周波:“极限竞争”距冲突仅一步之遥

来源:观察者网

2021-09-29 09:40

周波

周波作者

清华大学战略与安全研究中心研究员、中国论坛特约专家

【导读】 9月28日,清华大学战略与安全研究中心研究员、中国论坛特约专家周波在《南华早报》发表评论文章“As the US focuses on ‘extreme competition’ with China, conflict is just a step away”。周波认为,拜登希望与中国进行“极限竞争”而不发生军事冲突,但是当竞争走向极限时,其与冲突仅一步之遥。中国论坛授权翻译,以飨读者。

【文/ 中国论坛特约专家 周波】

阿富汗战争尚未尘埃落定,但其影响显而易见。随着美国全球反恐斗争的结束,拜登总统与中国“极限竞争”的序幕已经拉开。问题是:这种竞争会持续多久?

如果说20年的阿富汗战争对美国来说是一场“永远的战争”,那么中美竞争因持续的时间会更长,可谓“永远的竞争”。中国能“韬光养晦”的时代已经一去不复返了。

作为世界第二大经济体的中国,其体量之大已无法隐藏。当美国将中国视为主要战略竞争对手时,中国不可能以静制动。

但在经济领域,大局已定。去年年底,中国的经济是美国的70%。人们普遍认为,按国内生产总值计算,中国将在2030年左右超过美国,成为世界上最大的经济体。

耶鲁大学教授保罗·肯尼迪表示,这将是自19世纪80年代美国经济超过英国之后从未出现过的情况。整个20世纪,美国的经济规模大约是其他任何大国的2至4倍。

正如澳大利亚前总理陆克文指出,中国成为世界最大经济体之时,将会是自乔治三世(1738-1820)以来,世界上第一次出现一个非英语、非民主、非西方的国家成为最大经济体。

对美国人来说,这将是一个巨大的变化。美国人自出生起就被灌输美国是“非凡的”或“不可或缺”的神话。他们将不得不接受一个常识:国家兴衰无常;美国人和其他人没有不同。

当中国这样的所谓“威权国家”的经济超过美国时,西方民主的影响力将跌至谷底。根据“自由之家”的统计,自2006年以来,全球的民主程度一直在下降。民调显示大多数美国人对现状并不满意。

丘吉尔有句名言:“民主是最糟糕的政府形式,除了那些已经尝试过的其他形式”。如果这表明,尽管民主存在问题,但它仍然比其他的政府形式好,那么1月6日的国会大厦骚乱显示,民主可能是有害的、甚至是致命的暴力。

很难相信,美国民主的最高殿堂—国会大厦会在前总统特朗普的号召和对选举舞弊的虚假指控下,被一群支持者暴力袭击。

在2030年之前,中美之间的竞争必定会加剧,因为美国会把它作为扳倒一个崛起大国的最后机会。最近美国、英国和澳大利亚之间的“Aukus”协议允许美国与澳大利亚分享其严密保护的核动力潜艇技术,导致澳大利亚撕毁了与法国的数十亿美元潜艇交易。

澳大利亚总是跟在美国背后。图片来源:华尔街日报

法国外交部长勒德里安将这一不同寻常的行为形容为 “背后捅刀子”。这表明美国为了孤注一掷对抗竞争对手,已经可以不择手段到牺牲重要盟友。

不过,尽管几艘核潜艇可能确实会使北京的决策复杂化,但它们改变不了大局。对澳大利亚来说,平衡术可能太难学,从历史上看,澳大利亚士兵大多是作为喽啰去打“大哥”的仗。

这一次,莫里森政府显然已决定不惜冒着与中国发生军事冲突的风险,站在美国一边。鉴于澳大利亚在未来几十年内不可避免地要依赖美、英的核技术,继任的澳大利亚政府都会受制于莫里森政府做出的这项决定。

即使有英国和澳大利亚的帮助,时间也不在美国这边。五角大楼针对台湾问题的历次计算机模拟军演显示,美国一而再再而三地输给中国。当然,这不是中国自满的理由,但如果在中国的周边地区发生冲突,中国人民解放军完全拥有主场优势。

相较于20世纪80年代,如今的美国武装部队规模更小,也更为老旧,而解放军则恰恰相反。迄2019年,解放军海军拥有约350艘舰艇,数量超过美国海军的约293艘舰艇。虽然数量不等同于质量,但数量本身也反映了一定的质量。

没有什么比国防开支更能说明一国对安全形势的评估。三十年来,中国的军事开支一直保持在国内生产总值的2%以下,这充分说明中国对其所面临的安全挑战充满自信。

倘若中国觉得威胁大到不得不增加国防开支,那么这个世界第二大经济体能轻易地将国防预算增加一倍;但美国的军费开支已是中国三倍,是否还有能力再将军费开支翻一番呢?

