China should remain resolute in the face of shifting U.S. policy
By Ma Miaomiao  ·  2022-06-04  ·   Source: NO.23 JUNE 9, 2022
People mourn for victims of a school mass shooting at Town Square in Uvalde, Texas, the United States, on May 30 (XINHUA)

Is China really "the most serious long-term challenge to the international order" as U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken asserts? Does competition remain the crux of the China-U.S. relationship? Is the U.S. trying to mobilize allies in the Asia-Pacific region and Europe to increase competition with China? 

Blinken gave a speech on U.S. policy toward China at George Washington University on May 26, where he said "we are not looking for conflict or a new cold war. To the contrary, we're determined to avoid both." He added that Washington is ready to increase "direct communication with Beijing across a full range of issues."

Nevertheless, Blinken also said "China is the only country with both the intent to reshape the international order and, increasingly, the economic, diplomatic, military and technological power to do it." He continued that the U.S., in turn, would "shape the strategic environment around Beijing to advance [its] vision for an open, inclusive international system."

"There should be little doubt that, in practice, the U.S. seeks to try to contain the rise of China and in doing so is formulating Cold War-like divisions in Asia," British political and international relations analyst Tom Fowdy told Beijing Review. "But Blinken may be moderating his rhetoric here in a bid to try and reassure allies."


The Chinese Foreign Ministry responded to the speech with "strong dissatisfaction." The text goes to great lengths in wording but actually "spreads disinformation, hypes the threat of China, interferes in China's domestic affairs and smears China's policy at home and abroad," spokesperson Wang Wenbin said on May 27.

Antagonism and confrontation or dialogue and cooperation? Mutual benefit and win-win cooperation or zero-sum game? The U.S. side should make the right choices bearing in mind the common interests of people in both countries and the wider world. It needs to act on President Biden's remarks that the U.S. does not seek a new cold war with China; it does not aim to change China's system; the revitalization of its alliances is not targeted at China; the U.S. does not support "Taiwan independence;" and it has no intention to seek conflict with China, Wang said.

Sourabh Gupta, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Institute for China-America Studies, pointed out that "the fundamental underlying precept of [Blinken's] characterization of China was wrong."

"China is not the most serious long-term challenge to the international order. China, rather, is the most serious long-term challenge to the U.S. dominance within the international order," Gupta told China Daily. "Washington erroneously conflates the challenge to its own dominance as a challenge to the larger system."

According to U.S. news outlet Politico, that mixture of rhetorical carrots and sticks confused some observers. "I found the speech to contain many contradictions—on the one hand [Blinken] says there is no adversarial relationship or cold war with China, but on the other hand he outlines steps for the U.S. to shape the environment around Beijing with an eye to advance U.S. strategic interests," Lina Benabdallah, an assistant professor of Politics and International Affairs at Wake Forest University, commented.

"Blinken worked hard to praise the U.S. while sparing no efforts to demonize China in a bid to lay the groundwork for major power competition and the promotion of its so-called Indo-Pacific Strategy," Diao Daming, an associate professor at Renmin University of China, told the Global Times.

The U.S. is also trying to assemble international support by claiming that it does not seek a new cold war, according to Diao. It intends to describe China as the "perpetrator" and acts itself as a "victim" to further contain China, he added.

Invest, align and compete

Li Wei, a professor of international relations at Renmin University of China, told Beijing Review that the Biden administration had described its strategy toward China as one of "cooperation, competition and confrontation." Nevertheless, Blinken this time shifted the rhetoric and made it clear that the U.S. will adopt an approach summed up in another three words: "invest, align and compete."

"This means the U.S. has developed a strategic framework toward China, under which it will further invest in its own competitiveness, align with its network of allies and partners, and compete with China wherever it believes China should be contained," Li added.

The U.S. is placing increased emphasis on head-to-head competition with China in the areas of economy, security and diplomacy under the framework of the Indo-Pacific Strategy, Su Hao, Director of the Center for Strategic and Peace Studies at China Foreign Affairs University, said.

The so-called competition upheld by the U.S. is not based on mutual respect, peaceful coexistence and win-win cooperation. To put it bluntly, it is a vicious competition in which only the U.S. is allowed to win, according to Diao.

"All countries need to compete fairly, and China and the U.S. are no exception. The competition should not be vicious," Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi said.

At an event on May 26, Chinese Ambassador to the U.S. Qin Gang responded to Blinken's speech by saying that competition is not the main theme of the China-U.S. relations. The notion that bilateral relations are defined by competition will only escalate tensions and lead to conflict, he stressed.

In addition to investing in its own infrastructure and strategic industries, the U.S. also intends to counter China's growing competitiveness with its overseas investment, Su said, adding that America's priority is to encourage its economic partners and allies to decouple from China with tools such as the newly announced Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF).

"The U.S. wants to pursue its hegemonic selfish interests by drawing its allies together, but it always shirks its responsibility of providing international public goods. This reflects the mismatch between its declining strength and the ambition to maintain hegemony," Diao said.

Li further noted that one of the major changes in the current American approach, compared with that of former President Donald Trump, is the emphasis on coexistence with China. "This implies that the Biden administration has given up the unrealistic notion of bringing China to its knees in the short term," he said. "Instead, it wants to enter a long-term competition with China."

Li added that the U.S. policy toward China is no longer dominated by "hysterical irritability, or even anxiety during the Trump era." But this does not necessarily mean that their bilateral ties can be easily defrosted; it only means that many in the U.S. policymaking circles have to face up to reality.

"In the name of realism and pragmatism, it could attempt to adjust to the new reality in order to coexist with China, but it fundamentally cannot come to genuinely accept China as a peer," Gupta said.

Biden has inherited Trump's concept of strategic competition with China and intends to perpetuate it, according to Li. "We all know China-U.S. relations cannot go back in time," he said. But instead of throwing in the towel, the U.S. will exert pressure on China in a coordinated manner through a number of approaches. The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue among the U.S., Japan, India and Australia (commonly referred to as the QUAD), the trilateral security alliance of the U.S., the UK and Australia (or AUKUS), and the IPEF, are all examples of these recent attempts.

China's response

"We need to carefully manage our domestic affairs, develop the economy, improve people's living standards, strengthen research and development capacities, and maintain social stability," Li said, emphasizing that China also should "make more friends and build a global network of partnerships, all the while abiding by the principle of non-alignment."

"Considering that our overall strength is inferior to that of the U.S., we should remain calm and objective—just like we always do," he added. "As for issues concerning China's core interests, we have to resolutely defend ourselves. At the same time, China is open to practical cooperation with the U.S. in the fields like climate change, global public health security, international arms control and non-proliferation."

"China should respond to the situation with moderation and caution, as opposed to escalating tensions with the U.S.," Fowdy said. "China has many advantages on its side which expose the lack of reality and pragmatism based on U.S. policies designed to confront it." For example, the IPEF is ultimately unsubstantial because China, not the U.S., is the commercial and economic center of Asia. In this case, China should respond through careful diplomacy which focuses on continuing to integrate itself with other countries in the region, for example, by joining the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, he explained. 

Wang Yi said the U.S. side must be clear that the China-U.S. relationship is not a zero-sum game. As Chinese President Xi Jinping pointed out, whether the two major countries can handle the relationship well bears on the future of the world, and it is a question of the century to which the two countries must answer well.

When the U.S. tries to provide its answer, it must be aware that unipolar hegemony has no support, bloc confrontation leads nowhere, small yards with high fences mean seclusion and regression, and decoupling and supply cuts hurt the interests of all, he concluded.

(Print Edition Title: Standing Firm)

Copyedited by G.P. Wilson

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