Do Not Count on the New US to be Moderate
By Gao Wang
Translated By Elizabeth Cao
1 February 2013
Edited by Mary Young
China - Huanqiu - Original Article (Chinese)
Today, Hillary Clinton formally retired as U.S. secretary of state, and John Kerry officially took over. Several heavyweight positions in the new cabinet have been determined: Hagel has been appointed as secretary of defense, Brennan has been appointed director of the CIA, and so on. In the past, these politicians have been “relatively modest” in their involvement with China.
Whether this class of moderate “newcomers” will continue to follow this “moderate path” is of course another matter. On matters dealing with China, these leaders have in fact been strongly opinionated in their thinking.
Hillary Clinton’s strategic thinking toward China had a Cold War style to it, to the point where she “polluted” the relationship between the U.S. and China, deepening the tensions and misunderstandings between them. But it should also be said that her negative impact on Sino-U.S. relations has been limited. Now the “moderates” are up. They should be able to make positive contributions and will probably not bring more negativity than Hillary did to the relationship between China and the U.S.
The complexity behind Sino-U.S. relations is very dense. It is full of ups and downs but in the long run is typically very strong. The U.S. cabinet and its policies may be undergoing changes, but these changes should not stray too far from where things are now.
The general risk America bears for China is diminishing. One reason is because China is becoming more powerful and has more say in relations between the two countries. This makes it harder for U.S. leaders to force China into acting in the way the U.S. wants, and the latter thus has to follow the law more rigidly.
When Hillary Clinton served as secretary of state, she engaged in “smart power” diplomacy with China. But the most important geopolitical outcome may not have been the alliance the U.S. pulled together, but rather, China’s ability to face and overcome these various difficulties and exercises. A few years ago, it was hard for Chinese people to imagine having these sorts of powers and forces in the South China Sea and East China Sea at the same time, but now we know that it is not actually that big of a deal. China has gradually gained a lot of experience in managing its own territory.
China has been very worried about the U.S.'s curbing development there, but in recent years, with Hillary Clinton in power, we have seen that the U.S. can only do so much, and that their control does not extend over all of Asia. The U.S. has treated China as it had treated the Soviet Union during the Cold War era, from which it is now trying to distance itself.
Putting Sino-U.S. relations on a road of opposition will only bring about struggle for the U.S. The U.S. has a long history of this, particularly towards China. The Chinese people, for their part, welcome this because it has only brought about further success for them. In some of the changes in Chinese society, it is hard to differentiate between Western ways of thought and traditional Chinese ways of thought.
The process of social pluralism in China continues to provide an energy that helps push the country forward, but it also brings about a very strange uncertainty. The competition between China’s national strength and mainstream society and that of the U.S. and the West produce this uncertainty.
Kerry and the rest of this new group of people may take a less aggressive military strategy toward China, doing fewer things to stir up issues. However, in the field of ideological competition with China, the U.S. will not back down. This is not an issue of American foreign policy. Rather, it is part of the U.S.'s cultural and political ideas, which govern how they react to the rise of China and deal with the collisions they face.
Chinese society will only become more prominent in the future. Anyone with power, such as the U.S. and the West, will see only more friction in terms of power. If China were unstable, the West would only try to meddle in its matters more and more. The so-called “advantages of values” that allow these states to meddle were accumulated over hundreds of years. If China could successfully diffuse this pressure from the West, China’s ability to compete with the West would change drastically.
Thus, the way in which the new U.S. team deals with China is important, but what is most important is how China deals with itself. The future of Sino-U.S. relations is much more than just the exchanges between two countries; it is the mutual influence of one on the other.
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