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Peaceful Purposes
Scholar discusses China's foreign policy
 NO. 44 NOVEMBER 3, 2016

 

Visitors take pictures at a China-themed gallery at the reopened Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda, California, on October 14 (XINHUA)

Editor's Note: Patrick Mendis is a Rajawali senior fellow at the Kennedy School of Government's Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard University and a visiting fellow at Peking University's School of International Studies.

With his book Peaceful War being published in China in Chinese, Beijing Review reporter Bryan Michael Galvan sat down with Mendis and talked about his vision for China and its relations with the rest of the world. Excerpts of the interview follow:

Beijing Review: Considering Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's recent decision to reduce his nation's dependence on the United States, how will China's foreign policy play out in the South China Sea with the Philippines and other countries in the region?

Patrick Mendis: Historically, neighboring countries have conflict, border issues, with China. For example, as recently as 30 or 40 years ago with Viet Nam, and now [with] the South China Sea, they have a number of territorial issues. And, when you come to the East China Sea, [there are the] Diaoyu Islands or Senkaku Islands, as the Japanese call them. So, what is happening over here is not necessarily China saying these powers and countries should not come to their territorial regions, the question is how to manage these common resources around China and around their countries.

America wants to be a trading nation. China, in essence, has always been a trading nation through the Silk Road. Issues concerning the South China Sea and East Asia China Sea regions are essentially trade-related. Some 40 percent of world trade passes through these regions, so it is very critical for South Korea, Japan, the United States, Canada and other Southeast Asian countries. America promoted the Monroe Doctrine, saying "Do not come to our part of the world." But China doesn't necessarily say that. Instead, there is no problem with the world having freedom of navigation. They are just saying that other countries should recognize that the regions belong to China from a historical perspective.

China is an emerging power, so it adopts an assertive attitude in international affairs. On the other side, America wants to champion democracy and freedom, saying freedom of navigation is the most important [principle] for the world to benefit from trading. I can see those two points of views conflicting with each other, but I don't see any kind of potential war on these issues. It's not similar to the Cold War. China and America are more interconnected in so many areas, such as trade and people-to-people exchanges, than at any time in history. 

 

The cover of Patrick Mendis's book Peaceful War

In your book, you talk about a "peaceful war" between China and America. China's exclusion from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), and America's attitude toward the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) may offer supporting evidence. Do you consider these to be part of the peaceful war?

Video:Harvard Expert on China's Peaceful Rise

Yes. If the United States wanted to exclude China from the TPP, it would not work, since China already has bilateral trade agreements with countries like Australia, South Korea, and it is now negotiating [one] with Japan. They are all TPP members. How can you exclude China when it's already included? It's a big elephant in the room.

If you look at the AIIB, America and Japan are the two major countries not in it. Initially, America didn't want its allies like the UK, France and Germany to participate. [But they still joined.] And, even America's recent ally India is also a founding member of the AIIB. How can you exclude [China] when those countries are all part of the AIIB?

The World Bank, IMF and Asian Development Bank, which is largely funded by Japan, are also collaborating with the AIIB project. You can say you don't need China, but China is already included in the TPP and America is also included in the AIIB by default, because the members are not countries. Countries don't trade, governments don't trade. They facilitate the process, but the real actors of these countries are companies, corporations—Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and Bank of America are all working with the AIIB.

 

A local employee records production data at a factory of the wholly owned subsidiary of the China-based Fuyao Glass Industry Group in Dayton, Ohio, on October 7 (XINHUA)

What you're saying is China's still included because they're trading with trading partners of the United States. But, that's not the same as a free trade agreement because they have to go through a third party. So, the purpose [of an FTA] is defeated.

Not necessarily. Both China and America recognize this dilemma, and that is why they are trying to accelerate their negotiations [over] the Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) [in order to] create an overarching umbrella architecture to facilitate all the other issues. They recognize they need to get together, because they have their own relationships.

