Tuesday, June 25, 2013

A New Type of Great Power Relationship

China's Keenness for A New Type of Great Power Relationship

Chinese leaders seems to have been quite keen to bring up this topic of "Great Power Relationship" in recent meetings with US leaders. The latest example was at Sunnylands. This seems to be indicate a deep-lying desire to cement the structure of a G2 with the US. It reveals not just a desire for greater recognition but more than that it is a demand for full acceptance of  China's Great Power status so that they can start wielding greater weight on the global stage.

A number of experts from both China and US have commented on these latest development which provide help to shed some light on this issue. Stapleton Roy a  a senior retired United States diplomat specializing in Chinese affairs has succinctly described the search for a Great Power Relationship as an effort to reverse the flow towards Strategic Rivalry. Let us cover below some speakers who have been speaking currently on this issue.

Robert Zoellick 
Robert Zoellick the ex-President of the World Bank and a Deputy Secretary of State in the Bush administration (and a Goldman Sachs managing director) has come out with what can be seen as the American response to these Chinese overtures. He has written a long article "US China and Thucydies" in The National Interest dated June 25, 2013, wherein he says he has explored the likely nature of this new type of great-power relationship between China and the United States. But more than that this is a clear articulation of American expectations from the Chinese side.

He begins by clarifying, for increasingly worried readers, that the US is not in decline and that China has not really achieved Developed nation status. He points out that since 1960 out of 101 middle class nations only 13 have reached developed country status. And China is not even really a middle class nation. This seems to be a valiant attempt to bolster US softpower and tackle the attractiveness of the Chinese growth story. Many in the West have begun pointing out to a world over-awed by China, that, despite China's astonishing rise in per capita income over the last three decades, the per capita income of China is still low vis-a-vis the West. However, such analysts quietly forget to mention that for international relations GDP is the more significant indicator - Comprehensive National Power (CNP) is a function of GDP and not per capita GDP. By all indications Chinese GDP should cross the US GDP (in PPP terms) somewhere in the 2017-2020 range when China will become the number one economy in the world. This awareness of a coming era of unequalled Chinese CNP is in itself creating a new climate of international relations. Witness how Australia despite the Asia Pivot has made a radical turn towards China in the Boao Forum this year culminating in a Strategic Partnership between China and Australia and a commitment for annual leaders meetings. (Please click HERE.) And this is a fact which cannot be brushed away by diverting to the relative poverty of a Chinese citizen (low income and a much lower wealth/ asset base of each citizen which will only build up after decades of high per capita income).

He has concentrated mainly on the economic and security issues. He uses arguments made by others to politely but skilfully build a tight argument against the Chinese side. Although diplomatically toned one can read a note of exasperation when he list the numerous things which need to be done to improve things. His quiet frustration becomes evident when one finds that most of the deliverables on these contentious issues are being awaited from the Chinese side. For example he raises the need of a new global service-sector agreement under the auspices of the WTO and greater respect for and adherence to intellectual rights. He also points out the anachronism of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) in the modern world as it reports not to the State but to very high-levels within the Party. The PLA behaves like an autonomous power center which through its independent (sometimes arbitrary) actions has the potential to vitiate diplomacy with China. He adds that in the new monetary system there will perhaps be multiple reserve currencies but for that China will have to move to an open capital account. Like all westerners he tends to proselytize about the need for a greater private sector role to spur innovation and efficiency.

On the whole, through this laundry list of issues, he seems to be demanding a shift in the Chinese governance system from the Chinese towards the Western model. That the Chinese model should give up its distinctiveness and become more like the Western model. No doubt the Chinese model has always tried to "use" the Western model as a guide. But one must remember that this "use" of western institutions and processes and economic policies has simultaneously been accompanied with a fanatic determination to make people-centric or security-centric alterations and then call these as "Chinese characteristics" of the western model. These deliberate and crucial alterations are the essence of the Chinese model despite its clearly western roots. Zoellick perhaps wants to prod the challenger (China) into accepting the leader's (West) model in toto so that the softpower of the Western model stays unchallenged. And that a real End to History can be ensured. A judicious mix of carrots and stick seems to have been adroitly used. One can sense that perhaps the US is regaining confidence and returning back to the driver's seat. That it has not given up abjectly on the Asia Region as Obama had once almost done quite early on in his first term.

