In the high-level strategic dialogue between China and the U.S. in Anchorage, Alaska, which ended on March 19, China and the United States showed a very frank and full of difference attitude.
The Biden administration’s Interim National Security Strategic Guidance recognize China as the top strategic competitor America faces and a sustained challenge to a stable and open international system. To the pessimists, the Biden administration did not immediately bring a reboot of friendly relations between the U.S. and China after the strained Sino-U.S. relations during the Trump administration. However, disputes and disagreements among major powers do not mean the loss of the international environment that promotes transnational cooperation, much less a simple analogy to the Cold War of the last century. Strategically searching for different cooperation content and partners in a competitive environment may be a useful idea to solve the dilemma.
Facing up to differences between major powers but abandoning Cold War mentality
China does not subscribe to the law of the jungle. China is not, and has no desire to challenge the current international order. Instead, China is a defender and active participant in the current international order, and is a member of almost all major global organizations. China is highly integrated with the global economy. China has benefited greatly from opening up to the outside world, from international cooperation, and from globalization. Every rational country would recognize that avoiding any form of Cold War is a good thing for the world.
Unfortunately, the U.S. foreign rhetoric in recent years has been full of Cold War mentality shaping non-existent threats and creating enemies. Not only on the China issue, but also pressuring Iran and intensifying conflict with Russia, the U.S. has shown a pattern of urgency to divert domestic attention, suppress public grievances, and conceal domestic incompetence in internal affairs. The flag of multilateralism advocated by the United States is actually limited multilateralism, which is confined within close alliances and focuses only on the interests of the core country occasionally taking into account the interests of some other allies. Biased multilateralism is essentially an extension of U.S. unilateralism and hegemonism front.
Competition does not mean giving up cooperation
The Biden administration has explicitly claimed to be in long-term strategic competition with China, but even so, the crossfire of public opinion does not mean that all willingness to cooperate has disappeared. The U.S.-China high-level strategic dialogue is ostensibly controversial, but the very act of engaging in high-level dialogue implies that there is a willingness to communicate. The dialogue releases the effort to find potential areas of cooperation. The Biden administration does not deny that it needs to cooperate with China in fighting against the epidemic. But of course, international cooperation should not stop at stressful cooperation on a single issue.
At present, it is relatively easy to reach a consensus on cooperation between major powers in areas such as climate issues, poverty eradication, and the fight against epidemics, while there is a need for continued in-depth exchanges and communication in areas such as the management of new technologies, maritime security, the cessation of tariff wars and the establishment of strategic mutual trust. Staggered cooperation means, first, broadening the field of cooperation; second, expanding the scale of cooperation; third, deepening the depth of cooperation with friendly countries; and fourth, finding new patterns for cooperation.
In the past, even if there were competitive relations between governments, it did not mean that cooperation at the civil level stopped. Regrettably, although civil exchanges have a non-negligible positive role in advancing cooperation at the official level, it is true that to some extent business travel, tourism, and study abroad have all been restricted due to the epidemic, hindering interactions at the non-governmental level and laterally contributing to the current misunderstanding and misjudgment between countries.
Xenophobia is not in the public interest
Hegemony, the law of the jungle, and chauvinism are not in the global public interest. The development of a responsible great power is not to deprive other countries of development opportunities, but rather to enhance the chances of global peace and stability with cooperative and win-win development. China adheres to the path of peaceful development.
Exchanges and cooperation obviously help countries increase understanding and mutual trust. And cooperation among major powers should be conducted under the premise of mutual respect and control of the disagreement without expansion. Compared to the previous administration, the current U.S. is beginning to return to the arena of international cooperation and is placing greater emphasis on close relations with traditional allies.
Biden’s view of international cooperation is obviously deliberately exclusive. It is a manifestation of a strategic cooperation view that strengthens cooperation between allies with similar ideologies and stigmatizes competitors. However, international cooperation that excludes key powers, including China, would only be an unbalanced and incomplete multilateralism.
Indulging unnecessary competition would worsen the symbiotic domestic social environment. The recent occurrence of violent hate crimes in the U.S. is an externalized manifestation of internal racial discrimination. International xenophobia can metastasize into domestic xenophobia, backfiring on domestic governance.
Behind the malicious interpretation of the goodwill of other countries is deep-rooted cultural discrimination and is a means of covering the lack of domestic governance capacity and diverting public discontent. International cooperation relies on following principles of equality and mutual respect among countries. Mutual respect means respecting the distinctive culture of each country, respecting the choice of development paths, and not interfering in internal affairs.
Economic recovery in the post-epidemic era cannot be achieved without cooperation between major powers
Human beings are living in a community of shared future. Major powers should provide global public products to promote the common development of mankind and jointly maintain world peace in particular.
China attaches great importance to both cooperations with other countries on the platform of international organizations and maintaining friendly bilateral cooperative relations with countries. Taking the bilateral relations between China and Iran as an example, 2021 marks the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between China and Iran. Over the past 50 years, bilateral relations have developed soundly and there are many consensuses in cooperation. A five-point initiative on achieving security and stability in West Asia proposed by Foreign Minister Wang Yi during his visit to the six West Asia count, the Iranian nuclear issue and resuming compliance with the JCPOA was specifically addressed.
China’s domestic economy is currently recovering with remarkable vigor. Take the movie market as an example, during the past spring festival season, China’s box office hits record high (over $ 1.2 billion within 7 days). China is willing and capable of cooperating with other countries to achieve global economic and social recovery. Putting aside the so-called disputes overvalues, working together with a tolerant and open attitude, communicating actively, pursuing mutual benefit and complementarity to boost the economy is the priority in the coming post-epidemic era, rather than forcing the countries to choose side between so-called competing great powers.
* Dr. Zhang Yuan is a professor in the Middle East Studies Institute of Shanghai International Studies University. She also serves as the director of the Middle Eastern Religious Studies Project, visiting researcher of religion and China’s National Security Research Center of University Think Tank in Shanghai and visiting researcher of the Center for Religion and International Relations at Fudan University.