US has forced it­self into strate­gic dilemma

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE -

Has the re­la­tion­ship be­tween China and theUnited States reached “a tip­ping point”? This ques­tion has be­come im­por­tant at a time when theUS seems to en­cour­age some of China’s neigh­bors to chal­lenge Bei­jing’s le­git­i­mate in­ter­ests in the South China Sea. Ad­dress­ing Ja­pan’s up­per house of par­lia­ment on June 3, Philip­pine Pres­i­dent Benigno Aquino III au­da­ciously, and wrongly, likened China toNazi Ger­many cit­ing the South China Sea dis­putes in an ob­vi­ous at­tempt to in­vite Ja­pan and theUS to med­dle in the re­gion.

On June 1, US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama did con­cede that “it may be that some of their (China’s) claims are le­git­i­mate”, but he still urged China to stop con­struc­tion work on its own is­lands and islets. Of course, Obama turned a blind eye to the fact that the Philip­pines and Viet­nam have al­ready built out­posts on the reefs they il­le­gally oc­cupy in the South China Sea.

US De­fense Sec­re­tary Ash­ton Carter said at the ShangriLa Dia­logue in Sin­ga­pore that his coun­try was “deeply con­cerned” over China’s land recla­ma­tion and the fear of fur­ther mil­i­ta­riza­tion of the is­lands. Even Ja­pan, which has noth­ing to do with dis­putes in the South China Sea, is try­ing to med­dle in the wa­ters by rais­ing the is­sue at the just con­cluded G7 sum­mit in Bavaria, Ger­many.

His­tory tells us that ma­jor pow­ers should take emer­gen­cies se­ri­ously, prop­erly man­age their dif­fer­ences and con­trol crises, oth­er­wise they could end up be­ing towed by small coun­tries to­ward mil­i­tary con­fronta­tions, sim­i­lar to the ones that led toWorldWar I.

Such be­ing the case, the “new type of ma­jor power re­la­tion­ship” be­tween China and the US, an idea pro­pounded by Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping in 2013 on the prin­ci­ple of non-con­fronta­tion, mu­tual re­spect and win-win co­op­er­a­tion, could also be un­der­mined byWash­ing­ton’s Asian al­lies likeManila.

TheUS-led al­liances played a vi­tal role in main­tain­ing Wash­ing­ton’s global hege­mony as well as re­gional sta­bil­ity. TheUS-Ja­pan al­liance, which put an end to Ja­pan’s mil­i­tarism and en­sured the coun­try’s peace­ful devel­op­ment in the post­war years, is a case in point.

To avoid theThucy­dides’ trap, or the in­evitable clash be­tween a ris­ing power and an ex­ist­ing one, China is not sup­posed to chal­lenge theUS’ post­war lead­er­ship with­out giv­ing it a sec­ond thought. But theUS should not seek to con­tain the rise ofChina ei­ther by ig­nor­ing Ja­pan’s right-wing ten­dency in a bid to main­tain its global dom­i­nance.

What es­sen­tially is go­ing wrong in the fad­ingUS hege­mony is its ex­clu­sive­ness. By see­ing China as a la­tent threat and a mighty chal­lenger, theUS has forced it­self into a strate­gic dilemma— Wash­ing­ton thinks it will ei­ther dam­age its cred­i­bil­ity by not help­ing its al­lies or have to di­rectly con­front Bei­jing to de­fend them.

To some ex­tent, Wash­ing­ton’s in­creas­ing un­friendly ges­tures, like fly­ing its mil­i­tary planes over the South China Sea and the ar­rest of some Chi­nese schol­ars on al­le­ga­tions of es­pi­onage last month, re­flect its ris­ing con­cern over Bei­jing, which has be­come more con­fi­dent of par­tic­i­pat­ing in world af­fairs. The launch­ing of the “Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive” and the estab­lish­ment of the Asian In­fra­struc­ture In­vest­ment Bank, for in­stance, have made theUS’ ef­forts to re­strain China rather fu­tile.

In this sense, the so-called tip­ping point does not in­di­cate any sub­stan­tial change in ei­ther coun­try’s strate­gic strength. In­stead, it shows theUS’ at­tempts to main­tain its hege­mony is greatly ham­per­ing bi­lat­eral ex­changes. There­fore, the tip­ping-point the­ory, even if not true, is a wake-up call to China and theUS both to prop­erly han­dle their ties amid diplo­matic ten­sions; it is a con­fus­ing over­state­ment as well.

Wash­ing­ton must re­al­ize that Bei­jing will not reck­lessly chal­lenge its lead­er­ship. It must also re­al­ize that it can­not con­tain Bei­jing ei­ther be­cause of the mas­sive po­ten­tial of their bi­lat­eral re­la­tions. China-US re­la­tions will not reach a tip­ping point should the two sides heed lessons from his­tory and shelve their dis­putes in the light of long-term in­ter­ests. The au­thor is direc­tor of the Cen­ter for Euro­pean Union Stud­ies at Ren­min Uni­ver­sity of China and a se­nior fel­low of Charhar In­sti­tute.

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