The informal 2014 APEC leadership meeting is currently underway in Beijing. During his keynote speech at yesterday’s APEC CEO Summit, the president of China, Xi Jinping, unveiled his vision of the “Asia-Pacific dream.” It was the first time these words have been used by a Chinese leader.
The actual aim of APEC is to promote economic cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region. However, at this summit, as usual, the media appears more interested in reporting where the major players are conflicting, rather than agreeing. And when it comes to such reporting, American and other Western media outlets often contribute the lion’s share of the hyperbole. For this year’s APEC summit, they have honed their focus on what they are calling the China-U.S. “wrestling match for dominance in the Asia-Pacific.”
Their reasons for taking this slant are perhaps understandable. Firstly, because the APEC meeting opened in Beijing, it was China who had the privilege of setting some of the meeting’s agenda. Secondly, China proposed to promote its Asia-Pacific Free Trade Area (FTAAP) initiative during the conference, and China had also recently begun setting up its Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank. The establishment of these two entities presented significant and competitive alternatives to the U.S. Trans-Pacific Partnership program (TPP), as well as its Asian Development Bank initiatives.
The media pundits insist that the United States is deeply concerned with growing competition with China. Nowadays, it seems that China only has to hint at diverting from America’s plans and, all of a sudden, the sky is falling down on Washington. The reality is that any relationship between two great nations is unlikely to be so fragile. The Asia-Pacific region of today just cannot permit instability in the relationship between the U.S. and China. Both countries need to face and deal with their differences so that, rather than becoming a source of tension, these differences can continue to provide vitality and diverse opportunities to the Asia-Pacific region.
Within a short period of time, China has developed into an influential nation. We Chinese have no intention of “dominating” Asia. That being said, when it comes to our key national interests, we are also unlikely to allow the United States to dictate the rules. Western media alleges that China has started working to challenge the norms established by the United States and, by virtue of its economic influence, is now attempting to change the global order. Western elites have a habitual distrust of China, and they scrutinize our every step constantly.
The facts are that, in recent years, we Chinese have given great consideration to international “policies” and the “world order.” As China’s interests continue to expand globally, we feel that we should have some say in how things are being done; there is nothing unnatural about wanting this. China has no interest in subverting the existing world order. In fact, we believe that doing so would not be good for China anyway. However, we do want for the existing order to begin to account for the changing realities of the modern world and, in the process, consider the needs of all parties involved – including China.
Why is the United States always intent upon dominating the world? Frankly, it isn’t even that powerful of a nation. Throughout human history, there has never existed a single power so strong that it could come to dominate the multitudes of sovereign nations across the globe. The U.S. is certainly not going to be the first one to do it either. If we assert that America’s dominance can be seen throughout the world – especially considering the situations in the Middle East and Ukraine, as well as in East Asia – then the quality of its “leadership” is extremely poor. In fact, to even use the term “leadership” to describe America’s presence in those areas could almost be considered self-deception.
When the United States started wooing suitors to its TPP party, it kept China locked firmly outside and away from the festivities. As far the TPP is concerned, many are doubtful about what the future holds for it. One thing is certain: even if any marriages result from these TPP events, those parties that go on to ignore China – the world’s largest trading body – will probably find their future offspring will be fraught with birth defects.
When conducting their affairs in future, both China and the United States need to be mindful of the effects their actions have on each other. Both countries need to go beyond single-minded thoughts of self-profit. Otherwise, their designs in the Asia-Pacific region are unlikely to yield fruitful results. Perhaps the very idea of “domination” itself has become an outdated concept. “Contesting for dominance,” then, is an even more unprofitable and even deadly tactic to adopt.
Throughout the Asia-Pacific region, the ASEAN alliance’s ability to act as an advocate for change is perhaps even less than that of China’s. Within ASEAN, the active roles that countries like Singapore can play are fewer than that of India or Malaysia. More importantly, when we probe into the “dominance” issues inherent in the ASEAN system, the whole alliance itself runs the risk of looking impractical and irrelevant.
American elites need not fear that China is going to snatch away America’s dominance. When all is said and done, what is this so-called dominance that the United States cherishes, and what use is it to China? No one in China gives serious consideration to U.S. supremacy. Moreover, since this supremacy can be found neither in the seats of the White House, nor on the tables at the Pentagon, Americans need not fret that Chinese people are going to just waltz in and take it all away.
Both China and the U.S. need to strengthen their resolve. Above all, they both need to realize that the modern Asia-Pacific economic system is an interwoven mix of relations. The American persistence in thinking that it needs to return to its roots – so that it can preserve its position as the world’s greatest superpower – will only do more harm than good. America’s selfish ways can only send it down a slippery slope to disaster. Such thinking has little to do with China and its “contest for dominance.”