Lessons China, US can draw from the Cold War

Global Times US Edition - - FORUM -

Edi­tor’s Note:

The sec­ond round of China-US diplo­matic and se­cu­rity di­a­logue was held in Wash­ing­ton on Fri­day. It took place when trade ten­sions be­tween the two coun­tries are sim­mer­ing. Where are bi­lat­eral re­la­tions go­ing? What is the sig­nif­i­cance of the di­a­logue? Global Times ( GT) re­porter Wang Wen­wen talked to Av­ery Gold­stein ( Gold­stein), direc­tor of the Cen­ter for the Study of Con­tem­po­rary China at the Uni­ver­sity of Penn­syl­va­nia, about these is­sues. GT: How would you an­a­lyze China-US re­la­tions in the past year or so? Gold­stein: I would say that the bi­lat­eral re­la­tions have got­ten sig­nif­i­cantly worse over the past year. But the re­al­ity is they be­gan to worsen even dur­ing the sec­ond term of pres­i­dent Barack Obama. There are a lot of is­sues over which the US and China have con­flicts, and there are rel­a­tively fewer ar­eas in which close co­op­er­a­tion con­tin­ues, such as cli­mate change, anti-ter­ror­ism and, un­til 2018, the Iran nu­clear deal. But the re­la­tion­ship had be­gun to move in a di­rec­tion such that by around the 2016 elec­tion, both the Democrats and Repub­li­cans were fairly united in terms of want­ing to push a tougher line against China. So even if Hil­lary Clin­ton had won, her ad­vi­sors would have adopted a much tougher ap­proach to­ward China.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, how­ever, brought on board peo­ple who were much more de­ter­mined to not just con­front China but to con­front it in a way that sug­gests it’s un­clear whether con­fronta­tion is part of a ne­go­ti­at­ing strat­egy to re­set the re­la­tion­ship or whether it’s just a long-term strat­egy of con­fronta­tion in the hope of keep­ing China down. GT: What are the con­flicts of in­ter­ests be­tween the two? Gold­stein: The con­flicts of in­ter­est are over­stated. Most of the con­cern fo­cuses on China’s ris­ing power. Power is not an in­ter­est. The ques­tion is what is the in­ter­est that makes you ner­vous about Chi­nese power. Many thought the US had an in­ter­est, at least be­fore Pres­i­dent Trump, in see­ing gen­eral change in the na­ture of regimes around the world GT be­com­ing more demo­cratic, pro­mot­ing the free flow of in­for­ma­tion on the in­ter­net and shar­ing val­ues that the US thinks are in part univer­sal val­ues. The US hoped to see these val­ues em­braced around the world. China def­i­nitely doesn’t agree with that. So, I sup­pose that’s one area where the US and China have a con­flict of in­ter­est.

But in terms of ter­ri­tory, for ex­am­ple, the US and China have no dis­putes. There is, how­ever, a con­flict of in­ter­est over free­dom of nav­i­ga­tion in the oceans. I don’t ac­tu­ally be­lieve that this is a fun­da­men­tal con­flict of in­ter­est, be­cause out­side of the South China Sea, China also be­lieves in the same prin­ci­ples of free­dom of nav­i­ga­tion as the US, es­pe­cially since I think that China will one day want to be able to do what the US does in terms of the free­dom of nav­i­ga­tion close to the US.

It’s re­ally hard to fig­ure out what the se­ri­ous con­flicts of in­ter­est are, un­less you be­lieve, as some in the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion ap­pear to, that eco­nom­ics is a zero-sum game; that if China gets rich, Amer­ica suf­fers. It seems that the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s view on trade, for ex­am­ple, is not one that sees a grow­ing pie, but a fixed pie in which if I get a big­ger slice, you get a smaller one.

