[J–GLOBAL FORUM]A more confident and mature, global China

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[J–GLOBAL FORUM]A more confident and mature, global China

I would like to make four short points to illustrate Chinese perceptions of America’s role in Asia.

First, against the backdrop of its own expanding global interest, China views the power and role of the United Stated primarily in global terms. ... China’s focus on the United States is moving away from traditional security concerns like U.S.-Taiwan relations and the U.S. military presence in the western Pacific to those issues that are more connected to China’s domestic agenda, including financial security, energy procurement and efficiency, environment protection, climate change, trade balance, public health, intellectual property rights, product quality and safety, and so on. ...

It is a widely shared impression in China that U.S. global influences have diminished as a result of its difficulties in Iraq and Afghanistan, the stalemate with Iran and North Korea, and the tainted U.S. image in many parts of the world. In addition, America’s financial and economic situation is alarming.

However, strategic planning in Beijing is not based on any assessment of a weakened U.S. power at present or any time soon. On the other hand, Chinese policymakers are taking into consideration the rising powers - Russia, India, Brazil, South Africa, among others - and trying to adjust its policy to the new realities.

My second point is that the Chinese are watching U.S. policies and behavior in Asia very closely, but there are no apparent apprehensions on the Chinese side about being encircled by an anti-China alignment. ... Few Asian powers, if any, would be willing to join the U.S. in any possible attempt to isolate or contain China.

Beijing’s response in this regard is to avoid confrontation with the United States by improving relationships with all of the neighboring countries. Soul’s apparent tilt toward the United States since last December is not an obstacle for Beijing to strengthen ties with South Korea. Beijing has made strenuous and successful efforts to mend fences with Tokyo since the autumn of 2006. ...

My third point is that serious efforts should be made to reduce mistrust between the United States and China in military terms. ... Now that cross-Strait tensions have reduced remarkably in the last few months, a military conflict between the two sides involving the United States in no longer imminent. Washington has been quite prudent in its arms deal with Taipei.

However, military planning on both American and Chinese sides will not be changed quickly and easily. The next few years will probably continue to witness Chinese criticisms of U.S. arms sales to Taiwan as well as U.S. pressure on China to increase its military transparency. Hopefully, strategic dialogues between the two sides, along with deepening cooperation and understanding between Beijing and Taipei, will bring about more prospects for long-term peace.

My fourth point is related to the gap between China’s official thinking and popular views. The latest example of this phenomenon is China’s reaction to the Russia-Georgia conflict. The Chinese government issued careful statements calling for restraint and a peaceful solution. In contrast, popular comments on Chinese Web sites supporting the Russian position against U.S. interference are prevailing.

To the Chinese leadership, being rhetorically assertive in foreign affairs without being able to deliver tangible results might be politically useful in the short term, but that would not add to its authority and credibility in the long run. In this regard, the absence of electoral, cyclical politics helps keep China’s foreign policy more consistent and strategic oriented than those of many other governments. In an era when nationalism is rising up in East Asia, China’s pragmatism and stress on “soft power” are significant.

I would like to end by discussing China’s reaction to the U.S. presidential elections. ... Chinese citizens see them as a competition between a woman, a black, and an old man. A casual but most frequently heard comment is that neither a woman nor a black man can become the U.S. president - and half of the prediction has already proven true. An Obama victory may surprise many Chinese, igniting their interest in looking at the U.S. anew. ...

The growing Chinese material power is lending more confidence and leverage to its diplomacy, which is increasingly adroit, mature and proactive. It would be reasonable to assume that China’s international stature is enhanced at the expense of the U.S., although it is not necessarily China’s intention, or in its interest, to compete with the U.S. for “spheres of influence.” ... All other Asian countries, along with China and the U.S., should see themselves as “stakeholders” in hedging against possible turbulence and sustaining peace and prosperity.

*The speaker is the dean and professor of the School of International Studies, Peking University.

by Wang Jisi
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