At one point he refers to the growing and unbecoming aggressiveness of the Chinese and challenges Chinese motivations quite bluntly: "Have Chinese critics of the current international system considered the costs of, and others’ reactions to, new Chinese aims?" He then lists a number of advantageous points of mutual interest between China and the US but says these can be  overwhelmed by the issues which have risen in the Asian-Pacific region. He is alluding here to the host of South China issues which have embroiled China  lately - with Japan, Philippines, Vietnam, etc. At this stage he clearly goes into warning mode and says that China has few friends and most of them poor and America has lot of prosperous allies who look upto the US as a friend and ally and cautions that China's assertion should not look like a threat otherwise it will lead to counter-reactions. He says should China should make allies with the US allies if it wants to avoid its encirclement. He highlights Japan and these strong protective words by Zoellick should offer considerable reassurance to Japan. Japan like India had been apprehensive about the impact of G2 and specifically of the Sunnylands summit. There had been some talk that the Senkakus dispute had not been raised by the US. This portion of the article referring to the Asian-Pacific security issues must have been worked over and reworked over many times in policy circles. One needs to go over it carefully.

And then he goes on to speak of North Korea at length. He seems to be putting the onus of change in North Korea clearly on the Chinese and not just on the North Koreans. He seems to be saying that just getting the North Koreans to the negotiation table will not be considered enough.

And then he comes to the issue which was to have taken center-stage at Sunnylands but was sidetracked by the personal surveillance and tracking story which arose at the time of the summit. He lists the various aspects of cyber issues like espionage; economic espionage; sabotage; warfare, etc.

He also mentions the issues of human rights and freedom but briefly and only in passing. He avoids going into it, because he says that China is probably deliberating on these issues in its quest for better governance and rule of law. It appears he does not want to use this forum to raise negative issues which are received with hostility and suspicion by the Chinese side. It seems his aim is much bigger. He is looking at the bigger picture and the longer term. He wants to point out the big American concerns in the strongest possible manner without getting sidetracked into diversions and lesser issues.

Probably with an intention to provoke a clear response from the Chinese, he refers to an ongoing debate in the US about whether China’s understanding of International Relations will in the long run allow it to accept only a system where it is the “Middle Kingdom” and it has only accepts tributary relationships. He seems to be dismissively setting aside the current stated Chinese position of multilateralism and quizzing the Chinese quite bluntly about their longer term objectives  in the International Relations arena.

Finally he concludes by saying that the the reality is just the opposite of the perceptions. US though the existing power is not afraid of change. Changes is what it has handled very well since its founding. On the other hand the Chinese, though a rising power have been traditional. Perhaps he might have been itching to  add just good imitator-tinkerers. He says that US-China relations should not fall into the "Thucydides trap". He refers to this concept described  by Prof's Nye and Graham Allison. They have said that Thucydides pointed out to the fear which a rising Athens had created in Sparta. And how this animosity had trapped the two city-states into a downward conflictual spiral. Zoellick says that the challenge which the US and China face is to avoid such a trap which can vitiate the atmosphere and lead to conflict. The mutual destruction is pointed out as a possibility but maybe it is also brought up as a veiled threat.

On the whole one can say that this is a clear and even blunt article which states that the Great Power status needs to be earned and cannot be achieved by reckless, arrogant and destabilizing behaviour. However, at the same he also holds out the hope of a great shared future. He does not fall into the trap of looking at China and the world with rosy eyed spectacles.

Please click here to read the full article.

There are a few other interesting article on the same topic.

David Lampton
First is by a very well-know China expert. Prof David M. Lampton who has written "A New Type of Major-Power Relationship: Seeking a Durable Foundation for U.S.-China Ties" in the latest Asia Policy (July 2013).  Please click here to read.

