‘Asym­met­ric har­mony’ for US-China ties

China Daily (Canada) - - LIFE -

Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping is again meet­ing with US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama and pun­dits are ea­ger to of­fer pre­scrip­tions and pro­scrip­tions to im­prove China-US re­la­tions. Al­though good-willed, much of the ad­vice is repet­i­tive, even so­porif­er­ous. Maybe that’s a good thing— be­cause pre­dictabil­ity, in sen­si­tive diplo­macy as in fi­nan­cial mar­kets, is a good thing. But maybe there’s bet­ter ad­vice.

The Xi-Obama meet­ing will take place on the side­lines of the fourth Nu­clear Se­cu­rity Sum­mit in­Wash­ing­ton on Thurs­day. While the aim of the sum­mit is crit­i­cal— pre­vent­ing nu­clear ter­ror­ism— at­ten­tion is fo­cused on the Obama-Xi meet­ing.

So how can the two sides show re­spect to each other with­out com­pro­mis­ing their core in­ter­ests? And how can they ac­com­mo­date each other with­out ap­peas­ing? Start with what some on each side, sus­pi­cious of the other, re­ally think.

In China, some say the US seeks to “con­tain China” and thwart its his­toric rise. They see the US en­cir­cling China by al­liances, ex­plicit or im­plicit, with Ja­pan, the Re­pub­lic of Korea, the Philip­pines, Viet­nam and In­dia; co­erc­ing China to open its mar­kets to con­trol its in­dus­tries and ex­ploit its con­sumers; re­strict­ing Chi­nese com­pa­nies’ op­er­a­tions and ac­qui­si­tions and merg­ers in the US; hack­ing China’s com­put­ers and send­ing spy planes to pa­trol China’s shores; fo­ment­ing “ex­trem­ism, sep­a­ratism and ter­ror­ism” in the Ti­bet and Xin­jiang Uygur au­ton­o­mous re­gions; and in­ject­ingWestern val­ues to over­whelm Chi­nese val­ues, erod­ing China’s in­de­pen­dence and un­der­min­ing its sovereignty.

In theUS, some say China is a loom­ing po­lit­i­cal and mil­i­tary chal­lenger, an eco­nomic su­per­power that plays by its own rules and whose opaque in­ten­tions are in­tim­i­dat­ing its neigh­bors; acts solely in its own in­ter­ests, even to the detri­ment of the in­ter­na­tional or­der; is a mer­can­tile preda­tor that uses gov­ern­ment power to pro­mote com­mer­cial in­ter­ests, boost­ing ex­ports and steal­ing jobs, and al­lows (in­deed pro­motes) ne­far­i­ous hack­ing and in­dus­trial theft; and the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment lim­its hu­man rights to main­tain con­trol, and its mount­ing mil­i­tary power, es­pe­cially its mod­ern­iz­ing blue-wa­ter navy, be­trays ex­pan­sion­ist am­bi­tions.

Howto deal with such sweep­ing, in­vid­i­ous sus­pi­cions? The nor­mal way is for lead­ers to em­pha­size com­mon­al­i­ties and man­age dif­fer­ences, which seems to work well at first, but then of­ten seems to back­slide.

There is no magic so­lu­tion. While progress is best made in­cre­men­tally, not pre­cip­i­tously, how do we char­ac­ter­ize the dif­fer­ences be­tween China and the US? A de­scrip­tive term could be “asym­met­ric”. Be­cause the core in­ter­ests of China and the US are not the same, a zero-sum game is not inevitable. We hear about “asym­met­ric war­fare”. How about “asym­met­ric peace­fare”?

What are the kinds of China-US asym­met­ric dis­putes and how can they be ame­lio­rated?

There is an ob­vi­ous po­lit­i­cal asym­me­try. Obama is in his last year in of­fice and seeks what’s best for the US. Xi has many years in of­fice and seeks what’s best for China, trans­form­ing the coun­try through eco­nomic tran­si­tion, re­form and the rule of law. More im­por­tant, though, is the Chi­naUS asym­me­try in core in­ter­ests.

China would like theUS to un­der­stand and re­spect its three core in­ter­ests: China’s po­lit­i­cal sys­tem, which its lead­ers be­lieve is in the best in­ter­ests of the over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of the Chi­nese peo­ple; China’s devel­op­ment as its highest na­tional pri­or­ity and the need for so­cial sta­bil­ity at a time of eco­nomic com­plex­i­ties when deep and sen­si­tive re­forms are essen­tial; and China’s sovereignty over spe­cific land and mar­itime ter­ri­to­ries, which re­flect both his­toric re­al­i­ties and na­tional pride.

The US would like China to un­der­stand and re­spect its three core in­ter­ests: the sanc­tity of the in­ter­na­tional or­der and the stan­dards of in­ter­na­tional law; ac­cepted norms of be­hav­ior in for­eign af­fairs and in­ter­na­tional com­mer­cial ac­tiv­i­ties; and re­spect for hu­man rights.

I be­lieve these asym­met­ric core in­ter­ests should not con­flict. My hope is for har­mony, which is whymy call is for “asym­met­ric har­mony” to help man­age US-China re­la­tions.

The au­thor is a pub­lic in­tel­lec­tual, po­lit­i­cal/eco­nom­ics com­men­ta­tor, and in­ter­na­tional cor­po­rate strate­gist.


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