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China-U.S. relations: views from Prof. Wang Jisi
“It worries me that some people are deliberately pushing the two countries to the brink of a war. This is something we should avoid.”
Today's newsletter offers you a translation of the remarks made by Wang Jisi, Dean of the Institute of International and Strategic Studies, Peking University, at a panel titled "Stabilizing Sino-US Relations in a Turbulent World" of the 10th World Peace Forum held in Beijing on July 4. The remarks were published in the column of 凤凰大参考 Fenghuang Reference on news.ifeng.com. It includes a summary made by Professor Wang and a Q&A session.
In his remarks at the panel, Professor Wang listed three hopes for China-U.S. Relations, “to restore and enhance normal diplomatic exchanges; to find ways to prevent war; to continue to develop trade relations, and enhance sci-tech exchanges.”
Professor Wang also shared his thoughts about the Taiwan issue, saying "I myself have been attentively following the Taiwan situation, but I have no knowledge of any senior Chinese official making any mention of a 'military unification,' nor do I know any 'timetable' for that matter. Regardless, some people in the U.S. are still advocating this, and I think their actions are a bit misinterpreted or ill-intentioned."
Professor Wang’s scholarly interests cover U.S. foreign policy, China’s foreign relations, Asian security, and global politics in general. He has published numerous works in these fields. In 2008-16 he was a member of the Foreign Policy Advisory Committee of China’s Foreign Ministry. In 2005 and again in 2012, Foreign Policy magazine named him one of the top 100 Global Thinkers.
The translation is contributed by Ginger River's colleague, Wu Ziyu, who is based in Beijing and covers China's political and cultural news. See a previous post by Ziyu on major destinations for China's migrating electronics industry.
Wang: First I’d like to express my gratitude to the World Peace Forum for inviting me here and my thanks to Prof. Yan Xuetong. Just now Mr. Russel shared his views on China-U.S. relations. It reminds me of my interactions and exchanges with our American peers and U.S. diplomats over the years. I’d like to share with you three of my hopes at this time.
My first hope is that normal diplomatic exchanges would be restored and enhanced. (Due to) reasons we are all aware of, normal interaction between China and the U.S. has largely come to a halt in the past two years and a half. But I think it is high time we picked up interactions where we left them, and restore close diplomatic exchanges.
I remember when Ambassador Stapleton Roy was still working as the U.S. ambassador to China, from 1991 to 1995, we had many exchanges. Back then, Chinese think tanks are not as developed, but Ambassador Roy still maintained close contact with Chinese scholars, and I benefited a lot from them.
As for Mr. Daniel Russel and Ms. Susan Thornton, my freshest memory of them was when they came to China in preparation for President Xi Jinping’s state visit to the U.S. in September 2015. The then U.S. ambassador to China was Mr. Max Baucus. All of us had extensive discussions in Beijing. They raised three pressing issues in China-U.S. relations that needed to be addressed: the trade deficit, potential conflicts in the South China Sea, and cyber security. Later they told us that the most pressing matter was cyber security. So ten days ahead of his visit to the U.S., President Xi sent his envoy Mr. Meng Jianzhu, who was back then a state councilor, to the United States. I should note that this was the result of effective diplomatic interactions between China and the U.S. and had helped alleviate the issue, and that Xi’s visit to the U.S. was very successful.
In retrospect, it has been seven years since President Xi’s state visit to the U.S. in 2015. The Chinese President has not been able to make another visit since then. On the U.S. part, (the last time) a U.S. President paid a state visit to China was in 2017 by former president Trump, but that was also five years ago. From my perspective, high-level interactions between China and the U.S. are still ongoing, but a large part of it has moved online. In the past year or so, leaders of the two countries have held four conversations via telephone or online channels. This is immensely important. In the meantime, I felt that such high-level interactions, including those between diplomats, should not only continue, but also be carried out more frequently.
A much more pertinent matter I think, is to resume the normal operation of airlines between the two countries so that diplomats, embassies and consulates of the two sides can conduct more normal activities. I think this is very useful for the two sides to prevent strategic misjudgment and to understand each other’s thoughts and ideas.
Moreover, just as I suggested earlier, engagement between diplomats is a must if we have a lot of specific issues to be resolved. Not just between diplomats, engagement between business officials and enterprises are also crucial in boosting mutual communication. So restoring connections as soon as possible is my first hope. In February and March this year, I had a month-long visit to the U.S., during which I met with three American friends who are now sitting across from me and I had in-depth discussions with them. To me, that experience was very important.
My second hope is that our two countries ought to find ways to prevent war. In the recent few years, China-U.S. relations have noticeably turned for the worse. As general predictions go, deterioration of bilateral relations will step by step lead to war in the end. Will there be a war between China and the U.S.? We certainly hope not. But I cannot say with confidence that there definitely won’t be one in the near future.
