WASHINGTON — Convinced that the United States is in decline, China’s distrust is growing of the longtime superpower which it sees as bent on holding back the Asian power’s rise, an influential scholar says.
In a candid new study, well-known experts from China and the United States with wide experience in the other country describe the Pacific powers as seeking a partnership but hampered by distrust of their rival’s intentions.
The scholars proposed steps to build confidence between the world’s two largest economies including deeper discussions on defense and three-way dialogues with Japan and India.
Wang Jisi, dean of the School of International Studies at Peking University, wrote in the study that “China’s strategic distrust of the United States is deeply rooted, and in recent years it seems to have deepened.”
Wang said the financial crisis in 2008 showed to many Chinese that their country was rising, the United States was declining and that actions by Washington — on issues from territorial disputes in the South China Sea to climate change — marked veiled attempts to keep Beijing down.
“America’s financial disorder, alarming deficit and unemployment rate, slow economic recovery and domestic political polarization are viewed as but a few indications that the United States is headed for decline,” Wang wrote.
Wang said Chinese leaders were “sober-minded” and did not think that the United States would soon fall as the top world power — or that US economic decline would be desirable, in light of China’s reliance on exports.
But Wang said Beijing had grown distrustful after US actions such as repeated calls for improvements in human rights, pressure over North Korea and Iran and weapons sales to Taiwan, which relies on Washington for its defense.
The arms deals, despite warming relations between Beijing and Taipei, “added to the suspicion that Washington will disregard Chinese interests and sentiment as long as China’s power position is secondary to America’s,” he wrote.
Ken Lieberthal, who wrote the US portion of the study, said Wang is “widely considered to be China’s top specialist on the United States” and has dealt extensively with Chinese officials who handle foreign affairs.
Lieberthal told AFP that the study was not an effort to reveal any hidden views, saying he doubted that Chinese President Hu Jintao or his likely successor Xi Jinping would “sit down and pour their hearts out” to Wang.
Lieberthal, the director of the Brookings Institution’s John L. Thornton China Center who served as a senior aide to president Bill Clinton, said the essays instead tried to offer an “honest understanding” of underlying thinking.
Before the financial crisis, China assumed the United States would long remain the top power but Beijing now believes Washington is trying “not only to get back on our game but to work harder to slow China’s rise,” Lieberthal said.
“If that is their conclusion, then they don’t trust the motives of even some things that we do — in fact, I would argue, much of what we do — (which) is to try to integrate China, accept its rise and to integrate it as constructively as possible in the global system,” he said.
In his essay, Lieberthal spoke of US concern about the “massive theft of US intellectual property” which he said created a perception that it was part of a Chinese strategy.
Lieberthal also wrote of the political difficulty for US leaders in cooperating with China despite human rights concerns, writing: “Americans tend to be deeply suspicious of countries that trample on the civil rights of their own citizens.”
The two scholars together recommended a “sustained, deep dialogue” on military affairs so China can defend its core interests but let the United States meet obligations to its Asian allies.
The experts also called for the United States to encourage Chinese investment and for three-way dialogues involving India and Japan, which could prevent a “strategic cleavage” that pits Beijing and Washington against each other in the region.
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