Op-Ed Contributors

Edgy for now but not forever

By Niu Xinchun (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-07-30 07:54
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Sino-American relations have been strained since the US and the Republic of Korea (ROK) announced they would hold a joint military exercise in the Sea of Japan and the Yellow Sea. To top it, the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has suggested setting up an international mechanism to settle the South China Sea territorial dispute.

But the chances of a military conflict between the US and China are slim because the two countries' ties are no longer guided by security concerns alone. The US and China have entered an era of interdependence, and economics, military and politics are the three main areas of their concern.

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On the economics front, the two sides are more complementary than competitive, which signifies close interdependence. China has long been enjoying a huge trade surplus against America and used it to buy US Treasuries, which in turn has greatly helped stimulate consumption on both sides.

The military front seems to be more competitive. China and the US are not playing a zero-sum game: the actions of one are seen to have the potential of harming the interests of the other. Over the past two decades, China has been trying to modernize its military, and it is likely that its defense spending will remain second only to the US. But China's aim is to improve its defense capabilities, not pose a threat to other countries. Nevertheless, the lack of mutual trust has created a sort of security dilemma between the two sides.

Two official documents could be cited to explain this. The white paper, China's National Defense in 2008, says international military competition is becoming increasingly intense, and "some major powers are realigning their security and military strategies, increasing their defense investment, speeding up the transformation of armed forces, and developing advanced military technology, weapons and equipment". Evidently, the US is one such major power.

The US Quadrennial Defense Review mentions "China's growing presence and influence in regional and global economic and security affairs", which America has taken as "one of the most consequential aspects of the evolving strategic landscape in the Asia-Pacific region and globally". Hence, competition between the two sides in the Asia-Pacific region will not end in the foreseeable future.

Politically, competition and cooperation between the two countries will coexist. There are too many reasons for the two to hold contradictory views on political systems, the international economy and other historical and existing problems. But to deal with many of the problems, especially those related to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and Iran nuclear issues, the US needs the support of China.

Another political problem for the two sides is the strong influence America has on Asia. On one hand, many Asian countries are strengthening economic cooperation with China, and on the other, they are seeking US support in political and security affairs. The US factor could be seen in many problems facing China such as Sino-Japanese relations and disputes over the South China Sea. So, antagonism between the two sides, in all probability, will continue.

While using the word "interdependence", we often quote Robert Keohane and Joseph Nye, co-founders of the international relations theory neolibelarism, developed in their 1977 book, Power and Interdependence. They say the three main features of interdependence are the use of multiple channels of action between countries, decline in the use of military force and coercive power, and the absence of a hierarchy of issues.

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