Friday, August 23, 2019

China and US: Are They Rivals or Enemies?
By Xue Li
Global Times
2019/8/20 20:53:40

Chinese international relations scholars are one on issues such as that China-US relations cannot be restored to what they were in the past, Washington has defined Beijing as a strategic competitor, the rivalry between China and the US will be prolonged, etc. But they still argue on topics like whether China and the US are decoupling, whether China-US ties have changed qualitatively, and whether China and the US will be caught in a new cold war. These controversies stem from one issue - are China and the US rivals or enemies? In my view, China and the US are rivals but not foes. They may turn into enemies, the possibility of which is very low.

On the basis of closeness, countries can be divided into allies, close partnership, partnership, rivals and enemies. Rivals can compete, confront, or even engage in conflict. In the stage of conflict, rivals tend to resemble enemies. During the confrontation phase, rivals may engage in conflicts. When competition is the theme between two countries, the two sides are normally partners or rivals. Washington has newly defined Beijing as an overall strategic competitor, rival in some domains and enemies in others.

Washington and Beijing are rivals but their rivalry is not as strong as that between enemies. Although some of the deep state tend to regard China as an enemy, out to contain the country, US President Donald Trump, the establishment and China hands believe China is a strategic competitor of the US, not an enemy, because China's ideology is not expansionary and the Asian country doesn't attempt to change the lifestyle in the US or undermine capitalism. The problem lies in that China has carried out state capitalism, which many US politicians and observers believe has "taken advantage" of the US, a country with market capitalism. The US believes it needs to establish a so-called reciprocal relationship.

The US has united its allies and partners to put pressure on China to make structural changes, especially in the field of economy and trade. Furthermore, the US has restricted China by slapping tariffs, censoring Chinese scholars, limiting the number of Chinese students studying science, technology, engineering and mathematics, registering some Chinese institutions in the US as "foreign agencies," and cancelling the 10-year visa of some Chinese scholars and others. What Washington has adopted vis-à-vis enemies is not the same. In fact, to avoid turning China into an enemy is still the mainstream idea in the US. The open letter "China is not an enemy" signed by over 100 US scholars can prove it.

Trump has repeatedly claimed China's top leader is his friend. What he wants is to "make America great again" and to pursue US interests, rather than create or destroy enemies.

Beijing is reluctant to treat Washington as an enemy as well. China would like to be a developer of and contributor to the existing international system. The overall strength gap between China and the US remains large. China does not intend to replace the US as the global leader. Both countries should build a new model of major country relations featuring win-win cooperation and avoid the Thucydides Trap. Beijing has taken measures such as increased buying from the US, amending the foreign investment law, relaxing or removing restrictions on foreign investment, which are beneficial for Washington. All those reveal that challenging the US, decoupling from the US, or launching a new cold war is not what China wants.

However, China is a rising power and has been pursuing independent diplomacy. China will not bend to the US on major issues as what US allies and close partners do.

How to judge a qualitative change in bilateral ties? First, the US has defined China as a strategic competitor and has shifted from combination of cooperation and containment to comprehensive containment. It simply means a change in US foreign policy on China, quantitatively but not qualitatively. Qualitative change will be realized by overall containment or a massive war, which implies a big change.

Second, China realizes the policy adjustment the US has undertaken. China still hopes to maintain friendly relations with the US without affecting the overall diplomatic landscape and the process of rise.

Third, going from good to bad is insufficient to judge the qualitative change in bilateral relations. China and the US have just shifted from being partners to rivals. Although the US is the stronger side, it cannot unilaterally determine the character of China-US ties.

Fourth, both nuclear powers would not engage in full-scale war. Issues on the South China Sea, the Korean Peninsula and East China Sea may not lead to a massive war between China and the US, either.

The author is director of the Department of International Strategy at the Institute of World Economics and Politics under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

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