James Anderson writes from Washington: The deputy Chief of the General Staff of the People’s Liberation Army, during his visit to Washington, has highlighted the need for China and the United States to create a ‘new type of military relationship’. This is only one aspect of the Middle Kingdom’s search for a ‘new type of great power relationship’. The goal is to have relations with Washington that would permit the country to develop along its chosen path, without crises occurring that would slow down this process.
China is aware of the problems that arise when an emerging superpower challenges a dominant one. Historically, war often occurred in the past. Imperial Germany before 1914 dominated world science and technology. It was pushing Britain, hitherto the leading power in Europe, out of world markets. Hence a conflict was almost inevitable. This was due to the prevailing European model of conflict resolution which was warfare. Militarism won and Germany duly committed suicide in 1914. Scientific and technological leadership then passed to the United States.
Chinese scholars have studied this period of European history in great detail. They are seeking lessons which will permit China to avoid the same scenario. The other great conflict was between the US and the Soviet Union. The main problem was that both states had ideological views of the world which did not permit compromise. Each was going to bury the other. Eventually the Soviet Union collapsed and disappeared from the world map. Gorbachev, in truth, tried to escape from the trap of ideology but it was too late to save his country. These two examples underline the catastrophic consequences of failing to establish a working relationship between a rising and a dominant power. So how is Beijing going to avoid the above outcome?
Xi Jinping, expected to become China’s next paramount leader, has spelled out how to improve relations. These include increasing mutual understanding and strategic trust; respecting one another’s core interests and major concerns; expanding investment and trade; and cooperating in international affairs to resolve global problems. The key phrase here is ‘core interests’. What are the Middle Kingdom’s core interests? Taiwan is part of China and the US should stop arming it; Americans should stop criticising the country’s human rights record; it should not give any succour to separatists in Tibet and Xinjiang; the Asia-Pacific region is China’s backyard and the US should stay out of it; territorial disputes in the East and South China Seas only concern China and other East and South East Asian powers. It is not surprising that Americans regard the above list as a one way street. All roads lead to Beijing.
Chinese scholars are optimistic that the ruinous conflicts of the past can be avoided. They point to economic globalisation, political multilateralism and the social information upsurge as brakes on conflict. The Sino-American relationship is now the most important in world politics. It is also crucial for the rest of the world. Everyone now depends on the Chinese and the Americans resolving their differences in an amicable way.