Every reason for China, US to work together
China-watchers in Washington have lamented the lack of a presidential speech on China for some time. So the Brookings Institution invited seven scholars last week and asked them to put themselves in the shoes of US National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster and prepare such a speech.
The discussions led by Brookings Vice-President Bruce Jones on "Avoiding war: Containment, competition and cooperation in US-China relations" are indeed interesting - some insightful, others just implausible.
While most of the scholars underscored the need to cooperate with China and clearly define what Washington's interests are in its relationship with Beijing, Robert Kagan, a senior fellow with the Project on International Order and Strategy at Brookings, saw "conflicting interests".
"My attitude toward China is do well economically, but you cannot use your military to expand your power position in the region," Kagan said. "Is that fair? No. Is there any justice to that? No," he said, as if in a monologue. "We get the Monroe Doctrine and you don't. That's just the way it is. I'm sorry."
Kagan's overbearing "the way it is" approach is outrageous. Kagan seems to believe that where there is strength, hegemony ensues. That's why he proposed ramping up US military capacity.
While the US may lack a clearcut policy on China, President Xi Jinping has made his view on hegemony clear in his speeches in New York, Geneva and Beijing. China will never waver in its pursuit of peaceful development, Xi said in Geneva in January, three days before Trump was sworn in as US president.
"No matter how strong its economy grows, China will never seek hegemony, expansion or sphere of influence," Xi said at the United Nations Office in Geneva, re-emphasizing what he had said at the UN Headquarters in New York on Sept 28, 2015. He further highlighted this point in his speech at the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China last month.
At the Washington gathering, Cheng Li, director of the John L. Thornton China Center at Brookings, said Xi has emphasized there are a thousand reasons for the US and China to work together - and no reason for the two sides to fight. "I think our president (Trump) should probably take a similar view," Li said.
Mira Rapp-Hooper, a senior fellow at Yale's Paul Tsai China Center, said Washington's "real competition" with Beijing exists in security issues in Asia, where the interests of the US are not "quite clearly defined". Besides, the US is yet to devise a policy response to China's Belt and Road Initiative. "And it's not clear to me that that's a zero-sum game," she said. "There may well be places where our interests are complementary."
David Dollar, another senior fellow at the John L. Thornton China Center, said "competition with cooperation" is a good framework. "I see cooperation largely in terms of efforts to reform global institutions like the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund, the multilateral development banks, and that's where cooperating around the Belt and Road Initiative comes in."
Jonathan Stromseth, who holds the Lee Kuan Yew Chair in Southeast Asian Studies at Brookings' Center for East Asia Policy Studies, said some US companies are already trying to win Belt and Road contracts. They could also look at what's emerging in regional infrastructure and try to calibrate their business plans accordingly, he said.
The other points the Chinawatchers raised included those of Ryan Hass, a David M. Rubenstein fellow at Brookings, who stressed the need to "find a way to live with an ascendant China that is aggressive in some areas, and work to create a durable, constructive relationship with them".
It is unclear if or how McMaster would benefit from the experts' opinions. But in an interview with CGTN earlier this month, McMaster said: " ... the comprehensive policy toward China would be to identify... areas where we can... cooperate effectively on... mutual interest and concern."
The author is deputy editor-in-chief of China Daily USA. firstname.lastname@example.org