拜登说,美国将采取对华“极限竞争”的形式,但不会发生冲突。然而,当竞争走向极端,它离冲突也就只有一步之遥了。与强调竞争的美国相反,中国大声疾呼合作,但是一个巴掌拍不响。国家若没有实力就无法竞争;同样,拥有实力才能合作。

美国外交和国防政策像一个钟摆,总是在张弛之间横摆。问题是,已经战略收缩的美国何时会回摆,或者说它还可不可能回摆?美国从阿富汗撤军被认为是美国聚焦与中国竞争的一种手段,只有时间能证明这是否是一个明智的决定。

但是,如果这是一个愚蠢的战略失误,那将是比越南战争、伊拉克战争和阿富汗战争加起来还要严重的致命错误。它将会永远终结美国自19世纪末以来的霸权地位,使其一去不复返。

翻译:祖白地亚

校译:许馨匀、韩桦

ZHOU Bo: As the US focuses on ‘extreme competition’ with China, conflict is just a step away

The dust from the Afghan war has yet to settle but the fallout is clear. With the ending of the US global crusade on terrorism, the prelude to President Joe Biden’s “extreme competition” with China has begun. The question is: how long will it last?

If the 20-year war in Afghanistan is a “forever war” for the United States, then its competition with China could be described as “forever competition”, because it will surely last longer. Gone are the days when China could “hide its strength and bide its time”.

The second-largest economy in the world is simply too big to hide. And it is impossible for Beijing to bide its time when Washington takes it as its primary strategic competitor.

But in the economic field, the die is cast. At the end of last year, China’s economy was 70 per cent of America’s. It is widely assumed that, by around 2030, China will overtake the US to become the world’s largest economy in terms of gross domestic product.

According to Yale professor Paul Kennedy, this will be a situation that has not existed since the 1880s, when America’s economy overtook Britain’s. For the entire 20th century, the American economy was about two to four times larger than that of any other great power.

When China emerges as the world’s largest economy, as former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd pointed out, it will be the first time since George III (1738-1820) that the world will have a non-English-speaking, non-democratic, non-Western state as its largest economy.

This will be a seismic change for Americans, who have been fed the myth since they were born that America is “exceptional” or “indispensable”. They will have to come to terms with common sense: nations rise and fall; Americans are like everyone else.

When the economy of an “authoritarian state” such as China surpasses that of the US, the influence of Western democracy will be looking at its nadir. According to Freedom House, democracy around the globe has been declining since 2006. Polls show that most Americans are dissatisfied with the state of the US.

Winston Churchill famously said that “democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried”. If this suggests that, in spite of its problems, democracy is still better than other forms of government, then the Capitol insurrection on January 6 showed how democracy can be virulent or even deadly violent.

It is hard to believe the Capitol building – the supreme seat of American democracy – would be violently attacked by a mob of supporters at the call of former president Donald Trump and false allegations of election fraud.

Until 2030, China-US competition will most certainly intensify in that the US will take it as the last chance to bring down a rising power. The recent “Aukus” agreement between the US, Britain and Australia allows the US to share its jealously guarded nuclear-powered submarine technology with Australia, which meant scrapping Australia’s multibillion-dollar submarine deal with France.

Such an unusual move, described by French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian as a “stab in the back”, shows how the US could resort to desperate measures against a competitor at the cost of an important ally.

But while a few nuclear subs might indeed complicate decision-making in Beijing, they are not necessarily game-changers. For Australia, balancing is probably an art too delicate to learn. Historically, most of the wars that Australian soldiers fought are other people’s wars which they joined as junior partners.

This time, the Morrison government has obviously decided to risk taking America’s side in a military conflict with China. Given Australia’s inevitable reliance on US and British nuclear technologies in the decades to come, the Morrison government has left succeeding Australian governments hostage to its decision.

Even with some British and Australian help, time is not on America’s side. The Pentagon’s war games over Taiwan showed the US losing repeatedly to China. Of course, this is no reason for China to be complacent, but should a conflict occur in China’s periphery, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has all the advantages of being on home turf.

Today, America’s armed forces are considerably smaller and older than they were in the 1980s. The PLA is just the opposite. By 2019, the PLA Navy had about 350 ships, outnumbering the US Navy’s around 293 ships. Although quantity is not quality, it has a quality all its own.

Nothing speaks of a country’s security assessment more than its defence expenditure. For three decades, China’s military expenditure has stayed below 2 per cent of GDP. It speaks volumes about China’s self-confidence about its security challenges.

If China feels threatened to the extent that it has to increase its defence spending, the second-largest economy could easily afford to double the defence budget; but can the US double its military spending, which is already three times larger than China’s?

Biden said that US rivalry with China will take the form of “extreme competition” rather than conflict. But when competition becomes extreme, it is one step away from conflict. Contrary to the US, which emphasises competition, China has righteously called for cooperation. But it takes two to tango. A country cannot compete without strength; likewise, it can only cooperate with strength.

The pendulum of US foreign and defence policy traditionally swings between assertiveness and pullbacks. The question is when will an America in retrenchment swing back, or will it swing back at all? The US pull-out from Afghanistan was justified as a means for America to focus on competition with China. Only time will tell if this is a wise decision.

But if it is a boneheaded strategic blunder, then it is a monumental error more consequential than the Vietnam, Iraq and Afghan wars combined. It will doom America’s hegemonic status, held since the late 19th century, for good.

Zhou Bo is a senior fellow at the Centre for International Security and Strategy at Tsinghua University and a China Forum expert

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