China Should Handle “American Exceptionalism” Skillfully

Karl Rove, the adviser who helped George Bush Jr. to win the U.S. presidential election twice, and his former White House colleague Republican expert strategist Edward Gillespie have co-written an article in the latest issue (March/April) of Foreign Policy magazine. In the article, they suggest that the Republican presidential candidate seize on President Obama’s vulnerability in foreign policy to boost U.S. ambition and advocate and revive American exceptionalism.

The term “American exceptionalism” means that the U.S. from the start has been the exception, special, a nation that advocates freedom. It has been the most outstanding nation in the world for more than two hundred years because it implemented this model. People have called this “American exclusivity” or “American superiority,” but I think the best term would be American exceptionalism.

Rove and Gillespie’s article points out that Obama has played down the U.S.’ international image, turning the U.S. into a “flawed giant.” Obama said, “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.” Isn’t that as good as saying there is nothing special about America?

Renowned Harvard University political scientist Professor Stephen Martin Walt has always been critical of the American exceptionalism theory. He said that, historically, America liked to go to war with other countries and had little regard for the lives of the people in those countries. During the war of 1899-1902 when America conquered Philippines, 200,000 to 400,000 Filipinos lost their lives.

He went on to point out that Germany was defeated in World War II mainly because it had exhausted its power against Russia on the battlefield. The U.S. launched an air strike from the west, carpet-bombing German cities, which was tantamount to killing innocent civilians. About 300,000 civilians in Germany died as a result of America’s bombing; Japan suffered even more fatalities, reaching about 330,000. Gen. Curtis LeMay, the man in charge of the bombing of Japan, said, “If we’d lost in the war, we’d all have been prosecuted as war criminals.”

American exceptionalism, however, is not without basis. Winston Churchill, whose ideas and theories were conservative and anti-Communist, said that he did not hate the Communist Party because they were created by the British. No matter what a British or French person does, they would not be “non-British” or “anti-French.” Only in American public discourse about themselves would the condemnation of being “un-American” or “anti-American” be issued because “America” emphasizes ideology and does not tolerate its citizens going against it.

The U.S. created the “free world,” but Russia did not create a “Communist world.” Globalization today is in fact “Anglobalization” (Anglo globalization): It uses English as the means of communication and the dollar as the international currency, and the information network is controlled by America. The Anglo-Saxon British Empire had never been as glorious as this, and now it can only play a supporting role.

A question often asked is: “While China and India rose to power at the same time, why is there only a “Chinese threat” but not an “Indian threat” theory? The answer is that India rose within Anglobalization while China’s rise grazed the edges of Anglobalization and naturally rubbed up against American exceptionalism as well.

China has been pushed into the number two or even the number one position by various factors. Interestingly, [the newspaper] Huanqiu’s commentary published on March 23 likened China’s “reform” and “rise” to ‘‘two deep-water regions,” and said that the Chinese have no sovereignty over the region in which it rose. China embarked on the rising path in case it lost its internal cohesion. “China has made its way across the great wide river of human history by feeling the stones.” If it does not reform, not rising is not a way to turn back. “It must get to the other side.”

China’s rise to the deep water to cross the river will inevitably come into conflict with American exceptionalism. Mitt Romney, the likely Republican presidential candidate, is attempting to win over centrists because his support rate among conservative voters, especially the declining blue-collar class, isn’t high; he is doing his best to push for a trade policy with China that is more stringent than those set out by Bush Jr. and Obama. Former U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman described his actions at a time when the U.S. is not in a depression as unnecessary, and a trade war with China as unwise.

The Wall Street Journal has also stood up against Romney’s anti-Chinese stance, warning him that the American voters would not vote actively for a candidate who advocates trade protectionism. It also pointed out that it is because American companies need to stay globally competitive that the U.S. has initiated industrial exports to China. Though employment opportunities have been outsourced, this has been beneficial for the development of America’s economy. Trade friction with China, on the other hand, is not favorable to the U.S.

Romney’s advocacy of American exceptionalism, which carries an anti-Chinese tone, is in reality a way for him to ensure that he gets to the other side. If he really entered the White House, he would also become the man of the times.

China and the US Must Exist Harmoniously

Former commander of the U.S. Pacific Command and former U.S. Ambassador to China Joseph Prueher held a symposium last year and published a report titled “A Way Ahead with China: Steering the Right Course with the Middle Kingdom.” The specific proposals in this “right course” are worth noting: One, the U.S. foremost needs to get its economy in order. Two, the U.S. should modify its policy toward Taiwan and adopt a fundamental solution in areas other than military. Three, China and the U.S. should carry out dialogues as equals. Four, it should increase cultural exchanges between civil societies as well as structured diplomacy and semi-official dialogues. Five, the U.S. should abandon the concept of an “alien Communist China” and communicate with China with mutual understanding and equality. And six, encourage economic integration between the two nations.

Kenneth Lieberthal, a pro-Democrat senior fellow and China expert at the Brookings Institution, delivered a speech titled “China’s Rise: The View from Washington” at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology on March 22, in which he said that the rapid rise of China — the “number two” poised to supersede the top dog U.S. — is welcomed. Even though it could cause the U.S. to be tense, harmonious co-existence between the two nations is absolutely necessary.

The view that Lieberthal constantly expresses in the U.S. as well as the points he makes in his recently published book are similar to those of Prueher. On the one hand, he is worried that the debates during the U.S. presidential election year could have consequences for the Sino-U.S. relationship that are more than a little dangerous, but he has advised the next president to reorganize America’s economy first before working on improving the mutual trust between China and the U.S. The key to the matter lies in holding deep and sustained discussions on the two nations’ military doctrines in Asia.

From the discussion above, we can see that the imperfect American exceptionalism is undergoing self-modification and improvement, and is trying to achieve a harmonious co-existence between China and the U.S. in the midst of China’s rise. Even the most anti-Chinese politician would not then push for a “war” with China. From China’s perspective, it is in fact also exploring a form of Chinese exceptionalism. [Otherwise] it would not be able to jump over American exceptionalism and reach the other side of the waters safely.

It is written in Sun Tzu’s Art of War: “And for this reason, a wise general in his deliberations must consider both favorable and unfavorable factors. By taking into account the favorable factors, he makes his plan feasible; by taking into account the unfavorable, he may avoid possible disasters.” This is also a Chinese internal skill of “soft power.” The taking into account of favorable factors in the Sino-U.S. relationship to build mutual trust and the taking into account of the unfavorable to avoid trouble will be a tough test for the next line of China’s leadership.

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