Peking University, April 2, 2021: All would benefit if the US could look at bilateral relations objectively and stop viewing them as zero-sum. With a new US administration now in office, there is an opportunity to refashion the bilateral relationship in a way that would greatly benefit both countries and the Asia-Pacific region. But for that to happen, the new US administration must make greater efforts to see the benefits of cooperation.
The Joe Biden administration should reaffirm the common interests of the two countries and strive to expand the fields of cooperation while working to resolve the differences between the two sides. In order to do so, it is important to understand China objectively.
First of all, the United States should not overstate China's strength and its so-called threat.
Since 2008, the US has been increasingly consumed by the fear of a rising China. Yet the reality is that China is still a developing country and will be for a long time to come. Although China's economy looks large, its per capita GDP is actually just one-sixth that of the US. Although China has officially declared that its population has been lifted out of absolute poverty, the country still faces a huge challenge to improve people's living standards due to the large size of its population and the disparity in development between different regions and between urban and rural areas. That is why the Chinese government says it will unswervingly adhere to the long-term goal of development and commit itself to reaching the level of a modern socialist country by 2050.
The goal of China's modernization is not superpower status, but to improve the living standards of its people. For Chinese leaders, the goals of reform and opening-up remain the same, and the country will continue to seek a peaceful international environment for its development.
Second, the US should not judge China according to its own historical experience and political values. The biggest difference between China and the US is that the US society is more individualistic, emphasizing individual freedom, and the people are more distrustful of government. Compared to the US, the Chinese people have a greater trust in government and are more inclined to embrace collectivism.
According to a multi-year research project carried out by researchers at Harvard University in 2020, over 90 percent of Chinese residents are satisfied with the Chinese government. That is hard for US citizens to understand.
Looking at the two countries' respective efforts against the novel coronavirus, the cultural and historical differences between China and the US are obvious. The US' emphasis on individual freedom made it difficult for the authorities to control the virus, while China emphasized the authority of the government and scientists and people cooperated with the epidemic prevention and control work, which resulted in far more effective control of the virus.
Third, the US should not drive the Asia-Pacific region back to the Cold War era. It should respect the desire of Asia-Pacific countries to continue regional cooperation and refrain from trying to sow discord in the region.
China has become an important part of economic globalization and Asia-Pacific economic integration. The development of China's economy and the expansion of its market have brought more development opportunities to the Asia-Pacific region and the whole world. For example, China has now become the largest trading partner of almost all economies in the Asia-Pacific, and their exports and investment to China continue to increase. Even under the pressure of the Trump administration's trade war, China has continued to expand its opening-up through unilateral means. The ever-expanding market opportunities of China are the main reasons why the total trade volume between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, as well as the total trade volume between China and the European Union exceeds the total trade volume between China and the US, and the trade volume between the US and Europe. It is also the main driving force for the EU wanting to complete the negotiations on an investment agreement with China despite the opposition of the US.
Contrary to the expectations of many who fear China's rise, Beijing has little interest in displacing the US. China has proposed building a community with a shared future for mankind, which not only reflects the traditional Chinese values of a big family of peace and human equality, but also reflects the thinking of Chinese elites on the future of a world beset by climate change, resource scarcity and the difficulties of human development.
The US should take an active role in the economic, social and cultural exchanges in the Asia-Pacific region and the process of regional integration. The US could, for example, consider joining the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which would make it part of the world's largest free-trade area.
If, on the contrary, the US tries to form a "mini-NATO" in the Asia-Pacific region, with the aim of containing China, it will deal a great blow to the peace and development of the region. This approach will only exacerbate tensions between China and the US, while making it difficult for countries in the Asia-Pacific region and beyond. Most countries in the region do not want to choose between Beijing and Washington. They want to maintain close relations with both and reap the benefits from these relations. The US should respect the will and choice of other countries.
Fourth, the competition between China and the US should be handled in a fair and equitable manner and in accordance with international rules. Competition between the two great powers may seem inevitable, but if handled well, it can advance the interests of both countries, rather than competition spiraling out of control into a zero-sum game. China and the US should regulate their relations in accordance with international rules, and at the same time work with other countries to reform the existing international governance system.
As the two largest economies, the US and China have a common responsibility to the international community. At present, the international community wants to focus on fighting the pandemic, reopening economic and public health cooperation, properly dealing with the negative effects of economic globalization and promoting more equitable development at home and abroad.
On these issues, there are many common ideas and interests between the Chinese government and the Biden administration. Cooperation in these areas would help the two sides accumulate goodwill and cultivate and restore political trust.
The author is Wang Yong, professor in the School of International Studies, director of the Center for American Studies and director of the Center for International Political Economy at Peking University.
Photo credit to: Li Xin
Source: China Daily