From David Cowhig’s Translation Blog, this is a good interview with a Chinese academic regarding the increasingly contentious state of US-China relations. Wang Jisi is Dean of the School of International Studies at Peking University. While I don’t necessarily agree with all of his points, he has a very calm and measured perspective on things that I find refreshing:
Zhao Lingmin: Why does Trump want to launch a trade war against China? Is it to hurt China?
Wang Jisi: My understanding is that American entrepreneurs still do not want to withdraw from China. They think they can make a lot of money in China. After all, the Chinese market is big, and in the past 30 or 40 years, some very strong path dependencies have been created – how can such a big and complex supply chain simply move somewhere else? There are not many places to choose from. For the present, these enterprises are opportunistic. They say that they want to exert pressure on China on the US government. On the other hand, they say to China that if you give me preferential policies, I will not leave. I think there are still many American companies see things that way. They have a wait-and-see attitude.
Their feelings about China are complex. On the one hand, they are very dissatisfied with various restrictive policies. On the other hand, they also realize that China is not the only country with these restrictions. Many many developing countries have similar restrictions. If you move your company to Egypt, don’t you think that the Egyptian government will regulate you? When they think about it, China is still good a good place to be. They can make money here. Therefore, they think that they should exert pressure on the Chinese government to continue with reform and open up some more industrial sectors to foreign investment.
Therefore, the reason the United States launched a trade war against China was not to pull out of China or to completely “decouple” from China, but to change China’s behavior so that it can make more money. This conclusion I have drawn from decades of involvement in Sino-US economic and trade relations. Some people in the US government and others in some American companies, however, are also preparing for the worst: decoupling of many of the economic links between China and the United States. This is dangerous.
Zhao Lingmin: In addition to the trade imbalance, what other causes of US dissatisfaction in the US – China relationship?
Wang Jisi: The US military is unhappy. The military is a big interest group. A few year ago, it did not believe that China was strong enough to pose a threat to the United States, and that China did not mean to truly exclude the United States from the Asia-Pacific region. During the past two years, China has taken a very firm position on the South China Sea issue. The United States has begun to feel that that the Chinese military is much stronger than before. They feel that if the US does not exert pressure on China, it will not have a foothold in the Western Pacific. The military, including the military-industrial complex, are hardliners on China policy. Formerly, when terrorism was the top concern, there was a lot of military spending and a great many companies and others forming a huge chain of interests linked to the manufacture and sale of weapons. Now, by pointing to China, contradictions with China on military security issues can be used to argue for more military spending.
In addition, the Confucius Institutes in the United States have made Americans feel that China’s values are different from those of the United States. China’s promotion of Chinese values in the United States is very difficult for Americans to accept. The ideological contradictions between China and the United States are also reflected their attitudes towards Chinese students and scholars studying in the United States.
I wrote about Confucius Institutes here.
Zhao Lingmin: Some say that the pressure that the United States has put on China was to a great extent the cause of the firm line of Chinese foreign policy over the past several years.
Wang Jisi: I am not here to make political and moral judgments. If we are looking for the cause, it was the change in Chinese policy that led to adjustments in US policy towards China. In recent years, China’s strength has been increasing rapidly along with its international influence. China has increased its operations maintain protect China’s territorial sovereignty and maritime rights. China has put increased pressure on “Taiwan independence” and other splittist forces. China has strengthened the leadership of the Communist Party. The United States has become increasingly uncomfortable with China’s actions and has begun to react strongly. We can expect that these US reactions to Chinese actions will become ever more intense. The US may switch from the defensive to the the offensive.
The cause-and-effect relationship we see today also applies to 1949 and 1979. In those two years, changes in Chinese internal affairs led to big changes in Sino-US relations. Changes in US internal affairs have always had relatively little impact on Sino-US relations despite the many different presidents since then and many different political currents swept the US during those decades. The financial crisis broke out in 2008. That was major event for the United States. Did it cause a major change in Sino-US relations? Not at all.
I very much agree with my colleague Professor Tao Wenzhao that for over 200 years, the United States has never changed its strategic goals for its relationship with China:
- Free flow of goods and capital, and
- Free free flow of information and values.
Chinese have always had reservations or imposed boycotts to oppose two goals. We should criticize and have reason to criticize the United States but we should realize that China’s own actions have changed Sino-US relations and US perceptions of China.