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A Responsible US Can Benefit Whole World
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By Shen Dingli

Lately there has emerged a "US-decline" theory in some Western media. Some people, who were disgusted with the United States' practice of exercising hegemony in international affairs, took the September 11 terrorist attacks as a sign of the beginning of the US decline and hoped for an aggravation of the decline.

They have their reasons.

People see that the United States randomly sent troops to overthrow the government of a sovereign country Iraq. No matter what Saddam Hussein did, his regime did not pose a direct threat to the United States in 2003. Still, the US army carried out a pre-emptive strike without United Nations' authorization.

People see that the current US Government places itself above the United Nations, even though it was the midwife attending to the international body's birth.

Washington is dragging its feet over paying its share of assessed contribution to the UN, and even threatens to reduce its share in order to push the political agenda in its favor.

People see that the United States time and again interferes with other countries' sovereignty. For example, it on the one hand recognizes that Taiwan is an integral part of China but, on the other hand, adopts a policy of selling arms to Taiwan.

People see that the United States is following a policy of double standards or even multiple standards in many ways.

Domestically, the United States operates on the basis of a democratic representative system, thinking it constitutes the cornerstone of America as a country. But it demands an absolute say on any important international political matter, denying democracy to other countries.

People see that the United States is pursuing as many international rights as possible but trying as far as it can to avoid taking on international obligations.

If yesterday's United States was wise enough to offer European countries revival plans shortly after World War II, today's US Government seems to have forgotten what obligations mean.

The Clinton administration, for example, signed the treaty on the ban on nuclear weapons tests, but the Bush government shelved it.

The Clinton administration signed the Kyoto Protocol but the Bush government refused to accept it.
All this undercuts US international influence. It is against this backdrop that the "US-decline" theory has arisen.

However, people had but to admit that the United States has indeed made contributions to the international community. Its involvement in World War II is the best example.

Without the United States, the Nazi grip on Western Europe might have lasted much longer. The United States also played an important role in returning Taiwan to Chinese sovereignty from Japanese colonial rule. It helped bring an end to the German Nazis, Italian fascists and Japanese militarists.

American GIs did not die for nothing. The United States' international prestige was boosted greatly and its "physical power" and "soft power" grew significantly in the wake of World War II.

Without the United States, there might be no United Nations, the brainchild of President Franklin Roosevelt.

The United States' gift to the world is its institutional innovations, as it has conceived of new international bodies for changing times. If such institutions stabilize the world they are regarded as in the interests of the international community. The UN, among others, is one such institution, which other big countries, including China, helped establish.

The United States also played a role promoting nuclear non-proliferation. Otherwise, there would be more countries and regions in the world equipped with nuclear teeth.

In the face of overwhelming US influence, Brazil, Argentina, the Republic of Korea and China's Taiwan gave up their nuclear bids one after the other.

In recent years, signs of US "soft strength" sliding away have been obvious to all. Errors in US diplomacy have never before been so grave in the history of the United States of America, some influential US congressmen claim.

The United States will not be able to count on moral support from other countries and will become more isolated if this situation is not addressed.

Confronted by this, the Bush administration has made some policy readjustments. For example, negotiations were chosen over exercising pressure in handling the nuclear ambitions of Iran and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

This shows the White House has realized the seriousness of the decline of US "soft power" and has taken steps to tackle the problem.

In addition, changes have taken place in US public opinion, which does not favour the Bush government's former practices. Taking the preceding two factors into account, the momentum of the decline will not last long.

Although the US share in the world economy has dropped compared to the period shortly after World War II, the American economy still accounts for a quarter of the total volume of the global economy.
Its military expenditure is bigger than that of China, Japan, India and Russia together.

It is certain the United States will continue to use the UN to its own ends, despite showing insufficient respect for the world institution. This is because it pays for Washington to make use of any favorable elements in existing international organizations.

We refuse to accept US hegemony, but we welcome institutions that benefit the public and have been supported by the United States.

Rational co-existence with a United States that is more balanced by other world forces, more willing to co-operate with other countries and more responsible for what it is doing is perhaps a realistic goal for the international community.

The author is deputy director of the Center for America Studies of Fudan University in Shanghai. This article first appeared in the Global Times newspaper.

(China Daily December 27, 2005


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