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Can tragedy of great power politics be avoided?

2019-10-23

Source: Global Times    Published: 2019-10-22


Editor's Note: At "A dialogue between Prof. John J. Mearsheimer and Prof. Wu Xiaoqiu: Will the US and China be falling into 'the tragedy of great power politics?'" organized by Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China, on October 15, Mearsheimer and Wu exchanged insights on China's rise, China-US relations with the audience.


Question: The US and China share a lot of interests, and they can cooperate in many fields. Do you still believe that the tragedy of great power politics cannot be avoided?


Mearsheimer: I actually think that's true - the two countries do share a lot of interests. I think there will be some cooperation on issues like climate change. I think there will be arms control agreements between the US and China, just like there were arms control agreements between the US and Soviet Union during the Cold War.


But there will also be a lot of competition. There will be competition and cooperation. The key issue is which one you think will be more important. My argument is that the competition will outweigh the cooperation. But my theory may be proved wrong. Maybe you have a better theory to explain why there will be more cooperation and less competition.


I actually hope that we don't have the tragedy and we don't have the severe security competition. But my theory says we will.


Wu: Mearsheimer's words remind us of two points.


First, our way forward is beset with difficulties. It should never be deemed roses all the way. We must never consider that everyone sees China's rise positively, which can by no means be the case. Instead, we need to regard international relations as a very complicated issue. We used to be quite optimistic. But such optimism, if injected into national policies, will get us trapped in misunderstanding. We should pay more attention to difficulties. So Mearsheimer's theory - tragedy of great power politics - warns us that China will face more hardships. We must be well prepared for them and be equipped with sufficient measures.


Second, a country will not be bullied only if it is strong enough. China's historical experience in the past 100 years has already proved this. Why has China devoted itself to becoming a modernized power? What is behind such a goal? It is because China can by no means be bullied any more. A powerful China will not push others around, but China cannot allow any countries, nations, or individuals to bully us.


A country's strength is reflected in two aspects: economy and military. Economic development is crucial, but it will not work without strong military forces. China's military is not offensive, but defensive. It's only aimed at exerting a deterrent effect.


Understanding these two points is essential for us.


Question: China displayed many new types of weapons during the military parade celebrating the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on October 1. How do you see this?


Mearsheimer: I think it is quite clear that China is sending a signal to the US.


China was explicitly telling the US: We are a serious player. Don't think about pushing us around. We are in this game for good. That was the message China was sending.


I'll make two points about that.


One is, in a way, I'm not sure if that was a smart thing to do. I think that from China's point of view, you want to, sort of, not be too aggressive in terms of your behavior. Take China 2025. China 2025 is a mistake, because it scares the information technology community in the US. They are in fear that China wants to ruin Silicon Valley by the year 2025 and take over the high-tech frontier. I'm not sure if it's a good idea to advertise it.


And I think you can make the same argument for displaying military power. You don't want to remind the US at this point of time. You have to understand: Time is on China's side; time is not on America's side. Assume that China continues to grow at this impressive rate, it becomes more and more powerful all the time. China does not want to pick up a fight over Taiwan now. You want to wait 30 years when you turn into a Godzilla. So I think a good argument could be made that China is not smart to have such a demonstration on the military front, although I understand why it wanted to do it.


Wu: As I have mentioned, China's strong military is a necessary means to ensure its interests. Mearsheimer also believes that soft power, including culture and political system, is less important than economic and military power, in particular military. Without strong military forces, your interests might be taken away by others at any time.


We must learn from history. During the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), the government had tons of wealth but weak military forces, so it failed to defend the country. From my perspective, China's military development is a bid to defend our country.


We are not saying that we are ready to have fights with others in no time. Rather, the signal we are sending is: You'd better give up stirring up things at my home and in my surrounding region.


China hopes that external forces do not intervene in our neighbors' internal affairs and in the friendship between China and neighboring countries. As for conflicts and even wars far away, they are not China's business. This is why China displayed weapons during the military parade on October 1.


The US and other countries should understand that China has every right to be angry if they always stir things up at our home and in our region. It would be great if the US readopted the Monroe Doctrine, so that it would only focus on the Americas and leave Asia alone.

Key Words: China-US relations   China's rise   RDCY  

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