Jeff Bader at Brookings 
One can find a couple of discussions of this issue at the Brookings website.
First, Jeffrey Bader has analysed the issue while delivering the 2013 Barnett-Oksenberg Lecture on Sino-American Relations on May 14, 2013. Please click here to read.
Bader point out through several examples that the co-existence of a dominant power and a rising contender has been the source of a number of conflicts in history. He says that the US-China relationship also carries the potential for conflict. He qualifies his remarks by saying that there is nothing dialectically inevitable about such conflicts. There is a significant role which is played by leaders and people. Therein lies the potential for developing trust and rising above conflict. However conflict avoidance and trust building is not a small and easy matter. Presently, there is a growing trend within the US-China relationship, towards mutually reinforced suspicions and degenerating perceptions. He says that, "there is a belief on the Chinese side that the U.S. side seeks to contain China ....a belief on the American side that China seeks to supplant the United States and corrode its global influence". Continuing with this theme he refers to a recent essay by leading scholars Kenneth Lieberthal and Wang Jisi, "Addressing U.S.-China Distrust", which ominously forecasts growing distrust unless significant course correction is made.

Finally, Bader goes to the core of what he believes should be the basis of a New Great Power Relationship between the US and China. He identifies four significant areas where they must focus their attention because he feels that is where there is a major potential for cooperation. Or conflict. These areas are:
  • Bilateral economic relations - which can include trade imbalances and unbalanced China model. And competition in third country markets - say Africa or Latin America.
  • Global problems where China and US are significantly involved - say in climate change, non-proliferation, disease control, counterterrorism, cyberintrusions.
  • Competition in the Asia Pacific - with growing Chinese power including naval power (implies aggressiveness) and the American focus in the region
  • Handling Third country instability/ Hot spots 
Basically this can be said to be a laundry list of the American side which focuses on American perceptions. The Chinese would of course come up with a similar list of what they expect from the American side as a means of restoring mutual trust and 'harmony'.

Madame Fu Ying
The topic of a new US-China Great Power relationship has also been discussed at the Brookings website in a talk given by Madame Fu Ying, who is currently the the spokesperson for China’s national legislature the National People's Congress and is also the chairperson of the NPC’s Foreign Affairs Committee. She is a career diplomat who has served in various capacities as Ambassador to Australia and United Kingdom and very recently as former vice minister of Foreign Affairs. One can see, she is eminently qualified to provide the Chinese perspective on the topic. Interestingly, she is an ethnic Mongol from and speaks in English. The transcript of her talk at Brookings on June 12, 2013, can be downloaded by clicking here. The mp3 audio link of this talk can be accessed here.

Her talk covers a number of issues including the Great Power relationship issue. It starts with the differences at the terminology level. US side uses the term "Great Powers" for US & China, while China prefers to use "Major Countries". China does not accept that it is a Great Power, though these days many Western people regard China to be a world power or a No. 2 power.
Next she clarifies why China asks for equal treatment. In US analysts ask "Why is China so ambitious to try to be equal to US?" Is it a demonstration of ambition? China believes in equality of countries irrespective of size or power.
She goes on to identify what is the greatest achievement of modern China. She says with certainty that it is the provision of food for 1.3 billion people. Till 1993, Chinese people were distributed food with coupons but now hunger and food shortages are eliminated.
She lists the current set of problems which China faces.

