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Toward a Multipolar World
By Liu Yunyun | NO. 23 JUNE 9, 2016

The U.S.-led joint military exercise Noble Partner 2016 is held in Vaziani, Georgia, on May 11-25, involving American, British and Georgian soldiers (XINHUA) 

Editor's Note: Most recently, tensions in the South China Sea have triggered heated debates on whether mutual trust between China and the United States has been weakened or not. The increased frequency of meetings between high-level officials has suggested a cognitive dissonance on some Pacific regional issues. Clifford A. Kiracofe, former senior professional staff member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and professor at Virginia Military Institute, shared his views with Beijing Review reporter Liu Yunyun on the mosaic of China-U.S. relations. Edited excerpts of the interview transcript follow:

Beijing Review: You shared your view with our readers four years ago, when the Barack Obama's administration had just unveiled its "pivot-to-Asia" strategy. What is your current evaluation of America's strategic reorientation since then? 

Clifford A. Kiracofe: From my own perspective, it is a wrong policy and will ultimately lead to failure. The rebalancing involves the shift of U.S. naval forces toward the Asia-Pacific as well as more active diplomacy in the region.

Four years ago, I argued that there was a need for a Pacific community, where the major powers such as China, Russia, Japan and the United States cooperate for regional peace. The idea is to have collaboration among big powers and also take regional powers into consideration, but through diplomacy, which is always my emphasis.

The tradition of the United States in previous times was not to interfere in the internal politics of another country. Now, unfortunately, we are continuing the Cold War. The confrontation in the South China Sea is simply a subset of a strategically mistaken policy of containment of Eurasia and an attempt to change Russia and China internally.

What do you think of China's performance in the Asia-Pacific region? 

China is certainly asserting its policy in the region. But to solve regional issues, I think China's position of using diplomacy works better. Here is the difference between the United States and China: The Chinese recognize the need for long-term diplomacy. Negotiating with different countries to reach a satisfactory conclusion requires time. It's a delicate matter and is not going to happen overnight. But the United States has been impatient, desiring to have everything settled immediately.

What should the United States have done in this region? 

The consensus of American foreign policy elites since Obama took office has been that the so-called Western world--the United States, Canada and Europe--need to tighten their bonds. Then, as a united transatlantic bloc, they can economically, politically and also militarily confront Russia and China. The globalization of NATO is to continue this process of containing the Eurasian land mass.

The world has changed much since World War II (WWII), yet the United States still promotes Cold War alliances, such as its relationship with Japan. It is relying on obsolete, antiquated and irrelevant strategic alliance architecture in the region. Consequently, tension has been increasing over the last few years. It's a repeat of Cold War confrontation, but with a new terminology.

The current U.S. global policy stands from a unipolar vision of this U.S.-European bloc from dominating the Earth permanently, rather than accommodating a multipolar world.

For example, the U.S. policy of regime change in Syria has made the situation in the Middle East much worse. Most recently, the United States has copied bad habits from the British and French to use extreme Islamic groups to instigate regime change.

Has China-U.S. mutual trust been weakened or strengthened in the past few years? 

I think it's a mixture. In general, we've got on pretty well on the commercial side. I'd like to see more Chinese investment in the United States, and I'd like to see the United States join China's initiatives. We have strengthened our business relationship, and there has been greater communication between our militaries.

Unfortunately, Obama's policy toward the South China Sea has impaired our mutual understanding and cooperation, though it is not irreparable. On the diplomatic side, we need greater cooperation to work more closely on terrorism, the environment and other global issues. Personally, I'm fairly optimistic that we can work out our differences in the long term if we have leadership in Washington that reorients from the unipolar to a multipolar model and adjusts our diplomacy accordingly.

When do you think the United States will agree to a multipolar model? 

When [Chinese] President Xi [Jinping] announced his concept for a new type of major-power relations in 2013, I thought it made a lot of sense. On the Chinese side, scholars and experts are working on the theories behind this concept, but I'm disappointed that U.S. scholars are not. Don't forget, President Xi and President Obama did agree [on the concept]. In order for the United States to adopt a new relationship, it has to admit that the unipolar model is outdated.