If there were to be a war between China and the U.S., the greatest danger would lie in the area surrounding the Taiwan Strait. In other words, the Taiwan question represents the core and most sensitive issue in the Sino-U.S. relations. There was a crisis across the Taiwan Straits in the 1950s, but there was no direct war between China and the U.S. There was also tension over Lee Teng-hui’s “private visit” to the U.S. in 1995, but again there was no direct engagement between the two countries.
I remember in 2020, two senior U.S. officials who are currently in office, Mr. Jake Sullivan and Mr. Kurt M. Campbell, jointly published an article titled “The United States’ China Policy” on the Foreign Affairs. (Editor’s note: the article was actually published in Foreign Affairs in September 2019, and was titled “How America Can Both Challenge and Coexist With China”, which should be a slip of the tongue by Professor Wang) I was particularly impressed by one sentence that read, “The diplomacy surrounding Taiwan could serve as a model for the increasingly challenging diplomacy between Washington and Beijing on a variety of other issues.” Although I don’t agree with this statement, I think what they mean is the two countries have reached a consensus that there shouldn’t be a war over the Taiwan issue through diplomatic contacts and regular exchanges of views.
Today, the U.S. still claims that it adheres to the one-China policy. Although that one-China policy is different from our one-China principle, the U.S. still is adhering to it, and has reiterated that it does not support “Taiwan independence.” On the Chinese side, we have always said that we adhere to the principles of “peaceful reunification” and “one country, two systems,” and that there are no substantial change in the mainland’s Taiwan policy.
Then why do we feel that the Taiwan situation is very tense recently? I think I personally find some of the public opinions I have read to be confusing or surprising. For instance, a couple of U.S.-based think tanks have been churning out articles about how something big is going to take place in Taiwan, or how China and the U.S. are going to war over Taiwan. Some suggested that China has a “timetable” for solving the Taiwan question by “military unification”. I myself have been attentively following the Taiwan situation, but I have no knowledge of any senior Chinese official making any mention of a “military unification,” nor do I know any “timetable” for that matter. Regardless, some people in the U.S. are still advocating this, and I think their actions are a bit misinterpreted or ill-intentioned. It worries me that some people are deliberately pushing the two countries to the brink of a war. This is something we should avoid.
For me personally, I am confident in the peaceful reunification of Taiwan, because China is developing and prospering, its economy is booming, and it highlights the rule of law. On Taiwan, I think it is only a matter of time before Taiwan returns to its motherland. “Taiwan independence” has no hope, and the U.S. doesn’t support it. And without the support from the U.S., “Taiwan independence” will never succeed. Thus, it is my view that we need to do a lot to ensure the stability across the Taiwan Strait, and prevent provocative and extreme voices from hijacking public opinions, so that we can avoid an all-out war between the two countries. From my perspective, between China and the U.S., conflicts and competitions are inevitable, but wars can be avoided.
My third hope is for us to continue to develop trade relations, and enhance sci-tech exchange. Even with China-U.S. relations worsening, trade exchanges between the two countries can still be maintained at a certain level. We even found that recent statistics indicated that in 2021, American export to China reached a new high, which means trade in goods between China and the U.S. is increasing, not decreasing.
US Export Report 2022 source: The US-China Business Council
Both countries suffered losses from the “trade war” launched by the Trump administration against China. Judging from the relevant records I studied, the U.S. has suffered even greater losses. Particularly, American enterprises took the bulk of the damage. This is why I’m looking forward to the U.S. side reducing or exempting some of the tariffs it has imposed.
During my trip to the States, I heard some rhetoric that I disliked a lot - “national security above economic interests.” Aren’t economic interests a part of national security? How can national security be “above” economic interests? I think it is incorrect to view them as conflicting notions.
Recently, a friend of mine, Evan G. Greenberg, is advocating the continued development of China-U.S. trade relations, and so is his father Mr. Morris Greenberg. Evan delivered a speech at the Center for Strategy & International Studies (CSIS), and his basic tone is that the economic relations with China must be handled with benefits being the main consideration, instead of what some Americans call “ideological principles” or some other factors. I strongly agree with that. However, he also pointed out that those who hold such views are often alienated in the American political arena and suffer from vicious slander. This is a political barrier we should get rid of. In the meantime, I understand that our friends in the Chinese business circle are eagerly looking forward to the restoration of normal economic exchanges between China and the United States. Many of them want to invest in the U.S., and their American peers are looking to invest in China as well.
Q: Professor Wang, Ambassador Roy said earlier that America’s China policy doesn’t have a goal. In your opinion, what kind of viable, final state of bilateral relationship can China and the U.S. work to achieve in the next two years?
Wang: I think after the goals I mentioned in my hopes are more or less achieved - that is to say after normal diplomatic interactions are restored and enhanced, it is important for the two countries to develop a consensus of what to do and what not to do. Currently, there is no clear consensus, and both have expressed their views in this regard.
