Convinced that the US is in decline, China’s distrust is growing as it sees the long-time superpower as bent on holding back the Asian power’s rise, an influential academic said.
In a candid new study, well-known experts from China and the US with wide experience in both countries describe the Pacific powers as seeking a partnership, but hampered by distrust of their rival’s intentions.
The academics proposed steps to build confidence between the world’s two largest economies, including deeper discussions on defense and three-way dialogues with Japan and India.
Wang Jisi (王緝思), dean of the School of International Studies at Peking University, wrote in the study that “China’s strategic distrust of the United States is deeply rooted, and in recent years it seems to have deepened.”
Wang said the financial crisis in 2008 showed many Chinese that their country was rising, the US was declining and that actions by Washington — on issues from territorial disputes in the South China Sea to climate change — marked veiled attempts to keep Beijing down.
“America’s financial disorder, alarming deficit and unemployment rate, slow economic recovery and domestic political polarization are viewed as but a few indications that the United States is headed for decline,” Wang wrote.
Wang said Chinese leaders were “sober-minded” and did not think that the US would soon fall as the top world power — or that US economic decline would be desirable, in light of China’s reliance on exports.
However, Wang said Beijing had grown distrustful after US actions such as repeated calls for improvements in human rights, pressure over North Korea and Iran and weapons sales to Taiwan, which relies on Washington for its defense.
The arms deals, despite warming relations between Beijing and Taipei, “added to the suspicion that Washington will disregard Chinese interests and sentiment as long as China’s power position is secondary to America’s,” he wrote.
Ken Lieberthal, who wrote the US portion of the study, said Wang is “widely considered to be China’s top specialist on the United States” and has dealt extensively with Chinese officials who handle foreign affairs.
Lieberthal told reporters that the study was not an effort to reveal any hidden views, saying he doubted that Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) or his likely successor, Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping (習近平), would “sit down and pour their hearts out” to Wang.
Lieberthal, director of the Brookings Institution’s John L. Thornton China Center, who served as a senior aide to former US president Bill Clinton, said the essays instead tried to offer an “honest understanding” of underlying thinking.
Before the financial crisis, China assumed the US would long remain the top power, but Beijing now believes Washington is trying “not only to get back on our game, but to work harder to slow China’s rise,” Lieberthal said.
“If that is their conclusion, then they don’t trust the motives of even some things that we do — in fact, I would argue, much of what we do — [which] is to try to integrate China, accept its rise and to integrate it as constructively as possible in the global system,” Lieberthal said.
In his essay, Lieberthal spoke of US concern about the “massive theft of US intellectual property,” which he said created a perception that it was part of a Chinese strategy.