American elites still believe that the United States will forever dominate the planet, even though some are realistic enough to admit that it is becoming more multipolar. The old policies to contain Russia and China are archaic and need updating. Trump has an opportunity to make the change possible if elected, which he has claimed he will. We know politicians tend to promise one thing and do another, but Trump has said in his first foreign policy speech that he rejects intervention in the Middle East, he rejects neo-conservatives, and he wants a new, fresh start.

Back in the 1960s, Kissinger and other scholars talked about an emerging multipolar world as a theoretical possibility after the Cold War. Europe, the United States, Russia, China and Japan were the five-power systems that Kissinger talked about in 1968.

Who would you vote for in the 2016 U.S. election? 

This year's election is unusual in a way I have never seen before. The public is reacting positively to Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump and spurning the establishment. Republicans have rejected Jeb Bush, and a lot of Democrats are rejecting Hillary Clinton. It seems that it is going to be a Trump versus Clinton contest. For Trump, the theatrical campaign strategy is working, as he is appealing to a lot of people. He is ready to tone down his rhetoric and ask a lot of experts to join his team and give him more nuanced ideas. I support Trump. I'm against the ongoing war strategy and Wall Street domination of foreign policy.

I voted for Obama twice, and I'm completely disgusted because I want a real change. Trump has talked with Henry Kissinger, and I hope Kissinger can advise him on a multipolar world order to add a little sophistication to his foreign policy.

Trump has indicated that he respects Putin and desires to have better relations with China. He has complained about exchange rates, job losses, etc. He will start to understand the benefits of increasing commercial ties with China as well as joining the [China-proposed] Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the Belt and Road Initiative. Remember, he is a pragmatic businessman, and his kids are also business people.

What do you think are the current challenges American society faces? 

Additionally, the conditions for the American people over the last 40 years have been deteriorating: The middle class has shrunk, the poor are getting poorer, one in five children is homeless, and we have the highest suicide rate for white females we've ever had. Joblessness is twice the rate of the official figures. Why do you think people are gravitating toward Trump or Sanders? People are revolting against the current situation. We have spent $5 trillion in Afghanistan and Iraq. President Bill Clinton lowered the defense budget and encouraged the economy to grow, yet this was reversed by President George W. Bush. Obama continued to increase Pentagon expenses, militarize foreign policy and society, increase surveillance, etc. Our country has reached a critical point.

The American people are disappointed by the future direction of the United States--endless wars, a lousy economy, no jobs, crumbling infrastructure, social problems and racial tension. For a nation in that shape, trying to police planet Earth is very dangerous.

What is the United States' stance on China's Taiwan after Tsai Ing-wen, its new leader, took office? 

From my understanding, we stick with the former diplomatic commitments we've made. We will continue to recognize the one-China policy and not engage in unnecessary provocation.

The American people probably can't place Taiwan on a map. To think Congress would risk a war on this issue is bizarre and delusional.

Unfortunately, we have many reckless politicians. The United States must be patient. Just like the South China Sea, these are diplomatic issues that can be sorted more effectively between the two sides if they stick with previous agreements.

A world free of nuclear weapons is a situation envisioned by President Obama. What is your take on the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue?

It requires six-party cooperation [comprising North Korea, the United States, South Korea, China, Russia and Japan] to work on the vision of neutralizing the Korean Peninsula. Is the United States going to have troops in South Korea for the next 10, 50 or even 100 years? After 70 years since the end of WWII, why do we have troops all over the world but our allies do not? It's ridiculous. The United States needs to completely rethink its East Asia policy, including the policy toward the South China Sea issue. There are American soldiers all over the world, which we don't need.

If you have a unipolar world and you have an imperial empire, then you need all those bases. But in a multipolar world, it's unnecessary. This is military overreach that we cannot afford.

Copyedited by Dominic James Madar 

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