The American views are perhaps more comprehensive, while the Chinese views are more generalized and more about principles, such as mutual respect and win-win cooperation. However, I believe there is still room for discussion on more specific matters. Some people had proposed a fourth joint communique between the two countries, but I think it’s a little too far-fetched. It may be difficult to reach a comprehensive scale, a very perfect and historically significant consensus. But at least both sides can talk about how to avoid conflicts and further cooperation. Just as Mr. Russel has put it, we need to be specific.
Q: The American society is a pluralistic one, and there are different views about China-U.S. relations, and there are different think tanks from the left to the center to the right. China’s case is similar. Though I’m not quite familiar with it, I felt that from the general public to scholars and maybe the political circle, there are people who advocate the improvement of China-U.S. relations, and there are those who simply oppose everything about the U.S. My question is, amid the deterioration of China-U.S. relations, how can we communicate the views for improving bilateral ties to the decision makers more effectively, so that China-U.S. relations can turn for the better?
Wang: Just as you said, there are different opinions in both China and the U.S., especially in the think tanks. This is a reality that exists and cannot be changed. In this age of the Internet, it is only natural for us to hear all kinds of opinions. If we are to do anything, I think, we should let the righteous voices speak louder. But then again, everyone thinks they are right, so everyone grabs the microphone and says “I want to speak”, “I represent the mainstream policy” or “I represent the voice of China”. Thus it is essential for governments to clarify what its policy is.
For instance, I just mentioned the mainland’s policies of “peaceful reunification” and “one country, two systems.” These messages have been made very strong, and have been enhanced in the remarks of spokespersons for the Taiwan Affairs Office of China’s State Council. And, as I have just said, if the “Taiwan independence” forces continue to act provocatively, we will have to resort to military forces and non-peaceful solutions. But do non-peaceful solutions equal a military reunification? Our government needs to clarify. In fact, the mainland has already taken multiple non-peaceful measures, through military deterrence targeting “Taiwan independence.” That makes them feel greatly threatened if they continue this road. But whether we will resolve the Taiwan question once and for all remains to be further elaborated on by relevant departments.
The U.S. not only has different opinions on China-U.S. relations, they also disagree on whether to view China as a threat, or a competitor. But people in the U.S. have diverse views on any issues and in any situation. So I wish these different voices can be heard, especially the mild and rational voices which are not very prominent. Media outlets in the U.S. should do their part as well. Different voices, for example from the American friends present today, should be given more exposure in media reports.
Q: Before the Ukraine crisis, including the period around the inauguration of the Trump administration, many Americans view China and Russia as vastly different countries despite the fact that China-U.S. relations back then already showed signs of deterioration. However, after the Ukraine crisis broke out, there has been a tendency in the U.S. to lump China and Russia into one category. I would like to ask, what is the difference in attitudes toward China and Russia, and especially the position toward China, in the American academic or political circles today? What are their views?
Wang: Ambassador Roy mentioned that in the early stages of the Ukraine crisis, there were people in the U.S. to described China as an equal to Russia, and there still are now. But I felt the perspective of the U.S. government has very much changed from that time. Officially, the U.S. does not view China as an equal of Russia, or at least, their suspicion of “China was involved in the planning of the military operation in Ukraine” have diminished. The Chinese government, as well as the Chinese Ambassador to the U.S. Mr. Qin Gang, has on many occasions clarified the issue, confirming that China has no prior knowledge of what he called Russia’s special military operation in Ukraine, nor has China provided substantial military support to Russia so far. The U.S. government is clear about this. But of course, the media tend to report differently.
Q: In both the U.S. and China, there are too many people who are concerned with relations (between China and the U.S.) with other countries. There are many diplomats from third countries in China, but I don’t remember any third country diplomats ever being asked the question that if they support China they will have a bad relationship with the U.S., and if they criticize China they will have a particularly good relationship with the U.S. No one asks that question. I wonder if China and the U.S. can get over such excessive attention to each other and divert their attention to some other areas?
Wang: The excessive attention China and the U.S. give to each other and the subsequent lack of their attention to other countries is a reality. But I think China is doing a better job in this regard. Why? For instance, I watch Xinwen Lianbo (editor’s note: CCTV’s seven-o’clock news program) everyday, and there are always reports of President Xi Jinping making phone calls or videos with foreign leaders, not just the U.S. president, but leaders from Pacific island countries too, or those of Latin American countries and countries of the Caribbean countries, whose names I don’t quite remember. China pays a great deal of attention to them, and communicate with them a lot, and I don’t think this attention and this contact is directed at the U.S. On the contrary, many of the U.S. diplomatic activities are now more focused on China, this needs to change.
But there is one thing that bothers me. Everyday we get at least two news stories about the U.S., and they are always negative ones, about yet another mass shootings in the U.S., about resurging racial conflicts, or about the COVID-19 epidemic getting out of control. Are we in a sense focusing too much on the U.S. and not enough on other countries? Can we divert some of our attention we pay to bad news in the U.S., to report about African or Latin American countries?
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