【文/ 周波，译/中国论坛 韩桦】
US Headed Down Dangerous Path in its Ties with China
China. China. China. Eyeing the election in November, US President Donald Trump and his Democratic rival Joe Biden are vying in a contest to be the bigger China hawk. Being tough on Beijing is now seen as a key test of a presidential candidate’s fitness for office.
The trust between Beijing and Washington today appears even lower than that between Washington and Moscow during the Cold War. At least scientists in the former Soviet Union and the United States were able to collaborate on the development of a polio vaccine.
The hostility from the US is notsimply one of election campaign point-scoring. It finds a place in and is amplified by official strategic policy documents as well.
The “United States Strategic Approach to the People’s Republic of China” released on May 20 starts with disappointment that China’s“rapid economic development and increased engagement with the world did not lead to convergence with the citizen-centric, free and open order as the United States had hoped” and concludes that the US has to prepare for long-term strategic competition between two systems, including a tolerance of greater bilateral friction.
WRONG PREMISE, WRONG CONCLUSION
If the premise of an argument is wrong, the conclusion can hardly be right. Beijing has never coaxedWashington into believing that it will become what the US had hoped for. On the contrary, China has closely guarded against any external attempts to destabilise its social system and governance.Washington’s chagrin that things did not go its way confirms to Beijing that its declaration that “United States policies are not premised on an attempt to change the PRC’s domestic governance model” is but hypocritical.
The US strategic report further asserts that the Chinese Communist Party has attempted to reshape the international system in its favor. No. In the last four decades, China has reshaped itself to adapt to the international system.
China’s integration with the international system includes changing its planned economy into a market economy. What’s more, learning advanced technology and management from the West has remade China.
Today, China, as the world’s second-largest economy, has every reason to strengthen the international system, even if most of the rules and regimes of the system are designed by the West.
Therefore, there is no such thing as competition between “two systems” even if China remains a socialist country.
Ironically, while China becomes further integrated into the international system, the US is moving itself out of the system it was instrumental in creating.Guided by its “America First” policy, the Trump administration doesn’t even pretend to honour its
The China-US relationship is not one of competition, but “copetition”, a mix of cooperation and competition. The question is how to make cooperation prevail over competition or, in the worst-case scenario, ensure that competition doesn’t spill over into conflict. Beijing’s persistent call for “no conflict, no confrontation” illuminates its preferred approach on how this competition should be managed.
Consider this: How many more American lives would have been lost to Covid-19 if Beijing had chosen the retaliatory route and demanded that unless Washington lifted its sanctions against Huawei and stopped threatening European countries from using its 5G technology, it would stop exports of much needed Chinese medical supplies to the US?
Foreign Minister Wang Yi noted in late May that China had exported over 12 billion masks to the US, or roughly 40 for every American. It is sad to see the US, the country worst hit by Covid-19, deciding to intensify its competition with China at a time when the world looks to both countries to lead the fight against the pandemic.
Infectious diseases typically open up opportunities for international cooperation in combating what is after all a common threat. China and the US joined hands in response to the severe acute respiratory syndrome outbreak in2003. In September 2005, the presidents of both countries worked out a set of “Ten Core Principles” on global pandemic response, which were later supported by 88 nations and international agencies. In 2014,Chinese and American scientists even worked side by side in a Chinese laboratory in Sierra Leone. In 2016, the two countries agreed in a memorandum of understanding to jointly provide public health and disease control training in Africa.
Currently, there is indeed a form of “healthy” China-US competition available: a contest between the two major powers to produce effective vaccine doses and make them also available to the rest of the world. Right now, five candidate vaccines are being tested in China.
President Xi Jinping has promised to make Chinese vaccines a global public good, along with a US$2 billion (S$2.8 billion) aid package for pandemic-hit countries within two years. China has also announced the suspension of debt repayments from 77developing countries.
Mr. Trump hopes a vaccine would be in place before the end of the year and has said he aims to get it to Americans as soon as it is available.While looking after one’s citizens is to be expected of national leaders, the worry is that “vaccine nationalism” would kick in in a world short of supplies. Recent reports of US efforts to corner supplies of the antiviral drug remdesivir are not assuring.
Needless to say, Mr.Trump’s announcement of cutting ties with the World Health Organisation provoked an international outcry.
A series of strategic mistakes after the Cold War has led the US to be mired in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, sapping its national strength. But no mistake will be more consequential than taking China on as America’s primary strategic competitor.
The Chinese economy is widely assumed to surpass that of the US in about 10 to 15 years. The gap between the Chinese and American military is closing. No American allies, at least because of their close economic ties with China, wish to take sides with America in a showdown with China. Meanwhile, China and Russia are getting closer, in part because both are deemed by the US as its main competitors.
NO GOING BACK
No one knows what China-US relations might look like in the future. What we do know is that we cannot return to the past even if they were not really good days.
I used to consider China-US decoupling an act akin to pulling capillaries from the body, but I am less convinced now. While it is still premature to argue that we have entered a new cold war, things do seem to be moving in that direction. The only common ground between Beijing and Washington these days seems to be a desire to avoid military conflict. And even then, the US Navy’s high-pitched freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea are raising the risks of miscalculation.
In 2015, Mr. Bill Gates warned that the greatest threat to the world was “not missiles, but microbes”. We know how true it is now. If competition is the bitter angel of human nature, then no vaccine is available for major power competition. But we also have better angels of our nature. In the middle of the ever-raging pandemic, we should let them prevail and bring out the best of who we are.