Sino-US ties can avoid Thucy­dides Trap

Global Times US Edition - - FORUM - By Wang Jisi The au­thor is pres­i­dent of the In­sti­tute of In­ter­na­tional and Strate­gic Stud­ies at Pek­ing Univer­sity. The ar­ti­cle is an ex­cerpt of his ar­ti­cle pub­lished in thep­a­ opin­ion@glob­al­

US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s er­ratic state­craft, his in­com­plete work­ing team and wa­ver­ing China pol­icy make it dif­fi­cult to take a holis­tic view of his for­eign pol­icy.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s do­mes­tic pol­icy is rel­a­tively clear, but its for­eign pol­icy is ex­tremely am­bigu­ous. So far, the US gov­ern­ment has not is­sued any of­fi­cial doc­u­ment to de­tail its diplo­matic strat­egy or na­tional se­cu­rity pol­icy. But the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s for­eign strat­egy shows in­tent and is char­ac­ter­ized by a num­ber of tenets.

First, Trump’s for­eign pol­icy not only has to give way to do­mes­tic af­fairs, but also needs to re­gard Amer­i­can in­ter­ests as the pri­or­ity. If Trump wants to get re-elected, he needs to pay more at­ten­tion to do­mes­tic af­fairs at cer­tain times.

Trump also val­ues cost-ef­fec­tive­ness. He will slash the costs in­volved in in­ter­na­tional af­fairs as much as pos­si­ble to ease the bur­den on the trea­sury, and his ad­min­is­tra­tion prefers bi­lat­eral co­op­er­a­tion to mul­ti­lat­er­al­ism, which he be­lieves may re­strict the US.

In ad­di­tion, Trump em­pha­sizes prag­matic trad­ing and down­plays val­ue­ori­ented diplo­macy and hu­man rights is­sues. One can be sure that the at­ten­tion given to hu­man rights is­sues in Trump’s diplo­matic strat­egy will be the low­est in re­cent decades. As Trump’s per­sonal val­ues and re­li­gious be­liefs are hard to fathom, and the US hu­man rights sit­u­a­tion is un­fa­vor­able, Trump is un­likely to high­light value-ori­ented diplo­macy.

Western democ­racy, in­clud­ing in the US, has seen a lot of prob­lems in re­cent years. Be­sides, Trump’s de­clin­ing ap­proval rat­ings since he as­sumed of­fice, com­pounded by prob­lems in Amer­i­can race re­la­tions, vi­o­lent crimes and gun con­trol, among oth­ers, leave him on shaky ground to ef­fec­tively im­ple­ment hu­man rights diplo­macy.

Fi­nally, Trump is likely to un­der­take over­seas mil­i­tary ad­ven­tures. He or­dered the US mil­i­tary to launch 59 Tom­a­hawk cruise mis­siles against Syria in April just as he met with Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping at his Mar-a-Lago es­tate in Florida. He launched the at­tack re­port­edly af­ter be­ing touched by pho­tos of Syria towns suf­fer­ing a gas at­tack and the sight of dead ba­bies.

In other words, Trump’s de­ci­sions to act mil­i­tar­ily may just be im­pul­sive. He ap­points for­mer mil­i­tary of­fi­cials to im­por­tant po­si­tions in his na­tional se­cu­rity team and val­ues those who obey or­ders and act de­ci­sively, which may fore­shadow fu­ture mil­i­tary ad­ven­tures.

In re­cent years, Sino-US re­la­tions have en­tered a “new nor­mal” with three main char­ac­ter­is­tics:

First, Sino-US co­op­er­a­tion and com­pe­ti­tion gain si­mul­ta­ne­ous strength with do­mes­tic af­fairs in both coun­tries in­flu­enc­ing diplo­matic re­la­tions.

Sec­ond, me­dia out­lets and the pub­lic pay more at­ten­tion to Sino-US strate­gic ri­valry than the pos­i­tive side of bi­lat­eral ties. This mi­lieu largely off­sets the prac­ti­cal ben­e­fits of Sino-US co­op­er­a­tion and makes it more dif­fi­cult to ar­rive at cer­tain strate­gic con­clu­sions.

