At the recent meeting between US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) at Sunnylands estate in California, the Chinese side emphasized that it was looking for a “new model of great country relationship” with the US.
The concept has been around for a little while: Xi mentioned it during his first visit to Washington in February last year. However, since he became Chinese Communist Party (CPP) secretary-general in November last year and president in March this year, it has been mentioned with increasing frequency.
In response, Obama has emphasized coordination, cooperation and better communication with China. He did emphasize that the US agrees with China’s peaceful rise and said: “We have a unique opportunity to take the US-China relationship to a new level,” but did not specifically endorse the “new model” concept.
It would indeed be wise for Obama to beware of the hidden agenda behind innocuous-sounding phrases like a “new model of great country relationship.” If one goes a level deeper into what this term means, then one would discover the following elements:
First, China emphasizes its rise as “peaceful,” but is at the same time engaged in a major military buildup. The US is the only power that could stand in the way of this rise and by emphasizing the “new model” Beijing hopes that the US will accommodate China’s rise.
Second, the “new model” emphasizes “respect for each other’s core interests and major concerns.” For China these are code words for acceptance by the US of China’s positions, not only on Tibet and East Turkestan (Xinjiang), but also on Taiwan, the Senkakus — called the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台) by Taiwan — and the South China Sea.
Third, the “new model” talks about “working hard to deepen mutually beneficial cooperation,” and “steadily enhance coordination and cooperation in international affairs, and on global issues.” This goes without saying.
Cooperation on humanitarian issues is a good thing. However, while the US has tried to emphasize that China needs to become a “responsible stakeholder,” Beijing has never accepted international norms for global responsibility (for example, Iran and environmental issues) and wants to reshape it in its own image.
What does all of this mean for Taiwan?
First, China will continue to use its political, economic and military weight to pull Taiwan into its sphere of influence. In the end, it will leave very little room for maneuver and will certainly not allow Taiwan to determine its own future.
Second, China will use the “new model” to try to impose acceptance of its “core interests,” not only on the US, but also on other countries in the region.
The “new model” thus basically means that China wants to be accepted by the US as an equal and that the interests of other countries are secondary.
However, China can only really be a “great power” if it accepts international norms and values, such as democracy, freedom of expression and the principle of self-determination.
It can only really be a “great power” if it respects its neighbors and gives them adequate international space, and comes to peaceful understandings, instead of encroaching on their territory (eg, the Philippines), trying to take a few uninhabited rocks away from them (eg, the Senkakus from Japan), or preventing them from making their own decisions on their future as a free and democratic nation (the case of Taiwan).
True “greatness” is not defined as being big or powerful, but as being humble and sensitive to the concerns of others. That is what real greatness is all about.
Nat Bellocchi served as chairman of the American Institute in Taiwan from 1990 to 1995. The views expressed in this article are his own.
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