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US Should Rethink Its Attitudes to China
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By Tao Wenzhao

In its Report on the Military Power of the People's Republic of China 2006, which was issued on May 23, the US Defence Department again exaggerates China's defence expenditure and military strength, passes a wanton judgment on China's strategic intentions and continues to trumpet the "China threat."

The report, together with various other US documents coming out in recent years, combine to point to one thing: profound misgivings and worries about China's growth. Without clearing away these fears, a bumpy road lies ahead for Sino-US relations.

US journalists Richard Bernstein and Ross Munro are the most articulate in their book "The Coming Conflict with China," which was published in the mid-1990s. They argue that China's goal is to eventually replace the United States as the most influential player in Asia and that China is Uncle Sam's rival in many respects because its interests are diametrically opposed to those of the United States.

This school of thought has the ear of some US decision-makers and is subscribed to by researchers from influential US think-tanks, despite the fact that some far-sighted Americans expressed different opinions in the debate on the United States' China policy in the mid-1990s.

The first US response to whatever China does regionally and globally is: Is this an act to repel the United States? Will this harm US interests?

This author's personal experience may shed some light on this American bigotry. When China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) launched their bid in 2001 to set up a free-trade zone in the region within 10 years, some US scholars asked their Chinese counterparts why there was all this fuss about 10-plus-1 free-trade zone (China and 10 ASEAN countries), as there was already Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC).

And when it came to the East Asian Summit, which was first conceived by former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, US officials kept asking who was supposed to preside over this undertaking, suspecting that China was pushing for East Asian integration and trying to undercut the United States.

Here is another example. Member states of the Shanghai Co-operation Organization (SCO) suggested at last summer's SCO summit in Astana, Kazakhstan, that US military bases in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan be closed now that the war in Afghanistan had ended. Again, the United States suspected that China was behind this. US researchers at an international seminar demanded an explanation from their Chinese counterparts about this.

This author believes that the US mentality towards China ought to be retuned.

To begin with, the United States should be prepared to accept a more powerful China which will play a bigger role in international affairs.

Live and let live. This is the right attitude.

China has time and again made it clear that peaceful development is its strategic choice, not simply a matter of expediency.

China is not the former Soviet Union and will not rival the United States. But China needs to develop and is doing so at a rapid pace. The country's development, thanks to its huge population, vast territory and the enormous economic size, is bound to impact on neighboring areas and world affairs.

However, the US mentality is that it is the top dog. Moreover, Uncle Sam has no truck with anyone who may tie with it for the top spot.

China has no desire to compete for this first place. So the United States, in turn, ought to let China develop. Development is the inherent right of every nation. The United States makes a great fuss about whatever significant undertakings China embarks on, fancying that the US position is challenged or threatened. This is an abnormal mentality.

US military expenditure accounts for nearly half of the global total. Some American military experts estimate that the United States leads China in sophisticated weapons by 15 to 30 years. But now that China is increasing its defence spending a little and improving its weaponry somewhat, Washington sounds the alarm that China's military power is tipping the Asia-Pacific military balance.

How could China's defence strength tilt the Asia-Pacific military balance, with the existence of US-Japanese, US-Republic of Korea (ROK), US-Australian and US-New Zealand alliances in the region? Furthermore, Guam is stationed with US forces.

Second, the United States needs to get used to the fact that every nation has its own interests and, therefore, policies and practices vary from one country to another.

Different countries have different national interests, now matter how closely they are allied. Japan, one of the closest allies of the United States, for instance, invested heavily in Iran for the sake of its own energy interests, turning a deaf ear to the strong US advice that there should be no investment in Iran.

The ROK, another US ally, has from the very beginning ruled out the possibility of using non-peaceful means to resolve the North Korea nuclear issue.

France and Germany, another two close allies of the United States, were vocal opponents of the US-led invasion of Iraq.

It could not be more natural that China has its own interests in some international issues and, therefore, formulates its own policy accordingly. With creating a favorable climate for building a well-off society as the point of departure, China maps out its foreign policy based on domestic needs. As a matter of fact, every country does so. No one can dispute this.

China develops relations with some South American and African nations based on mutual economic benefits. Some of these countries, however, happen to have bad relations with the United States and some Americans, therefore, believe that China intentionally improves ties with these countries in order to challenge Washington.

As a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, China is responsible for international affairs, besides having its own national interests. As a matter of fact, China seriously carries out its international obligations.

Third, the United States should change its condescending and arrogant attitude and be ready to deal with a more pluralistic world.

The United States became increasingly commandeering in international affairs after it was left as the only superpower following the end of the Cold War in the early 1990s. True, the United States is much more powerful than any other single country on the globe. But it should be ever borne in mind that mutual respect is still a basic principle in handling country-to-country relations. The United States is without doubt No 1. But whoever occupies this top spot should also respect others. Moreover, the occupant of the top spot alone cannot do much.

The United States has its own mode of development, as well as unique traditions, culture and values. Others have theirs, too. It should be taken for granted that each nation has the right to take its own road that suits its unique conditions. China must blaze a new trail for its own development, taking into account its huge population, vast territory, poor economic foundations and limited resources.

Furthermore, reunification of the motherland remains an unresolved issue. All this determines that China simply cannot copy other countries' modes of development. Misunderstanding could be avoided if the Americans stepped into the shoes of the Chinese.

It has been by no means easy to raise Sino-US relations to the level they are at today. Now the two countries are pushing for an overall constructive and co-operative relationship. China earnestly hopes to improve its relations with the United States. The ball is now in Washington's court. Apart from practical issues, having the right attitude is also vitally important.

The author is a researcher from the Institute of American Studies under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

(China Daily June 1, 2006)


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