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Damage to US-China relations can be undone


Source: Global Times    Published: 2019-4-1

Editor's Note: China-US relations have been at a crossroads. With China on the rise facing an established power, the US, are the two destined to be rivals in a confrontational relationship? How does one understand the tensions in bilateral relations and prevent ties from sliding further? Global Times (GT) reporter Yu Jincui interviewed two renowned scholars: Susan Shirk (Shirk), chair of the 21st Century China Center and research professor at the UC San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy, and Jin Canrong (Jin), associate dean of the School of International Studies at Renmin University of China. The two shared their insights on these issues.

GT: How do you see the current China-US relationship? Are you worried about it?

Shirk: I am worried. Everybody needs to think hard to prevent tensions getting worse. But it's not irreversible, that's my point. I haven't given up on China; I haven't given up on US-China relations. But I am telling you many Americans who are China experts and have been working on China for many years have given up. They are so discouraged about policy trends in China and have concluded that they are intrinsic to the nature of the Chinese system. I believe cooler heads will prevail and pragmatic genes still remain on both sides to figure it out.

Jin: China-US relations now have entered a very difficult time. That China has developed so fast in a way different from what the West expects has frustrated many American scholars who study China. A bigger problem is that the American political elites now generally believe the US is threatened by China's rise. They cannot accept the fact that a country which is quite different from the US in terms of race, religion and political system is quickly rising. They hold the US still has an upper hand in a strategic competition with China given Washington's global influence, alliance system, and advantages in national strength and the financial sector, so they have launched an all-round campaign to contain China.

GT: You said the Trump administration is countering China in the wrong way, how would you suggest it recalibrate its China policy?

Shirk: The main thing is to negotiate, which of course is so obvious, this is sort of basic diplomacy. We shouldn't really have to say this. But the Trump administration's approach is simply to push back and say you know what you have to do and fix it, but without clarity of: If you could do these five things, if you could fix these five things, that will be the most important to us. Let's sit down and talk about that and see if we can engage in a real negotiation and get it done. For a successful negotiation, you have to communicate that in order to fix things we must have constructive relations, so you have to have a spirit of goodwill in any negotiation.

Many Americans including China experts believe that China's current import substitution, high-tech industrialization policies, in which the state is leading this big effort with huge amounts of money and favoring Chinese firms, are entrenched in the nature of the Chinese system, and these policies won't ever be adjusted at all, so fair competition for foreign firms in China is impossible.

Another example is the South China Sea. What we would like to see is a real binding Code of Conduct and some efforts on China's part to really stabilize the situation. Of course the US is not a claimant; the US is just outside the region. But freedom of navigation and preservation of these international waters in the South China Sea are very important to all trading countries. I think what the US is hoping to see is some adjustments in Chinese policy in order to maintain good relations with its neighbors, the US and other countries.

GT: Huawei and 5G have become key words in bilateral relations. What's behind the US aim to contain Huawei and other high-tech Chinese firms?

Shirk: Let's separate Huawei and 5G from other technology issues. I hope our technology cooperation can continue unimpeded as much as possible. 5G is such a basic infrastructure and Huawei like other private companies in China really has no way to legally protect its independence. This is one of the big problems that China's political economy creates when its private firms try to go global, because the trust that a private global firm has to establish is kind of difficult.

Now we are restricting Chinese investments in technology in the US and imposing stricter export controls. These controls are important because they will determine whether or not Chinese citizens can work in laboratories developing these technologies either in universities or in private firms. Even if the research is going on in the US, it's governed by the export control regulations. We are waiting for these specific regulations to be handed down, they haven't been handed down yet.

I recommend that we limit the scope of technologies related to national security as narrowly as we can, so we leave more cooperation on science and technology open, because collaboration has been good for human progress. We will inevitably slow down human progress if those restrictions are too expansive.

If too many technologies are considered national security that will be bad for the US because the US will lose access to Chinese talents, who right now do want to come to the US, because we have a stronger legal system and strong universities. Chinese scientists and engineers want to come to do research in the US.

