The relationship between today’s superpower, the United States, and an emerging country, China, shares similarities with the link between old and new countries throughout history, but there are also fundamental differences.
Since America’s rise in the 19th century, it has met various setbacks (such as the Korean War and the Vietnam War), but it did not receive any critical challenges; in other words, it never lost its supreme status. America considered its replacement of Great Britain, victory over Germany, Japan and the Soviet Union as the triumph of its values and system and named it “Manifest Destiny.” It firmly believes that China’s rise in the 21st century is only a repeat of past history. Even if America centralizes its techniques of attacking rising countries, it would be enough to suppress China or slow down its development process. Therefore, it is difficult for America to create new strategies to deal with the rise of China based on contemporary history; its mindset is difficult to break. Fundamentally, the plan that America uses to cope with China’s progress is an old strategy that falls behind the new era. From here, we can find the fatal defects in the strategies that the superpower uses to suppress rising countries.
America is using its advantage of soft power to reach the height of morality and justice, which puts China in a negative position in public opinion. But as America abuses its supreme power, it has caused public criticism from the international community, including the European Union. America is also continuously generating revolutions in the Middle East and post-Soviet Union regions; this has spread the American model and caused long-term political instabilities in these regions. We can say that every time America gives rise to a revolution, it gets caught in a swamp – leading to passive strategies and a downturn of its soft power, and thus China can take advantage of this opportunity to progress.
America tries to use the international community to control and constrain China, enabling it to intervene with China’s domestic politics and systems. This method was effective with the rigid and enclosed Soviet Union, in the long run accelerating its dismantlement. However, this method is almost no use with China, because China itself is undergoing political reforms and is now more deeply engaged in the modern international community. In fact, America has become the destroyer of the modern international community; it has even attempted to implement a new set of rules and orders. China and America are at the same starting point for administering today’s global society, and along with the BRICS countries, they are altering the Western government system. America has to acknowledge this new phenomenon of China’s participation in making international regulations. This is a privilege that rising countries in the past did not have.
America is also restraining China through the global economy system, and the chapter of America controlling global resources has come to an end. First, China has become the world’s leading exporter and importer: Most countries that rely on the Chinese market cannot take part in blocking the exchange, and even low-pressure sanctions are hard to achieve. Second, China will soon be the largest exporter of capital investments. Even America itself cannot reject the large sum of investments coming from China, and the blend between China, America and international capital is indeed the biggest change in the global economy. Third, because of China’s fast-growing innovation and the influence of other Western countries’ on China’s shifting technology, America’s political control over China’s technology will be diminished. The longer these patterns remain, the more loss America will experience. Fourth, the internationalization of the Chinese yuan will eventually terminate the dominating position of the U.S. dollar as the international currency. The confrontation between the Chinese Yuan, the euro and the U.S. dollar will be hard to avoid, and it is even possible that the U.S. dollar and Chinese yuan will take an equal share of power. The U.S. dollar will need to cooperate with the Chinese yuan to maintain the stability of the international monetary system and avoid a repeat of the downfall of the pound after World War II. Therefore, economic cooperation between the United States and China will be achieved much earlier than any other fields.
It is almost impossible for America to choose to confront China, both militarily and economically: The consequences of the confrontation would be unbearable. The final result will be America giving up the confrontation and accepting to collaborate with China to build a stable order for the globe and specific regions. Some far-sighted American military strategists are ready to accept this prospect, and China should also be prepared.
The author is the vice dean of the Shanghai Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.