For example, [in terms of] changing relationships, the Philippines is now perceived as completely neglecting the Americans and going toward the Chinese. [But actually] it's not going to work that way. Countries do what's best for them. If China is willing to help develop their country [in some aspect], they choose that [option], [while in other ways] America is going to help them. Everything is driven by national interest. There are no permanent friends or enemies, but there is permanent interest. So, while countries promote their interests and try to reach their goals, they choose any country that is willing to help. In this case, China is willing to help these countries because they're also benefiting; it's mutually beneficial, it's a win-win situation.

What is your view on Philippine President Duterte's visit to China?

Rodrigo Duterte wants to get the best out of the visit. He cannot go to America, which has its own financial issues—a $3-trillion debt to China, and its foreign trade is shrinking. So, there is no way that America can provide a large amount of money to the Philippines or anywhere else.

So, where can the Philippines go to get money for development purposes? The best bet is its nearest neighbor, China, which is willing to provide support for a number of reasons. It is very logical from the standpoint of the Philippines to reach out to the Chinese or to reach out to the Americans if it is in their own best interests. The warming up of relations with [China] by the Philippines is another element. If there are changes in government and popular sentiment changes, [then] national interests change and domestic needs change, and that can create different dynamics in global politics. That is exactly what's happening in the Philippines, which has been dealing with drug issues, especially in Mindanao, the southern island, where Duterte comes from. He wants to [build on] his strength—fighting against drug lords—now that he's come to the national level, and [his policy] actually aligns with China's views on these kinds of issues, like corruption and terrorism. So, therefore there is a natural [shared] interest, overlapping interest. So, I can see why the Philippines wants to go forward with China rather than going with the United States, because they have to take care of internal issues, and their national interests are their primary consideration, which drives everything.

We've been witnessing a decline in democratic values in the West and increasing unpopularity of globalization and trade protectionism. In your book, you mention Henry Kissinger's assertion that Chinese exceptionalism is cultural and does not proselytize. Can the Beijing Consensus then gain traction as a politico-economic model in the West?

Henry Kissinger put it very nicely that America is very [much like a] missionary, and China is not. In the West, the colonial powers went to other countries, first for economic reasons and then to promote Christianity.

But, China doesn't have that kind of element in global affairs, either now or historically. The only thing China had was for peaceful purposes, the Silk Road. And because of that, Buddhism arrived in China during the Tang Dynasty (618-907). In the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), Admiral Zheng He went to today's Indian Ocean and visited more than 30 countries. The Ming emperor's purpose was not to colonize those countries, but to establish the tributary system, the mutual respect for these countries, exchanging gifts, this is a part of traditional Chinese culture.

In contrast, the Western civilization [has often opted] for democratic promotion, even in modern times, just as [former U.S.] President George W. Bush did in going into Iraq for example. That created unnecessary problems, not only for those countries, but the implications are more global now and have been greatly detrimental to the national security interests of the United States. Democratic promotion should not be an export industry. Neither America nor any other country can export this thing. Countries should import what is best for them. If democracy works for them [according] to their best cultural norms and history and the aspirations of the people, if there is that importation of democracy, it is much easier to assimilate it into their cultures. But, if you try to export democracy, there is always conflict.

I do not foresee [the decline of] democratic values per se because of the current issues and crises in the world, especially in the Middle East. That has created the perception that authoritarian governments are moving forward, like in Turkey and Syria and even with Russia exercising its power in Ukraine, Crimea and elsewhere. But, when you look at it, they have more stability and freedom in those countries, no crises, and the aspiration for democratic freedom is still on the agenda for these people. How these countries manage this kind of aspiration of the people is a matter of their leadership, history and national conditions.

If America wants to promote [its model] they can offer that rather than pushing it forward by force. This is the way the world should work. America's experience, also the global experience, tells us that that [approach] has not been very successful.

