U.S.-China Relations: A Chinese Perspective

U.S.-China Relations: A Chinese Perspective
U.S.-China Relations: A Chinese Perspective
Wang Jisi


Malcolm Riddell

Founder | CHINADebate

Malcolm Riddell

Founder | CHINADebate

Malcolm Riddell

Founder | CHINADebate

Malcolm Riddell

Founder | CHINADebate

‘In Chinese eyes, the most significant threat to China’s sovereignty and national security has long been U.S. interference in its internal affairs aimed at changing the country’s political system and undermining the CCP.’

The author is Wang Jisi.

  • Wang is president of Peking University's Institute of International and Strategic Studies for his study of China's relations with the United States and international relations overall.
  • He serves on top advisory boards for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the and the Chinese Communist Party.
  • Foreign Policy has named him one of the Top 100 Public Intellectuals in the world.

And Mr. Wang seems to have insulation that allows him to speak his mind more openly than many others.

The report deviated from the usual line, saying, ‘Both the U.S. and China will lose from “decoupling.” And at this point, it looks like China’s loss may be greater.’

This week, I came across ‘Wang Jisi: Has America declined? Chinese people should have a clear understanding’ [‘王缉思: 美国到底有没有衰落? 中国人应有清醒认识’], an interview that Mr. Wang gave in May. (David Cowig provides a translation here.)

  • His essay in Foreign Affairs was an analysis of U.S.-China relations for a western audience.
  • This interview, published in Chinese, is for a Chinese audience – yet it has a sense that Mr. Wang is unencumbered by censorship or pressure from the government or Party.

He notes that the views are his own, and certainly we don’t know how closely, if at all, they reflect the thinking of anyone in the leadership.

  • But given his straightforward and thorough analysis, free of canned arguments and slogans, I hope they do.
  • I also hope the Biden administration pays heed.

The interview is very long (but well worth reading in full). Below are excerpts representing some Mr. Wang’s key points.

  • You won’t agree with all his arguments. (I certainly didn’t.)

But you will better understand the Chinese point of view on U.S.-China relations, or at least that of an eminent and influential Chinese scholar.

1 | ‘I am skeptical of the assertion that the U.S. economy is in decline.’

Q: ‘Compared with more than 20 years ago, do you think the United States is in decline?’

Wang Jisi: ‘I am skeptical of the assertion that the U.S. economy is in decline.’

  • ‘Over the years, although the proportion of the U.S. economy in the world's total economy has declined relatively, it has basically stabilized in the range of 25% to 30%.’

‘Objectively speaking, the overall national strength of the United States is basically stable, but this does not seem to be the mainstream view at home and abroad.’  

  • ‘The only reason people feel the U.S. economy is weak is that they are comparing it to China.’

‘Nevertheless, the overall economic strength of developing countries is rising and that of developed countries overall is declining.’

  • ‘This performance confirms the general thesis of “the East is rising and the West is falling”.’ [Which Xi Jinping so often notes.]

‘Most of the discussions on “whether the United States is in decline” are from a political perspective.’

  • ‘Chairman Mao emphasized in 1957 that “the east wind overcomes the west wind”. At that time, China’s view was “the enemy is declining day by day, and we are getting better day by day”.’
  • ‘Now we say, “the East is rising, and the West is falling”, which is from the same lineage.’

2 | ‘The only approach the United States can take is to strengthen its competition with China, isolate China in the world, and put China in a passive position.’

Q: ‘What do you think are the characteristics of the Biden China strategy?

Mr. Wang: ‘The Biden administration's China strategy has three characteristics.’

‘First, the starting point is to strengthen America’s own power.’

  • ‘The Biden administration has always emphasized dialogue with China “from a position of strength,” because if its own strength declines, the United States will lose its competitiveness.’
  • ‘So their first step is to strengthen the U.S. own strength, enhance domestic economic and technological strength, accelerate infrastructure construction, and “get back” the real economy.’

‘Second, the U.S. wants to unite with some other countries in the world to jointly restrain China, and to establish a multilateral camp against China.’

  • ‘Since the Biden administration, the U.S. has held the “Summit of Democracies” and established the U.S.-Japan-India-Australia “Quadrilateral Security Dialogue Mechanism” and the U.S.-UK-Australia “Trilateral Security Partnership,” always emphasizing that the U.S. cannot “fight alone”.’

‘If there is a third point, it is that the United States believes that future competition is mainly a contest of national governance capabilities.’

  • ‘Whoever can avoid obvious policy mistakes will win indirectly through the mistakes of their opponents.’

‘Recognizing that there is nothing it can do to “change China,” the Biden administration can only look to exploit possible Chinese “policy mistakes” to weaken China.’

  • ‘This is why the U.S. sometimes deliberately provokes China into making “reckless” missteps, a move that is clearly purposeful and not as overt as the first two but is an important consideration for the U.S. side.’

