"HOT PEACE"-- NOT COLD WAR -- BETWEEN U.S. AND CHINA
By Wang Jisi
Wang Jisi is director of the Institute for American Studies at
the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing. He wrote this article
for NPQ/Global Viewpoint.
BEIJING -- The present China-U.S. relationship is too complex for
any simple definition such as the Bush administration's notion of "strategic
competitors.'' It is an undeniable reality, though, that what might be
called "structural'' tensions between the two giants are greater
today than at any time since Mao Tse-tung and Richard Nixon decided to
end confrontation 30 years ago.
Yet, to my mind, the current state of affairs is best characterized as
a "hot peace,'' not a new "cold war.'' Some defense intellectuals
in Washington seem intent on shifting the U.S. strategic focus from the
Atlantic to the Pacific, aimed mainly at the rise of China. The Bush administration
is strengthening its security ties with Japan, Australia and others in
Asia at the expense of the already very
shaky strategic understanding between Washington and Beijing.
The planned U.S. missile defense system, designed partly to cover Japan
and Taiwan, are seen in Beijing as a move to neutralize China's strategic
deterrent. In addition, George W. Bush's recent decision to sell destroyers
and submarines to Taiwan, along with other advanced weaponry, may serve
the goal of giving more confidence to the pro-independence elements in
Taipei and challenging Beijing's capabilities to use force, if necessary,
possible secession of the island from China. Some U.S. media have now
begun to refer to China as an "evil empire,'' formerly a code word
for the Soviet Union. This poisoned atmosphere in China-U.S. relations
has apparently contributed to some damaged images of
Chinese Americans, as shown by a recent national survey conducted in the
United States. Nearly one-half of those surveyed felt that Chinese Americans
"passing secrets to the Chinese government'' is a problem.
For political elites in China, the stark fact is that America provides
sanctuary to representatives from virtually all of the anti government
groups inside the country, from separatists in Tibet to Falun Gong, that
are threatening the political order at home. They have ample reasons to
believe that China is still a victim of the existing world order that
favors the West, and that the United States leads and symbolizes international
schemes to prevent the Chinese nation from rising into a great power.
Faced with the militarily superior United States now led by "hawks,''
few Chinese citizens doubt the necessity to modernize their armed forces.
Quarrels between the Chinese and American governments are nothing new.
What is new and more alarming is that the general public in both countries
are increasingly negative in their mutual regard.
In recent disputes, some Chinese and Americans discharged their anger
by attacking each other's Web sites. Media reports and online publications
on both sides are increasingly incendiary, focusing on American and Chinese
war machines and military planning. Anti-PRC demonstrations are frequently
held in front of the Chinese embassy in Washington. Without tightened
Chinese police control, anti-U.S. demonstrations near the American embassy
in Beijing would be a daily event.
What is also new and more depressing is that government officials and
policy analysts in the two countries seem to have lost confidence and
patience in a constructive relationship based on common interests. In
the past, a number of Chinese and Americans believed that, to borrow one
of Mao's phrases, "the road is tortuous, but the future is bright.''
On the Chinese side, the anticipation was that a less ideological, more
"practical''U.S. policy toward China would be produced by, among
other things, American recognition of China's economic success and the
profits it yielded for U.S. companies. More contact with the U.S. Congress
and media was also expected to help correct the distorted picture of China.
On the American side, many hoped that China's economic reform would lead
to significant political changes they would like to see, and that by way
of "engaging China'' the younger generations of Chinese would be
more cosmopolitan in their outlook -- thus more "pro-American'' and
Unfortunately, events in recent years have proved to both sides that the
road may be more tortuous and the future darker than anticipated. These
structural problems, reinforced by deepening mutual suspicions, will probably
persist for years to come. While no dramatic event like Nixon's historic
visit to Beijing would likely reverse the downward trend in the relationship,
any single incident such as the recent collision between a Chinese fighter
jet and a U.S. spy plane could precipitate a new crisis.
ECONOMIC BONDS STILL TIE U.S. AND CHINA
Fortunately, the present political difficulties between Beijing and
Washington have not thus far spilled over into the economic realm. The
unprecedented institutionalization of U.S.-Chinese engagement, firmly
grounded over recent years, serves as a thick cushion against collapse.
The Chinese mainland is the fourth biggest trade partner of America.
Comprehensively measured, the United States is China's greatest partner
for its modernization drive. Billions of dollars of American investment
still flow into China, and China's determination to join the World Trade
Organization (WTO) remains undiminished. Weekly direct flights between
Chinese and American cities have almost doubled since 1999 and are always
almost full. Educated Chinese cannot do without Microsoft products and
Hollywood movies, and American consumers are enjoying the low priced goods
marked "Made in China.''
Equally significant is the exchange of views and visits as well as
cooperation in various forms between Chinese and U.S. government agencies,
among scholars, students, scientists, lawyers and other common people.
At higher political levels, channels of communication are kept active
However, such "business as usual'' engagement does not make news,
especially in this "information age.''
Rather, sensational media reports about an emerging "cold war'' between
China and the United States are attracting more public attention.
In the Cold War years, though, extensive economic and societal
interaction, such as that between China and the United States today, never
happened between the adversaries. The Cold War was characterized by the
"iron curtain'' that severed commercial ties, information interflow
and personal contact.
Rather than a renewed Cold War, the current state of China-U.S.
relations can be better described as a "hot peace'' -- an intensity
of interaction marked, yes, by heated rhetorical accusations against each
other, but also by ever increasing trade, investment and tourism.
Certainly, a real military conflict between the two countries is
theoretically imaginable, particularly over Taiwan. Both are making
worst-case military planning for such a catastrophic war. Each is doing,
and will continue to do, many things that the other feels very unfriendly
Yet, neither power would gain anything from a head-on U.S.-PRC military
confrontation. War between them will remain remote and avoidable, however,
only if Beijing and Washington base their policies toward each other on
rationalized national interests -- such as China's entry into the WTO
-- rather than self-filling prophecies that regard conflict as inevitable.
To prevent turning this hot peace into a hot war, the China-
U.S. relationship must be de-militarized and de-sensationalized.
In fact, in the one area -- Taiwan -- where a China-U.S. war is most likely
to take place, the situation is less ominous today than previously.
Since the spring of 2000, when Chen Shui-bian took the leadership in Taiwan,
internal politics on that island have been messy, and
pro-independence elements have refrained from being too provocative. On
the mainland side, Beijing has maintained a soft, "wait-and-see''
approach toward Chen Shui-bian, with the hope that the ongoing economic
integration across the Taiwan Strait will provide more leverage for Beijing
to achieve peaceful reunification.
This contrasts sharply with the hardened attitude toward Chen's predecessor,
Lee Teng-hui. In Shanghai alone, more than 100,000 Taiwanese citizens
have settled down as a large business community. American encouragement
of, and participation in, such an integration process would be the most
effective way to reduce
cross-strait tensions and thus reduce the chances for a China-U.S. conflict
to break out.
Quiet diplomacy and strategic dialogue are better ways to manage crises
and develop shared visions. Diplomacy is an art. Unlike many other government
affairs, diplomacy is never a democratic process, and public participation
should not be encouraged if it is to succeed.
Given the political atmospherics in both countries, sensational stories
and self-righteous statements about China-U.S. relations will continue
from both sides, doing little to improve popular perception of common
interests. That makes it all the more important that policymakers and
their advisers in the United States and China extend channels to discuss
strategic concerns and explore ways to improve public perception and promote
(c) 2001, Global Viewpoint. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate
International, a division of Tribune Media Services.