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What Decides Sino-US Relations?

The 21st century will see profound changes in international relations. It will bring both opportunities and challenges for the development of Sino-US relations.

As the dominant player in these bilateral ties, how the United States defines and implements its China strategy will directly decide the way Sino-US relations evolve.

The United States' China strategy, in essence, is drawn up based on the US Government's judgment of how China's strength and growth will affect the United States.

Since the early 1990s, the US-China strategic relationship has shifted from a US-China alliance against the former Soviet Union during the Cold War era to a bilateral one.

With the new Bush administration taking office earlier this year, the two countries are confronted with a second major change in bilateral ties.

According to official US opinions and documents in recent years, the United States has reached a consensus that the rise of China in world affairs is one of the major development of the current age; the rise of China constitutes a challenge to the United States.

This view that stresses China only as a "potential competitor'' was based on several considerations. First, China's comprehensive strength, particularly its military strength, is still quite weak, not able to pose a direct threat to the United States on global and regional issues. Second, the United States now enjoys a period of security unparalleled since World War II. Third, confronted with changing international strategic strengths, an unstable "global leadership'' role and increasing regional and global problems, the United States found it against its national interests to isolate China and wage a new cold war while the two countries still share broad common interests and co-operate in many fields.

Therefore, the US Government's basic China policy is engagement plus containment. The engagement, with adherence to and expansion of US values as its cardinal principal, is aimed at preventing China from achieving its goal of national revival and reunification.

In the two decades since the two countries established diplomatic relations, the United States' strategic need for China has gradually decreased and the United States has stepped up its containment against China.

At the turn of the new century, it is time to make a thorough review of the United States' China policy by analyzing the overall international situation, the US global strategy, US strength and the nature of US hegemony.

The international situation will remain turbulent in the early 21st century and a stable multipolarization structure is unlikely to be set up by 2010. Politically, the United States will further its dominance as a "single superpower'' and push ahead with hegemony and power politics around the world.

Economically, developed countries will enlarge their strategical advantage by controlling economic globalization and international economic organizations.

In the military field, "humanitarian military interventions'' will increase while the Western military group expands.

All these will not only prop up the United States' attempt to build "world peace under US leadership,'' but also increase uncertainties in the Sino-US relations.

The United States has made it clear that its global strategy in the new century is to enhance its security, boost its economic prosperity and promote democracy overseas. And its ultimate goal is to prevent any country or country group capable of challenging its "leadership'' from emerging to secure the 21st century an "American Century.''

The vigorous US economic growth in the 1990s had effectively aided the United States' pursuit of hegemony and military expansion. The US economy will maintain a moderate growth rate and its GDP is expected to rise from 28 per cent of the world's total in 1999 to 30 per cent in 2010.

In the new century, the hegemony-seeking United States will attempt to realize global "Americanization'' by exporting and institutionalizing US values and culture. On the other hand, it will try its best to avoid a full-scale confrontation with major powers.

Considering all these, the United States will still regard China only as an emerging potential competitor before 2005.

However, after 2010, the United States will guard against China and see it as the US's major competitor in the world.

The fundamental differences between the two countries' social systems, ideologies and values are irreconcilable. In the US Government's point of view, a rising and unified China will menace US interests. As a hegemony-seeker and advocator of power politics, the United State sooner or later will direct its attacks on China.

Along with the enhancement of its strategic dominance on the western front, the United States will shift the focus of its global strategy eastward. The United States' intention to "demonize'' China has laid the social foundation for seeing China as its major competitor. If China resorts to force to resolve its Taiwan question, the United States will inevitably make China the target of a major strike.

The United States' Asia-Pacific strategy, a crucial part of its global strategy, deems China as the main target of containment.

At the core of this strategy is a US-led Asia-Pacific security system built through "redefining'' and enhancing US-Japan security system.

The United States also wants to gain the upper hand in military deterrence in the Asia-Pacific region by setting up a regional Theatre Missile Defence system. The United States will strengthen its military penetration in this region with political and economic diplomacy. And it will go on to interfere in regional affairs with military means.

Therefore, no matter whether the United States officially admits its attempt to build a strategic ring of encirclement around China, the reality of the United States' promotion of its Asia-Pacific strategy tells China clearly that there must be ulterior motives behind any arms expansion in this region.

Nevertheless, such a siege against China is doomed to fail because the complicated political, military and national problems in the Asia-Pacific region will cause enormous difficulties for the United States to further its anti-China strategy.

In recent years, the prevailing US theory of "inevitable conflicts between China and the United States'' was essentially to boost US military intervention and provocation against China. But generally speaking, the United States dares not to rashly unleash a military strike against China.

However, such a chance is increasing as the international situation changes and Sino-US clashes widen.

The century-old history of Sino-US exchanges has proved that the differences between the two countries' social systems, ideologies and cultural traditions do not necessarily hamper their normal contacts. A long-term development of bilateral is in line with the global trend of diversification.

The development of Sino-US relations depends on the willingness of the two peoples, as well as the wisdom of decision-makers of both countries.

Sino-US differences are not irreconcilable. The key is that some US politicians look at the rise of China, and its influence on US interests, from a pragmatic and positive perspective.

(chinadaily.com.cn 05/30/2001 )

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