GT: Gold­stein:

What is the US’ fear of China? The US en­joys be­ing the most pow­er­ful coun­try by a wide mar- gin. A re­al­is­tic as­sess­ment of mil­i­tary ca­pa­bil­i­ties, eco­nomic ca­pa­bil­i­ties and tech­no­log­i­cal ca­pa­bil­i­ties shows that China is still very far be­hind. But the US does not want to wait un­til China closes the gap too much be­cause un­der the cur­rent cir­cum­stances, in most places around the world the US can op­er­ate with­out con­cerns of be­ing pre­vented from do­ing what it wants. The ex­cep­tion is near China. China to­day is strong enough that even though the US has the mil­i­tary power to have its way, it has be­come very risky to press its ad­van­tage near China be­cause Bei­jing can pun­ish, or in­flict costs on the US and its forces. GT: What could be the trig­ger for a head-on con­fronta­tion be­tween the two? Gold­stein: I don’t think eco­nomic is­sues are the most dan­ger­ous trig­ger, be­cause the worst-case sce­nario is a mil­i­tary con­flict. In­ci­dents in the South China Sea or a change in US pol­icy in the Tai­wan Straits that leads China to be­lieve that it needs to take ac­tion which would then re­quire Wash­ing­ton to make a de­ci­sion about a re­sponse are the sorts of dan­ger­ous sit­u­a­tions that are most wor­ri­some. I’m less wor­ried about the North Korea prob­lem. Pres­i­dent Trump has al­ready ef­fec­tively taken the mil­i­tary op­tion off the ta­ble. And I don’t think he’s able to re­turn to putting “max­i­mum pres­sure” on North Korea, not only be­cause South Korea’s view of the North has changed, but also be­cause China would be less likely to go along this time. GT: Un­der such cir­cum­stances, will the diplo­matic and se­cu­rity di­a­logue be help­ful? Gold­stein: I think it’s im­por­tant. It will not fun­da­men­tally change the re­la­tion­ship, but it’s im­por­tant to main­tain the com­mu­ni­ca­tions chan­nels be­cause both sides have to fig­ure out how to man­age the com­pe­ti­tion. There are 3 Cs – co­op­er­a­tion, com­pe­ti­tion and con­fronta­tion. For a long time, the Chi­nese said we want to build co­op­er­a­tion though there are still some ar­eas of com­pe­ti­tion. The real con­cern now is not how much co­op­er­a­tion you can main­tain, but can you en­sure that we re­main in the realm of com­pe­ti­tion and don’t shift to con­fronta­tion.

I think the mil­i­tary-to-mil­i­tary ex­changes are very im­por­tant in terms of fig­ur­ing out how to man­age things such as US free­dom of nav­i­ga­tion and the free­dom of over­flight op­er­a­tions in the South China Sea, the East China Sea and near China’s coast, how do we make sure that in­ci­dents in which ships col­lide don’t take place. The di­a­logues are im­por­tant for mak­ing sure that both sides un­der­stand how the other will be­have. GT: Will there be a cold war be­tween China and the US? Gold­stein: Well, let’s say this: A cold war is bet­ter than a hot war. In a sense, we are al­ready in a cold war in which both sides now see each other largely as com­peti­tors, ri­vals, may be ad­ver­saries. And the US does in­creas­ingly view this as a bipo­lar com­pe­ti­tion with a main ri­val. But there are some dif­fer­ences. As of now, ide­o­log­i­cal is­sues are not sig­nif­i­cant be­tween the two sides, which was the case dur­ing the Cold War with the Soviet Union. The world is dif­fer­ent to­day. What­ever the ri­valry be­tween the US and China, it will in­clude ten­sions and will lead both sides to plan for the pos­si­bil­ity of a mil­i­tary con­flict, as both al­ready do. It will be dif­fer­ent from the Cold War, how­ever, be­cause the Soviet Union and the Eastern Euro­pean coun­tries were com­pletely iso­lated from the West. That’s not the case to­day with China or the coun­tries near China. And it’s not go­ing to be the case no mat­ter how bad re­la­tions be­tween the US and China be­come. East Asian coun­tries, es­pe­cially South­east Asian coun­tries, and Cen­tral Asian coun­tries are not go­ing to cut off their ties with China or the US.

One pos­i­tive les­son from the Cold War that the US and China should em­brace is the idea that it is not enough just to have strate­gic di­a­logues, that ac­tual arms con­trol talks can be use­ful be­cause they help man­age the com­pe­ti­tion be­tween ri­vals and re­duce the risks of es­ca­la­tion should crises and con­flicts oc­cur.

Av­ery Gold­stein

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.