No Such Thing as a ‘New Type of Major Power Relations’

The attitude of Chinese President Xi Jinping during his state visit to the United States on Sept. 22, 2015 differed greatly from his attitude during his visit to Sunnylands in California two years ago. In June 2013, after visiting Mexico, Trinidad and Tobago and Costa Rica, President Xi held the U.S.-China summit at Sunnylands in Rancho Mirage as the last part of his trip. Despite it being the first U.S.-China summit on U.S. soil after Xi took office, he had lowered the status of the summit to one scheduled during his trip back home. Implicit in his action was the sense of representing a major power that would communicate a quick greeting on its way home since U.S. President Barack Obama was asking for a meeting.

During that summit, President Xi suggested the “theory of a new type of major power relations,” which includes mutual respect and mutually preserving cooperation. On the surface, it seemed like a suggestion, but in reality, it was more of an announcement, requesting that the U.S. treat China as one of the G-2 since China’s gross domestic product ranks second globally. China was demanding that the U.S. at least acknowledge its leadership in Northeast Asia, if not the international stage. The United States spurned the suggestion as “an anachronistic idea.” Instead, it pushed more forcefully the “pivot to Asia” policy (the policy of moving the central diplomatic axis to Asia).

In Xi’s most recent state visit, however, it is difficult to detect the aggressive attitude he displayed two years ago. Even when the U.S. revealed that it is preparing retaliatory measures against China’s cyberhacking, China is trying hard to consistently show a friendly attitude. We can see in many places China’s desire to increase the empathetic connection by increasing economic cooperation and mutual investments between the two nations while putting aside sensitive topics having to do with diplomacy and security. In an unusual move, 100 economic moguls, such as Alibaba chairman Ma Yun, appeared in full force during President Xi’s U.S. visit, helping to boost an atmosphere of cooperation.

The 2013 U.S.-China summit at Rancho Mirage was held during a period following Xi’s appointment when the optimistic ideology of the “Chinese Dream” was spreading throughout Chinese society. Meanwhile, the U.S. was still struggling with the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. So, the slogan “The great nation of China is on the rise while the U.S. superpower is falling” was commonplace. But the situation has reversed itself in only two years. After its economic engine cooled down, China has become a headache of an economic giant with a ticking time bomb, while the U.S. has entered the Pax Americana 3.0 age, when it is the only one enjoying growth, bolstered by the development of shale energy. When China’s economy was doing well, the Beijing consensus, with the slogan “Economic growth under an authoritarian regime,” was popular; but it is now losing its charm. After the revival of the U.S. economy, the Washington consensus, with the idea that a market economy under a free democratic regime leads to growth after all, is gaining support.

Chinese Foreign Minster Wang Yi defined the purpose of President Xi’s visit to the U.S. as “increasing trust and reducing suspicion.” This means that the U.S. and China will resolve their respective misunderstandings and increase trust in one another. Looking at it another way, it means that China will stop bluffing like it did two years ago, demanding the acceptance of the theory of a new type of major power relations. After the Korea-China summit in Beijing, President Park Geun-hye is putting hopes in China’s role on the issue of re-unification. Even so, the central axis of Korean peninsula security is the Korean-American alliance, no matter what. It is a diplomatic delusion to overemphasize China’s role in Northeast Asia while drunk on China’s rhetoric.

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