She goes on to describe the leadership's vision of the Future China. In this connection, she specifies two paramount goals which China has set forth for itself at the 18th NPC. First, China intends to double per capita income of 2010, by 2021 the centenary year for the Communist Party of China. China should be able to achieve this goal in the eight years, if it maintains a growth rate of 7%. Therefore, this is a crucial minimum benchmark of GDP growth which the Xi-Li leadership faces. Second, by centenary year of the Communist republic 2049 China plans to develop into a strong, prosperous, democratic and culturally advanced and harmonious socialist society. The leadership is firm on continuing reform and opening up to the outside world. Government functions will be readjusted to allow Market and Society to allow both of them to maximize performance with good regulations. Government will provide framework for competition and looking after the marginalized. The country will strive towards industrialization, informatization, agricultural modernization and urbanization. Urbanization in the near future will be the greatest in the world - 600 million.
A long problem consists of environment pollution, energy security, slowing down of economy. A new model of development is required. Underlying all this improved rule of law. NPC will have to increase its law making capacity - especially in people-centric area's. Law quality, compliance and enforcement needs to improve. US can join in as a partner in this endeavor. There are so many opportunities for all. China cannot achieve its goals unless there is a peaceful world environment. Many developing countries are now growing fast and their share in world economy is expanding and their gap with the developed world is narrowing. But China does not share the view that "World power is shifting to East". In reality power does not seem to be changing hands. World issues are more globalized and due to globalization and internet power is getting diffused and trans-national.
She says that America is at a great peak with the highest end technology, strongest brands
She says that the main trend of the world - shi - towards which all national leaders should lead the is in the direction of peace and development. Asia is on the road to development because of the long period of peace it is enjoying. Deng was able to foresee this and in view of this peace directed China towards development.
China hopes that principles agreed to with ASEAN countries on how to maintain tranquility in disputed areas are respected to maintain peace. The US has long had an influence over Asia which China has respected but questions are being raised in recent years. In the past US has invested in Europe in the Cold War and then in the Middle East against terrorism after 911, but it has now shifted attention to Asia which has been doing well. The countries in the region including China expect that US-China can work to maintain the ongoing trend of peace and development and that this trend is not disturbed. A new model of relationship between US and China is necessary and in process. On global issues like nuclear proliferation, cyber threats, ecological sustainability, etc. all countries are on the same page.

Wang Yi  
Another instance of the Chinese perspective on this issue has been obtained, during a recent talk (June 27, 2013) given by the Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi at Tsinghua University at the World Peace Forum. His talk was on a similar topic - Major Power Diplomacy. He covers the recent foreign visits of President Xin Jiping, talking first about his first foreign visit to Russia. Importantly, he pointed out the China-Russia relationship as a model "for major countries to deepen trust and cooperation in the new era". He then goes on to mention the meeting between President Xi Jinping and President  Obama at Sunnylands. While giving a positive spin, he says, that Obama and Xi Jinping,"agreed to build a new model of major-country relations between China and the United States. The core elements of this new model are mutual respect, win-win cooperation, no conflict, no confrontation. President Obama stated that the United States welcomes a strong, successful, prosperous and stable China and is willing to work with China as equal partners(!) in dealing with many of the global(!) challenges. President Xi hopes that China and the United States will work together and act as the anchor of stability and propeller of peace in the world." Note the involvement of China by the US at the "global" level! These crucial points need to be verified from the American side. Please click here to read the full speech.

Another article  is related to the topic. "Can U.S.-Chinese Relations Be Saved?" by Michael Auslin, also in The National Interest dated June 12, 2013. Please click here to read.
Another very fascinating secondary International Relations trend is visible to those who are watchful. The American Pivot to Asia despite all the denials of the US government is working in the direction of containing China Rise. But this Pivot to Asia has powerful implications in other regions. It has created huge domestic turmoil within power circles in the US and Israel. The powerful group of "supporters" of Israel in the US government; in the media and in public forums have erupted in anger at this growing America emphasis on Asia. They would like a continued focus on the Middle East to make sure that  the vast US foreign policy and military resources continue to be pumped into the Middle East in support of Israel. They have been unable to tolerate this downgrading of emphasis on the Middle East. This group is extremely powerful and capable and inventive and very good at marketing their own agenda as if it is the American agenda and have been able to divert American resources for decades in support of Israel.

One can make further intelligent deductions based on the above facts. The resolution with which American foreign policy has stuck to its Pivot to Asia in the face of powerful resistance from the dominant actors who support Israel, indicates that a group of patriotic American foreign policy experts have emerged who are very focussed on and alarmed by China Rise. They have realized that things cannot go on as usual. China Rise needs the complete attention of the US and diversions as in earlier days can no longer be tolerated. The very fact that the powerful Israel supporters have been over-ruled is a clear indication of the seriousness and determination with which the China challenge is being viewed in the US foreign policy circles.

The latest and most fascinating example of a US foreign policy experts standing up to the pro-Israel discourse and persisting eloquently with the China Pivot can be seen in a debate between Richard Haas, current President of the Council of Foreign Relations and former Deputy Secretary of State and Jane Harman a powerful former Congresswoman. Please 

Click here to read more....

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