Third, the strate­gic mind­sets of the two pow­ers con­trast. The US, at least for now, does not see China as the big­gest se­cu­rity threat, while the Chi­nese view the US as the big­gest strate­gic threat. So, it is easy to imag­ine that the US has also seen China as the great­est strate­gic threat. The rise of China is one of the chal­lenges the US faces, but the con­cern is not as im­mi­nent as other in-

ter­na­tional crises coun­te­nanced by Wash­ing­ton. This “new nor­mal” that Sino-US re­la­tions have en­tered is not a break­ing point; it rather con­sti­tutes the back­ground of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s China pol­icy.

It ap­pears that the US’ strat­egy to­ward China may be­come more frag­mented dur­ing Trump’s time in of­fice, which will be a new test for Bei­jing. The pre­vi­ous US ad­min­is­tra­tions al­ways tried to find a strate­gic po­si­tion in Sino-US re­la­tions. But Trump’s of­fi­cials made it clear they will steer clear of any such propen­sity.

The US has not yet de­tailed its China pol­icy, but the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion does have a pol­icy to­ward Bei­jing. The US holds a frag­mented and con­crete China pol­icy, which US Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son calls “re­sults-ori­ented.” The frag­men­ta­tion is a re­sult of the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s rhetoric and moves on China that con­tra­dict each other.

The big­gest prob­lem af­fect­ing Sino-US re­la­tions is not eco­nomic and trade ties, but the North Korean nu­clear is­sue.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion be­lieves that China can im­pose sanc­tions like cut­ting off the fuel sup­ply to North Korea to force it to change its pol­icy.

How­ever, China’s pol­icy on North Korea is based on cer­tain prin­ci­ples and con­sid­er­a­tions, and won’t cater to US ex­pec­ta­tions. Un­der the cur­rent cir­cum­stances, the pos­si­bil­ity of uni­lat­eral US mil­i­tary ac­tion against North Korea will in­crease. It’s hard to pre­dict when and how the US will “pun­ish” North Korea, nev­er­the­less, it is un­re­al­is­tic to ex­pect that the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion will tol­er­ate North Korea en­larg­ing its nu­clear arse­nal.

Com­pared with the North Korean nu­clear is­sue, the im­por­tance of eco­nomic and trade re­la­tions can­not be un­der­es­ti­mated. Trade won’t lead to de­te­ri­o­ra­tion in Sino-US re­la­tions be­cause eco­nomic ties be­tween the two pow­ers are highly in­ter­de­pen­dent. Eco­nomic and trade is­sues in­ter­twine with the North Korean nu­clear is­sue.

More­over, the Trump gov­ern­ment at­taches great im­por­tance to the is­sue of im­mi­gra­tion. Many US ad­min­is­tra­tive de­part­ments are con­cerned with il­le­gal Chi­nese im­mi­grants.

Amer­i­can tech­no­log­i­cal in­no­va­tion is a force to reckon with in the world. The pow­er­ful civil so­ci­ety in the US con­trib­utes to sta­bil­ity in the coun­try. The US econ­omy is per­form­ing bet­ter. Hence, it’s not cor­rect to say the US is on the de­cline, but it is true the coun­try has en­coun­tered one of the most se­ri­ous po­lit­i­cal crises since it was founded.

To sum up, the North Korean nu­clear is­sue will be­come the key fac­tor af­fect­ing Sino-US re­la­tions. China needs to pay more at­ten­tion to the is­sue and strengthen the cri­sis pre­ven­tion and con­trol mech­a­nism. Due to di­verg­ing na­tional in­ter­ests and ide­olo­gies be­tween the two pow­ers, the de­vel­op­ment of their re­la­tions will face a bumpy road with mu­tual strate­gic sus­pi­cion, but they can avoid the Thucy­dides Trap – a se­ri­ous long-term strate­gic con­fronta­tion.

What’s more, the at­ti­tudes of Trump, his ad­min­is­tra­tion, and the US as a whole to­ward China are not the same con­cept. Only by mak­ing prepa­ra­tions for these as­pects can China bet­ter cope with the changes in Sino-US re­la­tions.

Il­lus­tra­tion: Liu Rui/GT

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