Jin: In 1954, Charles Erwin Wilson, head of General Motors, said at a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee that "what was good for our country was good for General Motors, and vice versa." He later became the country's secretary of defense. There is very close interaction between the US government and companies. Every country sees cooperation between government and corporations. Chinese private companies are independent entities. Why does the US particularly make an issue out of the relations between Chinese government and enterprises? It's out of the question to contain Huawei, which has been a leader in 5G technology.

GT: The US is forcing allies to follow it in containing Chinese high technologies. How will this affect its relations with allies?

Shirk: The US doesn't always treat its allies as equal partners, of course that's a mistake. We need to listen to our partners as well as tell them what we think and by saying you have to make a choice, we put our allies and friends in a very difficult position because they want to have good relations with both China and America. It's not a good idea to force other countries to make a choice like that.

GT: How do you view the prospects of the trade negotiations?

Jin: When Trump signed executive orders imposing sweeping tariffs on imported steel and aluminum, he said trade wars were good and "easy to win." Over one year since, the US has realized that it is difficult to win and there is something wrong with its initial judgment. Trade war has caused losses on both sides. The US must have felt the pain, so it is now willing to reach a deal.  

The trade war will come to an end this year. But even then, China-US relations won't be smooth next year. Viewing China's rise as a challenge instead of an opportunity for cooperation, the US has now defined China as a strategic competitor, which is a very negative definition. There will be more hurdles in bilateral relations in the future.

Shirk: Both sides are highly motivated to get a deal, so I believe we will get a deal. But it will not solve all of our economic and technology problems. These will be with us for quite some time.

GT: Can the US and China decouple economically and technologically?

Shirk: It will be a huge mistake. It will be extremely disruptive to global economic stability, it will disrupt the supply chains that have been the bases for the international peace we've enjoyed over the past 30 or 40 years. US-China economic integration has already progressed to a pretty deep degree and if we try to tear these ties out of the root that way, it will be so radical and disruptive, and could lead to de-globalization. I really see the US-China economic integration as being the cornerstone of globalization more broadly. We don't want to go back to the era before globalization.

GT: The report "Course Correction: Toward an Effective and Sustainable China Policy" overseen by you and your colleague suggests the US is in smart competition with China. Since it was published one month ago, how have US political elites reacted to it? What kind of influence will it have on US foreign policy?

Shirk: We took the report to Washington and Congress, the State Department, the White House National Security Council, and people were very interested in it. Whether or not it actually will be incorporated into policy is hard to say. But many people realize that there is some danger of reacting to the problems that we have with China's policies by just pushing back. The Trump administration has mainly just pushed back, but that is not a strategy. A better strategy is to figure out what you want to achieve, communicate with the other side, and you need to combine a certain amount of pressure with respectful negotiation in order to resolve problems and also to keep the door open for cooperation, that's basically what we are advocating.

GT: How do you see the outlook of China-US relations? Will fierce competition feature in the long run?

Shirk: Relations are inevitably going to be more competitive, but competition is not bad. If we are competing, for example, who is going to provide the greater leadership in providing global public goods, helping strengthen international institutions, giving foreign aid, and diplomatically winning more friends and allies in the world, competition is ok. We obviously don't want it to lead to military confrontation, we don't want all-out hostility as in the Cold War.

Jin: In more than a decade to come, China-US relations will witness more competition than cooperation. A few Americans who belong to the "deep state" have deep hostility toward China. They really want to push bilateral relations into an all-round new Cold War. It's also very likely that they will push for a hot war with China on the South China Sea, East China Sea or Taiwan. This is a realistic threat.

But the Chinese government will try its best to prevent an all-out new Cold War or a regional hot war. With a sober mind and growing ability to reshape China-US relations on China's part, there is a strong possibility that the worst-case scenario can be avoided.

GT: Are there still positive aspects left in China-US bilateral relations? In which areas can we seek cooperation?

Shirk: There are a lot of positive aspects, there is a lot of cooperation going on at the technical level, among different agencies and governments, one of which is obviously educational cooperation, so there are a lot of things continuing to go on, but they are not in the headlines, and of course the people-to-people ties, so many good human relationships that have been built up over many years.

Jin Canrong is associate dean of the School of International Studies at Renmin University of China. 

Key Words:China   US   trade   Jin Canrong  

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