‘So the only approach the United States can take is to strengthen its competition with China, isolate China in the world, and put China in a passive position.’

3 | ‘The U.S. does not believe that other civilizations can have its vitality and universality.’

Q: ‘How is this different from the U.S. strategy toward the Soviet Union during the Cold War?’

Mr. Wang: ‘When it comes to the difference between the current U.S. strategy toward China and the strategy of containing the Soviet Union during the Cold War, I think it is more reflected in the impact of the differences in civilization and race between the two sides of the game.’

  • ‘On the one hand, the United States believes that the Western civilization system that has continued from ancient Greece and ancient Rome to the present belongs to a kind of "universal value", which represents the direction of the world's progress. They do not believe that there is any other civilization that is so vital and so universal.’
  • ‘On the other, China believes that the 5,000-year historical inheritance of Chinese civilization is sufficient to demonstrate the vitality and advancement of Eastern civilization or Confucian civilization. We have the responsibility and obligation to carry forward the Chinese civilization, which is different from Western Christian civilization, and that the two can go hand in hand.’

‘This brings up the issue of race.’

  • ‘The influence of China, as the representative of the "yellow race," is also rising rapidly.’
  • ‘In the eyes of the American elites represented by white people, it is intolerable for Chinese civilization to replace Christian civilization, so they will do everything possible to prevent China's development.’

4 | ‘Even “partial decoupling” is very difficult to do.’

Q: ‘Can the Chinese and U.S. economies really decouple?’

Mr. Wang: ‘China and the U.S. are inseparable economically, and economic interests will play a very big role between the two countries.’

  • ‘The interdependence between China and the United States is not a matter of willingness, but a problem that no one can avoid.’

‘The economic and trade structure of the two countries determines that the complete “decoupling” of the United States and China is impossible.’

  • ‘Even “partial decoupling” is very difficult to do.’

‘From this perspective, the United States cannot completely “decouple” from China.’

‘While for China, there would even be the risk of “strangulation”, so we still have to continue to insist on opening up to the outside world.’

  • ‘If a country has no demand for the outside world at all, that country cannot achieve real development either.’

5 | ‘I don't think there has been any fundamental change in the U.S. policy towards Taiwan.’

Q: ‘Do you think the U.S. government's Taiwan policy is undergoing fundamental changes? If there is war in the Taiwan Strait, will the United States intervene?’

Mr. Wang: ‘I don't think there has been any fundamental change in the U.S. policy towards Taiwan.’

  • ‘The United States still emphasizes the “One-China Policy,” but that policy has never included recognizing Taiwan as a part of China .’

‘The U.S. is ambiguous on this issue, recognizing only the government of the People’s Republic of China as the sole legitimate government representing China.’

  • ‘This shows the fundamental difference between the U.S. One-China Policy and our One-China principle.’

‘We believe that:’

  1. ‘There is only one China in the world,’
  2. ‘The government of the People's Republic of China is the sole legal government representing the whole of China, and’
  3. ‘Taiwan is a part of China.’

‘These three sentences are linked together.’

  • ‘The United States has accepted only the first two sentences.'
  • 'At the same time, it haskept walking a tightrope on the third sentence, neither denying that Taiwan is an independent political entity nor supporting “Taiwan independence”.’

‘In my opinion, the U.S. does not fully support "Taiwan independence".’

  • ‘Successive U.S. governments have used the Taiwan issue to keep China in check.’
  • ‘In the unlikely event that “Taiwan independence” does materialize, the U.S. would lose the leverage to use Taiwan as a counterweight to China.’
  • ‘Moreover, "Taiwan independence" will trigger a war between China and the United States, and the United States will not gain much.’

‘For the U.S., the best state of affairs is that Taiwan is neither under the control of the Mainland, nor does it transform itself into a legally “independent Taiwan”.’

  • ‘This way it can continue to reap the benefits” on both sides.’

‘What the United States has always supported is that Taiwan is neither reunified nor independent.’

  • ‘And this basic principle has not changed.’

‘The Biden administration has increased its efforts to use the Taiwan issue as a bargaining chip to pressure China.’

  • ‘But I don’t think the bottom line has changed.’

‘As for whether or not the U.S. will intervene in the Taiwan Strait, and the extent of its involvement, I think it is difficult to pre-determine.’

  • ‘It mainly depends on the form and scale of the mainland's "use of force against Taiwan".’

‘We must retain the option of "using force against Taiwan" as bottom-line thinking.’

  • ‘As the Tsai Ing-wen administration continues to escalate provocations against the Mainland, we will also emphasize the credibility and urgency of resolving the Taiwan issue by force, so as to form a stronger deterrent to the “Taiwan independence” forces.’

‘I believe that China has already developed plans for the eventual use of force if that should become necessary and that plan includes preparations for a possible U.S. involvement.’

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