Mutual suspicion in Sino-US relations

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Sino-U.S. relations have long been considered the most important bilateral ties in the 21st century. Having endured 40 tumultuous years since the signing of the Shanghai Communiqué in 1972, the relationship between China and the U.S. currently faces many challenges, and yet has also seen many improvements. Wang Jisi, dean of the School of International Studies at Peking University, spoke to about his views on the current problems in Sino-U.S. relations. Why have the problems in Sino-U.S. relations remained unsolved for such a long time?

Wang Jisi: Most of the problems related to Sino-U.S. relations are rooted in the two powers' mutual suspicion of each other. This suspicion can be traced back to the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949. China's firm belief is that the U.S. has considered it an enemy ever since the founding of the new republic. On the other hand, the U.S. has been hostile to any nation under Communist rule. The [existing] mutual political suspicion will only grow as time goes by.

Q: Is Sino-US hostility caused by political bias or is it the result of two big powers confronting each other?

Wang Jisi: Chinese people and American people hold rather different values from each other. But unlike Iraq and the North Korea, China boasts huge business opportunities and an expanding market, both of which are quite attractive to the U.S. Despite this, conflicts between the two countries as a result of national interests are unavoidable.

As one of the many interest groups in the United States, businessmen tend to focus their attention on China's economic systems rather than its ideologies, in the belief that China's economic systems are detrimental to their business. US senators and party leaders have to pay more attention to China's ideologies, including human rights issues, in order to gain electoral support. The Pentagon focuses on China's increasing military expenditure in order to push for increased US military spending.

The Obama administration, which serves as a coordinator among different interest groups, has continuously tried to reassure China that the U.S. has not tried to, and indeed has no wish to negate China. However, these have been in vain. By the same token, the U.S. has never believed China's promise of a peaceful rise. The seemingly useless efforts made by the two sides are essentially aimed at lulling the other into a false sense of security.

Q: Will the mutual suspicion be lessened by the increasing number of non-governmental exchanges between the two sides?

Wang Jisi: Not really. Most people, whether in the U.S. or China, who acquire information via domestic mainstream media, will not get a true picture of the other country. Even getting involved in people-to-people communication does not negate wider existing differences. For instance, say that a person travels in America and becomes genuinely fond of the country and people, this individual experience will not eliminate the political differences and mutual suspicion which exist between the two countries. Simply learning more about a country does not necessarily mean you will trust it more.

Q: Is China now really mounting a serious challenge to U.S. global hegemony?

Wang Jisi: Due to many of the practices of both countries, each has long suspected the other of plots and counter-plots where international issues are concerned. But as far as I know, taking into consideration the current large gap which exists in terms of overall strength between the two countries, China is not yet strong enough to displace the U.S. with regard to global hegemony. Instead of trying to do so, China should improve its international standing by achieving targets which are within its reach and control.

Q: Some scholars think that the U.S. is behind the South China Sea and Diaoyu Islands disputes. Is that true or is the U.S. simply being opportunistic as far as these disputes are concerned?

Wang Jisi: From the U.S. point of view, increased tension between China and the Philippines over the disputed Huangyan Islands can only be an advantage because, to some degree, the dispute will contain its biggest opponent. On the other hand, it will make the Philippines more reliant on the U.S. China cannot openly blame the U.S. for provoking or exacerbating the disputes, despite the fact that it will certainly suspect the U.S. of being is behind these disputes. Despite this, the U.S. will definitely not become involved in the dispute.

International issues are affected by various factors, including official diplomatic debates and media hype. As to the current issues, a US-Philippines joint military drill was held shortly after the Huangyan Islands dispute erupted. Was it plotted in advance or was it simply a coincidence? Official voices from both sides gave different explanations, and the tension was fuelled by international media, leaving a still-existing vacuum where the truth should be.

Q: What about China's domestic issues? For instance, does the U.S. deliberately sell arms to Taiwan?

Wang Jisi: In terms of timing, the U.S. doesn't "deliberately" sell arms to Taiwan, for you cannot deal with Taiwan when it doesn't actually need weapons. Such deals are a two-way street between U.S. and Taiwan, and they will only happen when necessary for the interests of either side. For the U.S. part, such weapon deals represent economic interest and strategic significance, as well as defense cooperation.

(The original article was published in Chinese and translated by Li Xiao.)

Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors, not necessarily those of

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