Two views on U.S.-China relations from China: Don’t decouple

Society & Culture

Photo arrangement by John Oquist

With Americans souring on China, American politicians trying to one-up each other in their China bashing, and the Chinese government’s own conspiracy-mongering, U.S.-China relations keep hitting new lows. In light of this, many in China are considering what can be done to alleviate tensions.

The two articles below — which I have partially translated — both come to the conclusion that China would be better served by a less overtly confrontational foreign policy. Both articles offer an implicit critique of current Chinese foreign policy, say that China is not ready for decoupling, and encourage leadership to tone down international rhetoric in order to prevent relations from further souring.

The first article is written by Alfred Weizhan Meng (孟维瞻 Mèng Wéizhān), a researcher at Shanghai’s prestigious Fudan University. He received his Ph.D. at the University of Hong Kong and previously studied at John Hopkins Nanjing.

He argues that China should try to appeal to American liberals, who can be persuaded to help prevent the further worsening of relations. While he doesn’t go into specifics about why the right wing can’t be persuaded, perhaps the reasons don’t need to be said. He believes that with a thinking president and a left-wing party in charge, China is better positioned to “safeguard our fundamental political system and fundamental economic interests.”

Meng’s article was published on a channel called D&C Think, funded by the China National Democratic Construction Association, one of the eight legal parties alongside the CCP allowed to operate in the mainland.

To improve China-U.S. relations, why America’s left wing must be won over

若改善中美关系,为何必须争取美国左派?

ruò gǎishàn zhōng měi guānxì, wèihé bìxū zhēngqǔ měiguó zuǒpài?
D&C Think (民智国际研究院 mínzhì guójì yán jiù yuàn), April 22

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In the American intellectual community, criticizing China has a few unspoken rules.

First, you cannot say anything that violates American political correctness. For example, you cannot attack China from the perspective of civilization and race.

Second, you can’t express disappointment in the Chinese people, though some conservatives feel this way in their hearts.

Third, you cannot say anything about severing the relationship between American “China Knowers” (知华派 zhī huá pài) and China, otherwise it will damage the vested interests of the mainstream intellectual community and even be suppressed by their collectives. Those outside academic circles may possibly talk about it, however.

The weakness of the American left and “China Knowers” is that their knowledge of China is based on an America-centric view of the world. They actually believe that only if China accepts the American experience, adopts the American model, listens to the teachings of the United States, and integrates into the American-led order, can it become truly prosperous and powerful.

When analyzing China’s problems, they do not consider China’s practical experience, but imposes Western logic on China’s facts.

For example, America’s China Knowers often say that they like this politician in China and do not like that politician, or that China was progressive during this period and backward in that period, China is right to do this and wrong in doing that.

However hard they try to justify their views, they just can’t come to terms with the fact that what makes China’s politics unique is that China doesn’t try to live up to their standards. While their arguments are logically valid, they never realize that some of what they see as irrational practices from the Chinese actually arise out of the Chinese people’s own political experience, their long-term experience and recurring mistakes. The way China is structured is fundamentally different from America’s bottom-up approach in distributing power.

Many liberals in the U.S. are indeed “friendly” to China in their hearts, but in essence their “friendship” is based on disrespect. It’s a type of Western-centric arrogance. They exaggerate the universality of a specific country’s values but ignore China’s traditions, values, belief systems, and reality.

If another 20 years pass, we will no longer be dependent on the U.S. But today, we still are. Many people may not understand how serious the consequences will be for China if the United States immediately resolves to decouple from China.

Now, there are indeed people in the U.S. warning that China must be contained immediately, before it becomes too late. But China’s high-level leaders soberly acknowledge this fact and know they must improve China-U.S. relations. They see no reason to harm China-U.S. relations.

It does not matter who becomes the president of the United States. The important thing is to ensure that there is a relatively strong “intellectual” force in the United States. We cannot fight for the right in the United States, but we can fight for the left.

The left has some people who don’t harm our national interests as much. This means that we must improve our ideological strategy and respond more flexibly and skillfully to them. The purpose is to safeguard our fundamental political system and fundamental economic interests.

If we unnecessarily magnify the American panic about China, then it means that the left will be more silent, which will lead to further difficulties in China ’s development and rise, and ultimately most likely hurt its fundamental interests.

 

The second article is written by Píngzhènghé 平正和, self-described as “following society’s central topics and transmitting proper news.” The author started blogging just this year, mostly covering the global response to the coronavirus. The following piece went viral on WeChat, achieving over 100,000 views before Tencent took it down.

It is not alarmist to say that the world is isolating China

平正和 | 世界隔离中国绝非危言耸听

Píngzhènghé | shìjiè gélí zhōngguó jué fēi wēiyánsǒngtīng
April 20

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As the pandemic intensifies and “Wolf Warrior” diplomacy expands, the conflicts arising between China and Western countries have also intensified. If this situation is not changed, after the pandemic ends, isolation and decoupling from China will no longer be hypothetical: it will be our cruel reality.

At first, it was mainly the media and parliamentarians who criticized us. Nowadays, leaders of many countries have bluntly criticized China.

The virus has transformed Western public opinion of us into hatred. This hatred will eventually be translated into policies of decoupling.

