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A Chinese Scholar on Future Conflicts between China and the U.S.

[Editor’s Notes: The Chinese media have overwhelmingly praised Chinese President Hu Jintao’s U.S. visit as “a historical visit at a critical moment in the Sino-U.S. relationship.” [1] Nanfang Metropolitan published an interview with Jin Canrong, Deputy Dean of the School of International Relations, People’s University, on the subject of Sino-U.S. relations. Jin predicts the relationship will become more stable. There still will be many conflicts between the two sides but those conflicts won’t escalate to confrontation. The following are excerpts about the possible conflicts that Jin foresees down the road.] [1]

We all know that the Sino-U.S. relationship is going to be tough. (Hu Jintao’s meeting with Obama) was to give each other assurances that no confrontation between the two sides would occur; both sides know that they cannot afford to have such a confrontation. From this angle, the political mainstreams in both countries reached a mutual agreement: Though there will still be trouble in the relationship, there will be no confrontation. The Sino-U.S. relationship stabilized after this meeting. Then there are the cascading effects, such as the meeting between North Korea and South Korea. Now it’s a brand new relationship between the two superpowers. One way to resolve issues is “inter-dependency.” This is what didn’t exist in the past between the U.S. and the USSR. China and the U.S. can do it better this time.

Conflicts This Year

There are for sure going to be a lot of troubles down the road between China and the U.S. Though both parties are happy right now, we could start quarreling at any moment. There are several things that are unavoidable in this coming year.

The first thing is U.S. arm sales to Taiwan. The U.S. will help Taiwan to upgrade its fighter jets from F16ABs to F16CDs. The U.S. will definitely do that this year.

The second thing is that China’s military build up will irritate the U.S. greatly. On January 11, 2007, China successfully shot down a satellite; China conducted a successful midcourse anti-missile interception test. Now China’s Dongfeng 21D anti-ship ballistic missile is receiving great attention. The U.S. has highly praised the Dongfeng 21D. Although it is a tactical weapon, it has significant strategic value. Its military significance is equivalent to China’s setting off an atomic bomb in the 1960s. When the Dongfeng 21D debuts, it will mean that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has reached a significant goal. The U.S. will be very concerned.

The next issue is the Korean Peninsula. In the past, it was North Korea that adopted the “brinkmanship policy.” Now South Korea has also started to play this game, which has doubled the risk of accidents. The North-South relationship will remain dangerous this year. When there is a conflict, China and the U.S. will have different preferences on how to resolve the issue, which is likely to lead to discord.

The fourth item is trade. Some people predict that, in the next few years, China’s total manufacturing output will overtake the U.S. to make China number one in the world. This will stun the Americans no less than when China’s GDP reached the rank of number two worldwide. Since the U.S. first laid claim to the title of “Number One in GDP” in 1894, it has always led the world in manufacturing. Moreover, the U.S. will have economic growth without job growth. Its economic numbers will look good and there will be positive economic growth, but removing the economic stimulus leverage will still hurt, and its economy is far from total recovery. It still cannot stand the political pressure from the economic problem, so it still has the incentive to blame China for its economy.

Conflicts in the Next Ten Years

If we take a look at the mid-term, in the next ten-year period, there will be more problems for Sino-U.S. relations. One is that there will be a new psychological environment. China’s economy will continue increasing at a fast pace and the Chinese people will be over-confident. (Nanfang Metropolitan: A U.S. survey showed that more than half of the people in the U.S. felt that China has or is about to overtake the U.S. as the world’s number one, so there is also a psychological change in the American people.) Actually, that’s not true. This is “the grass is always greener on the other side” phenomenon. The U.S. has a problem, but it does not want you to be good, either. In the next ten years, the U.S. will feel upset and exaggerate China’s power. China will become over-confident and also exaggerate its power.

Second, Sino-U.S. relations are very complicated with the coexistence of old problems and new problems. The old problems, the three “Ts,” are still there: the Taiwan issue, the Tibet issue, and Trade conflicts. There will also be five new problems.

The first one I mentioned earlier: China’s military capability has advanced to a new level.

The second problem is the leadership of East Asia. China will continue to push regional cooperation, regardless of whether the U.S. likes it or not. This is needed for China’s economic development. China is building the Bangkok-Kunming Railway and developing along the Mekong River. Next China will get closer to the Gulf Cooperation Council and push for a Northeast Asia Summit, including China, Japan, and South Korea. China will move according to its own power to push for regional cooperation. China and the U.S. will have a conflict over the leadership of East Asia.

The third one is that China’s technological innovations and the Renminbi’s internationalization will make Sino-U.S. trade a competition. Until now, Sino-U.S. trade has been mostly complementary, with China having a larger share of exports, but it will be different in the future. In the future, it’s going to be both complementary and competitive. China’s industries will move up to a higher level, its high-speed railway being an example. The internationalization of the Renminbi will also be an important factor. It’s a good thing for the world and for China, but a bad thing for the U.S.

The fourth problem is the “China Model.” Right now, only a few Western news reporters are talking about the “China Model,” with a few Chinese scholars echoing it. The liberals in China are against it, and so are some overseas scholars. However, most scholars are opportunists. They will think that China has succeeded. If China continues its current growth rate, by 2015, China’s GDP is likely to reach 70% of the U.S.’s GDP. By then, the “China Model” will be very meaningful. I believe some professor from a U.S. university will write a book similar to Japan as Number One: Lessons for America, written by Ezra Feivel Vogel. He will assume that China is successful. To learn from China, he will rationalize what China has done. When the “China Model” is there, it will have a huge impact on the U.S.

The fifth problem is the multiple factors involved in internal political structures. For 200 years, the U.S. has had a political structure with multiple parties; for several decades, it has used this to interfere with China’s political system. For China, this is a new issue. How to deal with internal political groups’ interference is a challenge.

Responsibility to the World

(Nanfang Metropolitan: Before President Hu visited the U.S., Brzezinski published an article in the New York Times to recommend that (both the U.S. and China) “should declare their commitment to the concept that the American-Chinese partnership should have a wider mission than national self-interest. That partnership should be guided by the moral imperatives of the 21st century’s unprecedented global interdependence.”  [2])

This is a suggestion by a first-class U.S. strategist. It’s also a typical American thought. The U.S. is the world’s number one and the Americans have a strong feeling of responsibility, but it’s hard for China to accept that right now. China does not feel it is a superpower, nor does it think it is a global nation. China’s official self-positioning is composed of four sentences: 1. We are a country that sticks to the socialist path. 2. China is a developing country. 3. We are a regional superpower in East Asia with certain global influence. 4. The unification of Taiwan (with China) has not happened yet. Thus, China will not accept its global responsibility. Maybe after ten to twenty years, China will agree to such terms.

[1] Nanfang Metropolitan, January 30, 2011
[2] New York Times, January 3, 2011, “How to Stay Friends With China”