clearly begun to gradually embrace capitalism and search for a sustainable economical development model of her own. The U.S. first opposed but finally supported China to enter the World Trade Organization (WTO). No doubt, the WTO helped China in her economical growth, but more importantly one must recognize the fact that the Chinese people being one of the poorest in the world for decades had worked extremely hard to succeed in their economic development despite of discrimination and sanctions applied against their country. Every developed nation had taken advantage of the technologically more advanced nations to advance but the most important ingredient in that process is still self-reliance. China’s rise is no different from the rise of the U.S. by taking advantage of UK and European nations nor it is different from Japan’s rise and second recovery by taking advantage of the European countries and the U.S. The only exception is that China’s rise was much faster and larger in scale considering her huge poor population. China’s ability to lift hundreds of millions of people above poverty has to be attributed to her own effort and determination. For example, despite of inadequate resources, China produced several million STEM graduates a year.
In the turn of twenty first century, the U.S.-China’s fully engaged relationship seemed to have taken a change or a pause for change. China’s Rise has been observed but the U.S. has been too occupied by the war against terror and the Middle East mess. China continued her rapid development keeping a near double digit growth in GDP. Then the debate began whether engage or disengage with China was the dialogue. During the debate, the voice of pointing out the philosophical difference of the East vs West discussed above was missing and legacy military strategy was gaining momentum surrounding the Thucydides Theory. Few self-reflection on what went wrong with the economic development model of the U.S. (and of the West) were seriously studied. Under the WTO, all participating nations act voluntarily on trades, investments, mergers and acquisitions; there was no gun boat at the port like colonial days forcing unequal deals or treaties to be made.
The current U.S. China policy is becoming more transparent to the public for lacking logic and short-sighted for losing a long-term view and fair objective. The U.S. used many tools in dealing against a communist China employing her powerful media: 1. Authoritarian regime, 2. Human rights, 3. Military rise (South China Sea etc.), 4. Trade imbalance (tariff war), 5. Technology competition, and the Taiwan Card. The regime issue was a long standing ideological claim but it is getting a little stale, especially when many developing countries are envying the Chinese government’s efficiency and achievement. The Chinese government’s performance deserves the envy of the developing nations; in three decades, the Chinese government has lifted hundreds of million people above poverty line - who is to say that regime is bad for the Chinese people? Human rights is another old issue, but all one has to examine is the historical facts (progression) say, for the past 70 years what has changed. Tibet has gained not only more economic prosperity but also true religious freedom and human dignity. Now the Tibetans are no longer ruled by atrocious and creationist monks with brighter future in preserving its culture than American Indians can.