The problems of 5G, Huawei, cybersecurity, the South China Sea, the Taiwan Strait, and the trade war that we have with Western countries, especially the U.S., don’t seem so urgent at this current moment when compared with issues involving the pandemic. However, these issues will not go away. On the contrary, due to the outbreak, the world’s understanding of us has changed dramatically, and our country’s international reputation has suffered to a certain extent. More importantly, new problems and challenges are emerging. We will soon face the most severe international situation since reform and opening up, even more severe than the wave of sanctions 30 years ago. [Editor’s note: In the aftermath of China’s crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators at Tiananmen.]

Faced with this situation, from the highest levels down to the people, we should clearly understand what we’re facing and how we plan to cope with and resolve this situation as fast as possible. Let us not fall to delusions of grandeur and think we’re infallible, believing that the world can’t separate from us and that whoever decouples with China will lose out on opportunities.

Prevent political decoupling

In recent years, our relations with Western countries have deteriorated. Some people say this is because China is strong and the West wants to contain China’s rise. This is by no means the main reason. Diplomatically speaking, challenging the international order, competing for international leadership, and putting on an aggressive diplomatic posture, especially through using the market and national financial resources as weapons…have been the most important causes. In terms of internal affairs, the increasing lack of transparency and the spread of extreme leftists has also scared the West. Wolf Warrior diplomacy perfectly integrates the elements that most disturb the West, and brings them directly to the world’s attention.

The coronavirus is likely to end the honeymoon between China and Africa. After the large-scale outbreak in Africa, China will inevitably be required to invest huge human and material resources to assist them. For countries that rely on money to maintain their relations, as soon as you don’t meet their expectations, give as much as other countries, they’ll naturally turn on you. African countries have called on China for debt forgiveness. Do we have the ability to waive the huge debts accumulated over the years?

Diplomatic work can only return to a normal and peaceful path if it returns to a rational track. Therefore, we should disinfect ourselves of Wolf Warrior diplomacy and external propaganda that oversells the truth. The practice of being quick to speak, valuing face over the facts, and always snapping at passersby has to stop. Even when refuting defamation from the West, we must also insist on being rational and favorable.

We should call a full stop on some old practices, such as taking face-saving actions at the expense of real benefits and jumping on every possible opportunity to slam other countries.

To improve external relations, it is more important to abandon some of the urgent demands for quick benefits, avoid opposing the order and rules recognized by the mainstream international community, and back down from challenging the U.S. leadership. As the second largest economy in the world, it is understandable to aspire for a voice, to have leadership and strategic interests. However, the leading position of the U.S. and the rules of the game established by the U.S. are widely recognized in the mainstream international community. At present, we certainly have no strength to challenge and change these rules. When you are unable to formulate rules and still want to benefit from the order regulated by current rules, the best way is to choose to respect and obey the rules. It is wise to make a fortune within the framework of existing rules and wait until you have enough strength to rewrite the rules.

Of course, improving foreign relations is not an easy task. Diplomacy is an extension of internal affairs and has never been independent of internal affairs. Only by isolating the leftist virus in internal affairs, increasing transparency, stimulating social vitality, defending the achievements of reform and opening up, and building a normal society can diplomacy get on the right track.

Prevent economic decoupling

Obviously, this pandemic has exacerbated mistrust between China and the West, leading Western countries to expand their production in their own countries and try to form a production system and supply chain independent of China. This will make China’s manufacturing and technological innovation lag behind or even decouple from the West.

Of course, some of our officials and “those in the emperor’s pocket” are now confidently saying that China has first-class transportation, logistics, communications, and other infrastructure, a large number of skilled workers, engineers, and cheap labor that are indispensable to the world. They say that China has a vast market, and decoupling from China results in a loss of opportunity to make money; that the cost of relocating companies is huge, and that capital is all profit-seeking. Enterprises that build factories in China will eventually choose to stay, particularly as China is the only large country to have controlled the epidemic, making it a sort of safe harbor.

But on closer inspection, this view above is untenable.

China’s labor advantage has long been replaced by Southeast Asian countries, and the infrastructure and engineering teams of Western countries are no worse than ours. The return of the manufacturing industry promoted by Western countries is based on industrial security, national security, and the strategy of preventing excessive dependence on China.

The Chinese economy is already highly dependent on foreign trade (less than 20% in the U.S.). Once China is decoupled from the world economy, it will be a disaster.

If Western countries are truly decoupled from China, they will inevitably gather together to build a self-contained partial global order that will only exclude China. By that time, many of the core components in our manufacturing industry controlled by Western countries will lose their access to supplies, in turn stagnating China’s manufacturing industry.

Although foreign companies need to pay a high cost to move out of China, if Western countries reimburse their companies for relocation costs, will these companies really refuse their own governments’ demands?

The center of world innovation is in the United States and in Western countries. Once decoupled, China’s technological innovation capacity will undoubtedly plummet.

To sum it up, our advantage is not enough to make the world inseparable from China, nor is it enough to prevent the world from isolating China.

Although the decoupling between China and the United States and the decoupling between China and the West will harm everyone, they will harm China the most. The dividends from 40 years of reform will be exhausted.