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  • Apr 19, 2014
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CommentInsight & Opinion

US must be prepared to see China as an equal power

Jonathan Power says America will have to get used to some new realities in Asia with China's rise, and that means avoiding intense rivalry and being willing to share power responsibly

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 23 January, 2014, 3:18am
UPDATED : Thursday, 23 January, 2014, 3:18am

The West, the US especially, has got itself into a fretful mood over the rise of China. Quite unnecessarily so. The Chinese growth rate is slowing. As a BBC commentator said recently, reviewing this week's government-issued statistics, China will never hit double-digit growth again. Glitzy Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu and their like, where growth is still well over 10 per cent a year, make up only part of China's economy. Much of the country has an income per head more akin to Ecuador.

Between 1978 and 2003, when economic growth was accelerating, China's gross national product grew by 340 per cent over a quarter of a century, compared with Japan's 490 per cent between 1950 and 1973. South Korea and Taiwan have done even better. Moreover, now India is back in the game after two bad years, expect it to hit double-digit growth within two to three years and start to give China a run for its money over the next decade.

While China will grapple with its paradox of being communist but capitalist, India, unencumbered by a lack of democracy and intellectual and press freedom, will emerge as the better environment of the two for long-term progress conducted within stable institutions.

Why do we fuss so much every time China seems to kick over the traces a little - as with its recent declaration of an "air defence identification zone" over the South China Sea? Henry Kissinger observes that China historically doesn't go in for conquest. It prefers what he calls "osmosis". China seems to have no territorial ambitions beyond its current borders, apart from Taiwan, which is a special case. The ruling Communist Party is not by nature evangelical.

Besides, Kissinger adds, "dominating Asia militarily would be a formidable undertaking". China today faces an increasingly economically and politically powerful Russia in the north; Japan (the world's third-largest economy) and South Korea, with their US military alliances, to the east; Vietnam and India to the south; and Indonesia and Malaysia not far away. "This is not a constellation conducive to conquest," says Kissinger.

The interconnectedness of trade and finance is an anti-conflict potion. These days, the flag has very little to do with trade. Trade follows price, quality and availability. How could China benefit from depriving America of iron ore or computers? How could the US benefit from depriving China of oil or as a haven for its vast savings? What spat over the ownership of contested islands in the South and East China seas would be worth a breakdown in such commerce?

Simply put, the highest priority for the US is for the Chinese economy to remain growing and open to US, Japanese, South Korean and European business; and for its politics to remain non-nationalistic - which means not provoking it.

A new book, The China Choice, by Hugh White, an Australian professor of strategic studies, argues that the US has three options. It can try and preserve the status quo and stand up to China as its muscles grow. Or it can step aside and allow China to get on with establishing a friendly and tolerant hegemony in its neighbourhood (but not by means of war). Or it can allow China a larger role but also maintain a strong presence of its own.

"Many people don't think the third option exists," he writes of the one he favours. And the US at times seems to be leaning towards the first (although President Barack Obama has said one thing and Hillary Rodham Clinton, when secretary of state, said another).

At present, as White observes, "The two powers are equally matched in their capacity to apply pressure on the other, but China has a clear edge on determination. They are equally matched on power because, while America can apply more political and diplomatic clout than China, China can apply more financial and economic pressure."

It would be counterproductive for the US to commit itself to rivalry with China, as China conceding defeat would be almost unthinkable.

The US, in fact, has no recourse but to share power with China in Asia. Over the long run, this will mean the US diluting a great deal of its political authority in Asia. It must be prepared to accept Chinese equality. America must shunt aside its long held policy of "exceptionalism".

If it wants China to follow the rules of the global community, it must set a better example itself. In recent years, the US has conducted naval hydrographic operations in China's exclusive economic zone. It has conducted naval exercises near the Yellow Sea. This is not good. The US must ratify the UN's Convention on the Law of the Sea and obey it. The US certainly doesn't want a hot war with China. Nor should it allow itself to let matters slide into a cold war. Peace with China is far more important than power over China.