I think, at the end of the day, people everywhere want to have freedom and liberty, even in China. When I first came [to China 10-15 years ago], they didn't have as much freedom as young people in China especially enjoy today. They have many things they can express in the newspapers and in social media. The aspiration [to pursue freedom] is there. Even the Chinese leadership recognizes words like democracy, equality and liberty. When you see the Chinese dream in posters everywhere in China … you can see [the words] "liberty, equality, democracy." It's a part of the Chinese dream; these are not alien words, these are not American words or doctrines. These are global aspirations for everybody. How do countries individually respond to this is the question? China is responding in a Chinese way, with Chinese characteristics.

Both candidates in the United States' presidential election have expressed hawkish political and economic views on China. How will a Clinton or Trump presidency affect the future of John Kerry's so-called Pacific Dream and both countries' security, economic and social cooperation?

The idea of the Pacific Dream, introduced by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, is counter to the Chinese dream that President Xi [Jinping] introduced. Essentially, the Pacific region was part of America at the very beginning, because we wanted to trade with China; that is the founding vision. So, trade is the main driver for this relationship. We cannot retreat from that, whether Clinton or Trump becomes president.

This is driven not necessarily by the governments, but [by] other individual actors like corporations, which have natural interests in each other's affairs. For example, Bank of China is in the United States right now, and both Goldman Sachs and Bank of America are in China as well. These relationships are already built into the system now, you cannot divorce it. Huawei, for example, was not known in America three or four years ago. Now, you can buy a Huawei phone in Walmart or Costco or online at Amazon. More and more Chinese companies and brand names are going to be known.

Therefore, whoever becomes U.S. president, they have to continue. Why? Because these are the companies who are supporting their campaigns. In order to get elected, these candidates probably have [to engage in] China-bashing to blame somebody else other than themselves. This is a part of American politics.

But when you look at it, the real drivers of this relationship are the corporations and also the people. You can see an increasing number of Chinese and Americans getting married and Chinese individuals buying properties in America. Who is going to stop that? Now, some U.S. states want to give green cards to individual Chinese investors. Regardless of who is president, these individual states have gone ahead and promoted their own interests. Whoever is president, these trade, investment and financial relationships are going to continue. This is an ongoing process in the BIT, which also will continue. At the same time, there is a high-level dialogue, there are more than 100 dialogues going on between the United States and China; they are not going to stop because of the new president. Commercial interests bind two countries together, you cannot divorce from that, it would be detrimental to the U.S. economy, and it is also detrimental to the Chinese economy, so mutual interdependence has to be there, so it will continue, no matter who the president is.

You've recently written about the United States responding to China's development by employing "congagement [containment + engagement]." How can the concept of mutually assured prosperity be brought about when there is increasing economic and geopolitical friction between China and the United States in the Indo-Pacific region?

I used mutual assured prosperity as opposed to Mutually Assured Destruction, which America had with the Soviet Union during the Cold War. The China-U.S. relationship is largely economical, commercial and investment-related, and now more and more people are going back and forth. What this essentially means is that both countries are intrinsically interconnected in trade, investment, commerce and people-to-people [exchanges]—individuals, corporations and universities are all connected—and now, Confucius Institutes are in almost every state in the United States. These are mutually enriching experiences for both countries. Both have some elements of suspicion and fear, but this is because of the greater engagement, which has [also] created more understanding between the two countries.

I think this is going to continue as long as there is wise leadership at the political level. Now, I wish there [would be] more military engagement; military leaders talking to each other more and more. And, right now, university scholars and students are engaging back and forth, and more transactions are happening at the individual and corporate levels.

So, this kind of engagement is going on, but the question is about military containment. There are viewpoints, especially from the Chinese side, that conservative military scholars and military-minded people make the observation that American military buildup from South Korea, Japan, the Philippines and Vietnam all the way to Thailand, India, Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan and so forth—all the region—there is containment.

The economy is the driving force of everything. Without economic development, you cannot have a strong army. The United States' leadership now recognizes that. Our strength comes not from the military, but from economic aspects. If the economy is not doing well, everything else is not doing well.

Copyedited by Chris Surtees

Comments to liuyunyun@bjreview.com

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