Jonathan Power is a syndicated columnist

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realestate
USA and China as an equal power :The author has lost all sense of rationality and reality!!
ning.zhang.1000
well-intentioned and fair analysis; however, the author gets a few key facts wrong -- "Between 1978 and 2003, when economic growth was accelerating, China's gross national product grew by 340 per cent over a quarter of a century, "
Chinese GDP has not grown 340%, -- far, far away from it -- japanese, and South Korea and Taiwan did not even come anywhere close -- Chinese GDP has grown 5000% -- from USD $200 billion in 1978 to almost $10 trillion in 2013.
****en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historical_GDP_of_the_People%27s_Republic_of_China.
"While China will grapple with its paradox of being communist but capitalist, India, unencumbered by a lack of democracy and intellectual and press freedom, will emerge as the better environment of the two for long-term progress conducted within stable institutions"
India has never been, and will never be in the same league as China. The so-called India's "unencumbered by a lack of democracy and intellectual and press freedom" is a liberal and teleological myth based on almost religious belief. The best counter example is the flourishing of science and engineering under Nazi's Germany.
Another best example is Chinese GDP vs. Indian GDP -- China and India started from exactly the same base in the 1978s and Chinese GDP is now 10 trillion vs. 1.8 trillion of India, more than 5 times. Even if we go back to 1949/1950s, India barely kept up, with China suffering incalculable loss at the hands of Mao for more than 15 years.
realestate
Democracies take longer to evolve as there is respect for established norms and institutions, govts are elected by its people.India will take a little longer to arrive on the world map and there is no stopping that reality. Most govts around the world are democracies..I believe India will pip China over time as it evolves. Since China 's opening up some 30 years ago it has come a long way by discarding and toning down its communist ideology..it was a failed State until it needed the world to bail itself out.Make no mistake as China progresses it be more open and transparent which is what India now.
jiawang@adb.org
"allow China to get on with establishing a friendly and tolerant hegemony in its neighborhood"
and also:
allow Iran to get on with establishing a friendly and tolerant hegemony in its neighborhood
and also:
allow Russia to get on with establishing a friendly and tolerant hegemony in its neighborhood
and also:
allow Brazil to get on with establishing a friendly and tolerant hegemony in its neighborhood
and also:
allow Japan to get on with establishing a friendly and tolerant hegemony in its neighborhood
and also:
allow India to get on with establishing a friendly and tolerant hegemony in its neighborhood
and also:
allow South Africa to get on with establishing a friendly and tolerant hegemony in its neighborhood
and also:
allow Cambodia to get on with establishing a friendly and tolerant hegemony in its neighborhood
and also:
allow Germany to get on with establishing a friendly and tolerant hegemony in its neighborhood
etc.
sinohog
Well, I had an international economics prof. who told us that eventually the rest of the world was going to catch up and close the gap that was left after the destruction during world war II. Americans may not take that very well. That was a paraphrase of his comment. I think that Americans are at there best when they are underdogs. That is part of the popular culture. When Americans cast ourselves as the underdogs, it is an idea that many a football coach has used to bring out the best in his players. One shouldn't read anything into that.
aplucky1
the chinese have money now, so now they are looking for a fight
nobody cares if they engage in peaceful prosperity
paranoid turds
reggiedog
Turds? Does your mommy know you are using her computer?
XYZ
The author is living in a parallel universe. The entire premise of his article, that the U.S. is in a "fretful mood" over the rise of China, is pure conjecture unsupported by facts. The only evidence of U.S. fretfulness offered by the author is to cite the U.S. response to the PRC's unilateral declaration of a greatly expanded air defence zone, that response being to make absolutely no changes whatsoever to its routine traversing of the airspace. What fretfulness? Methinks the author is the fretful one.
hankt
XYZ, you were close. In response to the warning by the Chinese to militarily enforce the zone, two B52s took off and, without informing China of their flight plan or intent, flew directly into the zone as part of a pre-planned exercise. The US stated it will continue to fly into the area at will to calm fears of other nations in the region that were "ruffled" by the Chinese statement.
In other words, they were called out on their warning.
Even the Japanese government told airlines to ignore the zone and continue with flight plans as normal.
Without the will and ability to go to war, global powers don't 1) try to redraw borders on the fly; and 2) issue global threats and stand by as those threats are ignored.
We have left out the author obviously hasn't read the UN Laws of the Sea which state that a country has sovereign rights out 12 miles from the low water line of the coastal state and a belt line to any owned archipelago - not the entire ocean between the country and its island assets. The fact that China has refused to adhere to this law also refutes the author's paragraph 4 in its entirety.

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